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You should blog even if you have no readers (nathanmarz.com)
198 points by romain_g on Apr 15, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

As a blogger of 10+ years, I agree. A few more benefits:

* "Serializing" your thoughts. You (2013) can explain an idea that you (2014 onward) won't remember. I try to explain "gotcha" moments to myself, in language that works for me, so I won't have difficulties later on. This began in college, and developed into the blog I run today.

* Putting in your hours. I don't believe in 10k hours exactly, but practice helps. In the past decade I've written 100+ essays of 1-2k words that I wouldn't have otherwise. I can visibly see my writing improving. Take a look at the first Garfield strip: http://history.howstuffworks.com/american-history/garfield.h... or Calvin and Hobbes: http://calvinethobbes.free.fr/english/c_prem.html

* You're writing anyway. Most tech people are writing at least 1-2k words a week in email, forums, etc. anyway. You might was well capture some of that in an archived, searchable format that can benefit you with contacts and new opportunities.

Just to add a +1 to point #2, I didn't even really like writing when I started my blog, and my first blog post sucks[1]. 9 short years later, I'm an author of a book that has done pretty well[2], and I LOVE writing.

1. http://kadavy.net/blog/posts/my-first-blog/ 2. http://designforhackers.com

Author here. You may also want to check out a more recent post I wrote about blogging that focuses on those "side benefits": http://nathanmarz.com/blog/break-into-silicon-valley-with-a-...

Since you're here. Could you fix that broken link to Bradford Cross's blog in the original post? You got me interested, but I can't find his blog.

Looks like he took down his blog – a shame, since there were a lot of really good posts on it.

He's probably chosen to focus on his company's blog instead.


Could you reopen the discussion thread there? I was trying to reply to a comment but then realized that was closed! I don't get closed comment threads.

Have you seen the kinds of tripe that people leave in comments?

I saw meaningful comments. Don't sure what you propose... there is "tripe" on HN too.

Varies wildly depending on the blog, in my experience.

I set comment threads to close on my blog because after maybe a week the only submissions I get are attempts at spam.

My experience is different. I don't receive a lot of spam with Disqus. If I disable it I receive 10s of spam posts everyday.

I prefer to leave blog threads open since I don't know when people will find my sites and contribute. Except for posts really connected to a specific event, technical posts has a larger life.

Same for me. I've got topics 12+yrs old still open on Disqus (the topics started before disqus and comments were imported when I switched). I get very little spam (knock on wood)

I dislike closed comments though sometimes I have to remind people to look at the date of the post :-p

Awesome post indeed, thanks!

Couldn't agree more. I've been writing a lot lately, and the exercise has forced me to research things, clarify my own understanding and thinking, and really think about the big picture of how a lot of things tie together. Also, I keep finding new connections between "topic A" and "topic B" that I had not thought about before, OR discovering "topic C" that I didn't even know about before.

So, as a side effect of writing, I've actually generated quite a few new ideas, from ideas about marketing and branding, to product feature ideas, etc.

My nominal purpose in a lot of this writing has been to engage in some "content based marketing" and drive more traffic to our website, establish credibility, etc. But as nathanmarz points out, those things become (or almost become) just side benefits.

Now if I just had more time to write...

I blogged for months pre-launch with very few readers. It felt ridiculous to put so much into something that wasn't directly related to the brand I was building and was taking away from my sw dev time.

But when I launched, a surprising number of key industry folks read a significant amt. of the blog when they went to check out my site. Most didn't know me prior to my launch announcement, but after reading the blog they were convinced of my expertise in the area and a few have been working overtime to open doors for me. Likewise, a number of new users got to know me through the blog and came to champion the site after personally connecting w/ me & my background in the field through my writing.

It turned out to have been the best marketing / biz dev dollars I never spent.

I got advice many years ago from a VC that you should proclaim yourself the expert in whatever field you are entering. It turns out that the blog permitted me to do that successfully in a very low-key way.

You should put links to your blog and startup in your bio/about section of HN.

I don't understand why so many members here leave their profiles completely blank. HN is populated with a lot of really intelligent people with interesting views. It'd be nice to be able to follow-up (off-line) on their comments and posts.

Done. Thanks.

I mostly agree, but I also think it's worth doing it for the "side benefits" since they can be so huge, even if you can't predict what they may be.

Cutting a long story short, if it wasn't for tirelessly blogging in the early 2000s, I'd not have gotten a book deal which led to me creating a blog which became my main source of income and led to the e-mail newsletter network I now run. Nor would I have luckily became result #2 for a popular route planner and made $2-3k per month in Adsense over 2 years by accident. And.. a lot of things like that. And I barely had any readers, it's just that certain posts hit the spot with people Googling for very specific things.

That's great, it seems like a bunch of happy "accidents" happened in connection to your activities as a blogger. Was it a technical blog? What pushed you to start a blog in the first place?

This probably says something bad about me but almost everything good I have came through an accident followed by seeing it through rather than planning or setting goals!

