The 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Blogging

Letter to myself: July 16, 2008

letter to myself

Dear Sean,

Congratulations on starting your site tomorrow and best of luck! Great job snagging the name Writer Dad. Though you probably won’t believe it right now, I promise it’s way better than all the other domains you were considering. Not only is it good for branding (don’t worry, you’ll care about that eventually), buying that domain will soon put you in touch with this other daddy dude named David Wright. He’ll end up being the Lennon to your McCartney, no matter how much you will want to believe it’s the other way around.

Here’s the deal. Though I normally don’t care to mess with the space time continuum too much, I thought I would do you a solid and go back in time just long enough to toss you a few quick tips before you dive without thinking into the deep end of blogging. Right now you’re dead set against writing lists posts. And knowing me, nothing I say here will have any hope of changing that and you’ll still spend the next year or so beating your head against the wall.

But lists posts do work and at least this way I can say I told me so.

The 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Blogging

1) Comments are pennies and you need dollars. There is a LOT to be said for driving your ego and constantly pushing yourself to be better, but you must do it wisely. In about a month, you’re going to start rocking around 50 comments per post. This is good, but it isn’t nearly as good as you will believe it to be. Use the comments to fuel your drive, not your ego. Time spent chasing comments just for comments’ sake is time spent chasing your tail instead of building the business that will buoy your best interests. Feedburner subscribers and comments are both excellent indicators of burgeoning social proof, but they will not convert to money in the bank without a reasonable plan behind them.

2) You don’t know everything. Just because you can debate a point into the ground, doesn’t mean your theories will hold water outside the lab. Those individuals who will insist you need a niche to make money, well many of them are actually making money while you, in fact, are not. I hope you will read this letter and believe yourself when I beg you to not take six long drawn months to accept the obvious. You must write with focus if you want to experience tangible results.

3) Stop being such a fancy pants. In the next month you will get a lot of compliments. In six weeks you are going to get a guest shot at Copyblogger. Though you have only recently started writing, even your sister has referred (shockingly, without sarcasm) to your writing as “fancy.” This is not a good thing. Please do not allow your innate talent to swallow your developing skill. This will be a massive mistake. Passion is more important than beauty and clarity more important than cleverness. Do us a big favor and focus on the story. Keep the special effects to a minimum.

4) Get over yourself. Get out there and market your content. You could be writing the follow up to the Da Vinci Code with Harry Potter as the main character and no one is going to know it if you don’t do your part in the promotion. I know you fervently believe that all you need to do is sit at the keyboard for as long as it takes each day to spill an endless stream of honest syllables from the deepest depths of your character and that will be enough to eventually bring the world to you. Sorry Gonzo, it doesn’t work that way. There are a million writers better than you whose words will never be read by more than two dozen eyes because they don’t know how to clear their throat and step to the podium. And there’s maybe twice that many who could never hope to touch your ink, smiling all the way to the bank because they know how to command the attention they deserve. There is a difference between boast and declaration. Just because you have the shy side of your grandfather inside you, doesn’t mean you can’t channel the undaunted strut of your son. Remember, your family is counting on you.

5) Everything will work out. Remember, stay the course and try not to throw yourself too many pity parties. Our buoyant outlook is one of the things that defines us. Maintaining momentum is non-negotiable. Your content will get scraped, your days will at times feel endless, without a single drop of appreciation to moisten our parched esteem, and your shoulders will sag from the impossible weight of responsibilities you do not yet know exist. But you must continue to learn. I promise, that is by far the most important thing you can do. Never pass by an opportunity to acquire new and valuable knowledge or to sharpen the edge of your sword. Close your eyes on each day by knowing something you didn’t know before and then wake, ready to apply new wisdom to a fresh day. At the far end of all the toil there is light. Soon enough you will be doing what you love and bringing your family along for the ride, precisely as you are setting out tomorrow to do.

The journey will be more difficult than you expect and more rewarding than you imagine. Be a constant learner and ready yourself to reap the constant reward.

