Getting out there on the internet is kind of like making friends as a five-year old. The internet can be an intimidating place — it’s full of people who seem to write effortlessly and publish often. It’s like they have crowds of people gathering and listening, which makes other people wonder if they’ll ever be able to join in. Pretty soon the voices of doubt crop up: Why bother? Will you ever get to it? Should you join in at all? Starting a blog is a wonderful idea, and it’s also a terrible idea. To be clear: you should definitely write, but if you think you should “start a blog,” well, I have some ways to reframe that which are really important.
Everyone wants to write, but a lot of people are scared to. In every writing seminar I’ve been to — both as a teacher and as a student — the most frequent thing I hear is doubt:
“I want to start a blog, but I’m not sure where to start.”
“I have an idea, but I’m not sure anyone wants to read it.”
“I have too many ideas, so I end up never writing them down!”
“I’ve always wanted to write, but I haven’t started yet.”
“Someone else has already written about what I’ve been meaning to say.”
Let yourself be found — carve out a second home on the internet. What do people find when they put your name into the Google machine? If and when you DO want to connect with others, it’s important to carve out your own “home” on the internet. In the world of Google-ability, we are quickly researching each other in order to learn about their skills and talents.
The good news is that you can own this answer pretty quickly. If you want to craft three articles on a particular topic that’s interesting or a hobby to you (ideally something you’d like to be known for), you can start a Tumblr,Weebly or a WordPress site for free or almost free (less than $50, max, if you want to own a domain name and buy a theme) and post three articles under a header with your name and contact information on it. This can be done in as little as four weeks. All of a sudden, when someone types in your name, or better yet — the topics you’ve written about — you can now be found. Your ideas can be known.
Resumes are static, and we’re searching for ideas through our web-maze of online information. In today’s world, it’s your job to make yourself “findable.” Put your information onto the web so that search engines — and people, and serendipity — can stumble across it.
Without putting yourself out there, it’s a lot harder to be found. I get so many emails from people that say, “I was looking for an article about how to improve my writing, or how to write a thank you note, and I started reading your blog and sat down with you for an hour last night. It was so fun to read your thinking.” By putting my words and ideas into a space where other people can find them, I’ve let myself be found. I can become known for my ideas. If you have an idea and it’s stuck in your head, there isn’t an easy way for anyone to know that you have it. Serendipity comes through connection and collision, and when people can find you and your ideas, possibility sparks.
Now these interactions didn’t happen right away; I blogged for at least six months with only my mother commenting, gently correcting most of my typos and spelling or grammar errors. My sister discovered Grammar Girland gleefully pointed out my mistakes as well, which, as a younger sister, I’m sure delighted her. (I then hired her as my editor for my print projects, which probably made her happy as a clam — now she gets paid to point out all of my mistakes.) There was nothing perfect about my first few essays. Perfect is a pipe dream. There will be people who point out your mistakes, and people who see the bigger picture and connect with you over ideas. Both types of people exist, and you will meet both of them.
Don’t let being afraid of making a mistake stop you from making anything at all.
Start small: create a project, not a life.
The other thing to remember is that some of the best websites aren’t by people who show up every week. You might not have the stamina (or the resources) to enter into a writing relationship that’s indefinite in its time frame or scope. In fact, I think that’s a terrible way to start. For people starting a blog, I recommend thinking of it as a “Project” and not a “Indefinite Relationship.” When you commit to a blog and say to yourself that you’re going to write every week for the next two years, the minute you mess up or miss a week, you’ve essentially failed the project. Who wants to be disappointed that they tried something?
For people starting a blog, I recommend thinking of it as a “Project” and not a“Indefinite Relationship.” When you commit to a blog and say to yourself that you’re going to write every week for the next two years, the minute you mess up or miss a week, you’ve essentially failed the project. Who wants to be disappointed that they tried something?
The alternative, and what I recommend in all of my writing classes, is to create a project that you can do well at, by changing the parameters. Instead of promising an indefinite relationship, drastically reduce it in scope and start with a reasonable project that has a defined ending from the beginning.
Start with a reasonable project that has a defined beginning, middle, and end.
When you can close a project successfully and complete it, you’re much more likely to continue on to a phase two or phase three of a project, rather than let it taper off into the land of incomplete projects. You also change the feeling relationship you have with yourself — instead of creating an inevitable failure-situation, with resulting disappointments and twangs, putting pressure to show up in a way that might not be reasonable for you because of all of your various commitments–you’re creating a success situation, where you can end the project within a concrete time frame and still be very happy that you did it at all.
I recommend creating a project that says, “I’d like to talk about _[topic]_ in 4 posts, within the next two months.” Give yourself a start time, and end time, and a quantity. Specify a topic. Perhaps you want to blog about four fabulous meals that you cooked and created. Maybe you want to chronicle your science journey behind the lens of a microscope. Maybe you want to document your notes on a new class you’re taking. You could start a Tumblr with your favorite photos of doorways in your quirky city. The possibilities are endless, but you must pick one small one (and only one).
Don’t believe me? Blake Master’s compilations of Peter Thiel’s lectures is one of my favorite sites to read and there’s a fixed (static) amount of content — 13 lectures — accessible indefinitely for those that want to self-teach and read the series. He’s not adding more content. He’s creating great content and sticking it up in a place for people to find it.
What I find with myself–and others — is that if we try to start too big, we actually fail to start at all. When we dream the big dream of master projects and hundreds of photographs and best-selling books, many people fail to start because the dream is too big. I’m all for big dreams and goals–and relish in them, dance in them, and visualize them — but when it comes to the implementation, start with something small enough to do in a day or a week. Want to write a best-selling book or post? Start by researching your ideas, one at a time, in short posts. You can collect them later. In fact, the short pieces will serve as your building blocks for the bigger pieces.
Almost everyone I know that’s created something big started one, small, tiny step at time. Bottom line recommendation? Create a fixed, small project that’s do-able within a time frame of less than 3 months.
Start writing — right now:
My takeaways for you? Build yourself an “internet home,” even if it’s only to enjoy making something by yourself. I’m biased — I think we should all participate in this new form of community space, this digital world where we can place our creations. If you’re wavering about creating something, let me be clear: I think it’s time for you to join in.
To make it easy on yourself, start small. Pick one topic or project that you’re interested in, and make a small commitment to create a collection of pieces–drawings, ideas, words, notes, stories, essays, paintings, photos, or other–around this topic. Give yourself a deadline of 3 months or less (ideally one month). And finish it.
What happens? It gives you something to point to. It’s a reference point for the future. It’s a means towards executing your projects. It’s a way to start a conversation. And it’s a way to do the things you’ve been talking (or thinking) about doing.
And best-case scenario? You get to meet a few people along the way who like talking about what you’re doing.
If you’ve been thinking about joining the online conversation, or dreaming of starting a blog, website, or publishing more, it’s time to start.
The goal isn’t to have the loudest voice on the internet. It’s to have a voice: your voice. The point of writing is not to just to publish for someone else: Writing and storytelling are about developing a relationship with your voice and ideas. It’s about finding and practicing ways of expressing your ideas to yourself, and then to others.
It’s an incredible place. I hope you’ll join in.