What I Learned After a Year of Blogging

I started blogging over a year ago. My first blog post I posted way back at the start of February last year. It's been a long and very difficult journey. I've written nearly 50 blog posts each ranging from a few hundred words to 3,000+ words. There is no doubt blogging is an exhausting ”hobby”. I've seen my readership grow from zero to at least 40 every day (which admittedly isn't that much).

It's always interesting to see one of your articles inspire another blog post. Last year, I wrote an article about Why All Developers Should Blog which seemingly inspired a blog post on Seven Reasons Against Blogging. This is one of the things I love about blogging. You post an article somewhere, and later it's cited somewhere else in the blogosphere.

I'd like to address some of Nicolai's points each in turn but then provide my own findings from having managed a blog over the past year.

Blogging Takes Time

There's no doubt that writing a new blog post takes time. Especially ones that are based on fact rather than opinion. I would argue for an opinionated piece I could write anywhere between 500-700 words per hour, so for a traditional blog posts (between 1,500-2,000 words) it will probably take between 3-4 hours of writing.

As with anything, the more you practise, the better you'll become over time so don't be too disheartened if it feels like it's taking you a long time to create content at first.

Research Takes Time

Many of the more popular topics tend to take a fair amount of research or at least can be taken from experience. I often blog about things I happen to learn very recently as mentioned in the article.

However, I don't perceive this to be a bad thing. I've found that by writing and repeating in the form of prepared exercises, you feel as though you have to understand fully what you've learned because you're preaching about it to others.

It helps to be under the watchful eye of others, since we don't want to be called out for providing incorrect details. We've passed our thoughts up for judgement so we must ensure they're as correct as they can be.

Considerable Overhead

Now, I didn't have half as many issues as the original poster with my blog, since I'm using Ghost. I completely appreciate the problems that you can experience with Wordpress (frankly I dislike it as a blogging medium because it can create significant problems when having to upgrade) and because of the popularity and visibility of it (from a security and vulnerability perspective).

So, if you want to blog, I would highly recommend choosing a blogging framework that is lightweight and more secure, perhaps even write using a centralised blogging host such as Medium. Concentrate on blogging, not fighting with a blogging framework.

Learning the Wrong Thing

The criticism here is that writing is almost not a worthwhile pursuit for a programmer. However, I highly disagree on this point.

Writing is a creative pursuit and unlocks some of your more creative attributes. Developers are inherently more logical, rational and linear in thought. Writers, more creative, feeling and intuitive.

I would argue that programmers need to develop both attributes of their personality. There's a fantastic book called Refactor Your Wetware that talks about how we, as developers, can improve the way we think by unlocking the creative side of our brain.

By practising being less predictable and breaking from routines and habits we can teach ourselves to think outside of the box. If you always approach problems from the same way, then you'll never get better at what you do.

Writing is just one way you can improve your brain in a way that makes you think differently.

Blogging Takes Energy

This is absolutely true. I'm not going to argue on this point. Running a blog is a difficult endeavour and it takes long time to gain any traction, even if you happen to hit it big (which is a very slim chance if you're not well known).

Make sure you get into blogging with the right intentions, otherwise it will consume more energy than it needs to.

Maybe you believe you “didn't get anything done“ because you're not forgiving of yourself when in actual fact you have gotten a lot done that day. I record my sessions using a workflow driven using the Pomodoro Technique. That way I can record the amount of work I get done that day and be happy that I've completed as much as I can.

I would highly recommend trying this technique yourself. Sometimes we're too hard on ourselves, we suffer burnout from being too ambitious with our goals.

Once we pass a particular level of fatigue, our willpower fades, along with our dreams. We need to keep the momentum, we need to make sure we recover at the right times, taking well earned breaks where need be, then after get right back on it.

Blogging may not be something that you do regularly each week, but I do believe it holds some value doing something blog related each month.

Shouting into the Void

I'd argue the traction codefx achieve with around 200 visitors per day is pretty good, however with such low level of interactions I'd argue a ”community“ feeling isn't being built.

Writing and maintaining a successful and popular blog, is more than just about writing something for the sake of it. If you want a cohesive strategy, that provides you more user engagement, you should engage with a community. Get involved in local disqus groups and the community related to the topic on which you're blogging (such as following linkbacks) toold blog posts.

Exposing Yourself

This is one of the more serious points of the seven.

There will always be lunatics in the world, there's very little we can do about that. What we can do though, is limit our exposure. Don't post deliberately provocative and inflammatory posts. Always aim to be helpful, don't be a d*ck and avoid racism and politics. We're developers not politicians.

I'll admit, I tend to be too political for my own good but I avoid it on certain social mediums (although I tend to avoid it on the more public ones like Twitter etc.). We should avoid particular topics if we're worried about exposure to loonies.

The problem is that if someone is really determined to find you, they probably can. That's a scary prospect, but the chance it will be you are slim.

If lived our lives at of fear of what ifs we'd never leave the house.

Having said all of this - great post Nicolai and I'm glad that you still love blogging despite all of the many pitfalls.

What I've Learned

On reflection, after spending the last year blogging, I've learned some important lessons.

Firstly, that blogging is harder than I ever thought it would be and gaining traction with a readership is a real challenge. My most popular articles are definitely technical articles.

The Problem with Node.js is easily my most popular post. Partially I think this is the subject matter, many people struggle with node.js and want to know what the issues with it are. Secondly, the SEO title is one that means it ranks well in Google (just have a search for "problems nodejs" and you'll see what I mean). I promoted this article on Reddit's Java forum (it was subsequently shared on Node.js own forum and stayed at the top page of Reddit for a few days) also boosting it's ranking.

The overarching thing about what makes a blog popular, and the reason why my blog hasn't gained much traction in the year since launch, is because it's not niche enough. If you don't niche down on a particular subject you won't be found in the void.

That's why I'm excited to announce that I've decided to start a new blog focusing exclusively on AWS development. It's called planetaws.com and I'll hopefully be launching it over the next month. I'll look at AWS development in particular, discussing how you can use the various different components on AWS to build things.

This will be a learning exercise for myself as I gain more experience in the area of AWS but also will hopefully help a lot more people pickup what is easily the biggest cloud platform provider. I already have 3-4 years experience in this area so I'll by no means be a novice in it.

I hope you'll follow me on this new journey and if you have any topics you'd like to be covered on AWS or on this blog I'd love to hear from you.

Feel free to leave comments in the section below.

James Murphy

Java dev by day, entrepreneur by night. James has 10+ years experience working with some of the largest UK businesses ranging from the BBC, to The Hut Group finally finding a home at Rentalcars.

Manchester, UK
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