The truth behind why my blog sucked for two years

you suck

The other day I was digging deep into my blog to do some research. I know that is a weird concept — researching yourself, but after more than 1,000 posts, {grow} has become quite a repository for my ideas!

Looking back into the past is difficult because it forces me to face the fact that my blog sucked. Sucked. Sucked. Sucked.

You know, the embarrassing memories of high school might fade, your early attempts at dating are forgotten, but blog posts, for better or worse, last forever like that red wine stain on the carpeting.

So I decided to finally embrace my pain and turn it over to you as a lesson. WHY did I suck and what can you learn from it?

I humbly present to you the embarrassing-yet-instructive reasons why my blog sucked.

1) I was too self-important

By the time I launched my blog I had worked in high level sales and marketing jobs for more than 20 years. I had two master degrees and I was teaching at a college level. In my early posts, I did not write, I would pontificate by bestowing wisdom on the uninitiated.

The key to successful blogging is not necessarily giving the right answers. It’s asking the right questions.  About 50 percent of my blog posts now start with a question and I rarely have the answer … that’s what comes in the comment section.

Eventually I realized that I really don’t know shit. There are plenty of people out there smarter than me and the trick to blogging is to get those smart people to show up, comment and make the whole thing great for everybody.

2) I was writing for imaginary people

A lot of people have discussed the benefits of writing for certain business “personas” — a profile of a target audience. So for example, you might be targeting your content at women procurement professionals who are 35-55, live in Berlin and enjoy spelunking.

I’m not a fan of this trend but I had to learn the hard way. I think it is difficult to write the same way, in the same voice, to people who might be very different from you. At the end of the day, can’t you only be YOU?

Whether you are writing for yourself or for your company, I think the only real option we have is to be ourselves and let our own light shine through. When I relaxed and just wrote about what interested me instead of what I THOUGHT would interest others, things began to click.

3) I was scared.

Oh. My. God.

I’m PUBLISHING something the whole world can see. What if they hate me?

Has that gone through your mind? The fear of criticism paralyzed me.

And along the way, I have certainly had my share of critics. Some have even been mean. But I am really OK with it because I came to realize that if I was the most perfect human being in the world, there would still be people who would criticize me,

In my recent interview with Julien Smith, he says he follows a 10-10-10 rule. He imagines somebody criticizing his work and then asks himself, how will he feel about it 10 minutes after it happens? 10 days after it happens? 10 years after it happens.

In the big picture, criticism is insignificant. Bring it.

4) I was boring

I spent far too much time analyzing reports and the work of others in my blog. That’s OK now and then, but if people make the effort to come to your blog, they want to hear from you, not necessarily you talking about somebody else.

How did I un-borify myself?

I think the key was connecting my personal stories to business lessons. This has become an effective way for me to explain and teach in a fun and accessible way.

And did you know that when you talk about yourself it releases dopamine in your brain like a little self-reward? It’s true. I bet you didn’t know that blogging makes you drunk. No need to thank me.

And in conclusion (drumroll please)

I think I had to go through this, and you probably do too. I’m not sure I could have punched my way out of suckery by reading more blog posts or talking to more people. I mean that should not discourage you from continuous learning. Especially if it means buying one of my books. Learn, learn learn. Buy buy buy. It’s good for the economy and I do appreciate that 50 cent commission.

But I don’t think there really is any shortcut. Did you know that 95% of all bloggers quit after the first month? I just made that up but it’s something like that.

Chances are the post you write today will suck less than the post you wrote yesterday. Just keep on keepin’ on.

I am fully expecting to read this post two years from now and think “Schaefer you sucked.” Let’s hope so.

Illustration courtesy of Toothpaste for dinner

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  • Ha, great one Mark. My husband reminds me to write how I talk and to not mess around too much with data. People want to know where I went and maybe where I ate for travel tips on their next trip more than knowing what year something was built. Plus, I’m no historian so I won’t play one on TV!

    My most popular posts are those with sprinkled humor where I magnify the silliness I see while living abroad, the cultural differences and pointing things out that many won’t write about, like sensitive hygiene topics or thermometer practices (God that sounds weird!). I write to make people smile and to help them discover new places to visit.

    Great post, keep it up!

