Why your blog will fail

There are two recurring traits I see in new writers that hinder their progress.  As soon as they step back and realize they’re doing one or both of these things, they can move forward.

If you’re a new writer, the first reason you are failing is:

You’re being selfish.

You only write for yourself.  If you’re just starting out, this is actually okay — it can take a long time to find your voice and get comfortable with the process.  And you need to genuinely enjoy writing posts every week before you can make any real progress with your site.  But eventually, you have to start writing for your audience.

“But I don’t HAVE an audience.  No one reads what I write.”

Exactly.  And why should they?  Your content is only interesting to you.  No one will care about anything you say unless you can make it fun/educational/inspirational for them.  There have been several instances where I’ve written a long post, read over it a few times and thought, “No one is going to care about this.”  So I just delete it.  If there’s no obvious value to my audience in a draft post, it won’t get published.

When I first started Hoehn’s Musings, I wrote for myself.  But as soon as I got in the groove, I started writing for Seth Godin’s audience.  I tried to imagine that my site was doling out marketing advice to hundreds of companies.  They weren’t actually reading my stuff, of course, but I pretended they were.  And did I try to write exactly like Seth does?  No, but that leads me to the second reason you’ll fail:

You’re clearly copying another writer’s style.

It is painful when I see this happen, especially when the writer is imitating this guy.  He has a stranglehold on that particular style right now — it’s too unique and recognizable, so just don’t even try it.  No matter how good your stuff is, it’s very likely that you’ll come across as a poseur and be quickly dismissed.  A lot of people copy this guy, as well.  I have seen one too many blogs where the writers are trying to be Ryan.  The problem is: they aren’t Ryan.  If you walk like a duck and quack like a duck, it does NOT make you a duck — it makes you pretentious.  You have to be yourself, whoever that is.

Think of it this way: there is a special section reserved in the reader’s mind for any popular writer with a unique voice.  You do not have access to that section; that writer owns it.  You can have similar content, but you can’t have their voice (and vice versa).

Again, if you’re just starting out, it’s okay to subtly imitate other writers.  Just don’t try to be them, please!  Trust me — it won’t work and you’ll be miserable the more you try to become somebody you’re not.  Look at any celebrity gossip site.  They are all spawns of Perez Hilton or The Superficial.  None of them are unique anymore, so none of them are truly remarkable.  The category is homogeneous and boring.  If you’re just copying others, you’ll never be anything special.

Find an AUTHENTIC voice that you enjoy writing in, see how your audience responds, and keep tweaking your content until you get the results you’re looking for.

14 comments on “Why your blog will fail

  1. It’s really weird that people do that too because I’m not totally in love with the style myself. I am fortunate enough to have a decent audience who reads and responds to it. Without it, I’d be talking to myself and it would look ridiculous.

  2. Couple points in response.

    First, I think there’s no problem whatsoever to writing for yourself. Assuming you have no expectation of an audience, writing to clarify your own thinking or jot down notes is totally fine.

    Second, finding your voice as a writer is REALLY hard. Most people NEVER do. It’s not as easy as just “being authentic.” Nor is it necessarily right to keep tweaking your content until your audience starts to grow — that’s one approach, but philosophically that approach assumes that you’re solely trying to optimize for readership as opposed to, say, just being you. Finally, I think imitating other writers is a great way to practice writing. If you imitate enough, and then iterate, someday a unique voice will emerge….after a LOT of writing.

  3. @Ryan- Your content is good and people can relate to you easily. Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of folks imitating your style AND your content (and I know you’ve seen plenty of bloggers basically plagiarizing you).

    @Ben- I don’t disagree with you here. My basic point is that if a writer wants an audience, they have to bear their potential readers in mind to a large degree. Blogs are great as a meta-cognitive exercise, so even if you’re only writing for yourself, that is fine with me.

    And I have to admit: I don’t think I will ever consider myself a writer, so you are a far better person to listen to when it comes to finding your voice. I agree that you shouldn’t tailor your content so that it is optimized for your audience — that leads to trying to please everyone (the same thing can be said for one’s personality). What I was trying to say is that you should pay attention to what your audience particularly responds to (look at comments, views per post, etc.) which will give you a basic gauge for what your readers are interested in. Then you’ll have a better understanding of how to frame your posts to keep them interested.

