Once in a while, someone who reads this blog signs up for my free email course on starting a successful edu-blog, and one of the things this course offers is a private Facebook community where I get to share my random rants (see Figure 1) about building a rewarding blog.
Probably the best piece of advice that group has helped me form is that, from my limited observations, it seems that the difference between edu-blogs that gain an audience and edu-blogs that don’t is about 90 blog posts, or roughly 90,000 words.
This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule or anything. It’s entirely possible to grind through 100 blog posts without listening to (or seeking) a single reader, without developing interesting thought lines, without honing your style, without considering your intended audience, or without striving for a balance between non-perfectionism and excellence — in other words, to simply slog through the writing mechanically — and to get to the end of all that slogging and realize, “Yikes — no one is reading this blog.” That could happen. Writing 100 blog posts is no more a magic silver bullet for blogging success than “teach five years” is a magic silver bullet for teaching success.
But it is hard to teach for five years and not be vastly better than when you started. Similarly, writing 100 blog posts does a lot of things for you that writing 10 blog posts can’t:
- It develops a writer’s discipline. My shorter posts tend to be 500 words long, and my longer posts get into the 1,000-3,000 word range. If we round that out to 1,000 words per post, there’s just no way to write 100,000 words in the same general direction without cultivating the discipline that makes the greatest writers great.
- It develops a publishing habit. Writing is psychological warfare; every time I click “Publish” on a blog post that’s a victory won. It’s also, every single time, a chance to get feedback on my work through the comments section, Twitter, or Facebook. It’s not insignificant that it took me 3+ years to begin consistently publishing blog posts; consistent publishing is hard.
- It makes relationships possible. Readers want a relationship — at least, the kinds of readers you’ll love the most do — and you can’t develop that in a single post. Just as most traditional authors don’t develop a following until they’re a few books into their careers, I don’t personally know any bloggers who write for many people who develop a large following right out of the gate, just like I don’t personally know anyone who has gotten rich from playing the lottery.
Teacher as writer
If you teach kids to write and you want to get better at that, one of the best things you can do is write. For an audience. And that means, probably, using a blog. I started mine four Mays ago, and May is coming up. No professional endeavor has had a bigger impact on my life.
Thank you to Lindsay Ellis, Kari Reynolds, and Susan Mowers for the leadership of the Lake Michigan Writing Project. They taught me a great deal about the inner work of writing (and how it so brightly illuminates the work of teaching) in the summer of 2011.