Blog Month: Your Blog is Not a Yard Sale

October 20, 2010

Onward with Blog Month!

Last Monday, I talked about Blog Idols, the people who write the blogs we’re all jealous of, and what we can do rather than cry and get depressed because we don’t think our blogs are as good.

Step one was: write a better blog.

And today, I’m here to help you do just that.  Before we go on though, here’s a disclaimer.  A couple of people have written in, confirming my suspicions that you exist.  You claim to blog “for fun,” and have no aspirations to control the world through blogging.  Your blog is a personal diary, and you are content to share kitty pictures with just your friends and family.  You are not jealous of anyone else’s blog.

That’s great!  I’m not telling you that you should be jealous of anyone else, or cry yourself to sleep at night because you can’t push your visitor count a little higher.  But this still applies to you.  So stop taking pictures of your kitties for one minute and read on.

Five ways to write a better blog

Your Blog is Not a Yard Sale

Early on in my blogging adventures, I had an epiphany.  Lightning struck my brain.  I had been writing and prattling on, and most of what I was writing wasn’t very good.  I wanted more readers.  But I thought that the readers I wanted should conform to the nonsense I wanted to post.  Why aren’t people reading this?  They would like this garbage if they were smart!  I was trying to take something from others, their time. 

The revelation came when I decided rather than trying to trick people out of their time, I was going to start giving them something.  I was going to do my best to write something that had real value that people could see.  If I couldn’t justify writing something, if I couldn’t tell myself it was valuable, it would benefit people, and that people needed to read what I wanted to say, I didn’t write it. 

Don’t make your blog a yard sale.  Yard sales are full of trash that their owners don’t have any value for, but they’re hoping a sucker will take it off their hands for a few bucks.

Don’t Write Everything

It goes without saying if you’re trying to be valuable to others, you aren’t going to write everything.  Leave that to the emo teens sitting in their basements, hating the world but having nothing coherant to say.  You should also think about what kind of blog you are writing.  Very few bloggers get away with having a wide open, unfocused blog.  Most of us should pick a few topics and stick to them.  It goes back to value.  Now that I know what my readers find valuable, why would I randomly drop in a post about, say, building mailboxes?  I actually would really like to write a post about building mailboxes.  I could write a mean mailbox blog, I promise you.  But that would be a waste of your time.

This is a two edged sword.  The more focused your blog is, the more valuable it will be to your readers.  But, the more focused it is, the fewer people it will probably appeal to.

Not Too Many Knick-Knacks

My wife and I have a very modern decorating style.  Namely, we don’t like to have a lot of tacky crap on our walls.  I know some of us like to be surrounded by armies of trinkets, and our blogs start to look the same way.  It’s fine to decorate and make your blog your own.  But don’t put decorating over ease of use for your readers.  If your blog could be featured on that show “Hoarders” because you never saw a plug-in, button, gif, or unreadable girly font you didn’t like, it may be time to clean house.

Write a Blog

I know, this is revolutionary stuff.  Your blog should be a blog.  Your blog isn’t a research paper, or a haiku, and it shouldn’t look like that…unless your blog is about haikus.  I used to just barf out my thoughts in behemoth chunks of text.  Then I found out that not using small paragraphs makes baby Jesus cry…because baby Jesus is still learning how to read.  If baby Jesus wouldn’t not read your blog, I doubt anyone else wants to.  I also found out that a lot of readers weren’t reading to the end of my posts, much less commenting.  Got to limit my blathering.  Now I shoot for 1,000 words or less on each post.  It’s tough for me.  There’s always a “director’s cut” of every post on the cutting room floor.  Break it down, keep it short, make it snappy.

Be Consistent

I know most bloggers don’t follow this rule, but most bloggers also don’t write this blog.  I learned early on that if I didn’t set a schedule for blogging, I’d give it up.  If you’ve read this site for any length of time, you know I always post Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I haven’t missed in two years, except when I go on vacation and leave you babysat with the “Best of My Blog” posts.

Why do this?  It gives your readers something to expect.  They know when to check your site.  People forget about sites that go weeks without updates.  Also, having a rhythm helps me fight writer’s block…most of the time.  This point isn’t mandatory, but it is helpful.

