Twenty-nine days ago, I set out to write a post a day for this blog. Somehow, despite a couple of late nights, I managed to achieve my goal. Though no one’s going to hand me a blogger’s version of their badge, I feel something akin to the mixture of pride and relief all those successful NaNoWriMo writers must be experiencing today.
In writing 30 posts, I more than doubled my previous most productive month, way back in October 2009, and far exceeded my usual average. Though I didn’t manage to limit myself to a half-hour of writing time per post, I’m certain I was more efficient than in the past, when I could linger over a single paragraph for several hours.
Moreover, I discovered that my writing was none the worse for the time limits and daily quota I imposed on myself. What I feared might turn out to be a month of sub-par blog posts ended up at least as good as my average work, and possibly better.
But aside from hitting an arbitrary target, have I really achieved anything? Can I, or you, for that matter, learn anything from the experience?
I think so. In fact, if I set my mind to it, I can come up with 30 things I’ve learned from my month of daily blogging. It makes, admittedly, for a rather longish, slightly punch-drunk, tl;dr kind of list. But if I’ve gained nothing else from the experience, dear reader, I now have a new appreciation for the value of perseverance. Make it through the following list and you might feel it too.
- More content means more blog traffic. Yes, I know it’s obvious. But seeing is believing. November, not yet concluded, has already witnessed more visitors and page views than any previous month. I may have almost as many regular readers now as Rex Hammock.
- However, content without marketing is like a cart without a horse. No matter how good it is, content can’t go anywhere by itself. It needs to be marketed. When I tweeted about my content, it clearly got more page views than when I didn’t.
- There’s nothing like help from people in high places. By far the most visitors I got on any day this month was when The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal retweeted one of my posts.
- Writing every day makes you a better writer. To quote Jeff Goins quoting Frank Viola quoting T.S. Eliot, “Writing everyday is a way of keeping the engine running, and then something good may come out of it.” Whatever you may think of my writing here today, I can assure you that it’s improved from a month ago.
- Writing short is hard. If you’re Seth Godin, you can blow a reader’s mind with a three-sentence post. However, all but one of us aren’t Seth Godin, and it usually takes many more sentences to make our points convincingly. Aim for brevity; be satisfied with clarity.
- Scheduling a time to write is a good idea that rarely works in practice. I tried to follow Paul Conley’s advice, but reality kept intervening.
- Set strict rules for your writing. I couldn’t have written a post a day without the rules I set at the beginning. Arbitrary restrictions and goals spur creativity. That’s why good sonnets are easier to write than good free verse.
- Break your rules as often as necessary. To be honest, my rules were more honored in the breach than the observance. If I had followed them religiously, I would not have met my goal.
- Good comments beget good posts. The best comment I had this month essentially accused me—in a nice way—of idiocy. It led me to reconsider my ideas in another post that, if it didn’t rectify my errors, put nice polish on them.
- Write about other bloggers. Not only does it give you something to talk about, but it’s what the social web is all about. Share the links!
- Do Q & A interviews. Even better than writing about other bloggers is asking them to speak in their own words, as I did with Mark Schaefer.
- Encourage contributors. It would have broken my rules, but if you want to fill your blog with good content every day, well-chosen guest bloggers can be a big help.
- Get used to repeating yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Most of us are driven by a few idées fixes. Repetition is a way of developing those ideas.
- Now and then, try something completely different. Such as saying the opposite of what you just suggested.
- Accept your imperfections. Perfection is something you work towards. Though you may never get there, the only way you can get closer is through your mistakes.
- Make bold statements. Your readers, too, will accept your imperfections. It’s all right if you don’t completely understand or believe what you’re saying. It’s a blog. You’re testing out an idea, not writing legislation.
- Don’t wait until after supper to start writing a post. Especially if you had a bit too much wine.
- On the other hand, consider writing your post the night before. No morning is so glorious to wake up to as the one when you’ve already written your post for the day.
- Keep your pets well fed. One of my cats prefers to eat small amounts of expensive canned food every half-hour or so. I can’t leave her food out, though, because my other cat will eat any amount of any food at any time. So my picky cat likes to remind me to feed her by standing on her hind legs and tapping me gently on the arm with her paw. Inevitably, she does so just as I am about to break through my hours-long writer’s block.
- Use an editorial calendar, but don’t make it a fetish. It can help to know days in advance what you’ll write about, but sometimes when you start on it, you realize it’s a terrible, boring subject. Always be prepared to change your topic at the last moment.
- Go on a Twitter diet. I don’t mean stay away from Twitter altogether. It can be a great source of inspiration. But it can also be an enormous time-suck. Limit your Twitter time strictly when you’re on deadline.
- Get personal. That’s the point of blogging, isn’t it? But if you’re the self-effacing type—shucks, no one cares about me—you have to keep reminding yourself of this obvious truism.
- Repurpose content with great care. If you think it’s easier than writing original blog content, you’re doing something wrong. Your blog is a different context and audience than whatever you originally wrote for. If you don’t adapt your content accordingly, it will fall flat.
- Don’t let the mechanics of blogging waylay you. Need to finish your post? Then this is not the time to worry about SEO, to rethink your site taxonomy, or to install that plug-in you’ve been researching for the past month.
- Artwork is nice but not essential. Yes, adding an eye-catching drawing or photograph probably does increase the page views your post gets. But don’t make yourself crazy trying to come up with something. Ultimately, the writing must stand on its own. And if you can’t think of anything else, you can always use a photo of your cat.
- Split your posts up. If you tend to write long, consider whether you might better serve time-challenged readers by spreading it out in smaller chunks over two or three days.
- At a loss for words? Take a walk. If it worked for Dickens, why not you?
- When all else fails, quote somebody inspiring. Thank you, Mr. Perelman.
- Always Be Composing. If you’re serious about your writing, you should be thinking about it all the time. In everything you do throughout the day, you should be wondering, “Say, could I write about this?”
- If you’re going to write a numbers post, stick to single digits. Five lessons would have been so much easier.