Including today, I've now published consistently every day for an entire year. My goal with daily blogging was a bit selfish: I wanted to prove someone wrong.
In late 2013, I made a bold statement about resolutions and goals for the coming year. A close friend of mine made a statement about how "no one ever keeps those anyway," so I set out to prove them wrong. I started writing daily on January 1st and kept pushing myself to write every morning from then on.
It was a great effort and, though I didn't begin with such motives, I learned a great deal.
The first lesson was one in prioritization. It's true, you always make time for the things that matter most to you - if you say "I don't have time for that" you really mean "I don't care about that as much as I care about ..."
Every demand on your time - work, family, hobbies, television, running, blogging - has some standing with you in terms of priority. Those who sleep in rather than run in the morning value sleep over fitness. Those who watch American Idol in the evening rather than read the newspaper value entertainment over information.
If you're not writing, you're doing something else that you value more than writing. Stop saying you "don't have time," because really, it doesn't take that much. The truth is that you just don't care as much about blogging as you do something else in your life.
That's perfectly OK.
Some of my colleagues have picked on me for blogging daily. They've tried to guess at my motives or tried to mock my effort to produce meaningful content on a regular basis. I don't hold any of this against anyone. I also don't hold anyone's lack of a blogging regimen against them, either. If I didn't have the selfish motive above to drive me, I would never have gotten this far.
The second lesson is in the inherent value of a product. When I started blogging every day, another friend challenged me to produce only quality content when I published. He alleged I'd be unable to produce meaningful material on such a rigorous schedule.
To a certain degree, he was right.
Often, I find myself faced with writer's block. I have plenty of things I want to say, but I just can't find the right words with which to say them. There are several posts that began as a draft on this site, only to languish for weeks before finally being deleted as I knew I'd never find the right words.
Some pieces I finally revisited and published. Others remain on my to-do list for the future. The point wasn't always that I felt uncomfortable with writing on a topic, it was that I was trying to provide value for my readers.
The ironic thing is that some of my most polished articles fail to resound with anyone. I spend weeks - or in some cases months - perfecting a piece only to see it receive perhaps 5 views the day it's published. It's made me reevaluate the audience for whom I want to provide value - the handful of people who see a post at 8:05am when it's fresh, or the crowds who find it thanks to Google months later when it becomes relevant once again.
I've come to embrace the idea of writing for an audience of just one or two and ignoring the other influences out there. Many of my pieces have been written for two people specifically:
- The individual facing a problem or a question today - often this is the developer who emailed me the night before or someone who filled out a contact form looking for help.
- The individual facing a problem or question next year who turns to Google - more often than not, this individual is me. My tech articles are less for others and more a way to write down something I've figured out so I can revisit the approach later when an issue comes back up.
By writing pieces to appeal to a mass audience (read: Twitter or Hacker News), I don't adequately serve either of these individuals. I can never be all things to all people, so my goal has become to provide value for (at least) these two and pray that traffic and readership follows.
I've also learned that traffic isn't everything. In the early days, I was inspired by Chris Lema's accounts of the million-visitor blog. Part of me (the vain part) wanted to achieve the same kind of success. I hoped that producing content daily, tweeting it at regular intervals, and pushing stories on sites like Hacker News would help bring in the readers.
It did, but not in the way I really wanted.
In 2013, my site received 52,000 visits in total - most of this due to two highly popular articles in May and November.[ref]If you ignore the two high-traffic days, my site received fewer than 40,000 visits last year.[/ref] By upping content production, I was able to boost my 2014 traffic to just shy of 100,000 visits.
While not quite a million-visitor site, doubling my site traffic in a year is still quite an accomplishment. Unfortunately, the majority of those visits - 75% to be exact - are first time visitors, many of whom won't be back. They came in for one article or following a single reference and quickly left the site without interacting with the content or perusing my other work.
My preference isn't for raw numbers, it's for interaction. I've gathered several comments on articles that show the lengths to which people will go in a discussion - sometimes the comment threads are orders of magnitude longer than the original article. I absolutely love this! My hope and dream is to nurture a site where anyone can have a voice and can engage in meaningful dialogue on a topic.
It looks like this will bring in traffic, too, so it's a win-win.
A Return to Long-Form
The down-side of blogging daily has been a decided watering-down of my content. Pieces that could go deeper on a topic, pull in charts and references, or even gather helpful illustrations are instead rushed into 350-word drive-bys that do little more than attract an eye or two when first published. In 2015 I'll be revisiting the idea of publishing long-form content, taking longer to polish an article and pulling together ancillary resources to flesh things out more than they are.
On the one hand, this will mean more in-depth coverage of arguments, technical topics, or current issues. On the other hand, this might mean I won't have fresh content for you every day of the week.
But that's OK because when I do publish, it will be a meaningful piece you want to read.
Topics will still run the gamut of tech to business to politics to faith - the things that matter most - but will intentionally sacrifice frequency in the interest of quality.
The past year has seen incredible growth in the WordPress community, in the tech community, in the business space, and in the Church. It's also seen amazing changes and progress on this site.
If the year ahead is even half as interesting, it will be a powerful thing to experience.