The 1974 bestseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance begins with the following disclaimer from author Robert Pirsig:
“[This book] should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”
Likewise, this article isn’t going to teach you much of anything about Zen Buddhism, and absolutely zero about motorcycles. But I hope it does provide some insight into effective blogging, or, at a minimum, gets you to think differently about your current notions regarding content and the attention you seek with it.
The Four Noble Truths of Blogging
1. Get Over Your “Self”
Buddhists believe that suffering begins with our perception that we are separate and distinct from the rest of reality. In other words, our own egos make us miserable.
In blogging, the publisher / reader mindset can also cause you unnecessary pain. The key to successful blogging is an alignment of interests between writer and reader. It’s that sweet spot where what’s good for your readers matches what’s good for you.
Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.
2. Free Your Mind
Zen is all about seeing deeply into the nature of things by direct experience. Blogging that gets noticed and linked to is all about seeing existing information from a unique perspective and writing with a fresh angle.
Zen encourages meditation, and great blogging requires contemplative thought. If you’re truly going to get into lateral thinking mode, you’ve got to step away from the keyboard and think. Stop surfing, twittering, and reading RSS feeds and go for a walk.
Albert Einstein figured out that time is relative while on a stroll with a friend. Go do something else and a killer angle for your next blog post may just pop into your head.
3. Detach From Results
Another key to existential angst is an attachment to outcomes rather than simply focusing on excelling in our actions. This is true for any pursuit, including blogging and social media marketing.
When you focus on the outcome you expect from your content, you are almost invariably failing your readers. Moreover, while one great piece of content may change your blogging profile immensely, a failure to consistently perform at or near the same level will make you nothing more than a one-hit wonder.
Focus on consistently producing excellent reader-focused content and effectively promoting it. The results will come.
4. It’s Up to You
While still steeped in Buddhist philosophy, Zen is more concerned with attaining wisdom through doing, in that daily life and mundane tasks will teach you more than any sacred text could. In this way, blogging and Zen are closely aligned—simply showing up and keeping at it will teach you more than anyone else can.
Zen encourages practitioners to learn from teachers and other students to better understand how to attain truth through direct experience. The blogging community offers a similar environment, but the final breakthrough will always occur in your own mind and be the result of your own actions. You’ve got to accept responsibility for your own success.
I’m sure the story of the origin of Zen can make this point much clearer than I ever could:
Buddha gathered his disciples at a lake on Gridhakuta for instruction. His adherents sat in a circle about him eagerly awaiting his teachings. Wordlessly Buddha reached into the muck and pulled up a single lotus flower. He then held it high for all to see.
Practically everyone was bewildered. But then the disciple Mahakashyapa began to laugh.
Finally, Buddha handed the lotus flower to Mahakashyapa and said,
“What can be said I have said to you, and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”