The blog was just my personal blog. Being a technical person it had a technical edge but wasn't focused on that. I started a blog of sorts in 1999 (something called an "e/n" site which were the rage at the time - the infamous "StileProject" site came out of this era and genre) simply to share stupid photos, jokes, insights, and interact with people I knew online. Then I blogged constantly from then until Twitter took off (which somehow killed my personal blogging entirely :-().

I think I should start personal blogging again though exactly because of the happy accidents. You just don't get them as much through Twitter or Facebook because the content there is so ephemeral and not likely to come up in a Google search in a few years.

I've had some very similar stories, including a few consulting jobs and numerous introductions to people I otherwise would never have met. You never know who may read your writing.

Good quote on the subject of writing: "I don't know what I think until I try to write it down." Joan Didion

I've mostly found blogging saves me time by allowing me to link myself. Plus longform writing allows one to transcend mere comment-box arrogance and ascend to the heady heights of bounteous pomposity.

I sometimes use my blog posts as an alternative to bookmarking. Many of my blog posts are like bookmarks with annotations, and it also makes it much easier to refer other people to, when I need to cite sources, break down a large article or complex subject, etc.

I've been blogging for about a year now, and I have been getting a consistant growing readership. The best advice I ever read about blogging was have a scheduled post.

I do one post every friday, even if I have very little going on.

I still write blog posts throughout the week, but it's only when I want too.

My Friday post is a have-to commitment I've made. It makes it easier for my readers to know when to come to my site.

having recently started a blog for several of the reasons mentioned I'm interested as to what HN's opinion on comments are? my site's current incarnation doesn't have any, and I've considered adding them, but I'm not sure they'll really add anything given the low traffic

I do like the idea of Svbtle's 'kudos' system as a measure of leaving positive feedback or an indication of a post's popularity. I guess my main worry is that someone might actually enjoy a post but find it difficult to let me know, is an email link really enough in this instance? seems like a rather high barrier to entry

http://ocfinn.com [in case anyone was wondering]

As a blogger, I like comments. They give you immediate feedback. Things you've missed, or overlooked, or an indication that you didn't explain yourself correctly.

However, you shouldn't write expecting people to comment. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.

As well, I strongly recommend deleting "bad" or impolite comments. People like to push the edges of acceptable behaviour. Being ruthless with moderation keeps the comments in line and stops your comment threads from degenerating into stupidity.

On the other hand, in my mind the best argument against comments is spam. You'll get a ton of spam, and it is a hassle to deal with. There's things you can do to mitigate this, though every anti-spam action will probably cut down on legitimate comments too. Best thing in my mind is probably close comments on posts older than a month or so.

"Writing reveals holes in your thinking. When your ideas are written and looking back at you, they're a lot less convincing than when they're just in your head. Writing forces you to mature your ideas by thinking through counterarguments."

Totally agree.

I'd also add that writing publicly (blogging) forces you to evaluate and really consider your true convictions with regard to whatever it is you're writing. Because you're going on the record with something - for all to see. And there's bound to be people out there that disagree with you. If and when they come, will you still be proud of and confident in what you wrote? If not, reconsider your stands.

Another good development path is to write Wikipedia articles. You get to see someone "kill your darlings" and perhaps learn from it. Plenty of readers too. But there is no opportunity for blog-like self promotion. You only get better writing and analyzing skills. Editing popular articles vs. starting a new one are completely different experiences.

The only downside to this is that typically, there's little promotion angle here.

I have no idea who wrote/contributed to the vast majority of the many wikipedia links I reference in comments and emails.

It does bode well for resume-padding however - you can just link to your body of contributions and some stats (edited 1k articles, etc). As a hiring manager/customer, that'd definitely pique my interest.

And, of course, you're contributing to a greater good (particularly with new references). And learn how to reference. [Proud Wikimedian]

Totally agree - I'd like to add one huge benefit more: you create great longterm value for your future customers. Sometimes people encounter blogposts which are couple of years old and contact you - it's an awesome felling to help people in the long run. If you keep on blogging readers will follow!

We used to call this writing a diary...

Maybe. But I think the act of making it public is an important distinction. I don't post to my blog very often (and traffic is essential zero), but when I write I try to make it worth reading. I'm certain I would not take the same care with a diary entry that would never see the light of day.

playing to, and trying to please your audience is the kiss of death, if you write for yourself and forget how you might be seen by those reading you, your writing will improve.

I didn't read it as "playing to... your audience." When I write a public blog post, I put some thought into coherence, logical ordering, etc. and I (at least briefly) proof read the post for massive errors. I wouldn't do that for a diary entry, but it helps me clarify my thoughts.

That might apply if you choose topics purely to please your audience, but remembering that other people could be reading what I'm writing has definitely helped me improve over time. A post I write for myself will inevitably have no structure, coherence, or focus. Writing for others forces me to clarify my thoughts and ideas while viewing them from the perspective of a stranger, which is a skill that extends to all aspects of my life.

