Every couple weeks or so I run across another list of 5 or 10 or 40 Rules of Blogging. Sometimes they’re called Blogging Tips, sometimes Tricks to Make You a Better Blogger, or, my favorite, Laws of Not Sucking at Blogging. But they’re always numbered, bulleted lists, and I always break at least half of the rules, and go away grumpy and more cynical than ever. The obvious solution? Make my own!
- Write long, intricate posts. Never write less than 500 words; see if you can go for 1000, even 1500 or 2000 or more. Make as many points as you want to; don’t split a tangent off into another post if you can possibly make it fit into this one.
- Make your sentences as long as possible; learn to love the semicolon. Let at least one paragraph per post start with the most round-about intro sentence you can think of: let this sentence be at least thirty words long. Fifty is better.
- Avoid numbered lists and bullet points like last year’s turkey leftovers. Better yet, like they’re medium-rare day-old buffet burgers — and you’re a raw-foods vegan.
- Unless you’re being paid to sell something, pretend the letters SEO stand for Search Every Orifice, and immediately click away from any blog or post with that in its title.
- Demand more from your readers. Expect them to click and read the links you leave explaining complex concepts. Require them to use their minds to engage with your topic; if you must set analytics goals, make it be that they spend a minimum of four minutes per post, and that they then immediately click away to learn more.
- If you haven’t bothered to learn its versus it’s, your versus you’re, or exactly what to do with that semicolon I just cajoled you to use, by all means, spend half an hour reading about grammar and do better. But if the word “grammar” strikes fear in your heart, if you’ve read the rules a hundred times and still don’t get it, if your brain doesn’t work in a way that accords with highfalutin’ rules of grammar, if it’s hard enough to sit up and type at all when your head’s in a daze from the pain: fuck ‘em. Write anyway. The world needs your words, and it doesn’t need you to be stopped by rigid allegiance to arbitrary agreements of where the apostrophe goes in “mamas’ night out”.
- The title is your place to get creative, eloquent, lyrical, dorky, or quote obscure pop culture. Or not — make it boring as hell if it’s 3am and you just want to publish the damn post already. Pretend search engines don’t exist when titling your work, unless you’re writing a review of the latest Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS IXUS 300 HS/ IXY 30S, or the chromatic aberration and barrel distortion of the Sigma 70-200 F2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens used in conjunction with the Nikon D3s, in which case you are probably not reading my blog (unless you are Lisa: hi Lisa! Thanks for the part numbers!).
- Bold is for emphasis only. If you wouldn’t speak those words louder or with more gravitas, if you don’t want your reader’s eye to linger there, if you don’t want them to feel you are shouting that sentence, for the love of Calliope, don’t bold it. Definitely don’t bold short thesis statements; your readers are smarter than that. And if they’re not, you don’t need ‘em.
- Pictures are a requirement — if yours is a photography blog. Otherwise, pick pics only if it pleases you or is absolutely necessary for the post.
- Do not ever, ever change your writing because of numbered lists of blogging tips.
…so perhaps this list won’t get your post to come back as the first entry for “cosleeping safety” in a Google search, and if that’s your goal, go forth, and read many more lists that are rather more serious than this one. Study SEO (the search engine optimization one, not the sexual assault one). There are good, valid reasons for some of the traditional recommendations, and if that’s your thing, may it bring you many Google hits and spread your gospel. I have friends who will pinch me viciously if I imply that the choice is between paying attention to The Blogging Rules and having meaningful content; that’s not my point. (Not quite, anyway.)
Rather, I hate these lists because they assume a monolithic blog reader, and for that matter a monolithic blog writer. I would be undone if I tried to write under 500 words a post, as is traditionally recommended. I write 500 word intros. And yet, you people read them, and read to the end, and respond to the ideas. 500 words isn’t enough for nuance, for introspection, for really examining a topic from as many angles as possible; it’s barely enough for an abrupt intro to most of the topics I write about. And yes, I use extraneous words, I use excessive rhetorical devices that lengthen my posts, I have an addiction to mostly unnecessary footnotes that calls for the help of a twelve-step program, but still, I cannot imagine that most of my work “should” be cut in half, or less.
I also refuse to believe that no one online is looking for posts of more depth, that “no one” will read a post with longer paragraphs, with fewer bolded thesis statements, with rambling introductions and run-on sentences. That some, highly studied (highly privileged?), goal-oriented groups of readers will not stick around for longer posts doesn’t mean the desire isn’t there; perhaps us long-winded bloggers serve niche readerships, but why should we abandon those who are seeking just what we offer to cater to an audience that reads-and-leaves anyway?
I’ve tried, for some of my posts, to implement aspects of SEO. Sometimes it’s because I really would like to get to a wider audience, people who might like my style but haven’t found me yet. But usually it’s because I think I “should”, that I’m somehow a “bad blogger” if I don’t. Usually it’s because I’ve read a how-to-blog list recently. And I wish I could figure out how to, as some promise is possible, keep my voice and keep my morals and increase searchability, if only because having more tools, more skills, is good. But I’m bad at it. And I have no desire to do the things that might make me better, and what’s more, trying to do so creates even more anxiety when already it takes me two hours to write a post and three, at least, to tweak it and edit it and convince myself to just hit publish already. Telling me I “should” do SEO is intended to get my voice heard farther afield, but it ends up silencing me.
So here are my real rules for blogging. I’ll even put them in a numbered list, as is traditional:
- Figure out what you want out of blogging, then figure out how much time and energy to devote to achieving those goals, and then do it — or not. This step is optional.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 indefinitely.
Congratulations, you’re a blogger.