Since becoming a writer, I’ve started quite a number of blogs. Each time, I think, “Great! A fresh, clean blog … ”
Followed by, “How long is this one going to last?”
I’d keep it going for a while, and then slowly I’d start to drop out … skip a week here, a month there … until you could hear a cyber wind whistling through the empty archives.
Through all those failed blogs, I may not have “learned my lesson” as I should have, but I’ve noticed a pattern of red flags that warn me my blog might be in trouble.
To help you keep your blog on track, here’s a list of my top six danger signs — along with tips on how to avoid them.
#1: You’re tinkering too much with appearance before you have any content.
I’m one of the blogosphere’s worst offenders here, and I know very well how toying with colors, lines, and fonts too early in the game is a near-certain recipe for disaster. Why? Because it’s usually not progress, but procrastination.
Tinkering with a blog’s appearance is the equivalent of fooling around on social media before a writing session. It wastes time and kills your momentum to do the real work of writing.
How to avoid it: Think of it like dinner and dessert. First, you do the more substantial work of writing your start-up content (eating your meat and veggies). Then, after the essential things are taken care of, go ahead and treat yourself to some (sweet) tinkering with the details.
#2: You haven’t defined your focus.
When I started my personal “writer blog,” I had a huge focus problem. I’d review a book in one post, then muse about the meaning of life in the next, then rant about politics in the one after that.
I’ve discovered, though, that without a focus — without defined goals and a clear target audience — it’s much harder to maintain a blog. You don’t know who exactly you’re writing to, so the ideas come less readily. Besides that, the posts you do write may end up feeling disconnected from each other, like a collection of random thoughts.
How to avoid it: First, define your goals! Why are you starting this blog? What do you want to achieve? Who exactly do you want to connect with?
Once you know your goals and your audience, you can develop an overarching theme for your blog, as well as a unique approach that will keep it focused.
Also, make sure you can stick to this approach, at least for a while. One way to test it is to see if you can create an Editorial Calendar.
Speaking of which …
#3: You don’t have an Editorial Calendar (or any plan at all).
Confession: Before this year, I didn’t even know what an Editorial Calendar was. The term intimidated me until I realized it was simply a plan: a plan for what content you’re going to write, and when.
If you don’t have a plan, you risk two things: 1) facing down a pressing deadline without any ideas handy, and 2) getting off-topic on your blog because you just needed to write something.
How to avoid it: Take half an hour or so to come up with a month’s Editorial Calendar. First settle on a posting schedule: Will you be posting every day? Once a week? Somewhere in between?
Now brainstorm topics, listing every one that comes to your head. Choose those that seem most appropriate and develop them with additional notes. Attach dates to each topic, and voilà — you have the beginnings of an Editorial Calendar!
It can be as detailed or as rough as you wish, and it may change as more ideas come to mind. The point is that you have some ideas already in place.
#4: You’re expecting too much of yourself, too soon.
It’s great to have a plan, but sometimes you can over-plan. You can get so carried away with excitement or ambition that you forget you’re a human being!
In my case, I have a lot of ideas for growing my English Q&A blog — like a newsletter, contests, book clubs, membership areas — but if I tried to do them all now, with my current level of experience … I’d never sleep. (As I’ve recently discovered.)
So, if you catch yourself losing sleep, neglecting your health, or getting behind on other duties because of self-imposed deadlines — consider that you may be working yourself too hard.
How to avoid it: Be honest about your current limits. Maybe later you’ll be churning out quality posts lickety-split, but if it takes you three or more hours now, take that into account.
Also, instead of trying to set up your “wish list” blog elements all at once, try taking things one at a time. Prioritize!
#5: Your post quality is starting to get, well, lazy.
In my experience, this red flag usually appears after the first few months, when I’ve passed the initial energy rush and I’m running out of ideas.
Instead of substantial, well-crafted posts with a beginning, middle, and end … you start posting 200-word asides. Maybe you leave out a lead here, or skip an ending there … and it just spirals.
This is one of the most serious danger signs, because if it goes on long enough, you’ll lose faith in your writing. People may stop reading or commenting, and instead of recognizing the cause — hasty blogging — you’ll start questioning your abilities as a blogger.
How to avoid it: As I said before, it helps to plan ahead and to be reasonable about your plans.
If you still catch yourself slipping into Lazy Blogger mode, force yourself to outline each post beforehand, even if it’s only a rough sketch. Clarify your main point or takeaway, tease out the details, and gather examples to illustrate each sub-point.
Having a structure planned before you write will help you keep to your standards.
And, most importantly: don’t publish your post until you’ve revised it, proofread it, and put it through quality control!
#6: You’re afraid to promote because “someone might see it.”
Okay, I know this sounds silly — but this has actually happened to me, and more than once.
The point of a blog is for people to read it, right? It seems obvious, but sometimes I publish posts and then feel a twinge of anxiety … especially if I think the post could get backlash in the comments or raise eyebrows among my friends.
How to avoid it: It’s hard to publish, because if you’re writing honestly, you’re baring your soul. It doesn’t matter if it’s a memoir, a novel, or a blog post.
Still, you’ve got to be brave. (Note to self!) Remind yourself why you’re writing this. Remember who you’re talking to. Then, promote fearlessly.
Actually, that’s how you should approach all these danger signs: without fear or second-guessing. Whenever I see one of them now, I know it’s time to buckle down and steer back onto the road.
What about you? What danger signs have you noticed in your blogging efforts … and how have you pushed past them?