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A Blog on Blogging

August 8, 2012

I often get asked what advice I have for other bloggers as they take up the hobby or expand upon existing blogs.  At first it was unsettling.  I do not at all consider myself a popular blogger; my site visit counts are relatively low and I knowingly write to a narrow audience. But over time I came to realize that while I may not be a popular blogger, I am indeed a very satisfied blogger.  So maybe I do have some advice worth sharing?

Recently I sat down and put my mind to coming up with general advice for my blogger friends. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Know What You’re Really After.  This is my most important piece of advice and it has two components: a) dare to be bold in your blog’s goal setting and b) don’t let others tell you what your blog should be about. I find that many bloggers can’t say what it is that they are after. Maybe this is the risk of embarrassment. If you set a goal, you can certainly fail at it.  And maybe another part of it is the ‘capitalist delusion’ surrounding blogging.  That is, to be a successful blogger you’ve got to attract a high volume of readers and maybe even find a way to make some money on your site.  This is just ridiculous, but many will push you in this direction.  Perhaps instead of quantity, you shoot for quality with fewer readers that are part a niche audience? Other goals could include creating an interactive forum for discussion (readership and comment numbers are different things), teaching, authentic expression, or just holding yourself to a higher standard of writing and research by leaving yourself open to public criticism.

2. Feed the DeLorean. Remember the DeLorean from Back to the Future?  In my mind, it serves as a great metaphor for how you can achieve great things with your blog.  Stay with me here.  The DeLorean, a 1980’s time machine, could do some incredible stuff. What did it run on?  Pretty much anything, including trash.  But it had to be ‘fed’ to work.  This for me is the secret to regular blogging. You’ve got to ‘feed your DeLorean’.  If you want an output of ideas, you’ve gotta have an input of ideas, and in my experience it really doesn’t matter what.  I consume a lot of quality ideas in academic journals, and a whole lot more of ‘trash’ ideas on HuffingtonPost, Hulu, and elsewhere.  If you don’t know what to write, fill up your tank.

3. Imitate.  One of the best ways to find your legs as a blogger is to imitate other bloggers you like.  The amalgamation always gives you something novel to work with and over time you can figure out what you like and don’t like.  I started with Tyler Cowen, Dani Rodrik, Walter Russel Meade, and Jennifer Jacquet.  Over the past year and a half my Cowen-isms have fallen by the wayside and I never had a chance at writing the random, funky posts as well as Jacquet.

4. Give a Pleasing Visual. While we’d like to think our content can speak for itself, image matters a lot.  If your blog is not well designed, is not appealing to the eye, far fewer people will read it.  Spend a few bucks and hours and make your blog simple and pretty. Need an example?  Deep Sea News and The SeaMonster have beautiful websites. Sadly, this is one bit of advice I haven’t followed too well myself. A revamp, though, is in the works for later this year.

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