  4. As much as an experienced blogger, or any writer for that matter, should avoid the two issues you mentioned, I think being selfish and imitating influences are also two of the most important practices that a young writer can do, early on. In fact, I’ve spoken to experienced writers who have recommended this exact strategy.

    Hunter Thompson used to type out F. Scott Fitzgerald word for word verbatim (unpublished, obviously). Early Seth Godin oddly resembles the work of Tom Peters, prior to their collaboration. While I agree that it is important for influential bloggers to find their own voice, there is always going to be a lag period until they do.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree with your points. But, something to consider is that there will also always be a (small and unfortunate) market for posers and impersonators that people like you and I will see through. The thing is, the writers that will make a difference are the one’s that find their unique voice and attack a new genre.

  5. I don’t think imitating is really the word for what Charlie was describe. What a lot of people do is posture, pretending that they write from a place of authority that they don’t have or have yet to earn. It always comes off awkward and fake.

  6. Reason # 1 jumps out as crucial for new writers to note. I read young bloggers all the time who have excellent skills but are lacking interesting material. Since most blogs are nonfiction, this often puts young writers at an immediate disadvantage due to lack of life experience, leading them to write about what they WANT to be instead of what they are.

  7. Hey Charlie,

    I love this post and have shared it with all the aspiring writers that I know.

    What I’ve noticed, though, is that a lot of young wannabe writers – ESPECIALLY women – have already thought of a billion reasons why they’ll fail and are paralyzed because of them.

    What are some techniques to help young people recognize, with humility, that they’re starting out as selfish copycats and, Step 2, then transcend that?

    -Susan

  8. Hey Susan,

    These are excellent questions, and I’m not sure I have a good answer for either of them. You’re asking how to learn empathy and not copy other writers. The first is something that I think just develops with age. You realize you’re not in some movie about yourself where everyone else is a supporting role. I honestly wish I could say I knew the exact steps to getting over narcissism and egocentrism, but I don’t. The fact is that not everyone outgrows this — I know I continue to struggle with it. Everyone is innately selfish, so it can be extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible, to completely shed your egocentrism.

    The challenge then is not to stop being selfish, but rather to find a style of communication that your audience really responds to, and ensure that your content is great. I wrote about this here on ways to find out if they’re responding the way you want them to. I’m no expert, but watching these few metrics has worked well for me.

    As far as avoiding copying other writers… well, that’s another difficult one. I think the main problem isn’t that their style is being copied, but rather that they’re speaking as though they have the same experience and knowledge as the author. This is obviously bad to do because it’s superficial and there’s no foundation from which they speak. So I guess the best thing to do if you’re a writer and don’t want to copy people is to live an interesting life, then write about what you know. I think it really is as simple as that. I can’t talk about certain aspects of marketing or entrepreneurship in the way that Seth Godin does because I don’t have his experiences or wisdom yet. But I can make it clear when I’m wondering about something theoretically, or speaking from personal experience.

  9. Hi Charlie,

    I think the most difficult part is balancing the need to transcend narcissism with the need for greater confidence as a writer.

    Lots of people would love to start a blog, but think to themselves, “What have I got to add that’s interesting? Nothing.”

    There’s a low barrier to entry for ego-blogging.

    I see your advice as being most helpful to people who’ve already gotten over the huge confidence barriers to sharing their work with others.

    There are tons of people still on the other side of the fence – again, mostly young people and women in my experience.

    However, I completely agree with you that a person will NEVER succeed as a writer unless they get over the issues you’ve outlined here.

    Is it possible for beginners to read something like “Why your blog will fail” and feel inspired rather than dejected?

    -Susan

  10. “I think the most difficult part is balancing the need to transcend narcissism with the need for greater confidence as a writer.”

    That is a great point. But I think the way to overcome that goes back to what I said originally, and that’s to lead an interesting life and get some great experiences under your belt. If you live a life you’re not proud of and never try anything outside of your comfort zone, do you really think you deserve confidence to begin with? Confidence is earned, and it takes a lot of effort to build a solid foundation. But transcending narcissism… still not entirely sure on that one.

    And I hope people would feel inspired after this post. I didn’t want to shut them down as writers — I just wanted to point them towards the path of creating better content in their own voice!

  11. I have recently started my own blog. And when I say recently, I mean it has been up and running for almost a year, but I have been trying to focus it towards more interesting things in my field, and like you said, trying to find a voice. I just read your e-book about finding a job and free work, and I thought it was great. It just inspired me to write a blog post too. Thanks!

    -Cat

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