My counterintuitive rules for blogging

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My new book has generated lots of extra traffic for my blog and newsletter. I thought I’d take this chance to explain my own rules for blogging….

Although I didn’t start this iteration of my website until 2007, I’ve blogged since 2006. That’s almost 14 years. If you’ve read my posts for a while you’ll have noticed that I’m an iconoclast, meaning I hold strong, often contrary opinions. I don’t do something just because “that’s the way it’s always been done,” or someone tells me that I should. And I approach blogging differently, too.

I don’t accept advertising

Sure, I could probably make a good chunk of change with ads, but I don’t like the look of them. They irritate me and I think they make websites look junky. Also, maybe as a result of my background as a journalist, I don’t want to appear to endorse products I don’t like. (Case in point: I think the software Grammarly is inferior to ProWritingAid but if Grammarly bought ads from me, I might not have the freedom to say that.) I don’t even accept affiliate fees from Amazon —although years ago I did that very briefly (for about three months), before I came to my senses. I like being independent and truthful and having accountability only to my readers and myself.

I work hard to show my respect for readers

As a matter of policy, I don’t use pop ups — those hectoring messages that take control of your screen and try to force you to subscribe to someone’s newsletter. I think they’re profoundly irritating and I don’t want to inflict them on my readers, even though everyone tells me they work. To me, it’s a sign of disrespect to try to force my newsletter on people.

In the same vein, I encourage readers to put a comment on my post if I’ve made a mistake. (And when they quietly email me with these alerts, they’re usually taken aback when I ask them to post them publicly.) Many people assume I’ll be embarrassed by mistakes and of course I am. But not so embarrassed I’m willing to be silent about them. I think it’s important to be transparent about errors. We’re human beings; none of us is perfect. We all make mistakes and I like to imagine that if a junior writer sees me willing to own up to my errors it will help influence them to accept their own as well.

I write for real people not Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Yes, I have an SEO consultant and he helps me do some coding at the back end of my site. He even occasionally suggests a key word term I might want to use. But that’s as far as I go. I never try to “stuff” a post with key words so as to rank better in Google. I figure it’s more worthwhile to write real sentences, for real people who are struggling with real writing problems.

My consultant sometimes tells me that I should write blog posts that are longer — a lot longer — because evidence shows that 2,000-word posts rank better in Google. (I currently aim for an average of about 900 words.) I’ve mostly resisted his entreaties although, very rarely, when I have a topic that needs more space, I’m prepared to hew more closely to the line he’d like me to follow. 

I write every word myself

I recently heard a story about a well-known blogger who has others ghost-write all of his posts. Maybe that works for him but it sure doesn’t work for me. I don’t even accept guest posts. Sometimes I feel badly for eschewing guest posts because I know there are many struggling freelance writers who could really use an extra $50 or $100 a week. (Then again, when I receive the pitches with their fake subject lines — “article question” or “hey there” are two recent ones — my guilt is assuaged.)

Here is the precise wording of a recent guest post pitch that I ignored: “[Name] here again. Q: What did the mother broom say to the baby broom? A: It’s time to go to sweep. Did you see my email about the parenting article?” What’s with the broom joke? And why would someone pitch a parenting article to a writing blog? It boggles my mind. 

I reply to all comments 

It took me several years to understand the value of always replying to all comments but I now do so every week. And, where possible, I try to make my replies substantive — something meatier and more interesting than “thanks for saying that,” or “I agree.” Progress in the world is made by conversations, not diatribes and I value the opportunity to hear what others have to say and to respond to them. (I generally wait a couple of days before replying so I can make my responses more thoughtful.) In the same way, I also reply to every email I receive, except for those flogging services I don’t need or those offering guest posts. 

I don’t worry about the numbers 

Most bloggers don’t talk about their numbers. They tend to regard it as a deep, dark secret that should be kept as private as a bank account code number. So, I’m going to tell you that my Tuesday newsletter goes to almost 23,000 subscribers around the world. On top of that, I also get somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 visitors to my website every month. To some of you, that may sound like a lot. To others with more internet experience it may sound pathetic. (There are lots of stories in Internet-land about people developing subscription lists of 100,000 in a couple of years.) Guess what? I don’t care! I’m not in this for the numbers. I’m in this to help people who are struggling with their writing.

I don’t hold back

When I’m writing I never question the wisdom of sharing information with my readers. I don’t ever think, “could I make money by selling this rather than giving it away for free?” In fact, if you don’t want (or can’t afford) to buy my latest book, Your Happy First Draft, you can collect 95% of the information it contains simply by scrolling through my website, which is 100% free.  The book just assembles it in a way that’s more useful and elegant and that makes it faster and easier to use as a system. And the money I make selling the book helps finance all the information I’m able to provide at no cost.

Before I wrap up, let me say that I didn’t write this list of “rules” before I produced my first blog post in 2006. Instead, my principles have evolved gradually, over the last 14 years. Nor am I calling out people who follow different sets of rules. Each blogger should make their own decisions about what works for them.

My own principles for blogging might be counterintuitive in today’s world with its focus on key words, guest posts, and advertising. But they make a lot of sense to me. I want to live in a place where I treat other people as I’d like to be treated myself and where I lend a helping hand when I can.

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My video podcast last week aimed to help academics struggling with negative feedback from peer reviewers.  Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel.  If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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Are you a blogger with your own guiding principles? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section of my blog. And congratulations to Paul Schratz, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a Sept. 24/19 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Oct. 31/19 will be put in a draw for a copy of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!