On a couple of instances, most recently on his thousandth blog post, Jordan has brought up some advice that I gave him when he was starting his blog: that you should have low standards. Jordan phrased that advice more articulately than I did at the time, I’m sure:
What he meant: to blog you have to be willing to to write things that are inarticulate, or not fully-thought-through, or which still have pieces missing; otherwise blog entries (like some math papers!) end up languishing, invisible and unfinished, forever.
The funny thing is that I don’t actually remember giving this advice, and if one were to ask me today what the secret is to writing a blog that sticks around for a while, that probably isn’t the first thing that would come to my mind! Though I do still think that low standards are a good idea: the fact that Jordan’s blog has been going on for almost six years and has over a thousand posts gives anecdotal empirical support for that claim (not that Jordan’s blog isn’t wonderful, but if he has found the advice useful, I’m not going to argue with him), and this very post is evidence that my own standards continue to remain low.
Still, if that isn’t the first answer that I would give, what answer would I give? First, I will freely admit: there is absolutely no reason why anybody should want a blog like mine. This blog is extremely self-absorbed and doesn’t have particularly high readership (high in volume, that is, my readership is wonderfully high in quality), it really exists largely to get ideas out of my head so I can start thinking about something else. But if you, too, are in the situation of wanting to get ideas out of your head and onto a blog, then this is my best guess as to what has been helpful in allowing me to continue to do that:
Develop at least one trigger that will cause you to write a blog post.
For me, the trigger is: every time I finish a video game that isn’t a short flash game, I write a blog post about it. I don’t write the blog post before I start the next game—I frequently need a little bit of time to come to terms with the game, and I usually start playing my next game while that happens—but I definitely avoid starting a new game if I have two games that I’ve finished that I haven’t blogged about. Games aren’t, of course, the only thing I blog about, but they serve a useful role by regularly leading to content here.
From a queuing theory / networking theory point of view, this is a backpressure mechanism, and it leads to:
Don’t let too many blog posts be floating around in your head at once.
There are usually two or three topics that I’m thinking about writing a blog post about: maybe something about a specific game, maybe something more general about games, maybe something about work (related to organization or programming), maybe something about how I run my own life, maybe something a little more random. (Once I’ve gotten this post finished, my list will consist of “Blog re aspiration in games” and “Blog re Grow Maze“.) Two blog posts that I’m thinking about is a good number, and three or even four is perfectly fine; but, for me, five is a bad number. So if the list gets too long, then I’ll write a blog post during the next evening when I have enough energy to write.
Don’t let a blog post float around in your head for too long.
If you have an idea for a blog post, then write that blog post. Not that day, not even necessarily that week, but that month. The longer blog posts sit in your head, the farther you get from the initial spark that motivated it: for me, at any rate, letting ideas bake will start hurting more than it helps after a couple of weeks, sometimes sooner. And even if a blog post never bakes fully, I find that I far prefer writing it in a half-baked form than either waiting indefinitely for it to bake or pretending that I’ve forgotten about it and moving on to other things. (When I do the latter, I find that my brain generally doesn’t move on to other things, with the result that I don’t blog at all until I’ve gotten that half-baked post out.)
Always have at least one blog post floating around in your head.
This is one of the harder rules here: what are you supposed to do if you don’t have anything to write about? And it’s true: I can’t just sit down at a computer and force inspiration upon myself. But what I’ve gotten a lot better at over the years is noticing when something about an idea catches my brain’s fancy: if that happens, onto the list it goes. (I actually do keep a real list, but a mental list is okay, too, as long as you keep it short and drain it regularly; I don’t usually write down details on my list, just topics, though I have a notebook for writing drafts on the extremely rare occasions when I feel that would be useful.) And then my brain will chip at it a little bit in the background, and I’ll be able to produce a blog post on it at some point soon.
Try to write at least one blog post a week.
This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule: if a week goes buy when I’m just too busy or nothing has quite come together, it’s not the end of the world. But if a week has gone by without me writing a blog post, it is at least a sign that I should ask myself what’s going on. Am I just too busy or too tired? Am I not listening enough to the ideas that are in my head? Am I letting a half-baked blog post block me? (It’s usually that last one.)
This recommendation is different from trying to keep on a regular schedule: some people recommend that, but I personally do not. Instead, it’s a diagnostic tool to detect inappropriate blockages and keep things moving.
Rereading the above, I’m coming too understand why Jordan went out of his way to point out the importance of low standards, because that’s really a prerequisite for all of those suggestions. Without low standards, it’s hard to develop a trigger for regularly writing about a topic: there are tons of games that I had nothing interesting to say about, but I wrote about them anyways because that’s what I do, and by doing that I improved my ability to occasionally find something interesting to say. Without low standards, more and more blog posts will float around in your head, because you won’t let enough of them escape. Without low standards, a blog post will float in your head for too long, because you’ll want to polish it too much or not accept that you’re unlikely to be able to polish it well. Without low standards, you’ll find yourself without any ideas floating around in your head, because you won’t pay attention to ideas that strike your fancy but that you don’t feel like you really have anything special to say about. And without low standards, you definitely won’t write at least one blog post a week, because I can guarantee that you have weeks where there’s nothing that you think of that you’re proud of.
With low standards, though, you just might find yourself looking back at your blog five or ten years later, a thousand posts later, and being glad that you’ve taken that journey.
This post has not been revised since publication.