All my best,

Me/You

P.S. Stay away from the peanut M&M’s. You may think they’re harmless, but a handful turns into ten and you’re going to consume just enough calories between September and February to make you hate yourself in March. Remember, you’re spending lots of hours sitting on your ass. Your brain doesn’t burn calories at the same rate as your body. Eat accordingly.

We make our living from the words we write. The better they do, the better we do. If you enjoyed this post, please share it in the way that’s best for you. Bookmark, tweet, link, comment, or subscribe. Thanks!

41 responses to The 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Blogging

  1. Samar

    Dear Sean,

    I wouldn’t have believed a word of it had I told myself that before I’d started blogging.

    And those M&M’s? I’d have termed them my best friends (before starting). Now I’m blaming them for the fat ass I’m sitting on right now.

    Regards,

    A Reluctant Believer

    • Sean

      I wrote it to myself and barely believe, so don’t feel too bad. I would much rather success came knocking without me having to go out and find it and without list posts, but at least I’m learning!

      The M&M’s have also started hating on me again after a two or three month truce. : > )

  2. Marylin

    I love this letter, great points for your past-self – if only we had hindsight before we set out to do things eh? 🙂

    • Sean

      Ha, it might make things a bit less interesting. Think about it – all that success, who would want it? I like fumbling on some of the little things that help me to do things better, but it would be awesome to get letters for the big things.

  3. janice

    I enjoyed this, especially the eating/sitting warning! If I’d written a similar note before I started blogging, I’d have warned myself to seek a sustainable pace instead of yoyo blogging.

    • Sean

      Hi Janice!

      That’s a hard one, and I know exactly what you are talking about. A sustainable pace for blogging is not easy. The right pace is the one that is most right for you. Don’t let anyone tell you what the rules are. If you’re not happy while blogging, it’s probably the wrong pace. : > )

  4. Tumblemoose

    Sean,

    Good points here, Sean. From what I can tell, you are completely grounded in reality – a pleasure to have around. It’s amazing the stuff we learn on our journey. I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last year.

    George

    • Sean

      Hi George,

      Though I am quite pie in the sky a lot of the time, I know when I need to look reality in the eye as well. Writing has taught me more about myself than any class I’ve ever taken, that’s for sure.

  5. Sherman Hu

    Brilliant letter to self on 5 things to keep it real in our world! Sub-consciously, I believe I know it in my head/heart, but needed you to reveal it to me/us plainly. For that, I appreciate you!

    And green M&Ms have no calories, fat or anything harmful. It just boosts the “horny genes”, which makes for exciting blogging, or other fun activities away from the laptop 😉

    • Sean

      I’ve heard that about the green M&M’s. Hmmm… looks like I need to start sorting my candy coated chocolates!

      Thanks for the comment Sherman.

  6. Trina

    Egads Sean, not another list from you? When is the worlds axis going to rotate?
    So, you know I dont blog, but I love to read so the only reason I came to read a list such as your title suggests was due to it being supremely presented. I knew I would enjoy how you laid it out. Now dont let that compliment go to your head, ya hear? I know it wont butter your bread, but your perserverence and ‘can do’ attitude will. Best, Trina

    • Sean

      The new Sean is all lists all the time!

      But not really.

      I understand the compliments better now. They need to be fuel and that’s more than enough. It’s fun to impress, but I have to keep my eyes on what’s essential to my future as well.

      Thanks Trina.

  7. Verena Fischer

    Good that I only just started 😉 I wished I could have sent myself a letter into the past. When I was about to start dancing tango: “You’re gonna go mental if you have to go 2 weeks without it …” I think it would have scared me big time and I still would have done it! I hope I feel the same way about blogging one day 🙂

    • Sean

      Tango?!?! That’s awesome. You’ll probably feel the same way about blogging someday, but beware the six month slog. Push through that and you’re golden. : > )

    • Sean

      Yay, I got called wise before I even drank my morning coffee. Today is gonna be a good day!

