Whenever bloggers get huffy or upset about numbers, stressing over how many page views, likes, comments, followers and such, they're told to remember to blog for themselves. Talk about your passions, blog to make yourself happy. Comparison is the thief of joy. Oh whatever, Trevor – it's incredibly disheartening to put a lot of effort into a blog post and have your eagerness for a response slowly fade into the realisation that NO ONE is reading it, probably not even your mum. No one cares about your blog post, or your Facebook witterings, and they definitely don't care about your latest Tweet.
Steven Pressfield, author of the frank and funny "Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit", agrees. It's not because they're mean or cruel, it's because they're busy, he says of all the millions of people not reading your blog posts. "When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you." Steven thinks it might be because we grow up having our teachers grade our writing that we get used to the idea that anything we write is worthy of an audience. But, he says in no uncertain terms, nobody wants to read your self-centred, ego-driven unrefined demands for attention. It's boring, and there's nothing in it for the reader.
The idea is that part of becoming a good writer is acquiring empathy skills; asking yourself why the hell would someone want to read this? How are they feeling reading this? Would this bit be boring – and if yes, how can I change it? Steven says that you need to get into a routine where every sentence makes you consider how it's being received, it's what he calls switching imagination from your own point of view to the reader's. It sounds like hard work, already I've been writing this post and not giving a goddam what you think of every single sentence – like with all my posts, I just hope this one is generally informative and slightly witty. It's not that I haven't worked on my writing, I just see my blog as my autonomous outpourings where I don't have to face any judgement, as I might in a writing class for example. It's easy to become lazy and write what I want, regardless of who might be reading. Of course, I love praise on a blog post – I'll always take that. But when a post doesn't do well, I tend not to reflect on the writing itself as the culprit, more that the subject or the pictures weren't enough to entice people to click here in the first place. This is a wasted opportunity for me to develop my skills.
One thing's for sure – if you write well, people are going to come back. Ever found a writer whose style you liked so much you want to read everything they've ever written? You might be that person for someone, someday – maybe you already are. If you want to have them regularly reading, you need to not only develop your tone and style and brand, and all the other elements that the Blogging Gods decree you should have, but you need to start being self-reflective. Looking back on what does and doesn't work, and building a relationship with your reader that extends beyond glancing at Google Analytics and who's in the comments section. You need empathy to become an intuitively good writer, switching your thoughts to imagine the reader and how they're supposed to be following your words.
I can't recommend Steven's book enough for writers of any genre – he covers novels, screenplays, non-fiction, self-help, copywriting, even how to write convincing sex scenes. It's a quick, funny, informative read, because Steven is using one of his main tips: streamline your message (and "make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy not to read it"). This doesn't mean that people only like short nuggets of writing because we've all developed digital-generation attention spans the size of gnats, you can still write longform if you apply the principle of streamlining your message. Keeping the reader engaged on the matter at hand, stopping the self-indulgent waffle. Yes, it can be frustrating when your page views are down, especially on posts that you felt came from the heart. Just remember that it's nothing personal, people simply want something good to read, and with the right mindset you can focus on giving them just that.
Other tips from Steven:
- Every piece of writing has to be about something. What's the single idea holding it together and making it cohere?
- A good way to find your authentic voice is to read back over old letters to friends, that's you talking to someone; your natural voice
- Even non-fiction writing (such as blog posts) need to be organised as if they were fiction with a beginning that grabs the reader, a middle that escalates in tension and excitement, and an ending that brings it all home with a bang
- You need a theme. Cut everything from the final edit that is not on-theme
- A fake writer is just trying to draw attention to himself, a real writer has something to give