Tell us about how you write the best blog possible.  Do you have to write in a certain time or place, or do you have to be wearing your special “blogging pants?”  Do you have a schedule or a focus, or does it just shoot from your brain to the screen whenever the mood strikes?  Non-writers, what do you suggest to the bloggers out there?

39 responses to Blog Month: Your Blog is Not a Yard Sale

  1. To me 1,000 words is a long post. In fact, I consider all your posts to be long, not that I mind though, obviously since I have you on my blog roll and read your lengthy posts as well as sometimes comment. In my little survey, I found that most blog readers prefer short to medium posts (1-4 paragraphs).

    We can learn much from our pets and there are many pet blogs. I have several blogs and each has a different purpose: personal, book reviews, my dad and the book I wrote about him including childhood memories. My personal blog is a hodgepodge of different type posts, but it has the most followers so I think people enjoy variety. I usually post M-F on my personal blog, once every week or two on my dad blog, and every day on my book blog (so far).

  2. If I find a neat quote from a book I’m reading, or blog, or anywhere, I’ll put that up on Sunday. If I have a regular post I want to put up, I’ll do that on Wednesday. I tried for two posts per week plus the Sunday Quote, but that didn’t work.

    My sticking points are consistency and my tendancy to be long-winded. I read once that in every draft you do of a piece, you should aim to reduce the word count by about 10%.

    I struggle with that, because I see connections and tangents everywhere, and it’s hard for me not to chase them all.

    jj

  3. Great post Matt … a lot of good information. Some I’d heard before, but I needed this reminder, especially the one about setting up a schedule. I know that’s a great idea, but I just haven’t gotten around to doing it. At this time my posts “shoot from your brain to the screen whenever the mood strikes.” But that’s all changing today … Thanks!

  4. I’ve found the more I blog, the more stuff I think of to blog. I had a week of inspiration a couple of weeks ago and now have a whole bunch of posts all queued up and waiting their turn to be published, which has made me kind of lazy and I’m afraid that I’m about to run out of things to say. Usually I find that afternoons are a good blogging time for me.

    And I would like to read your post about building mailboxes.

  5. I fall in the “does it just shoot from your brain to the screen whenever the mood strikes” camp.

    maybe not so much “the mood strikes” part…..but when something is placed on my heart. (for the most part…..I have been known to just post something completely random and just for my own entertainment sadly enough)

  6. Do you have to write in a certain time or place, or do you have to be wearing your special “blogging pants?”

    I write every day at lunch between 2-3. I try to hit my favorite blogs if I can get in the office early. There is usually some idiot with an outrageous comment; and voila, a Fire and Grace rant. I do a quick edit each night, format text, and add photos when my wife gives me a 30 minute detox from the day time.

    Do you have a schedule or a focus, or does it just shoot from your brain to the screen whenever the mood strikes?

    Yes, I post every Monday AM, Wednesday AM and Thursday PM (for Friday). For election season I have been doing Political Tuesdays. And of course, I post every Monday at Kingdom Bloggers.

    – Good tip on cleaning out the blog of widgets and stuff. I need to do that.
    – I have shortened my blogs to about 750 words. Amazingly, some of my older long-winded ones are still getting a lot of traffic from Google.
    – My 5 1/2 series which is more focused and shorter is doing very well.

    I am still lamenting ID and the traffic you gave me. :(

    Thanks Matt, for sharing!

  7. I don’t have a certain time that I write, but everything is scheduled.

    Keeping them short is key. The majority of mine are about 300 words or less. (I would like to be able to write 1000 words though)

    I also think you are right about being consistent. I think los is the only one who can get by with being all over the place. For the most part I do my best to stick to what I do.

  8. Many of the things you talked about, like consistency, length, and narrowing down to a niche topic all are things I’m currently working through as a baby blogger (I don’t blog about babies, I’m just new to blogging!)

    I like to get my posts up first thing in the morning, but that means that I either have to write them the night before or get up earlier to write them. I haven’t succeeded with figuring out this time and setting it in stone yet, but I feel like I need to because consistency as a discipline is important for me and my potential reader base.

