10 Mistakes I Made in My First Year of Blogging
I regret nothing. I say that in the spirit of the beautiful French song that is now synonymous with the 2010 Christopher Nolan film, Inception, “Non, je ne regrette rien,” I, too, regret nothing about my blogging journey. Nonetheless, it’s fun to assess where to improve and the lessons I’ve learned from some great minds.
Along with my mistakes that any blogger can learn from, here are 10 books that will help bloggers move forward with strength and discipline. 1. The Artist’s Way. I didn’t keep a journal with me.
Julia Cameron recommends starting off each morning by writing 3 pages. This is a serious commitment to journaling. I’ve seen other people promote the idea of the brain dump, which is where you get all your ideas out on the page, which seems more fitting these days. The only problem I have with Cameron’s morning pages idea is that you never reread them. I can see the potential for this while working through something, but for the sake of the blog, a compact notebook that travels everywhere with you ought to collect all of your stray thoughts before they run away forever seems like a better move. I’ve corrected this mistake, and jot down ideas regularly again.
2. Eat That Frog: 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. I didn’t post consistently.
Blogging is not my biggest frog. If I’m being honest, it’s probably my littlest frog that I devote time to after my family, part time teaching, and church service. Let me back track and explain why we are talking about amphibians in the first place: Eat That Frog is a book about time management that follows the advice of Mark Twain:
Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
I love my mornings. I used to read for two or three hours before eating breakfast. I might get back there eventually, but I spent the first year of this blog (and my son’s) life getting every extra minute of sleep I could. And then, because he’s my biggest frog, we hang out all day and I eat the rest of my frogs when he’s napping or in bed for the night. I just recently started waking up at 4am again to work. There is something so ungodly about 4:00 in the morning; if you don’t believe me, watch this.
3. How to Win Friends and Influence People. I have never written a guest post.
I know, I know. If you’ve been blogging for more than a week, you know how important this is. Jon Morrow is probably cursing me from behind his computer screen right now. I’ve had a couple opportunities, but if you return to mistake number three, I had a hard time staying on top of my own blog, so it was a little hard to solicit guest posting opportunities. I’d love to make friends and influence other people in the future. In the meantime, I am following the advice in this book that suggests you can make more friends by being interested in other people than you can in trying to get them to be interested in you. In that vein, I read a lot of blogs and am regularly impressed by who I come across. I haven’t read it, but I wonder if this is discussed in Dale Carnegie and associates’ book for the digital age. Something to note, I just finished Seth Godin’s short and powerful audiobook, Leap First: Creating Work That Matters, and he tells a story about how a woman asked to write a guest post for his blog. He doesn’t accept guest posts, so he asks her, “Why don’t you do what I do and write things and put them on your blog?” She answered, “Because I want to get credibility first.” It’s a teachable moment–you don’t get credibility until you put in the work, you write authentically, and you add value to people’s lives. If you can’t do this from your own digital space, then you surely won’t do it for anyone else. All that to say, I’ll write for others when the time is right, but in the meantime, you can count on reading my voice right here.
4. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action. I changed my tag line twelve times.
At the end of the day, I want you to read more than you already do. As a consequence of reading more, I want you to write better. Along those same lines, I want you to think deeper thoughts, make richer connections, and learn more about the world. That’s why I’m blogging. Heck, that’s why I’m teaching. When a student tells me they don’t like to read, or have never read a whole book, I want to cry. I have my students write an activism essay and they read Simon Sinek, Daniel Pink, Martin Luther King Jr. and a few others. Each thinker leads with purpose and walks with intention. My first year teaching was a wake up call for me. My students weren’t there for an education, but I started sensing my greater mission is to increase the joy for literacy all around me. Only then will they actually learn to write well. Recognizing this helped me move forward with clarity. As Simon Sinek points out, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
5. Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. I misspent my time.
Blogging is tough. There is so much to learn on the technical side of it, but creating great content must always come first. I consider the first year or so as batting practice off of the tee. Now that I understand the technical side, I can focus on why I started this blog in the first place–to spread the love of reading and excitement for books. If you are brand new to blogging, and approaching it in a systematic way, Platform is a really great place to start. Michael Hyatt is very thorough, and I’m really glad I read this so early in my journey. The sooner I can outsource every non-writing and non-reading component of this blog, I will. Only then will I use my time wisely. In the meantime, I know more about HTML, CSS, and Excel Spreadsheets than I care to admit.
6. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I didn’t sleep train my son sooner.