  • Claudia Licher

    Hi Mark, thanks for this post. I had been feeling (a bit) guilty for not reading more blogs lately or doing research – education will do that to you.
    As for writing for a ‘persona’… a while ago I noticed I’m probably writing for people who have some affinities in common with me. I may be my own best reader. Oh well. The others can come and hang on if they like. They’re welcome.

  • Your husband gave you brilliant advice : )

    You are a naturally good writer with a great personality so you have a strong foundation there Tiana!

  • I think that is the right way to put it and I thank you for bringing up that point. I certainly have a theme to my blog. I don;t want to confuse people by writing about business one day and then food and then hiking and then art. You do attract a natural affinity group and you don’t want to let them down. Thanks Claudia!

  • yup, mine too. The only posts that I can re-read without cringing are the few posts that are stories from my personal life. The rest is just god awful, and I’ve made peace with that 🙂

  • I once attended a writing conference where novelist Dennis Lehane was a presenter. He talked about how we have to write enough to bubble our “crap” out of us – he believed that we each have a certain amount of junk that we have to write through and get out of our system, and then the good stuff starts to flow. His point was basically that the more you write, the quicker you expel the ugly stuff and can get onto your real work. I try to keep that in mind as I plug away on the first year of my blog….which, indeed, I’ll almost certainly think was all junk!

  • I’m still coming to terms with it!!!

  • Love that. I think that is certainly true. Thanks for the outstanding comment Rebecca!

  • Amy D. Howell

    I love this post Mark! And thank you for telling me a few years back that my blog sucked too! So that means there is hope for everyone! I think the key to success is having fun writing your blog and engaging with people (discussing). And yes to buying books! I am happy to say that when you wrote Tao I bought about 25 copies and gave them to clients. I bought 3 of the ROI books! Thank you for including me in your books as well! I get tweets and emails often that say “hey, I read about you in Mark Schaefer’s book..”–makes me happy I know you my friend!

  • same here, @markwilliamschaefer:disqus 😉 That’s why I was so surprised when you asked me to guest post for you a while back. I thought I sucked 😉 But I’m getting better with each post – and you’re right, the less you try to be someone else the better your posts get ! Thanks for being yourself

  • Mark, this is one of my favorite posts you’ve written. Your honesty and humanity keeps me coming back but I especially love the behind-the-scenes looks like this one at the lessons you’ve learned with the {grow} blog.

    Based on your advice, I’ve recently started to incorporate more personal stories into my writing and have received personal email responses from readers telling me how much those stories resonated with them in one way or another. That’s new for me! That’s what keeps me going. So thanks for that encouragement!

    I’m really trying to incorporate my own Golden Rule of blogging — “write unto others as you would have them write unto you”. I want to write the kind of things that I enjoy reading. “Simple” as that. 😉

  • Ha! That is so awesome. Glad that I helped make you famous and fabulously wealthy (right?)

  • Awesome Sarah. Keep on plugging!

  • Very cool advice. And glad to see you are being rewarded for your “humanity.” That has happened to me too.

  • Standing ovation… if you put this out to help cleanse your psyche, good on ya.

    If you put this out to help all who might read it and who are consequently struggling with the same issue(s), I believe you have succeeded.

    Thanks!

  • Amy D. Howell

    speechless?

  • Mark, this is such a wonderfully inspiring post, and like Sarah said, your honesty and openness is so appreciated. When I started blogging just over two years ago, it was with the intention of eliminating the self-editor in me. To write with abandon, from the heart, in the hopes that it might evoke ah-ha moments of resonance in the reader. But to be honest, it was really a public way to get off my a@# and just write!

    I’m not sure that I’ll ever do it “right”. When the muse hits, I write. I don’t follow the rules about frequency, length, time to post et. al. Is it working? I guess only those who read it could tell me.

    Thanks for sharing. Hopefully I suck less today than I did 2+ years ago 🙂 Cheers! Kaarina

  • dtstanley

    Thank you, thank you thank you! This is a great reminder we are all beginners and the key is keeping at it.

    This will be required reading for my students next semester (especially the dopamine part ;-).

    Thank you for your openness, honesty and transparency. It’s what I love about ya and what makes you such a great mentor/teacher. Go Pirates!

