One Month In - Lessons learnt from starting a blog

Nov 2, 2020
I challenged myself to create a blog and write four articles for it in two months. These are the lessons I learnt and the key resources I used to help me achieve my goal.
On September 1st, I set myself the goal of building a blog, and committed to making sure I published an article on it each week for a month. I set myself this challenge because I am terrible at a couple of things...
Firstly, I struggle with getting shit done, I spend a lot of time thinking and planning without putting anything in to action. I actually received this feedback from my current manager, which was super appreciated, and it got me thinking that I hold things off because I don't have the support of others. I try and collect feedback early to try and sense check my idea before going ahead with it, and on reflection this is a confidence issue. Just building a blog and getting it done without feedback from others was a good way to break this negative behaviour.
Secondly, I typically don't finish projects. I think this is because I always chase perfection too early, rather than releasing a thing and then improving what has been released. I think this is also a confidence issue, but setting myself a hard deadline of building a blog within a month and then committing the next month to writing articles ensured that wouldn't happen again.
To summarise, this was a project that I embarked upon to grow myself as much as release something to the world. I wanted to prove to myself that I could break these negative behaviours. Along the way I learnt several lessons, that I go into below, and I hope these lessons provide value for anyone else that is looking at starting a blog.
For anyone that is interested, below are my stats so far. Although modest figures, I think that it shows what is possible in a relatively short space of time.
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Now for the lessons! Enjoy ☕️

🧑🏻‍🎓 Lessons Learnt

Lesson 1 - Just fucking start

In the beginning, I decided against building my own solution and I went with Ghost. Typically I would have built something from scratch, but ultimately I knew that this would slow me down and could be a cause for me not seeing the project through.
Getting something out there into the big bad world means that people will hold you accountable. You are going to be much more likely to keep a new project or habit up if you are doing it publicly, whether that be to a small group of friends, a large social following or even just your partner. I knew that once I had announced my website that I had to keep going with it, else I would look like a failure in front of everyone and I really didn't want that.
Take the path of least resistance and just get going - crack on with it. Your blog doesn't have to be 100% perfect (there is loads I want to improve on mine), but this is ok to come back to at a later date. No one is going to judge you for not having a perfect website or application, so don't be afraid to just fucking start.

Lesson 2 - Scheduling is key

As with any new habit you are forming, creating a defined schedule is the key to success. Just saying "I'm going to write an article a week" is not enough to ensure that you actually do! It is far too vague and not actionable enough.
We have all been there, we create a blog, submit one piece of writing and then don't touch anything with it for months. I wanted to ensure that this didn't happen.
I called upon my knowledge of habit building by referring back to the notes I had written myself when reading through James Clear's "Atomic Habits" (I highly recommend). James mentions in the book, that we need to be intentional - saying "I am going to become fitter" is not effective because how fit is fitter? What does that entail? How are we going to achieve this? How do we know what success looks like? We should instead be specific, saying "I am going to lift weights for 30 minutes on a Monday, Tuesday and Thursday". This is something we can either achieve, or not achieve.
Therefore, I said specifically that I was going to write for 30 minutes on a Monday and Wednesday, and then for an hour on a Friday. Setting a reminder on each of those days was a cue to sit down and start writing and it worked really well. Being specific about scheduling leads to you being much more likely to see something through.

Lesson 3 - Keeping a "blog log" of article ideas

I would create a working document that I could add ideas for articles to as and when they came to my head. A lot of my best thinking is done when I am not focusing on work (sitting on the sofa watching TV, taking a shower, sleeping etc), so I needed something that I could easily add these ideas to.
Creating a dedicated space on Roam Research was the method I went with, accessible both from my phone and my computer, I could quickly add ideas when they popped into my thought. I would then flesh out those ideas when sitting at the computer, roughly forming the structure of what an article would look like and what topics I should cover and whether there is any books I have notes on that would be useful.
Then when it came to spend some time writing, I already had the skeleton of an article sitting there waiting for me. It was a massive edge and something I had never done before. Currently, I have about 10 weeks worth of articles in my Blog Log, and more are being added constantly. Keep planning ahead and avoid getting yourself into a situation where you sit down with a blank document and try and pick your brains for article ideas because you are asking for failure approaching writing like that.

Lesson 4 - Traffic comes from unexpected places

My biggest audience is on my Instagram account and I would have bet good money that most of my traffic would have come from there, but I was surprised to find that actually (by a considerable way) most visitors came from LinkedIn. This was a big shock, and goes to show the importance of tracking analytics so you can be aware of traffic sources and adjust your strategy accordingly.
For analytics I use Plausible, which costs a little bit per month but I think it is a worthy investment, especially as it is so simple and lightweight.

Lesson 5 - Writing is really really hard

I recommend levelling up your knowledge on what makes writing "good", because getting it right is tough.
I worked through this writing course by Shani Raja, who was previously an editor at the Wall Street Journal. It was really eye opening and full of practical lessons that I took away and have implemented into my own writing.
The aspect I found hardest was structuring my articles - to begin with I would sit down with the title of my post and would just start writing. It became clear very quickly that this was incredibly slow and I would end up waffling, not being able to produce any good arguments. To correct this behaviour, I started writing out the structure I wanted the article to be, so before I even started writing properly I knew exactly what point I should be making and where. It became much quicker and my writing improved drastically just from that small change.

📖 Useful Resources

  • Ghost - The blogging platform I use. I have used many competitors in the past (Wordpress, Webflow as well as custom built Headless CMS & markdown blogs) but nothing comes close to the ease of which Ghost allows you to get up and running. It is a pleasure to use.
  • Plausible - The analytics tool I use. Lightweight, cheap and easily integrates with Ghost.
  • Keywords Everywhere - Although I haven't started much with SEO, it is useful to have keyword information to hand. This is a free Chrome extension and shows Trend Data and related Keywords to your Google searches.
  • How to be an Exceptional Writer - A writing course I took to teach me about writing better. Well worth a go if you are looking at taking your writing more seriously.
  • Substack - I use Substack for my weekly newsletter. Although it doesn't currently integrate fluently with Ghost, it is free (some of the other competitors are so expensive) and I love the minimalist interface it provides.

👣 The Next Steps

So now that the challenge is complete, I am thinking about what to do with my blog moving forward.
I am still going to publish regularly, maybe even as much as once a week, but am looking to learn more about what makes a blog successful. I have proved to myself that I can do this, and that people have some interest in what I have to say, so want to take my own little corner of the internet and take it to the next level.
The priority is to become more knowledgable about keywords and SEO (still a bit of a mystical unknown right now) so that my articles rank higher on Google. I also am planning on writing a number of longer more informative pieces.
If you are reading this however, I appreciate your support more than anything. It honestly means the world. Thank you ❤️

© James Bedford 2021