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How To NOT Start A Successful Blog: Part 1

By Ben Sochor

I’ll wager that if you’re reading this, you’re somewhere on the spectrum between wanting to make something awesome and not knowing where to start, and staring in horror at the dumpster fire you’ve created, questioning where it all went terribly wrong. Or maybe you already have a successful blog and just want some entertainment. Either way, I wrote this for you, so let’s have real talk about self-sabotage involved with getting a blog off the ground and how we can learn from our mistakes.

Wasting Time With Analysis Paralysis

Off the bat, fighting the urge to “perfect” everything before even getting started has been my greatest obstacle to overcome. We can have a tendency to over think it in lieu of actually producing anything, especially those of us coming from a technical or creative background. For me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a blog post, the construction of the site itself, or small things like social media posts. I’ve flushed countless hours down the drain wrestling with blank pages, or over-engineering details literally nobody will notice.

The simple fact of the matter is many people feel that putting their ideas “out there” opens them up to criticism. So, they’ll pour over the same article, redo the same sketch, or rehearse the same lines until they’ve sapped every last bit of inspiration that made it great in the first place! Once that initially-brilliant creation has been painstakingly dissected and sterilized, it either finally makes its way out the door, or else gets banished to a stack of other non-starters; never taking the risk of knowing what your peers think leaves some plausible deniability, after all.

Overcoming that pull to go back and edit your work for the Nth time is fundamentally about giving yourself permission to be yourself; cringey, I know. The good news is, it’s an easy cycle to break once you get started, and it just requires playing some games with yourself.You’ll be wondering in no time what all the fuss was about–I know I am!

Pick and choose what works for you:

  • Set clear, attainable objectives and reward yourself for meeting them
    I can’t stress this enough: nobody else is going to hold you accountable, and accountability is the best way to stop stalling and start doing. I’m committing to a substantial post bi-weekly, more-or-less. Remember to be realistic about the goals you set: I’m a currently a full-time salary man and a full-time dad, more than two posts per month may be optimistic early on.
  • Hone your workflow
    Find your process for producing and publishing, and master it. If your routine feels like a chore, change it up! Don’t dogmatically stick to “tried-and-true” methods if they’re burdening you and hindering your ability to create quality output reliably. Having a clear path from start to finish prevents getting too hung up on the minutiae.

Overthinking Content, Before Having Any

On one screen, a blank page. On the other, a dozen tabs of endless Google searches, keyword research, competition analysis, SEO tips, etc.

Does this sound like you? If so, stop it, right now. Close those tabs (even this one!) and start writing: you’re not allowed back until you’ve hit your word count goal for the day. Yes, it’ll suck. Yes, there’s competition out there who’ve done it better. But you’re spinning your gears on the fine-tuning of an article that doesn’t even exist yet.

That’s been me for the past month, as evidenced by the one whole article (now two!) I’ve successfully published in that timeframe. I’d convinced myself that everything had to be just right, or else I’d somehow be getting off on the wrong foot. Well, great news for you who haven’t yet started: nobody cares about your first steps. You aren’t going to hit Google’s front page overnight with a single piece of content (if you have, let me in on your secret!), and nobody is waiting with bated breath to tear apart your baby-steps.

I muddled through learning the basics of everything I thought I needed to know about on-site and off-site SEO, audience research, and so forth. Meanwhile, I’ve had more pageviews in one day from a single off-hand tweet, than all organic traffic combined in the past 30 days. Get yourself out there and then agonize over the the details that really make your work shine.

  • Make mistakes!
    Writing for your blog is no different than any other creative pursuit: your first draft is going to suck. Your second draft is going to suck, too, but a little less if you’re lucky and paying attention. This never-ending process speeds up expontentially if you’re putting your content out there and listening to feedback from others. I try to think people are generally good, so listen to their input, and don’t be afraid to make revisions. Just because something is published doesn’t mean it’s set in stone.
  • But don’t forget to proofread
    Allowing yourself to experiment with what works isn’t a free pass to be sloppy, though. If you aren’t taking the time to present your ideas clearly, with proper spelling and grammar, then your audience will pick up on how little you’re invested and ditch accordingly. Quality is king, every single time.
  • Stop writing for yourself
    Face it: your audience doesn’t care about any of the ancillary details you’re obsessing over, you do. Not to say SEO and the like isn’t critical to a successful blog, but you’re not writing for a search engine, you’re creating content for other people. Figure out who your (hypothetical, at this point) audience is, and start having a real, meaningful conversation with them! Everything else is secondary.

Using Off-The-Rack, Except Not

Here’s where I really shot myself in the leg, from a technical standpoint. My wheelhouse is enterprise web development, but given my desire to keep things as free possible (vanity domain aside) required learning some technologies wholly foreign to me. Github Pages and Jekyll are absolutely fantastic tools with a huge community (more on that in an upcoming post), and it’s completely possible to set up a full-fledged site in under an hour, so you can get right to churning out content.

Unfortunately, I have a habit of tinkering. While I started with a very basic Jekyll template, I found myself throwing in kludgey custom code and styling to workaround percieved limitations, without much thought for maintainability. Between that and learning Liquid template tricks as I go, overhauling the inner workings of this blog is very high on my to-do list. That means less time creating content for my audience, and more time cleaning up a completely avoidable mess.

  • Stick with Themes
    If there’s a pre-fabricated solution out there that checks all your boxes, whether Jekyll or Wordpress themes, or something else for your choice of CMS, use it and stick with it. Unless web design and development is something you enjoy (I hope so, since you’re here), it just isn’t worth the effort otherwise. Your blog should be about producing great content, not spending days fighting with overriding your CMS’ code-highlighting rules.
  • Or Don’t
    Maybe you want something unique in the look-and-feel of your site, and that’s great! Just do yourself a favor: either start from scratch and keep it cohesive, or fork an existing theme and make it your own. Learn from my short-sightedness!

If you made it this far,

Thanks! Drop me a line via e-mail or Twitter and don’t hold any punches; tell me what you want to see more of, and what isn’t hitting the mark. Check back in after the New Year for part two, where we’ll discuss what’s working out and what new pitfalls I’ve discovered along the way.