Earlier this semester, in a post called “Why I Write,” I explained how I’ve always been enamored with the written word. I wrote about how writing is my primary form of expression thanks to my hopelessly introverted personality. I also explored why writing is so hard for all of us (spoiler alert: there are countless reasons). I explained that I write to know myself, as trite as that may sound. Writing is a form of thinking–I need a pen and paper (or a laptop and a word processor) to organize my scatterbrained ideas.
What I’ve Learned
In the past several months, I’ve learned tons about how I work best as a writer and how I can adapt my writing style and voice to different media. I still struggle with breaking out of the stuffy, academic tone I’ve been trained to use in English papers. (My first version of that sentence contained the word “convey,” for example.) I’d like to think that I’m gradually working towards an accessible blog style. (I mean, let’s face it–I used a GIF in this post. I’m practically a BuzzFeed writer already.)
Before Writing for Publication, I didn’t realize how much of the writing we consume is tailored to fit specific audience needs. Or rather, I knew that intellectually but not in practice. In writing my commentary and review, I had to narrow the focus of my subject to align with the interests and experience/knowledge of my possible readers–without actually knowing much about the people who stumble across my relatively new blog. That’s tough, and not something most beginning writers think about when it comes to online audiences.
After all, an average reader who doesn’t know much about the trans* community probably wouldn’t know what it even means to be transgender versus transsexual, or the difference between someone who’s transgender and someone who crossdresses. Nor would someone who’s never picked up a bodice-ripper know what it means for a fictional heroine to be dubbed “too stupid to live” by the romance reader community.
Why I Still Write
The reasons I listed in my first ever post on this blog still hold true, but with every piece I write, I learn something new about my motivations for writing. That’s how developing a skill works, after all. Since the beginning of my Writing for Publication class (for which this blog was started) I’ve noticed how my writing ideas are often inspired by curiosity. For example, I wrote about pre-med students in “Triage and Tribulations” because I’ve always wondered about the specifics of my pre-med friends’ daily lives and worries. For me, writing that feature was about learning something completely new and arranging all that research into what I hope was an engaging and readable final product.
It was also about empathizing with my subjects, which is one of my favorite parts of writing. When writing about people other than yourself (real or fictional), you get to imagine their circumstances and emotions and try to portray those sensitively.
But the main reason I never get tired of writing, even after sleepless nights hunched over my laptop while trying to pound out a piece before a deadline, is simply that I love it. Something about channeling my creativity onto the page sends a rush of adrenaline through my veins every time. I couldn’t stop myself from writing if I tried.
When I first had the idea for this blog post, I wanted to discover how everyday bloggers like you and me become famous. Who’s successful, and how did they get there? Of course, I soon realized the difficulty of researching that topic, since most bloggers don’t brag about the number of followers they get.
Instead, I decided to focus on a simpler question: Why do people like “famous” blogs, and how can beginning bloggers like myself benefit from their example? A lot of this “research” comes from my own experience with blogs and other forms of online content.
Here are some tips I’ve put together from my observations:
1) Above all, be yourself
As Chris Pirillo (blogger and founder/CEO of LockerGnome) says, “Stay true to yourself and your voice. People don’t care to follow sites as much as they care to follow people.” It’s true—monolithic aggregate blogs don’t appeal to me as much as individual humans behind a keyboard who have something funny or interesting to say.
My favorite bloggers are those who have a unique voice and entertain me. They can teach me something valuable by sharing their “expert” knowledge, they can show off their creativity (a piece of fanart or a comic featuring their own characters), they can make me laugh, they can comment on a current event—the list goes on. Not every blogger has to pick one goal (“persuade,” “inform,” “entertain,” etc., are not mutually exclusive). In fact, variety can often be more interesting in a blog.
The biggest thing that attracts me to a blog, though, is a personal style. For example, NYT-bestselling author Jenny Lawson, a.k.a. “The Bloggess,” posts about everything from haunted toilets to a battle with spellcheck on her blog, but she does so in a brazen, witty way that I (and the rest of her readers) can’t get enough of. We, as readers, like unique people who contribute something new and interesting to the crowded blogosphere.
“The toilet was gurgling and making noises like a cat vomiting, and I thought that seemed odd because toilets don’t vomit and are more likely vomited into, but that noise was definitely coming from the toilet and that’s when I realized that my toilet is probably haunted.
