Storytelling – A Beginner’s Guide #7: These 3 Stories Can Kill Your Blog

MikeachimBlogging, Storytelling20 Comments

What are the right stories to make your blog a success?

It’s a startling fact that around 95% of blogs are abandoned. Sometimes their owners lost interest, sometimes they had a particular goal in mind and when that goal was achieved, they walked away. But for the overwhelming majority?

Disappointment. Disillusionment. Frustration.

Whatever they had in their heads when they first started tapping? It never came to be. Their dreams were unrealized, their hopes cheated – and the story that guided them forward was the wrong one.

Here are 3 very popular stories that kill most blogs.

Baseball closeup

Field Of Dreams

Farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is wandering his corn field one day, hears a voice whisper “If you build it, [they] will come”, and promptly destroys his only source of income before building a baseball diamond on it. People (his friend; his wife; his bank manager) tell him he’s nuts. He ignores them because he can see dead people (yep, always a clear sign you’re not nuts). The films ends with a bazillion cars approaching the field, stretching back to the horizon. He was right all along.

Everyone loves this story. It was nominated for 3 Academy Awards, it’s one of the American Film Institute’s top 10 fantasy films, and it’s guaranteed to thaw the iciest heart (oh, the bit with Burt Lancaster! And the other bit with Burt Lancaster!). The message is timeless and resonant: if you have a dream and you hang onto it hard enough and long enough, that dream will come true. For that reason, it’s one of my favourite films as well.

It’s also flat-out fantasy.

The real-world blogging equivalent goes like this.

        1. Open up a blog, ignoring the competition and doing minimal market research.
        2. Blog about things you’re interested in.
        3. Wait to be discovered (or even Discovered).
        4. Wonder why nothing is happening.
        5. Run out of enough time, money or supernatural baseball analogies to keep going…
        6. Quit.

Faith is an essential part of blogging success. It’s how you stick with your vision, how you leap hurdles and dust yourself off when you’re knocked into the dirt. Faith is the Why that keeps you moving forward, and without it, you’ll stop dead. It’s that essential.

But blind faith will often end in disaster.

How often?

Oh, probably about 95% of the time.

Dorothy Wizard of Oz

The Wizard Of Oz

A bunch of lovable screw-ups walk a long, long road in search of someone who will magically fix all their problems in ways they never, ever could.

Everyone loves this story.

Particularly people in positions of power and control. And people who run lotteries. And anyone with a vested interest in keeping people happy and docile and locked in place, fooled into thinking that someday Everything Will Be Okay, So Who Cares About Today? It’s the ultimate philosophy of delayed gratification and, ultimately, of shattered dreams. It’s the death of learning.

If you can’t take your blog where it needs to go without the help of magic, it almost certainly will never get there.

Man Walking Silk Road

The Road

Everything is dying around you. You don’t know why you keep going – there’s no plan, nothing to guide you, and you’ve given up looking for guidance – but you keep going anyway. Day after day. Nothing really improves, but that’s not the point — it’s about basic survival. You have nothing to look forward to, nothing to aim at and nothing you really want to say. All you have left is just keeping going. After all, what’s the alternative?

Everyone hates this story.

(Not the book, which is a gorgeous piece of work. The story).

It’s a bleak, joyless tale – but it’s still awfully popular in the world of blogging, as many people grind on towards a completely uncertain future, no motivations beyond simply turning up, driven not by a vision but by a compulsion. Why do they do it? They’re not sure…

…but on they go.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to run my blog guided by these stories — and they almost killed it. Luckily, there are much better stories out there.

NEXT: #8 – Why I Blog (On A Napkin)

Images: theilr, Wistful and Jonathan Kos-Read (also check out this incredible shot from Jonathan’s Silk Road series).

  • I guess I always hoped mine would be like Tales of a Female Nomad where she says “There must be some other way to live”. Not quite there yet, but working on it :)

  • I could theoretically liken my blogging career to Leonardo DiCaprio’s film career.

    I started blogging my freshman year of college in 2002. It was tiny but it was good, had a lot of potential, and kept getting better.

    Then on a whim, I decided to create a blog devoted to grammar mistakes in public. It immediately catapulted into blogger stardom — multiple features in the Boston Globe, several appearances on NPR, on top of Buzzfeed (albeit in the site’s infancy). I was all over the internet, and the readers were loyal.

    Turns out I HATED it. I am not a grammar blogger at heart. It was depressing and it was SO not me.

    After a year or so, I let it die a quiet death, despite the accolades, and kept up my personal blog that few people read for nothing but fun. I threw myself into my search marketing career.

    Then I decided I was ready to return to the world and laid out a strategy. Here came Adventurous Kate: my professional travel blog. It did well quickly, though not as quickly as the grammar blog did, and it soon grew to where it is today: it’s big, it’s sustainable, and it’s completely changed my life for the best. (Though I still haven’t made the ultimate success yet.)

