What’s the point of blogging at all?
Most bloggers – maybe even 95% of bloggers – have no idea what they’re doing.
That’s not meant as a criticism or a judgement. It’s not even terribly original to say. It’s a situation that has little to do with writing talent or online savvy. It’s not a dividing line between amateur and professional, or hobbyist and Serious Blogger. There are bloggers doing toe-wigglingly terrific work on a daily basis who, by their own admission, barely know where they’re going with it all.
But they are far, far outweighed by people not doing great work because they don’t know where they’re going.
The modern world is ravenous for guidance. This is why self-help exploded. People want to be assured that they’re on the right track, heading towards the life they want, in business and outside it. Want confirmation? Read the average blog. Not your favorite pen-ninjas making things that get your heart racing and your loins throbbingly girded with inspiration. Not The Oatmeal or The Bloggess. The average blog.
(Yuck. “Average”. Hate that word. Technically it means “median” or “mean”. Colloquially? It means “mediocre”, which is a pompous label to sling at a stranger. Take it to mean “median” instead).
Most bloggers struggle. They open a blog, post enthusiastically for a while, and then they either find a particular way to express themselves and/or a niche to fit into – or they lose heart and walk away. In 2009, this New York Times article cited data suggesting that 95% of blogs are derelicts. Their owners abandoned them, presumably because they never worked out what to do with them.
In other words, 95% of bloggers give up.
And today, 4 years later? I suspect it’s even worse.
I recently had the honour of doing a trial period of work with the super-talented team at WordPress.com. One of my duties was trawling through the millions of WordPress.com blogs, looking for quality content. What struck me – and struck me hard – was that the most common type of post went something like this:
Sorry I haven’t posted for AGES.
Don’t know what to say.
It affected me so deeply because that’s how I spent my first 5 years of blogging. It’s astonishing I still have a blog. Back when I first opened Fevered Mutterings v.1 in 2004 (on a now-defunct platform called 20six) I was driven not by a plan but by a compulsion. I knew I wanted to write. I knew blogging was This Cool Thing Everyone Was Doing. And I knew it was an amazing way to reach an audience. So I wrote about what I’d had for lunch, what books were precariously stacked on my bedside table, what I thought about the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, and so on. It was a truly average blog. I had no clue where I was going with it all.
And this went on for 5 fracking years.
A common justification for aimless, blundering-around blogging is that it’s “personal”, ie. reflecting someone’s life in progress. There’s a lot of truth there. Life is chaotic and doesn’t run on rails. However, as Andrew Evans explains so succinctly in the third of these videos, when you’re doing your best to convey what you really see, without the benefit of 20/20-hindsight, and if you do so with a very clear idea about what you want to be writing, unedited reality can be as compelling as a well-crafted story. In fact, it can be a good story. That’s the essence of quality non-fiction.
It’s not that life is too chaotic to turn into a blog that its author & audience will stick with. It’s something else.
For people using blogs as a business tool, it’s easier. Success is measured by your bank balance, your conversion rate, your readership stats. Business blogs have special stories called Business Plans, urging them ever onward. However, if you’re of the majority of folk who blog without ever intending to make money from your words, it’s trickier. Same goes for people who make money indirectly from their blogs (hi there).
There are brilliant resources out there for building a successful blogging business – this guy is super-smart – but they’re all about the How. Finding your Why and creating a How to back it up is how you make a successful blog. The problem is how you’re going to get through that process, because it’s usually a long, long haul. Your Why needs to be rock-solid and continually self-affirming and well signposted. You need guidance. You need an inner voice, reminding you why the hell you’re doing all this. . .
And this is where stories come in.