I was gun shy with this one. I thought if I left my son alone in his room to cry, I was evil. Every time someone suggested I let him cry and put himself to sleep, I thought they were evil. If you are reading this and you offered that advice, please forgive me; I was sleep-deprived and delusional. I read book after book and blog after blog trying to figure the magic formula to help him sleep. Finally, we decided to let him cry for a few minutes at a time and to this day, he’s never cried more than 15 minutes. When we finally started implementing this at six months, my productivity soared. Not only was I getting more sleep, but he slept so much better at night and during the day. We’ve had a few regressions since then, but I am thankful for the wisdom in this book and the balanced approach to teaching a child to sleep.
7. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I took more than two days off in a row.
Haruki Murakami uses the same principle for writing that he does for running: never take more than two days off in a row. He is fiercely disciplined, and runs at least one marathon every year. The idea behind never taking more than two days off in a row is simple: habits create muscle memory. The more consistently you use those muscles, the stronger you’ll be. My friend and mentor first introduced me to this idea in grad school- after a couple weeks of critical theory she asked us if it was getting easier to read the obscure texts in the field. I’ve since implemented this principle when I read, but I didn’t take blogging seriously during the first year. So I didn’t post consistently and that was a mistake if my goals are to write for a loyal audience of readers and create a habit of writing in my day-to-day life. There are successful bloggers who post three times a week and others who post six. Whatever the case, they understand the importance of consistency, and now I do too.
8. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. I didn’t create triggers for writing.
This follows the previous mistake closely. Once you understand the importance of routine and consistency, you can start to create triggers for your habits to help solidify the routines you want in place. Simply put, the trigger is a cue that helps your brain go into automatic mode. An example of a trigger is drinking 30 ounces of water as soon as I wake up in the morning or always taking my vitamins with my Spark. I do these without even thinking. Once you understand how to create habits by building in triggers, these behaviors become automatic. Michael Hyatt suggests a few triggers for blogging that I’ve adopted and the one I find the most helpful is turning on the same instrumental music, the Soothing Waters Pandora Station, every morning to get in the writing zone.
9. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I didn’t think I had an audience.
My blog has grown a mighty faithful and fairly large readership in a short amount of time. This shows me my writing and reading resonates with more people than I thought it might. Even with this small success, I feel like a living, breathing, walking paradox. I follow Christ and delight in theology–that part of me is a big part, but I also read the weirdest contemporary literature I can find, and love to study critical theory. If you’ve found your way to this blog, it’s probably because you were looking for one or the other, Christian or Contemporary Fiction– but probably not both. Then I teach college writing and rhetoric and promote reading strategies every chance I get, so of course I will share my expertise here. All while I am raising my son, collecting curricula to homeschool him, and learning about educating children. It’s sort of like having two moons in the sky, one green and one yellow, like in 1Q84, but then the moons have babies. Those are my interests. Early in this blog’s inception, I was told to create an avatar of my ideal reader. Um… do you have a mirror? I know deep down there are more of us out there. My undergraduate program was full of people wildly passionate about their little slice of literary pie, but I always thought I was so much more obscure than everyone else. Nonetheless, there is a place for me in the blogosphere, and the author of Big Magic helped me realize all of those complexities I thought didn’t fit will actually be my intellectual fuel for the rest of my life.
10. Make Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality. I didn’t use my back burner.
According to Scott Belsky, constant motion is the key to execution. Gaining momentum for your art, your writing, and your business only happens when you put one foot in front of the other day after day. Managing your creative energy through discipline has more to do with leading yourself than it does finding your muse. If you see your blog as an asset to your business, and not your business in itself, this book will help you cast vision for the bigger picture. Part of my struggle with the bigger picture is having too many interests and pursuing them all in one season, which relates to the previous mistake. Moving forward, I will use my back burner to keep ideas warm while I focus on what’s right in front of me. It takes a lot of intellectual discipline to do this. Something inside me says I won’t master this discipline until my 40s, but I can try.
There you have it. Each book here has taught me a great deal about pursuing my blog as a business, disciplining myself to write, and moving forward with purpose and intention.
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Jessica S. Manuel earned her B.A. in English with an emphasis in Critical Theory and a minor in Theological Studies from The Master’s University. She went on to earn her M.A. in English (Literature) from San Francisco State University where she studied 19th-20th Century Literature with a special studies emphasis in Critical Theory. After examining the intersections of psychoanalysis and contemporary literature, she wrote her thesis on Haruki Murakami’s use of the unconscious in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. After finishing her degree, she continued her education at University of California, San Diego where she studied Teaching Adult Learners and literature. She offers online adult literature courses for life-long learners through Book Oblivion Academy and also teaches writing and literature courses at the college level.