Three books worth of blogging (plus ten rules)

Posting here has been sparse recently. I’ve been to three recent events and have slowly clawed out of my reading backlog (thanks in no small part to Pocket—unsolicited endorsement), both of which have sparked a dozen post ideas. But those will likely remain half-drafts for a while longer.

Until then, I have a minor milestone to mark: Last month marked six years of blogging.

Six years wouldn’t be much of a milestone except for two facts: 1) This is also my 299th post; and 2) I have written nearly 188,000 words on this blog. Maybe 15% of those words have been block quotes from other sources, so it’s probably only 160,000 words of original content. That’s an average of 535 words per post and just under one post per week over the past six years.

Some idle google searching suggests that a typical nonfiction book clocks in between 50,000 and 70,000 words. So by length, I’m somewhere into book three. (It’s a trilogy! A New Feed / The Day Job Strikes Back / Return of the Blogger?) Fortunately, blogging doesn’t require the same level of coherence or consistency as writing a book, let alone citations.

Interest in individual blogging seemed to peak a few years ago. Many of the blogs I follow have gone dormant; if new voices have popped up to take their place, I haven’t come across many of them. Meanwhile, institutional blogging seems to have gone up: more organizations and companies are figuring out how to say something interesting and relevant on a regular basis, and learning how to relax the control over institutional voice that often throttles such efforts. Maybe those two are linked, as a successful individual blog gets you hired to run an institutional blog, so you stop having time for your own?

I’ve never been interested in blogging as a job, but it’s been indispensable for my career. It’s a channel for clarifying my own thinking on issues that are related (however tangentially) to my work. That becomes a reflective practice, helping me see how my own thinking evolves. It’s also an accountability mechanism for making solid arguments, because what you write is out there for everyone to see. And it’s a powerful way to connect with like-minded people: an important segment of my professional network is composed of people who I first met through blogs, twitter, or other social media.

I’m still an evangelist for the practice. At least once a month, I find myself advising someone that a blog would really help their career. Apparently I’m a terrible recruiter, as none of those people have started blogs.

Perhaps my evangelism isn’t actionable enough. With some reflection on six years and three books of blogging, here are the implicit rules that have guided my writing. I make no claim to their general applicability. There are many ways to blog and other frequent/long-term bloggers in related fields follow completely differently rules. But maybe these will be helpful to some.

Guidelines to blogging the Dave Algoso way (in no particular order):

  1. Write for yourself first. If you can’t find some reason to enjoy the writing—because it helps you process ideas, because you’re improving your writing, because it’s cathartic, because you have a big ego, because of some combination of those—then it will be very hard to keep up with it.
  2. Fit your blogging around your day job. Capture ideas for sharing later, especially when you have the reflective space to generate them (long flights, early mornings, and vacations account for 80% of my blogging time). Write about work when you can, but cautiously. Save sensitive stories until they can be safely anonymized (often years down the road). Don’t push the envelope; your “in real life” relationships and work outputs are more important than your blog.
  3. Scope your content to your interests—and then push to related issues and make connections as you can. You won’t learn anything (and neither will your readers) if you stay focused on what you already know. Don’t be afraid to wade into an area where you’re not the expert, but…
  4. Have the self-awareness to know when you’re branching outside your core areas. No one reading your blog expects you to be an expert on every topic, but they do expect you to respect the expertise of others.
  5. Nothing you write needs to be your final word on a topic. Pick an argument with someone smarter than you, even if you’re wrong. Do your homework and be as close to right as you can. In the end, say something interesting—again, even if it’s wrong.
  6. Don’t make the same argument twice (unless it’s on a different site with a different audience).
  7. If your writing starts to feel stale, write for other blogs or sites. It will force you to think about audience, tone, and style in new ways.
  8. Be a self-editor. Write, then come back to it later when you have some distance and can give it a critical eye. Take every opportunity to have someone else edit your work, whether for the blog or other writing. Learn from that.
  9. Read. Read other blogs, read magazine, read books. Take advantage of free books for book reviews, if only as a commitment mechanism to read more books. (Then remember that the author will almost certainly read your review and tell you what you got wrong.)
  10. Nothing matters as much as the content and the ideas. Pay some attention to design, layout, even SEO. Avoid typos and try to follow some principles of good writing. But if you screw all of that up while managing to make people think or giving voice to something that’s on their mind, then they will still respond, share, and come back for more.