  • Alice Ackerman, MD,

    Ah…Great advice from a great man. Thanks so much Mark for your humanity and your ability to get down to the point. Write from the heart. In fact, do everything from the heart. In my blog, now just a little over 2 years old, I am finding the “evergreen” posts are the ones that tell the most poignant stories from my life as a physician. Its the only way I can make some of medicine real for my readers–all 5 of them (actually, more than that now, in great part thanks to you, my friend).

  • AlisaMeredith

    “I just made that up but it’s something like that.” Ha! This is why your blog no longer sucks.

  • Mark,

    “Chances are the post you write today will suck less than the post you wrote yesterday. Just keep on keepin’ on.”

    Perfect. I’m experiencing the transition out of suck right now. You know how I know? Because I went from writing what I thought I was supposed to write about to what I want and need to write about.

    Love the work.

    Hanley

  • You wrote “Eventually I realized that I really don’t know shit.” I’ve often thought that we only become experts in our field when we come to that very realization. Experts, rarely refer to themselves as such and many times are uncomfortable with the moniker. We eventually learn enough that we figure out we will never know it all.

  • Whoa! Mind blowing write up!

    Thank you for sharing this. I started blogging in 2005 and why I sucked so many years? I thought by just focusing on SEO and content, I would be just fine. I was wrong … terribly wrong.

    I didn’t focus on human relationship. Yes! That is vital for your growth.

    Thank you for such an inspiring write up and have a great day!

    Reginald

  • Julie Musial

    That post was funny and true. I’ve been blogging more than two years and I couldn’t agree more. I have a question for you about bloggers and spam. I use WordPress. It seems as though a number of the comments are spam. Usually I can tell by where it’s coming from or what it says, but I’m sure many are still getting through. What are the best options today to deal with blogging spam using a WordPress.org website blog? Thank you sincerely for your time. Julie

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  • Sarah Pressler

    I loved this – very engaging. Especially loved the “…I just made that up…” bit. Hahaha sounds like something I would write.

    I ran a mommy blog for many years and have over 1000 posts to it. I hate it. In fact, I hate it so much – it’s hidden now. The posts suck. They are so full of arrogance and “know it all” type jibber jabber that I can’t see any redeeming value in leaving it online. Even though it is an awesomely google-indexed blog. I never made any money off it and frankly got tired of hearing my own self talk to my own self.

    I can’t relate to the professionalism here, but on a personal level – I’m right there with ya buddy!

  • Love it @markwilliamschaefer:disqus ! I don’t think you suck. I don’t think you have ever sucked. It’s like the saying we use to say during the dot com bust… “now we suck less!” 😉 ha ha.

    I can so relate to this blog post and your experiences. I have went through some of the same learnings. I look back on my first blog posts and the corporate speak I was speaking makes me cringe. I like you and @dinodogan:disqus like reading the most personal posts. It is funny that often times it’s also the personal posts that have organically attracted the greatest customers, speaking & training gigs.

    Keep on being YOU Mark. It’s why I love you, your blog and I think so many others do!

  • I’m finally launching my own site. Hopefully I’ll be able to learn from your suckage lol Really appreciate the honesty here. And now I’m really tempted to read your older posts for comparison purposes.

  • Thanks for sharing your journey with us Mark. This post actually came at a perfect time. Looking to launch my blog in the next week or two as well and reading these tips has definitely caused me to re-think the way i write. Love the notion of adding in your personality in the posts and encouraging comments to further the conversation. Can’t wait to hit publish on my first post now thanks!

  • Love it @markwilliamschaefer:disqus! You are right – we all have to go through that at some point. I’ve only been blogging for 2 years, but those early posts make me want to hide in a closet! I see it as a blogging rite of passage. Your posts are always entertaining and I love it! Keep up the good stuff 🙂

  • Ahna Hendrix

    Great post, Mark! Although I’d say consistency is my biggest issue, I certainly wrestle with all the things you speak of.. Annnd I know that just by continuing to write and write through the muck – my blogging will eventually emerge the better for it. Isn’t it always more about the journey than the final outcome? And how could we ever get to where we are without going through the muck? But cheers to you for sharing. I only know you through this fantastic world of social media, but enjoy your presence, sarcasm and wit immensely. Bring it all on!

  • I needed to read this. Thanks Mark.

  • are you speechless because you are too busy counting all the money you have made from being in my books? : )

  • Probably a little of both.

  • You do. Ha! : ) Couldn’t help myself. Thanks for all your support Kaarina!

  • Thanks so much for your validation and encouragement professor.

