100 things I learned from starting a blog

Photo via vintagedept on Flickr.

Photo via vintagedept on Flickr.

I started blogging — and by blogging I mean doing it every day — a little over four years ago.

In that time I’ve written over 7,000 posts, transitioned into a job that pays me to blog full time (!), and made countless mistakes.

There aren’t a lot of hills I’ll die on but “starting a blog on something is the best way to learn about that something” is one of them.

Actually I’m not sure that’s a hill. Maybe a fistful of sand, but my blood will be splattered.

Seth Godin recently said the practice of telling himself the truth in public every day is legit itself invaluable. He would pay for it.

I would too.

With that I’d like to kick off a series (possibly a year-long series) entitled “100 things I learned from starting a blog.”

Technically everything on this blog I probably learned from starting a blog but a lot of it is just quotes I collected or instruction from other people.

These 100 things will be things I specifically learned from starting my blog — things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

Plant your flags accordingly.

One thing Bill Simmons nailed in his career

Via CapitalNewYork.com

Via CapitalNewYork.com

I’m a homer, I have to admit. Everyone is, though. Whether you admit it or not everyone is biased (at least a tiny amount) towards one thing or another. It’s inevitable because we’re, you know, human.

So yeah, I’m biased towards Bill Simmons because without his side door entrance into sportswriting I’m not sure I would have fallen in love with it like I did and have the job(s) I have now.

With that out of the way I’d like to address the fact that you don’t have to look very far really ever to find criticism of Grantland’s editor-in-chief. It’s pervasive.

I saw this on Thursday.

That’s fine and probably fair. Simmons isn’t the best writer or the best analyst or the best anything other than the best at riding the right wave at the exact right time for an audience who would have followed someone both 100 percent better than him and probably 50 percent worse. He’s definitely the best at that.

Here’s what I love at Simmons, though — he gets that he’s not the best writer or thinker or analyst around. But he takes it a step further. He gets it and his ego is in check enough (I’m not saying it’s in check in full, just enough) to hire folks who 100 percent of people would say are smarter and better at writing and analyzing than him.

That’s a difficult spot and one he doesn’t get enough credit for.

When you go out and hire Zach Lowe, Brian Phillips, and Bill Barnwell to upstage you on the most culturally hip website this side of the invention of the Internet, that’s impressive both because he knows he’s going to get upstaged and because he’s okay with it.

For all the critiques of Simmons I’ve rarely seen him get the (deserved) accolades he gets for consistently doing this.

John Wooden once said “whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.” I’m all in on that quote and it would appear Simmons is too.

The art of (only) writing

Photo via Angie Garrett on Flickr.

Photo via Angie Garrett on Flickr.

Blogging is so many different things. Connecting the dots, linking to other folks, videos, photos, and the list goes on.

But without words none of it matters. Without words none of it gets pushed forward into the content it eventually becomes. Words tie everything up and send it into the ether.

On Wednesday I had a couple of afternoon errands to run about 20 minutes from my house. I was trying to line them all up so I could bang them out without having to wait or go back home because I’m a fan of efficiency.

I couldn’t so I found myself with a pair of 40-minute empty time blocks. Not really enough time to return home but what to do?

I pulled into a Starbucks during one of them and sorted my email. During the other one I pulled into an empty parking lot and sat there and wrote on my phone. Banged out 400 words in about 15 minutes.

At the time I was sort of irritated that my errands weren’t lining up but now? I’m grateful they didn’t.

The reason is that I was liberated by how little I was distracted in writing on my phone. This seems like a strange thing, I admit, I’m usually trying to get away from my phone.

When writing a blog post, though, I didn’t have time to insert links and get photos — I made notes where those should go later — I just…wrote.

As soon as I was done I wanted to crank out another post. And another and another. It was why I started blogging to begin with.

The other thing this forced me to do, I realized, is to go back and edit everything. Those links I missed, I have to insert them. Those photos that aren’t there, I have to post them. My disdain for inefficiency is only surpassed by my disdain for editing so it’s probably a good thing when I have a system in place that forces me to edit.

I’m back at my computer now — the typing is much easier. No links or videos or photos, though, and my Twitter app is definitely off.

John Piper on marriage

I thought this from Piper’s 2007 sermon on marriage was great.

“…Christ’s vision of the meaning of marriage was so enormously different from the disciples, they could not even imagine it to be a good thing. That such a vision could be good news was simply outside their categories.”

I feel like that’s probably the case with a lot of things we do versus God’s actual view of them.

“If that was the case back then with the sober, Jewish world in which they lived, how much more will the magnificence of marriage in the mind of God seem unintelligible to the world we live in, where the main idol is self, and its main doctrine is autonomy, and its central act of worship is being entertained, and its two main shrines are the television and the cinema, and its most sacred genuflection is the uninhibited act of sexual intercourse. Such a culture will find the glory of marriage in the mind of Jesus virtually unintelligible.”

The shortest distance between you and success is humor

Photo via John Ragai (Flickr)

Photo via John Ragai (Flickr)

Everybody does the news.

Buzzfeed does the news, the NYT does the news, your micro local site does the news far better than an individual can do the news.

That doesn’t mean, as a blogger, that you shouldn’t do the news. It just means that you can’t only do the news.

Here’s the deal. Writing and blogging is a news-driven (or more specifically, interest-driven industry). Folks read about the stuff they’re interested in and ignore the rest.

With everybody doing the news — even at the most micro level possible — you have to either be more creative or more funny.

Creative is really, really hard. Especially if all you have is a regular old blog. Funny, though? You can do funny.

If you can do the news in a funny way even slightly better than everybody else does the news regularly, you win.

Newsletters and maintaining shippability

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 3.08.10 PM

I started a newsletter for my Oklahoma State sports blog. I’ve never really believed in newsletters — I always thought they were a little trashy. Not trashy in a Miley Cyrus kind of way but trashy in a “I’m just going to send that straight to my digital wastebasket” kind of way.

I’ve legitimately enjoyed writing this one though. It feels like a secret society of sorts. I can send these superfans (of my blog or me or OSU or whatever they’re superfans of) some behind-the-scenes thoughts and idea. Extra links. Goodies. The best stuff.

It’s something I’ve come to look forward to.

Which is why it terrifies me.

Because I produce a lot of content for the web daily I don’t often think about it being high quality. That’s the conundrum, right? Somebody who writes one thing a month for one outlet pores over the quality and obsesses over the syntax.

I don’t have that luxury, but I do have to maintain shippability — a level at which folks will keep coming back for more even if “more” is mostly driven by the topic they’re interested in and not necessarily by my writing.

The folks I read consistently are the ones who surprise me and make me laugh and are interested (not necessarily interesting). Maybe they aren’t elite writers but they’re certainly elite shippers and elite guiders.

They navigate the web expertly and don’t take days off in their work. I feel that once you establish a level of excellence in whatever it is you do online it only takes one time of mailing it in for folks to bail on you. Of course you’ll have duds — but they should be because you miscalculated something and not because you didn’t give great effort.

That’s the terrifying part but it’s also the encouraging part because you know the bar you have to clear on a daily basis.

It’s also the fun part. If you like the grind.