    I eventually hope to be able to have a backlog of blog posts, which will help me with my consistency, but because I’m also working on pursuing a resume writing career right now, it makes it an extra challenge.

    Finally, topics. Because I’m new to blogging, my blog is a little bit all over the board. It’s generally about me leaving my CPA career, becoming a writer, and the occasional hot topic/faith thoughts. I’ve been fearing that’s too broad, but I don’t want to let that fear prevent me from moving forward, which I had done for so long. I convinced myself I couldn’t start my blog until I knew what my niche would be, how I would design it, etc., etc. As a result, I wasn’t getting started. Now I figure that I’ll just write and write and eventually, the direction will reveal itself. It’s forcing me into a discipline of writing, which is much better than where I was before.

    • That would be the exact advice I would give you. Write and write some more, and the more you do, the more you’ll discover what you love to write about. Hopefully your blog will evolve and focus itself if you do it intentionally. Best of luck!

  9. My thoughts usually come during the weekend and then on MWTH, I’ll pull them out and try to put them into some sort of coherency. I’m trying to write better posts because lately I think my posts have just been about me getting frustrated with church and Christians in general.

    If other bloggers are presumptuous like me in posting something, I think we can all agree that we look at something and ask ourselves, “How can I make this into a post?” Just saying…

    nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com

  10. Good ideas. Having a theme is tough for a person who things randomly. I have also started making my blogs shorter by breaking it up into several sections if it starts being a book. Four paragraphs is a good number.

    I also have started to use the rule of don’t use two examples when one will be sufficient. I think the Bible says something about “when words are many, sin is usually present”. I’ve always thought it applies to the spoken word, but it might well be referring to the written word.

    • I meant that I ‘think’ randomly’. Mostly, my blogs are like MUCH longer Facebook statuses, which I need because I left Facebook last month. It was becoming too much a part of my life.

  11. I try to put up a new post every other day. That’s not always the case, because small children can sometimes throw off the writing mojo, but I try.

    I have mostly 5-7 paragraph posts. I don’t know, word-wise, but they are all pretty uniform as you scroll the page. They might be long, but what I’ve left on the cutting room floor would make them extremely long.

    I got into the habit at some point (maybe from my years writing headlines for the school paper) of coming up with the title first and then writing the post from the material I have been stockpiling.

    I like your list, I’m going to try to be more consistent.

  12. I’m still fairly new at blogging (only been doing it since April 2010) and I’ve found that being consistent with when you blog will help out as well. I don’t know about any readers that I have or what they think of me being consistent, but it helps me. I usually keep an eye out for things to write and post and text myself ideas I have.

    My personal blog isn’t that focused which is maybe why I don’t have readers, but I’ve got another one that is focused. blueconfessions.wordpress.com – maybe I should put more time and effort into that one.

  13. I try to write on the same three days every week. In days past I wrote them 3 days in advance but lately I’ve only been able to write the night before, and its the last thing I do before bed. This helps me keep under 500 words, although I prefer under 400.

  14. I am afraid that my blog is a yard sale. Not in the way of too many words; but, in the variety of subjects. I have many interests and well, I can’t just isolate one (go by a single theme). That’s the reason for the name of my blog. I’m unfocused. Ha!

    However, I am consistent. If have have something crafty, I usually mention that on Tuesdays. My “random thoughts” is Fridays. Mondays is “pictorial” story of travels and stuff if I have anything. Wednesdays is my “wordy Wednesday” where I usually post a picture or two and talk about it. And Thursday? Well, I guess that it is either upchuck day or skipped (no postings) because I haven’t figure out what to do on it. And weekends I don’t usually post anything.

    Anyway, thank you for your thoughts. I hope I’ll take the good parts and apply it to my blog. :-)

    And with that, I’m going to shut up before this comment becomes a “yard sale”. Ha!

  15. I try to blog every day.

    But I also try to eat right and exercise.

    That’s not working either.

