Learning to blog is an uphill process in which I engaged for the first time in the spring of 2008. I honestly do not remember the name of the blog, but I established it without a purpose and without a focus. It was just to experiment with blogging. The kinds of posts I wrote on that blog were varied; they ranged from comments on books I was reading to opinions about education policy. I basically blogged for blogging’s sake, without any concern about audience interest. Naturally, I don’t know whether any one ever read it, because I did not look at any statistics. It truly was a blog for me learn how to use the blogging software and simply be able to say to others, “I have a blog.”
In the summer of 2008, I became principal of a middle school, and I was looking for a way to provide my staff at that school with a weekly memo that provided them with ideas for the classroom, words of encouragement, and dates to remember. My first issue was a paper version. It seemed to be wasteful, so I decided to establish a blog for my staff. I started out posting once a week. I did well for the first three weeks, but the pressures of trying to be a school administrator and all the tasks that entails prevented me from being able to post each week, so I cut back to every other week, at least until that too became a hassle. Having the time to post and to gather ideas to post were problematic, so I eventually cut back to about twice a month.
When I left that middle school to take my current job as a high school principal of a 21st century school, I decided to create a blog that focused entirely on advocating for technology in the schools, teaching, and public education. Hence, The 21st Century Principal blog was born. During the course of a year, I can say I have grown as a blogger and increasingly have become fascinated with this technological tool. What are some lessons I have encountered during these three years? I’m sure there are much better bloggers out there with maybe different advice, but here’s my five big blogging lessons I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way.
- You have to have a purpose for your blog. Well, actually you don’t. If you’re satisfied with just posting your thoughts on the web, and you don’t care who reads it, then blog away. But, to attract readers, you have to have a purpose and a focus. Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett in their book Problogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six Figure Income call this having a focus, niche blogging. You have to find a niche. While I’m certainly not into blogging for a six-figure income, it makes sense. A blog needs to focus. Yet, that focus can’t be too narrow because then you limit the number readers who would be interested in your posts. That tension between focus and topic span is key.
- You have to post when you have something to say. I’ve read others who say you have to post at least every day, twice a day, or even several times a day. Honestly, if I was a professional writer and not a school administrator and educator, I might be able to post multiple times a day. I think I’ve found a much simpler rule. I post when I have something to say. I don’t post when I have nothing to say. I don’t harass myself all day with statements, “I’ve got to do a blog post today.” If something comes along in my reading or during my experiences of the day that I think is a blog topic, I post.
- Just like emails, when you create a post under the heat of passion, it’s sometimes better to save it as a draft before posting. There have been times I have read an article about education that gets my temper flaring. I write a scathing post, post on the blog, then I have second thoughts and pull it down because it sounds like I’m belittling others and not focusing on the issues. Now, if the post is one that I feel emotionally charged about while writing it, I save it as a draft before posting it. Some of those posts are still there and most likely will not be posted live in their current form because I honestly do not like their tone. The beauty of blogging is that I can write a post and save it as a draft and think about whether it is really something I want the world to see.
- You have to be wary of blistering and emotional political posts. I have posts that that often err into politics and controversy, so this one is pretty hard for me follow at times. Still, the purpose of my blog is not entirely political, so there are times when I have to steer myself away from purely political. As you can tell from some of my posts, I do not do that well sometimes. Still, the purpose of my blog is not just to rain down sarcasm and nastiness on those to whom I disagree. There are bloggers who do that much better than me. I try to control the impulse to be sarcastic and scathing with, as you can see, varying degrees of success.
- You look for topics by reading RSS feeds, visiting news sites, watching the Twitter stream, and doing your job. I subscribe to over a hundred RSS feeds from a countless number of blogs and news sites. While I do not read everything, I do scan through these each day, reading those that are of interest. These often sow the seeds for my topics. I also visit favorite news and opinion web sites. Often, an idea for a blog post sprang from a news story I found on CNN’s web site or our local newspaper web site. Watching the Twitter stream is in some ways like a thermometer. It takes the temperature of those I follow by allowing me to see what they’re responding to and commenting on. There are times when a simple Tweet turns into a blog post. Finally, I often share ideas and gems from my own reading. As a voracious reader, I keep a notes file on each book I read. Sometimes these turn into ideas for blog posts. While I’m no expert on blogging, I have found blog posts in the most likeliest and unlikeliest of places.
For me, at least, learning to blog, has been a process and it still continues. I make if very clear, I’m no professional. I honestly don’t ever know whether my last post is even going to get a reaction. Sometimes the ones I put the most energy into, are the ones that seem to get ignored. That, of course, has been true of writing before the web even existed.