Here is more I’ve learned about blogging. If you missed the previous post, you can pick it up here.
When I first set up my website, my first thought was to make my other work easier for people to find and ruminate upon. I soon discovered that the maxim “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t apply to websites. You have to give people reasons to visit frequently. Those people tell other people about it, and there you go. But don’t be fooled. Not even occasional visitors will discover your website unless there is something for frequent visitors too.
Posting often burns a lot of energy. Even if the purpose is to advance your other work, if you aren’t careful it will drain your time from it. So don’t even consider a daily blog unless you compose and proofread swiftly, you don’t suffer from writer’s block, and you’re highly disciplined. If you need to take a vacation from the blog, don’t just go away; do the posts for the time of your absence ahead of time. Otherwise, when you come back you may find yourself like Little Bo Peep: You’ve lost your readers and can’t tell where to find them.
Keep lists of ideas, and chew on them. If you wake up with an idea in the wee of the morn’, don’t resolve to write it down when you get up; by then you won’t remember it. Get up and commit it to a note. As I learned when my children were born, sleep is overrated anyway (it was a great trade, by the way).
Know what a blog can’t do. No matter how much your readers love reading, people don’t read on the web the same way they read books made from trees. Most of your posts should be short. You can provide links to books and to articles, but a blog is not a book or an article.
Know who your audience is. I could write a blog that only specialists could understand – something like a rolling workshop among a few intensely interested people with similar obsessions. Or I could write a blog that only non-specialists would find interesting – something more like a radio broadcast. But what I write about, broadly, is ethics and politics, which means how to live. And I am one of those funny blokes who think that if you are going to write about something that concerns two audiences, then you have to offer something to both of them (at least sometimes).
Once you push that first domino, the others start falling. The decisions you make about your audience shape all of your other decisions -- about topics, frequency of posts, length, style, whether to be humorous (perhaps I should say whether to try to be humorous), whether to run comments, whether to run letters, and even how attractive your page has to be to the eye.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned – and I’m still learning it -- is this. When I began, I already knew that anyone who reflects on the state of the culture will have to blow some blue notes on his horn. What I didn’t fully appreciate is that whether I blow them or not, more people are hearing the world in a minor key today than twenty years ago – and many are finding it very hard to bear.
So I’m learning not to end on those blue notes. There is no need anyway, because I don’t believe in Fate; I believe in Providence. Long before we saw the gray banners of the neo-pagans, our foremothers and forefathers faced down the black ones of the pagans. And though I may be only a scullion, I seem to remember that when knights were slaying dragons, they always sang.