    :-(

  16. Blog as yard sale. Nice.

    Thanks for the post. Why didn’t you tell me this six years ago? Stay blessed…john

  17. Great post, and great comments. Early fall is my busy season, so I have fallen (no pun intended) behind on following your blog. I always enjoy it.
    I blog M-F. It is a lot, but it is what I feel I’m to do right now, M-Th are devotional blogs, and Fri. is “Just For Fun Friday”. I blog on the silly, quirky things that I observe. I usually pick a series topic and blog on that for awhile. For instance, I blogged on procrastination for a couple of weeks, breaking it into appropriate size posts. Currently I am blogging on “Christianese”, but not the ranting angle, but rather the meaning of some of the sadly over used Christian phrases. This was inspired by my son who in his frustration with the church accused us of “arsenal of one liners”. Ouch. It made me really take a close look at how people perceive Christians.
    Because I post M-F, I write often but have Wed. and Sat. that I set aside to write. I also write my lessons for the Bible class I teach, so I keep busy, but I love it.
    Oh, it is important to say that I didn’t start writing like this until my kids were out of the house. There is NO WAY I had this kind of time when they were home. There is a season for everything.

  18. Thank you for the great ideas. As another “baby blogger” My wife and I are still learning. We have a focused topic (marriage)which has helped to drive intrest and buzz. We are developing a rythem to our posting as well. I think our biggest challenge is how to shorten our posts. 1200 words has been about our average. The challenge to this is when you are trying to communicate a complex point, well it takes words. I guess this is the learning curve! Thanks for the help!

  19. Dang, why does everybody hate on the emo teens that happen to live in a basement? Why not show some hate for the emo teens that live above the garage? I’m tired of all the stereotyping going on out there. I’m out, gotta go listen to some Dashboard and dwell on my life. Wait..what’s that?? Gotta go, my mom’s callin’ me from upstairs.

  20. I write about whatever comes to mind. I’ve written about horrific life events, struggles with religion and faith, movies and music I like, family, creative writing, whatever. I think of my blog as writing for my virtual friends, like a letter (it also feeds into my Facebook account, and some friends read it there). I don’t think of my blog as providing a service. At the moment I’m not interested in trying to attract a bunch of readers. I have a few who regularly stop by. When I wrote more about faith, I found it helpful that I belonged to a ring. I’ve found that blogging in my little social blogging circle operates a bit like the Victorian custom of calling on people. Better make regular visits and leave your calling card or return visits will drop off.

  21. Hi Matt,

    I’ve never been to Europe but I understand that in Medieval churches, sometimes the ancient stonemasons would chisel the face of an angel in some obscure, inaccessible niche high up in the rafters. And that woodworkers sometimes carved saints on the underside of pews where nobody would ever see them–except God.

    I wonder if some blogs are like that? For Your Eyes Only sort of things in which the writer pours out hearthunger to the Lord, not meant for public consumption. But precious nevertheless.

    On the other hand, there are guys like me.

    My blog makes me rich and famous.

    For the past five years I’ve published my postings in my Dirty Old Man Goes Bad series of books; and every once in a while, somebody actually buys one of those books…

    But, when they look on the underside of my pew, all they ever find is old chewing gum.

  22. Consistency was huge for me. I write every day, no matter what. I also tried to stick to a theme. I usually write about some weird story of my past and relate it to something that stuck out to me from my daily Bible reading. I throw in a few ridiculous exampes, and I’m good to go :)

    I also respond to all my comments, which I think keeps me engaged.

    I might be a little overdecorated…I’ve been evaluating that.

    Great thoughts!

  23. I have written in a lot of different ways, schedules, semi schedules, and as the mood strikes. Just depends on what I have going on.

  24. It would appear that perhaps the best alternative I have to my trainwreck is to simply stop.

    But what’s the fun in that?

  25. Some interesting thoughts… I have recently introduced a schedule of sorts with guest blogs wednesdays and my blogs friday or saturdays. I am also thinking of doing something different (not sure what) on mondays…

    As far as word count, I have a theory that unless you write incredible well people don’t want to scroll down, so my two rules for my blog are: 1 Honesty, 2 500 words (at most 700!)

    I find the discipline of editing down to that sort of word count can make your posts better. Oh and I am always open to new guest bloggers (one offs or regulars) so if anyone can stick to those rules contact me via my blog!

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