I’ve been agonizing over this one blog post for months now. And that’s because it’s my first post. Not my first blog post ever, just the first of my very own blog - My own forum, with my own topics, written in my own voice. My success or failure will impact my own reputation and that’s daunting. The first post will be the hardest, right?
I find myself putting so much pressure on this first post. It has to be AMAZING! I tell myself that it should address a perfectly defined target audience. It should reflect my voice and convey the range of my personality. It should entertain, inform and inspire my theoretical readers. It should be shareable, searchable and feedable. And it should not make up words… like feedable.
It should be unique and entirely original yet rely on established practices that have proven successful. It should have a narrative but should obviously be a list… aren’t all successful blog posts lists?
The easy but dangerous analogy is that this is the first page of a long book that will be my masterpiece. That’s an unfair analogy though.
The author of a book isn’t expected to write a perfect first page and publish it before they even know where the story is heading. They don’t have to design a cover or develop the marketing plan in order to complete the first page. A distribution plan or a system for collecting and responding to feedback isn’t a required first step. A blog needs all that. A book author can start by just writing a first page - and they don’t even have to do that first.
But there are many other characteristics of a blog that make it much easier than creating a book or some other piece of long-form content. And those characteristics are where I think you should focus to ease the pressure and just get started.
For this first post I wanted to share a few of the realizations that gave me comfort and helped me get rolling. It will fall short of AMAZING, but it turns out that’s okay.
1) Nobody is reading yet
I found relief when I started reminding myself that none of it matters that much because nobody will be reading it in the beginning anyway. That sounds like a demotivating thought but it can also be really liberating.
In fact, if you are really expecting significant readership early on then you’re probably setting yourself up to burn out and quit anyway. Success requires a long term commitment that must last after the excitement of starting has long faded.
My realistic side knows that I’m going to have to write dozens, maybe hundreds of posts before I build the audience I hope for. That means I have a lot of time to improve my approach and my style as I work on building that audience.
It can take a lot of the pressure off knowing you have a lot of time to hone your skills without the added pressure of actual readers.
2) Blogs can be edited
A blog is one of the few publishing mediums that offers the opportunity to screw things up and fix them later. Nothing goes to press. There is no elaborate video-editing or re-shoot. It won’t sit on a shelf stuck in eternal mediocrity.
If you have ideas for how to improve a blog post later - You can simply make the edits, click a button, and your blog is better.
In fact, it’s probably a good idea to plan on revisiting your content later so you can keep it up to date. The search rankings of a post are also likely to benefit from being edited and republished because Google likes to serve recent and up to date content.
Pamela Vaughan and her team at Hubspot have been looking hard at how to get new life out of their older content. She also talks about it in more detail in this podcast interview with John Bonini from Impact Branding & Design.
Some blog posts will be truly evergreen, never needing an update to remain relevant. But that is probably the exception, not the rule. Other content can be made to be evergreen by going back to it, keeping what remains relevant and adding new information and insights that keep up with all the change.
3) A blog will evolve
I find myself getting too caught up in the long term planning of my blog. What topics will I cover over the long-term? Do I address a particular topic when I’m writing about that other related topic, or are they separate posts? Should I offer more ‘how-to’ type suggestions or focus on big picture strategy or motivational thoughts?
Before I know it, I’ve spent all my time creating a theoretical three year content calendar instead of writing. Having a plan is good but you may need to force yourself out of the planning phase.
It helps to accept that a blog is a living thing that will continue to evolve. It doesn’t have to have a long planned arc that begins here and ends with some profound conclusion.
A common thread of advice I keep hearing from writers I respect is that the best way to get better at writing is simply to write. Ann Handley’s new book Everybody Writes does a nice job of imparting confidence that the act of writing itself will help you find your tone, hone your process, and discover the topics that excite you.
Basically, at some point you have to stop planning so you can start typing. Your work will evolve and improve with time.
4) You can cut yourself some slack
I’m just going ahead and giving myself permission to put out some lighter blog posts.
Don’t get me wrong. I want every single post to provide value to my readers. That’s my obligation if I hope to keep them. But I’m giving myself permission to occasionally put out a post that is shorter, requires less research and takes less time.
Part of my anxiety with finally launching my own blog is that I know I need to be consistent and extraordinary in order to be truly successful. Once I get started, I have no choice but to deliver week in and week out. But I have a day job, a wife, a baby, another baby on the way, hobbies, exercise, things I want to read, things I want learn, chores, errands… and sleep… I want some damn sleep. Haha
I could easily keep pushing back launching my blog because there is always a week I can see coming where it’s going to be nearly impossible to find the time to put out a 1000+ word post that is thoroughly researched, well written, properly edited and entertaining.
Giving yourself permission to occasionally publish a post that is a bit short or light on research makes the whole process seem more approachable. I look to marketing legend Seth Godin for some inspiration on this one. Seth writes a blog post nearly every day. Many are long, detailed and require lots of research. But many are short, punchy and probably pretty quick to write. But those posts are usually still amazing.
Now, I don’t have the genius of Seth Godin to rely on. But I have spent a lot of time learning and thinking about my topic. In a pinch, I’m going to allow myself to draw on those reserves and bang out a quick post.
So cut yourself some slack on your expectations of what has to go into every post. Having high expectations for yourself is great, but cutting yourself some slack may help get you going.
- The first post can be the most difficult – It will (hopefully) get easier
- Don’t agonize over the first post – Nobody is reading yet – And that can be a good thing
- You can always go back to improve or update a post – In fact, you should be anyway
- Your blog can and should evolve – Don’t spend too much time on the master plan
- Give yourself a break sometimes – A short and quick post can be powerful too