    First blog = Growing Pains and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
    Grammar blog = Titanic/heartthrob career
    Post-grammar blog = Celebrity, P*ssy Posse, and Leo’s period away from film
    Adventurous Kate = Leo: the Scorcese/Tarantino years. Still no Oscar, but lots of nominations.

  • Simon

    Kill Bill. We’re leaving every blogger we come across in a pool of PageRank us as we hunt for Mike Sowden, who killed our About Page with his talk at TBU. We want vengeance, Mike. VENGEANCE!

    Or perhaps it’s Lord of the Rings. Simon is carrying all of his emotional baggage (which is heavier than any damn magic ring) through various landscapes on his way to New Zealand to throw it into a volcano.

    Or maybe it’s the Bugs Bunny Road Runner Movie, where each post is a hilarious short in which a coyote/cat/angry little Western fella falls off a cliff/explodes/gets hit by an anvil, and the whole thing is tied together by a robed rabbit reviewing his life.

    I like carrots, and I reckon I could rock a purple robe.

  • The Matrix. I had no idea why but I started spending all my time on the internet looking for an answer, questioning the world via blog posts, falling asleep on my keyboard. I knew, I just knew it was out there, that there was something more going on. I followed the White Rabbit (to Umbria), and was seduced by mysterious strangers, with flashes of brilliance in epilepsy inducing environments. I reckon I’ve stood outside the building on the ledge, looking at the huge leap of faith required of me. But i’m barely 40 minutes in. I’ve just swallowed the never-going-back, I-want-to-know pill, and it’s started getting very real, very quick.

  • Swept Away (starring Madonna).

    Lord, that is soul-crushing to write.

    But I enjoy writing for print media and my blog posts are often an offshoot of stories I research for that, much like the Material Girl’s forays into film are only possible through her regular gig of a singing career. I just hope my blog isn’t as bad as her acting. If that’s the case, then I’ll second Adventurous Kate’s “Titanic”, but only the part where Leo is hanging onto the plank and the viewer finally realizes he’s not going to make it…

  • I often say I’m a reincarnation of George Bailey – not that I have a cute hometown or partner – the friends, yes, but spread all over the world – but the way fate keeps stopping him from traveling the way he wants to? That keeps happening to me. Every Christmas I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” cry and then think what a load of rubbish it is …… Oz too. What is this “no place like home” stuff all about? No travel = no blog :=( or not enough of it anyways.

  • Sharon Miro

    Same Time Next Year.

  • Thank you for yet another though provoking blog, and everyone else who has commented. Not sure that my blog has reached the heady heights of a book or film. Aspirations – may be a cross between Wainwright and Bridget Jones for the more mature women!

  • Nice work, and a timely reminder. It’s been too long since I watched the Wizard of Oz.

  • Casablanca, because, after all, we’ll always have Paris.

  • jon

    Un Chien Andalou

  • There are two types of bloggers – who write what they like, and who write what people would like. well, both have loyal readers, but first one seldom make money out it.

    Blogging is like ‘Into The Wild’.. you will surely get destroyed at the end, with a remorse, if you don’t know what you like to do..

    Great post…quite interesting.. cheers!

  • You are right about blogs, most of them die because the owners loose interest. And sometimes, the search engines kill them by slapping algorithms every now and then.

  • So close to the truth! Some many blogs just end up stopping because it’s hard work! But you have to keep ploughing on sometimes!

  • I just read an old book called Papillon, about a guy convicted of a crime he did not commit. In jail he was a very popular and positive character, escaping a few times and setting out on amazing journeys, eventually getting caught a few times, but always started again. His persistence Inspires me and although not remotely in the same situation, I still believe I can be persistent through tough times just as he was. I have only just started blogging and am loving it, but am prepared for the worst and will be successful.

    I find that blogging about older stories and searching through past photos helps me re-live those moments and it brings a smile to my face. This method works for me and could for others.

    Cheers for the blog

  • River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard.

    I’m constantly doubting the potential success of my blog as it’s competing with so many great travel blogs that are already well established. However, I stop and try to remind myself of the reasons why I’m blogging, and begin to focus on smart execution, good planning, and the will to survive, I can only hope that my blog will ultimately succeed. At least that’s the idea!

    This is a fantastic book, by the way — one of my all-time favorites.

  • Obviously: The 1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights. Because I”ve been doing this for about 1,001 days/nights, I believe in magic, and I’m hoping story telling will save my life. Now, just need the King to say, “Enough, you’ve won me over, I will not execute you. Let’s go out for dinner. Somewhere nice, but not too fancy, you know. Where the food is good, but not pretentious.”

  • “Oh Well”. Actually, I think that was a song my one of the earlier versions of Fleetwood Mac, but it fits and I’m a rule breaker!

  • That’s a great question. I think my blog lies somewhere on the spectrum between “Eat, Pray, Love” and a National Lampoon film… except with a boat from the ’80s rather than a station wagon from the ’70s.

  • #1 is a biggie. The “if you build it, they will come” philosophy is garbage and it has been really taken out of context. There are a lot more things that bloggers need to do to become successful.