Seriously. I can hear it even now. It’s like the ghost of someone who ate a bad burrito is in there. Or maybe it’s the spirit of a long-dead dog who is drinking from the toilet, Frankly, I have no idea how to handle this and I don’t know whether to call a plumber or an exorcist.” – ‘Does anyone want an alligator? It’s probably going to be mostly clean.’ by The Bloggess
2) Be consistent
This doesn’t require posting every day. In fact, one blogger even argues that producing too much content too often can hurt your pageviews (and audience interaction with your posts, as they get bumped off the top of your homepage). But producing content more often than every few months can improve your credibility—and if you’re producing quality content, readers will keep coming back for more.
3) Spend time on design
Your blog doesn’t have to be flashy. You certainly don’t have to pay a hundred bucks for an ultra-customizable theme or a premium account on a blog hosting site (unless you’re a coding wizard). But what reader wants to squint while reading a blog with tiny font or cringe at clashing color schemes? (Pro tip—don’t play your favorite music automatically on your homepage. People really hate that.)
Keep it simple, readable, and clean. But you can also customize your blog’s appearance to fit its purpose or theme. A photography blog should focus on visual elements, while a music blog should showcase audio. Your readers will appreciate a professional-looking blog (if you’re going that route) or a quirky graphic header, if you like to think outside the box. Your blog is a creative space to show off your personality and style, so let both shine.
4) Make it worth their while
Once you attract a few loyal readers/followers, give them a reason to keep reading your blog. Famous bloggers like The Bloggess create extra content—she has a Zazzle shop featuring gift mugs, graphic tees, and bumper stickers with off-color jokes and clever names.
Other content creators host giveaways, providing concrete incentives for readers who like their work. Whether you’re running a self-help advice blog or a DIY blog about baking, your readers will appreciate some rewards for visiting your site periodically. (On that note, get to know your audience. Know if they find your bad puns annoying or your unrestrained cursing hilarious. By getting to know your audience, you’ll get a sense of what they’d like to see on your blog.)
5) Interact with your community
Unless your blog is just your diary, you probably want people to read it. And what’s the point of attracting readers if you don’t interact with them? Reader feedback (the constructive kind, not the vitriolic YouTube comment kind) can help you brainstorm ideas for new posts, or let you know how you could improve your layout. And let’s face it—when people tell you they like your blog, it’s a heartening feeling. Blogging takes work, and it’s nice to be appreciated.
If you make friends who are blogging about similar things that you’re blogging about, and they like your blog, they’ll probably promote it. You’ll gain followers and friends, whether you use tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, or the website that hosts your blog. The best way to make said friends? Interact with their content by commenting, tell people when you like their stuff, make jokes, be human. Not everyone will like you, but you’ll find some people with similar interests and your blog (and life) will be better for it. Social media is, by definition, social. Use that to your advantage.
A side note—If someone asks you to post a guest post on their blog, or provide content for their site, do it. It will get your name out there, you’ll gain experience, and you’ll build relationships in your blogging “field.” Online networking is just as important as in the real world.
6) Create quality content that people like. You’ll improve through practice.
People will gravitate towards quality work. Unfortunately, creating something “good”—whether it’s writing, music, art, you name it—takes time and lots of effort. Building a successful blog and online presence can take years, but don’t let it discourage you. Do what you love, have fun, and try not to lose sight of why you started your blog in the first place. Remember: It’s rare for a blog to make any sort of money nowadays, and like Alli Worthington advises, “you don’t have to try to monetize your joy.”
“Don’t suck. Practice every day. Don’t suck. Pick an update schedule and stick with it. Buy your own domain name. Don’t suck. Free hosting is never free. Unlimited bandwidth is never unlimited. Don’t go into it expecting fame or fortune or even any recognition at all. Don’t be a dick. Practice more. Don’t suck.” – Jeph Jacques (Questionable Content)
I hope my tips helped! What strategies have you seen your favorite bloggers using? Which have you tried, and which have worked? Let me know in the comments.
Here’s a list of my favorite blogs/webcomics/podcasts:
Her artwork has been featured on the covers of YA books (Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, for example) and she’s published both print and online comics. Noelle, or “Gingerhaze,” is super talented and her tweets are hilarious.
“A twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.”