I’m not in the sugar-coating business, mostly because sugar, even though it tastes good, is kind of bad for you.
I don’t like to tap-dance around the truth, because ignoring the truth is a gateway to a lot of frustration and heartbreak.
But I haven’t been completely honest with you. No one who shares advice on writing ever is, because complete honesty would mean that we should place a disclaimer at the top of each article, guide, or tutorial saying, “There are certain aspects that you can’t control, no matter how much you try. You might give 100% and still fail.”
And no one wants to read that.
But, well, I am going to do my best to share with you some of the things that no one likes to tell you about blogging, mostly because they are nuanced truths that can be easily misunderstood.
Content Is King, but Luck Is Queen
You probably have read this rule of blogging countless times: frequently publish quality content.
It’s simple, it’s kind of easy to do, and it gives you the chance to assume responsibility for your success or lack of it.
Write great content, and you will become successful.
The harsh truth is that sometimes luck plays its part. I’m sorry. I can’t write a three thousand word tutorial on how to get lucky, but I can write one about creating great content.
Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes a certain article resonates with readers, for unknown reasons. Sometimes, your article gets shared by famous people on Twitter. It happens, and there’s nothing you can do to control it.
Yes, the more you work, the luckier you seem to get, but there’s nothing else you can do.
Sometimes someone’s first article goes viral, while other times it’s quite the opposite.
I, for instance, have had to leave claw marks on everything I ever achieved. It’s just my karma. Makes me appreciate it more, indeed, but sometimes I wish I got lucky, at least once in a while.
Luck plays its part, and luck does favor the bold, but it’s also hard to please, and it has some mysterious ways.
Warning: This doesn’t mean that you have to make luck a big part of your blogging strategy. That’s why you shouldn’t count on one of your articles going viral. Never, ever.
To Be Popular, It’s Enough to Be First
Alternatively, I can’t write a step-by-step guide on riding that first wave on a platform. You’re either a part of it, or you’re not.
There are popular bloggers out there who are terrible writers, whose content is simplistic in terms of language, whose ideas are second-rate at best, but who were first on Medium, or on WordPress, and have developed a large enough following that social proof works wonders for them.
I know this because I used to be one of them. I started my first blog in April 2012, and soon became the most popular blogger on WordPress.com. The stuff I wrote, short motivational essays, 500 words or less, were never brilliant in any way, but I had amassed such a large following by being one of the first to take advantage of the platform, that I could get away with it.
It’s something you can’t do anything about it. It’s what people most often recognize as opportunity. Being the right person, at the right time.
But this is not something you can control, especially if you’re just starting out. If you did belong to those first few who became part of a platform, and you didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, this truth is going to frustrate you even more.
Being first on a platform isn’t something you can control, and even though long run the guy who’s the best is going to overcome the guy who’s first, it’s not going to drastically change the grand scheme of things.
Warning: There’s no point in complaining about this. You either took advantage of this opportunity or not. There’s nothing to be done about it retroactively.
Rejection Doesn’t Reflect the Quality of Your Writing
One of the nuanced truths of blogging is that sometimes editors reject a certain article because they don’t resonate with it, sometimes a certain article doesn’t get read by people because of bad timing, other current events that steal the spotlight, or because of some other supernatural and quite mysterious causes.
Look, in a world where Ernest Hemingway received a rejection letter that went like this,
It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.
It would be unfair of me to tell you that there’s some sort of authority out there who can tell you with absolute certainty if your writing is good or not.
Yes, 99% of the time an editor or the multitude of people who stumble upon your content are right.
But… and this is the nuanced point, just like an editor once wrote back to Frank Herbert when rejecting his manuscript for Dune, “I might be making the mistake of the decade, but …”, writing tends to be at the mercy of forces we don’t even recognize, let alone understand.
For instance, a couple months after launching The Art of Blogging, I wrote this article: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Bloggers.
Cute title, a few interesting insights, nothing extraordinary. I didn’t think it was something to brag about. It was just good content, that was all.
And nothing extraordinary happened. I received the usual feedback from readers. A few likes, a couple comments.
A few months later I decided to republish it. Didn’t change a thing. I simply republished it as it was. It went viral. Over 3,100 likes, 670+ comments, read by over a quarter of a million people.
It got picked up by WordPress editors and promoted on their homepage. It got a lot of attention.
The same content, the same headline.
Luck plays its part, timing also matters. It happens.
Should you use this nuanced point to believe that you are a brilliant yet misunderstood genius of blogging? No, you shouldn’t.
But there’s a real possibility that’s the case. And this brings me to my last point…
You Can Become Extremely Successful by Sheer Power of Will
You can be among the last to sign up on a platform, you can be quite unlucky, and you can be a lousy writer, and you can still become extremely successful as a blogger.
But, yeah, I can’t write a tutorial about sheer power of will either. I can write about mindset and changing your inner game, and about the fact that blogging is hard work, but I can’t teach anyone how to be as obsessed as I am.
It makes people uncomfortable. I’m not talking about being dedicated. I’m talking about eat, sleep, work on your blog, and repeat.
Gary Vaynerchuck often talks about this. The crazy hustle. 16 hours a day, putting out so much content that you can get away with pretty much anything.
Is it effective? Far from it. It’s not some strategy, is pure hustle. It’s replying to every single person who writes on a certain topic, to every single tweet that goes out under a certain hashtag.
It’s the kind of work that breaks you in half.
I used to do that. I still kind of do. I often think of blogging as the art of what you can get away with. You can test the limits like that, see what rules can be broken, what rules can be bent.
You’d be surprised of how much you can get away with if you’re willing to work like crazy and advertise your content.
This harsh truth has some intriguing ramifications:
- You can get away with mediocre content if you are the kind of guy who makes friends easily on the web.
- If you network and promote your content a lot, you can get away with breaking even the most fundamental of blogging rules.
- If you are willing to outwork everyone else in your niche, you will become a top authority even though you don’t have the skills or the knowledge.
If you’re willing to sacrifice, to put in more time and more energy than just about anyone else, you can get away with pretty much anything. Lousy headlines, grammar mistakes, not networking consistently.
It’s tough. It’s cruel almost. It’s going to affect your health long-term. But it can be done.
Should you do it?
I don’t know… It depends, I guess. How bad do you want it?
These are some of the nuanced truths of blogging that no one likes to tell you. Mostly because no one can write a how-to guide about them, mostly because no one can sell you a product to make you feel like you can control the outcome.
And we hate when we can’t control something in our lives.
Also, because they can be easily misunderstood.
So, please, don’t hate the game or those who play it because you’re not lucky, or because you weren’t here first, or because your writing gets rejected a lot.
Don’t delude yourself into thinking the game is rigged against you. Don’t lie to yourself that your writing is brilliant when every single post you publish doesn’t receive a single positive comment.
Blogging is sacrifice. Blogging is patience. Sometimes blogging is luck. Blogging is going all in.
Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something.