I think there should be a notice that appears when installing WordPress or setting up your shiny new account with Blogger.
“Blogging is not easy. You may experience unexpected droughts of inspiration, difficultly maintaining a schedule, or succumb to the pressures of always needing fresh content.”
Understandably, awash with the desire to share their great ideas and unique perspective with the world, most people would ignore this little nougat of wisdom.
But maybe it would seep its way into the subconscious. Maybe, a few months later as they were staring at a blank page trying to come up with something witty or informative to write, it would come back to them.
Told you so.
One Blogger’s Confession
Several months ago, I started a blog called Pop Culture Tees.
I had been blogging off and on for years, both professionally and personally, but I had never stuck it out longer than a few months. Usually I grew sick of the site or discovered that I really didn’t have anything I wanted to tell the Internet. I chalked these attempts up to being experiments in the medium rather than real stabs at being a blogger.
But this time I was serious. I had a simple idea: find and highlight cool t-shirts and give aspiring t-shirt artists the inspiration and the knowledge they needed to be successful.
I figured that keeping this blog up-to-date would be easy. After all, I was picking a topic I was passionate about (I worked as the lead artist at a screen printing company for four years), and there is an endless supply of new shirts out there to talk about.
I was kept psyched for the first month by the excitement of having my newly designed blog live and getting some early attention for it’s design.
Diligently, I would do a little bit of research each day to find a t-shirt I wanted to highlight, prepare the post and publish it. I wrote the first article of was going to be multi-part series and planned to post each subsequent part over the course of the next weeks. I even came up with a list of special articles/interviews I wanted to do over the next few months.
Then, just when I began to start getting traffic, it started to happen.
One day, I was too busy to post. The next day, I was unmotivated and tired.
Suddenly, my daily posts trickled down to 3-4 a week. The second article of my series was languishing half-finished. There were one or two emails I hadn’t responded to. And then, finally, I logged onto the site one day and realized the last post I had made was dated over a week ago.
5 Ways to Fight The Blog Updating Blues
As any expert on web publishing will tell you, the single most important thing you have to do to build a new blog is to post regular content. I was failing miserably.
After that one week of silence I saw my traffic cut almost in half and while RSS subscriptions weren’t dropping yet, they weren’t increasing either.
I had a decision to make. I could let my site join the thousand of other abandoned blogs out there, or I could change how I was doing things to do a better job keeping things up to date.
I chose the later, and here’s what I’ve learned over the past few months:
1. Decide on a realistic posting frequency
For me this was every day, except weekends. Ironically, it’s easier for me to handle posting during work days because I was already in “work mode”. On the weekends, I just wanted to be able to kick back and not think about anything work related.
For you, it may be every other day or twice a week. Whatever you decide on, announce it to your readers on your blog.
Announcing it accomplishes two things.
One, you’re creating and managing your reader’s expectations of when new content will be posted.
Two, you’re making yourself accountable to your readership. It’s harder to blow off posting when you know there’s a bunch of people out there who are expecting to see something new on a given day.
2. Accept that there will be days when you don’t have time to update your blog, or you just won’t feel like it. Then prepare for it.
Most blogging systems have an option to schedule posts in advance. Take advantage of it.
Work with your natural cycles of productivity and write some extra posts when you’re in the mood. Schedule them to post automatically on the days you know you’re going to be busy, or just keep them “unpublished” for the days when you aren’t motivated to write something new.
Generally, I follow this rule of thumb to generate a weeks worth of posts ahead of time and schedule them out, one per day. Then I can forget about posting for a while.
You’d also be surprised how much content you can find and want to share once you’ve already fulfilled your “quota”. Many times I wind up upping my post output to 2-3 per day once the pressure to get something published is gone.
3. Always keep your eyes out for new content and have a way to capture it.
It’s easy to miss opportunities for new content if you’re not looking for them or if you’re not prepared to record and save them for when you’re ready.
You’d be surprised how many times I’ll be surfing another website or reading a blog (many times on totally unrelated topics) and find something relevant to my own site.
Get in the habit of having online and offline means to capture information that will be useful later to your site. I use the following tools:
- Delicious with the Firefox add on for bookmarking things I find while surfing the net.
- A text file with various notes, urls, and article ideas.
- My iPhone camera for snapping shots of cool t-shirts I see around town.
- A small notebook (I like Field Notes) to write ideas down when I’m not anywhere near a computer.
I also save time on researching posts by using a few different methods of getting relevant information delivered to me, instead of having to go look for it.
- I subscribe to the RSS feeds of a half dozen industry sites/blogs via Google Reader, and star entries that I think will be useful.
- Delicious allows you to select tags of your choosing, and then subscribe to the resulting RSS feed. I’ve set up a few separate RSS feeds for relevant phrases and added them to Google. I get some of my best content from what other people have bookmarked.
- I’ve set up daily Google Alerts (one of the more obscure features of the Google empire) for relevant keywords and get them sent to my inbox. This is a fantastic source of actual news stories on any given topic.
4. Find something small that you can easily cover on a daily/weekly basis.
Every day on Pop Culture Tees I feature a different t-shirt. The post format is pretty simple: name of the design, picture, blurb about the shirt, price and a link to buy it. Doing the post doesn’t take much time at all, in fact, sometimes I’m lucky and people will send me shirts to review and I can skip the whole research part.
Find something to be your equivalent of the daily t-shirt.
Why? It’s a quick and easy way to build your archives, provides fresh daily content without a huge time investment, and fills the gaps between any larger features you might plan to write.
Need some ideas to get started?
- If your blog covers art/design: every day, link to a different image that has inspired you for some reason. Include a short bio of the artist, a link to their website, and some examples of their work.
- If your blog covers technology: find an interesting news story and write an opinion piece on it.
- If your blog covers your life: post something funny/interesting/crazy that you overhear from friends or strangers.
- If your blog covers music: recommend a new song each day and compare it to something people will have heard before.
5. Encourage readers to contact you.
One of the best things about blogging as a publishing medium is the ease in which people can respond to what you write. Writing becomes less a practice of lecturing and more an invitation to start a dialogue. And you never know where that dialogue could lead.
Include a contact form (never just your email address, unless you have some brilliant spam filters) someplace visible on your blog and encourage feedback, rants and submissions from your visitors. Also encourage users to post comments, and make sure you respond to them, especially in the beginning. Same goes for the emails.
I know, you’re wondering how user feedback will help you maintain your blog. There’s two simple reasons:
- Readers are sometimes the best sources of new content; and
- Knowing there’s a real live person behind a blog develops loyalty and relationships.
Thing is, they’re passionate enough about whatever you’re writing about to be reading your blog. Solicit their input and you may be surprised to find your readers linking you to relevant content, sharing experiences that you can write about, or just letting you know that the last article you wrote was awesome.
You’d be surprised how much that kind of response helps motivate you.
Beating the Blogging Blues for Good
At the beginning of this article, I said blogging wasn’t easy. And now that we’re at the end of the article… blogging still isn’t easy.
The suggestions here aren’t by any means a cure-all to the struggles that come from trying to produce content on a regular basis.
There are still days (though they are a lot fewer and farther between) when I don’t post, and I still have that half-written second article of my series still sitting my drafts folder.
But through a combination of preparation, structure, and the encouraging feedback of awesome readers, these guidelines have made blogging easier and a lot more fun for me.
I hope they do the same for you.