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When I started my blog, The Suburban Sundries Shack*, on blogger back in 2004**, there weren't a lot of "how to blog" guides floating around on the internet. Mostly, bloggers swapped e-mails or met up with each other if they lived close by and kicked around stories and ideas about what worked for them and what blew up like Michael Corleone's car in The Godfather. We made mistakes and spent a lot of time as bad bloggers, learning what it took to be good at the craft. My bad blogging years lasted a lot longer than I wanted. In some ways, I'm still a bad blogger because I don't always keep my own advice.
But this isn't one of those "back in my day" posts where I talk about wearing onions on my belt and use words like "dickety".*** I only mention the good old days and my bad blogging to say that over the years I had to learn a few hard lessons that I want to pass on to you in the hopes that you'll avoid some of the really big mistakes I made. After all, what use is learning things if you can't share them, right?
Here are four things that, if I could go back and start my blogging career anew, I'd do differently.
1) Be consistent and transparent. Imagine a television show that aired once a week for a couple months, suddenly jumped to twice a week for a while, then fell back to one new show a month. How long would you stick with that show? I'd wager you'd give up on it somewhere around the second capricious schedule change. We humans are wired to fall into routines (even the crazy, maverick creative types have routines, though often only they know what it is) and we tend to use consistency as a measure of how serious someone is about what they're doing. You want folks to know you are serious about your blog, why else should they spend their precious time with you? The easiest way to show your resolve is to settle into a posting schedule as soon as you are able and stick to it. If you have to change it, let your readers know what thechange will entail and why.
2) Under-promise and over-deliver. Oh goodness how guilty I've been of the sin of promising every crazy cool idea that came to mind only to find out later that what seemed awesome when I wrote it in a blog post was either beyond my ken or simply too crazy to work. I would have been much better off to keep those ideas to myself, or talk them over with a couple trusted friends or family members to bleed off my excitement, then unveil the ones I could bring to fruition. Don't be the blogger who promises a long series and only comes through with one or two posts. Be the one who delivers a pleasant surprise treat.
3) Opinion is fine; support for your opinion is better; action based on both is best. I started blogging because I had things I wanted to say. Chances are, that's why you started your blog, too (or are thinking of starting one). Remember, though, you're competing with approximately one bazillion other people and plenty of them have the same opinions on the issues as you. You can be one of the bazillion or you can distinguish yourself. When you write about the latest administration outrage or about a pending city council vote, go beyond pontification into persuasion. Bring a few links to the game to back up what you say. Show why your opinion ought to be heeded. Once you've done that, end with an action item -- a way for the people you've persuaded to act on the issue.
4) Write about what matters to you. "Oh, come on, Jimmie", I can hear you saying right now. "Is that really necessary? Of course I'll write about what matters to me!" Let me tell you that the pull to write about the hot issue of the day, to jump into the debate du jour in order to draw in more readers is pernicious. I spend most of my blogging career writing posts I really didn't want to write, but felt I had to in order to stay relevant in the blogging community. As a result, my archives are full of banal posts of which I'm not particularly proud. Don't fall into the trap that you must write about a subject because everyone else is. If today's topic isn't your thing, let it be. If it is, then jump into it with both feet and with all the white-hot passion you can muster. That is what will bring readers to your site in droves. Anything else is merely average. Don't be average. Be awesome.
* It went through a name change. Now it's The Sundries Shack. I still live in the suburbs, though, so there's that.
** Insert grainy black and white footage of yours truly slaving over a primitive manual blogging machine.
*** We had to use that word. The Kaiser stole our word "twenty"! I chased him, but gave up after dickety-six miles.