This is my nine-hundredth article for SitePoint. I never expected to reach that milestone and I’ve learned a great deal during the past five years. I hope I’ve posted something of interest to you at some point.
If you’re considering starting a blog or writing as a profession, here are my tips…
1. Write for yourself
I write about topics which interest me; the web development business and technologies. Unless you understand and enjoy your topic of choice, you won’t be able to discuss it.
This will horrify SEO “experts” but don’t write to gain web traffic. Writing may increase your traffic. You may also earn money, attract clients and receive respect from your peers. Perhaps you’ll be sent a crate of Guinness, an XBox One or a Lotus Evora (those are big hints by the way). But that should be a bonus — not your main reason for writing.
2. Write about your experiences
Writing for writing’s sake is incredibly difficult. It’s far easier to discuss a subject or experience you’ve encountered while doing your day-to-day job. The majority of my posts have been inspired by code I’ve developed or freelance business situations. The topics may be positive or negative but it makes the story more personable and easier to write.
From a selfish perspective, you’re also documenting what you’ve done. I regularly look back at old tutorials to discover how I solved a similar problem or remind myself of an obscure HTML5 API.
3. Consume more than you produce
If you’re interested in the topic, you should be reading related articles, listening to podcasts and using the techniques. That’s easy in the tech world; it’s fast-moving and ever-changing — you can find inspiration everywhere.
I’m yet to run out of topics and have rejected more articles than I’ve written. If you’re struggling to find ideas, perhaps your chosen subject is too limiting?
4. Perfection is futile
Original engaging content is great. But don’t be afraid to make mistakes, cover “easy” subjects or regurgitate often-discussed debates. Some of my more successful tutorials have explained basic subjects such as a little-used CSS property. I may have questioned my own knowledge at the time, but someone somewhere will find the topic useful.
That said, always be honest with your audience. There’s no harm in referencing another article or stating that technique may be in common usage despite being new to you. Every industry has it’s share of pedants, but developers can sniff out BS wafting over from the other side of the web.
5. Set deadlines
Even if you’re not writing professionally, always set a realistic deadline such as one article per week. The majority of blogs fail because they start with enthusiasm and end with apathy. You can probably think of several corporate sites which published a flurry of news in 2010 followed by years of silence.
Never underestimate the effort involved or presume writing will become someone else’s responsibility. Everyone thinks it’s easy until they try it.
6. Be prepared for surprises
I’ve agonized over articles only to find three people read it. Similarly, I’ve written throw-away posts which receive many thousands of views month after month.
You can influence popularity to some extent — “lists” and “secrets” are popular so I have high-hopes for this article! However, forget what the web marketers tell you: there is no magic formula. Most of it boils down to dumb luck. Sometimes, you write something which strikes a chord and becomes a viral sensation — but you won’t know it beforehand and it’s difficult to repeat that success.
Finally, remember web posts never die. You may receive comments many years after publication so make time to interact with your audience. You will undoubtedly receive negative feedback but you’ll soon develop a thick skin. Many will say you shouldn’t feed the trolls but I like to throw them a moldy bun…
Anyway, what are you waiting for? Get writing!
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.