I completely agree with this. Not only is blogging a great exercise for getting you in a routine of committing to something it can eventually lead to bigger things like job opportunities, author offers and money via affiliate links.

I ran a blog that had low readership for about a year and a half, I would write everyday and then all of a sudden I started ranking for common keywords and the traffic started flowing. I then put up some CPA links for various things and made $2000 one month from those survey popups (done tastefully). I eventually shut the blog down because I wanted to do something else, but it proves that big things grow from the littlest of seeds.

You shouldn't blog if you have procrastination tendencies. Focus on real work.

On the other hand, writing about your work may actually help you take it further, as it forces you to organize things in your head (a bit like rubber duck problem solving). That's my experience, at least.

Blogging should not be seen as an act of procrastination. Unless this act is occupying the whole day, the whole week. Blogging is a sane act of self development or this is how I see it. Most people lack the skill to communicate properly and blogging can be a potential tool for any entrepreneur and hacker.

To anyone who is doing a startup, blogging can be an interesting exercise in general communication. Blogging, in short words, will make you become a good storyteller. You will develop your communicative self so you describe anything in a pleasant manner and it will help outline greatly any part of your project.

I read many texts and business plans (in spanish) and they are pretty boring most of the time because the team has a big lack of writing.

I too have learned a lot from blogging. When I started out, it was discouraging, and still is, when you spend time in writing good posts and no one bothers to read them. But with time, you get better at it and actually start writing in a better way which others find easy to understand. And yes, sometimes google does recognize your good posts and sends you tons of traffic, even when your posts don't get shared on social media.

On a related note, what's the best blogging site nowadays?

How do you define best? Each platform has their own strengths, whether it's social, code, aesthetics, extensibility, etc

I recommend Jekyll + GitHub Pages.

Do it to keep a record of code you'll want to reference again sometime soon.

Same applies to ideas you've had or article you've written really.

I haven't started a blog yet, but something that is making me to create one this summer is simple:

Things that I can't find on Google.

Content on the web is spread across so many terrible websites with a lot of poor descriptions, and a lot of the time you can't even find the answer you're looking for. I want to start answering those questions.

Agreed. And not just code. Things you've done, why and how. Sometimes you spend a lot of time searching Google and Stack Exchange to piece together lots of fragments of information. Writing a blog post about it not only helps keep it in one place for yourself if you ever need to refer to it again, if you document the pitfalls you encountered it may even be useful to someone else.

This is a great way to contribute back to open source. Document work-arounds and how-to's and share them back to the userbase.

Writing is thinking, about both what we are thinking about and how we are communicating it ourselves and others.

My journal, which confers opportunity to benefit from writing without the distractions of the screen, like my various blogs, has at least one reader. As a writer, I have an obligation to entertain and inform him, even though he is me.

i have a blog with no readers! it's my notes from attempts to write my PhD thesis. Heroku makes it a cinch to self-publish http://mrcactu5.herokuapp.com/blog You're no longer restricted to WordPress either since you can use MathJax CDN.

Another good source of material are e-mails... take out all the personal stuff (or leave it in). This material is convincing since I am writing to another person. 3rd parties may have something in comment with the person you are writing to. that blog has not been created yet since my 1st blog is devoted to math.

for the data scientists: blog comments are often more revealing than the article itself, since they are (usually) unfiltered. They are also a bit harder to process -- since usually don't go in the direction you had in mind.

Funny ! Reading this made me remember the a layer's advice would just be the opposit.

Blogging is cathartic, and is a great way to keep track of how your thought process has progressed over time. But yes... totally agree that the process helps you to distill your thoughts and be a better critical thinker.

I found a great site that has improved my life: 750words.com

Forces you to write 750 words every day. It can be nonsense, it can be a story, or it can be like a diary. It's helped me structure my thoughts a lot.

12 year prolific bloguer here:

Writing has become my catharsis.

It did a lot for me and I never regret the day I started to blog.

I started posting link, short news and now I just write rants. 10 min reading format is what I love to write.

No one is concerned to write something that will come back to you in a negative way? Not everybody who could sing should sing in public.

A negative way in what sense? Because you don't write good? ;) Or because someone disagrees with the thoughts and feelings you express?

In the former case, writing (more) often will help you improve your writing skills. The more often you do something, the better you get at it. However, you might want to keep these "exercises" private until your writing improves.

In the latter case, as long as you're being honest, thoughtful, and respectful (and not intentionally controversial or offensive) with the views you express in your writing, I'm not sure how it would come back to you in a truly (undeservedly) negative way. But, if you've lost your rose-colored glasses and are still concerned, write anonymously.

I just began blogging myself, and it really helps me take a step back and realize / think about what I learn on a day to day basis.

I keep a list of unread email with ideas as their subjects and work my way through them, converting each to a blog entry.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Its hard though.

The more consistently you do it, the easier it becomes, like almost everything in life. I blogged daily for 5 months, now maybe once a week. It's harder to write posts now than it was when I was blogging daily.

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