Are you a young writer?
Let me introduce you to The Young Writer’s Workshop — a monthly membership site packed full of writers under 30. Co-founded by Brett Harris and Jaquelle Crowe, YWW, as they call it, exists to help young writers grow in the craft of writing. One VP of a major Christian publishing company says, “The Young Writers Workshop will be a great pool of talent for us to draw from. We will be watching with great interest.”
Every week, YWW produces a new piece of high-quality content for its members, which are often interviews with editors, authors, bloggers, and other writers. They also have tons of practical “how-to” videos – everything from how to start a blog all the way to how to pitch a book proposal to a publisher. It’s a giant writing club — a place to go to connect with other peers and obtain writing knowledge to grow as a writer. It’s an excellent resource for any young writer.
Recently, Jaquelle Crowe (author of This Changes Everything) asked me to do an interview on blogging for YWW. I said “yes” reluctantly since I by no means want to posture myself as an expert in blogging and have much to learn about blogging myself. Still, if given the opportunity to encourage other bloggers, I usually take it. You can listen to our conversation here, or you can read a modified transcript of our conversation below.
An Interview on Blogging
When you started your blog, how did you get readers?
That’s the thing – I didn’t have any readers.
Some of my friends laughed at me when I told them I started a blog. When most people start blogs, they joke and say, “Well, at least my mom is reading my blog.” My mom is from a different country and can’t read English well, so I couldn’t even say that!
Bloggers have to usually wait for one to two years before they see any fruit. Many blogs fail because bloggers have unrealistic expectations. They think they’re going to make lots of money, land a book deal, and see tons of traffic right away. Life just doesn’t work that way. Plus, you shouldn’t be blogging exclusively for those reasons anyway. The best bloggers focus on putting out content worth reading on a consistent basis.
In the beginning, sharing posts on social media and word-of-mouth didn’t do much for me. But I put out content regularly, and that’s the key. Never overestimate the power of incremental change. Focus less on getting new readers and focus more on writing content worth reading on a regular basis. And over time, you won’t have to find readers because readers will find you.
What’s your advice on blog design/layout? How important is design?
Blog design/layout is sort of a tricky thing.
In one sense, it’s really not that important. It’s a rookie mistake to put more effort into your design than into your writing.
In another sense, you can turn people off if your site looks rather poor. So I land somewhere in the middle, especially for beginners.
In the beginning, I think it’s helpful for bloggers to pay for:
• A nice theme.
• Professional photos.
• A nice logo (pro tip: you can get a logo from Fiverr.com for $5)
Other than that, don’t spend too much time on design at first. Focus more on creating content worth reading. And as your blog grows, Lord willing, you can consider adding more design. But at first, stick with the basics.
How do you come up with ideas for new posts?
This is probably the question bloggers get asked the most.
Writing is output, and reading is input. If you don’t have a lot of input, you won’t have much output. In other words, you must read a lot. Every successful blogger that I know is an avid reader. This is the main way I get ideas — inspiration through reading books.
I also get ideas from:
• Other blogs I follow. I use Feedly to follow blogs and I find that inspiration arises often from other bloggers.
• By sometimes using Buzzsumo.com. You can type in a URL from a site in your niche and find out what ideas resonate with your prospective readers.
• By answering questions others are asking.
Good bloggers are both observant and curious. In being observant, you notice what’s going on around you — in your culture, in your church, in your heart, etc. You make notes of your observations and seek to turn them into articles. Good bloggers are also curious, incessantly asking questions, and trying to come up with ideas to make things better (and write them along the way). As you ask questions, learn, and observe things around you — write them down. Immediately. Then when you sit down to write, pick an idea and run with it. You’ll never run out of ideas this way.
What are your tips on time management for bloggers?
This is a struggle for me. I’m currently a full-time Master of Divinity student at Covenant Theological Seminary. My studies take up to 50 hours of my week. And I just got married (which is amazing!). I have experienced lots of transitions and challenges to writing in this past year. So I can relate to anyone who feels hard pressed for time.
Yet, your blog has to be important to you. Lots of bloggers say, “I don’t have time to blog.” Really what they’re saying is, “My blog is not valuable enough for me to make time for it.” It has to be valuable to you. Also, make sure your writing times are in your schedule and guard those times. As it has been said, what gets scheduled gets done.
The key with writing is not the length, but the frequency. Random spurts of writing for two hours won’t do much, but writing every single day for 15 minutes will grow a powerful blog. Just 15 minutes a day! If you can do this, you’ll be able to post something every week. Focus on frequency, and length will happen over time. Again: never overestimate the power of incremental change.
Do you have to stick to one genre/niche for blogging?
Yes, I think so. If you try to reach everyone, you’ll reach no one. Your niche has to be specific. If you try to write about coffee and Jesus and fashion and food and everything that you notice and like, you’ll never truly gain traction. It’s less likely to find readers who are interested in seven different topics than it is to find lots of readers interested in one topic. Pick one or maybe two things and write about that.
How do you normally write your posts? What’s your process?
I write in a writing app called Ulysses. As I collect ideas, I save them in Evernote. When I sit down to write, I pick an idea and just write. I don’t do any editing at first – just writing. I spill every thought I have. This is my favorite part of the entire process.
Then, I re-write. I don’t edit (at least not yet).
I’ve heard it said that the essence of writing is re-writing, so my next step is to re-write. In many ways, this is the most important step. I would be totally embarrassed if someone found my first drafts of my articles because they’re terrible (and some of the final drafts are, too). So, I re-write. I find it helpful to literally read my words out loud. Also, in this step, I seek to sound more concise. I tweak sentences as much as possible. Why say something in 20 words when I can say it in 10?
Finally, I let my wife review the post to make grammatical edits. She’s so amazing and helpful and way smarter than me, so her input is invaluable. I’m not a great editor because I’m not patient. It takes patience to edit well, and I have the patience of a five-year-old. Plus, I’d rather be creating content than reviewing it.
What are common mistakes young bloggers make?
I think the three biggest mistakes are: impatience, inconsistency, and wrong motives.
Impatience – you expect people to read, follow, share, and love your content right away. As a result, many bloggers quit early because they didn’t see the results they wanted in the first year. I didn’t truly see much traction to my blog until 2015, and I started in 2011. I labored for four years without many clicks and I was (mostly) content because I just love the craft so much. You have to be patient.
Inconsistency – consistency builds trust. If you don’t publish content regularly, don’t expect people to regularly come to your site. Believe it or not, a lack of consistency online comes off as shaky character and people can’t follow someone who is shaky.
Wrong motives – getting into blogging just to land a book deal or make tons of money. There’s nothing wrong with these two things. In fact, there can be a healthy ambition involved. And as you grow in success, you should seek to steward it wisely for God’s glory. But if the absolute only reason you want to blog is to become famous, land book deals, and make money, you’re probably in it for the wrong reasons.
If you could say one thing to young writers, what would it be?
Don’t compare yourself to others!
To be read by just one person is an incalculable privilege, one that you should never take for granted. Lots of traffic doesn’t necessarily mean lots of influence. Some of my favorites moments as a blogger are when someone emails me to let me know that an unpopular piece I’ve written has influenced them in some way. If just one person is deeply affected by something I write, then all the labor is worth it. Learn from big sites, but don’t compare your blog to them. You’ll be a lot happier this way.
You can sign up for the Young Writer’s Workshop here.
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