      P.S. That’s a compliment I will allow to go to my head. : > )

    • Sean

      Aw shucks, Bud. Thanks! I don’t know about an inspiration to all, but an inspiration to some would make me supremely happy.

  8. Marelisa

    Hi Sean: Great post. I know what you mean about marketing. I felt like you say at the beginning: I’ll write great posts and the world will beat a path to my door (and I was a marketing major in college before going to law school, how embarassing is that). Now I’m out there promoting myself as much as I possibly can. 🙂 You have to meet opportunities in the middle of the road instead of waiting for them to come all the way to you.

    • Sean

      The turning point for me with marketing was when I started less about selling myself and more about the fundamentals of human psychology. I love thinking about what makes people tick and marketing is a front row seat.

  9. kim mcgowan

    Sage advice thanks Sean.

    Fifty comments per post? Really? I’m gratified with six (and usually three of those are my responses).

    I need to set to with Number 4 Thing.

    cheers, kim

    • Sean

      Hi Kim

      First can I just say that I LOVE the line in your bio, “Now I use it to exact revenge for all the minor (and major) slights I’ve ever been dealt.” Made me laugh out loud and sorry if I’m misquoting you at all.

      Yeah, 50 per post, but I equated them to pending success, but I swear it’s nothing of the sort. Write for yourself and promote for others.

    • Sean

      Hi Matthew! Nice to see you. I want to see a more complete letter to past Matthew. Come on now, I know you have a fantastic one in you!

  10. jan geronimo

    Five choice points and all of these apply to me, especially the fancy pants part. Darn – you put it so well that there’s nothing left to do but nod in silent agreement. Okay, okay, enough said, I’d do better. 🙂

    • Sean

      I think all bloggers are probably guilty of something on this list. I’m with you, the fancy pants one has landed me in the deepest waters. Another thing about fancy pants writing is that it tends to lose some of its immediacy. This letter for example was written faster than almost any post I’ve written in a while, because I was just “writing.”

  11. Lori Hoeck

    Hi Sean,

    Awesome post concept and great lessons imparted! Thank you.

    When I first discovered your site, I fell in love with your ability phrase a feeling, idea, or moment. Now, with more experience and David’s influence, you are a marvel. I loved, loved, loved your Writer Dad post “10 Ways to be a Great Dad!” It sings with clarity, insight, and all those Sean touches that come shining through with wonderful tempo and placement. You will indeed go far! Hold on for the fun, fast ride of your life as all that marketing reaches critical mass!

    • Sean

      Lori, this is one of my favorite comments I’ve had in a long while. Thank you so much. I couldn’t agree more, Dave has definitely helped to bring my best writer to the surface, and I truly hope I’m just getting started. : > )

  12. Patricia

    I truly enjoyed reading this post and wanted to pass on how nice it was to find it and I felt like I needed to comment (I often read don’t always comment)

    I had to give up M&Ms early in life, but could not have made it through graduate school without them.

    I had to get down in the dumps today (relive the bad parts of the good old days) to pull up what I needed to write about for tomorrow’s post. Your letter brought me back to the present so I could get back to marketing and writing. Thank you.

    • Sean

      My pleasure Patricia!

      Somedays it’s hard to write. And when it’s hard to write (for me) it’s even harder to market yourself. I’m glad I could do something to give you levity. Best of luck and best wishes.

  13. brandi

    Sean,

    This was a perfect timing post. I was just feeling blah about my blog, feeling despair over not enough comments, enough ideas, etc., when I came across this post.

    Keep up the great work…and thanks for the much needed inspiration!

  14. Sean

    Thanks for the compliment, Brandi! Just remember, you’re the boss. NOT your blog. Your blog is very pretty and clean, by the way. I like the neat layout and all the green.

  15. Steph

    Holy shit, Sean.

    Great letter. You know yourself well. You’ve come a long way, baby! And that’s a compliment. It takes some people way longer than you to find these things out, and when they do, many don’t want to acknowledge them.

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