  • Isn’t it kind of sad that those evergreen posts kind of sit there and nobody sees them any more? I feel like some of my best writing is buried. Pity.

  • Maybe : )

  • Amen to that brother. You’ve worked hard for that milestone.

  • I have never been a show-off but putting yourself out on the web is truly humbling. Nice to hear from the Knoxville crowd. Oh wait. You ARE the Knoxville crowd : ) Thanks for stopping by Brian.

  • Thankfully I was never stuck in the SEO trap. At least I didn’t have to crawl out of that hole Reginald! : ) Thanks for your comment.

  • Between Disqus and Akamai and it catches 99% of the spam.

  • Maybe it’s time to try again Sarah. Sounds like you learned a few things.It’s a lot of fun and a great way to connect. Let me know if I can help in any way.

  • Ah corporate speak! I was the grandmaster. Man there’s nothing like a good buzzword. In the right paradigm of course. : ) Thanks so much for your very generous comment Pam.

  • No, no, no! Don;t go to the dark side. Stay in the light Katherine. : ) Good luck with your project!

  • That is such good news. Warning: It will probably suck. But keep at friend. Let me know when it’s live!

  • It is a rite of passage but doesn’t feel good to be getting out of the goo? : ) Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Mandy.

  • You’re very kind. Thank you for the very nice message Ahna.

  • Glad I could help dude.

  • Thank you! 🙂

  • I believe constructive self criticism always help to improve. I am sure your blog did not suck when you started it, it was just different I suppose: you were different, your audience was different. As you would say “you found your inner voice”. And we love to listen to it!

    By the way, I am reading your blog post at Panera Bread: have you been back after you got your WiFi connection?

  • Always a pleasure:) Even when I don’t comment, I’m always around.

  • Meals only … but they still know me there!! Good to hear from you Linda!

  • Thanks will do 🙂 ahah i’m hoping it will suck less as time goes by 🙂

  • I would hope that we ALL have the same observation about ourselves. Can you imagine getting 2 years older and not any wiser or better at what you do?! That would be a total waste of aging in my opinion 😉

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  • Ahna Hendrix

    My pleasure, Mark! 🙂

  • Jennifer

    I love this post! You cover all of the things you learn along the way to better blogging.

    Also, the voice you write in is perfect for maintaining attention. I’ll admit that until fairly recently I was a bit afraid to bust out that same tone in a B2B marketing environment, but It’s only after you write some content that feels too stuffy and formal that you start to understand your audience – no matter who they are –prefers reading content from a real person. That’s the kind of conversational stuff we read all the way through. Great post, Mark.

  • Ha. Love that. Put your aging to good use.

  • An interesting point. I know most blog readers are “skimmers.” When I write I think about this and am determined to hold the skimmers. “I will make you read this thing. I will not let you go.” So you have to be succinct, you have to make every sentence move the story along and you have to be trustworthy so a person never feels cheated by spending time with you.

  • Julie Musial

    Thank you Mark. Let me know if I can help you in any way.

  • Jack Goldenberg

  • Rodger

    I’ve had several blogs. I started out as Your PR Guy and have evolved since. Your points are dead on. In the past, however, I’ve thrown everything away and started from scratch several times. That’s been a learning experience too.

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  • Aren’t you sweet!!

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  • Nice article Mark, my takeaway is be authentic and be yourself.

  • Atta boy! Symptoms of youthful enthusiasm now tempered by corduroy, down pillows, Pinot and humility. I started “Adventures in Limboland” as a place where I could suck to my heart’s content and not worry about anybody ever asking for a revision, ever. Come on over and guest blog (anon of course) when you wanna suck again, if only for a post or two.

  • Alice Ackerman, MD,

    Actually, I was talking about the ones that are still drawing traffic, almost always secondary to organic searches. Wanna know the most searched-for phrase that lands folks on my old posts–“worst child abuse cases”. That, my dear is a pity. People looking for tales of horror, exploitation, and more. At least it taught me something about how to write a headline. 😉

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  • Ross Quintana

    I think you can learn a lot by looking back and seeing what worked and what didn’t. With that being said, I also think some things work when you are small and not large and the other way around. It is a fun journey and the journey many times is the one you are having by growing and learning and your audience is simply along for the ride. Shouts out to sucking less. every one (tiny Tim reference)

  • I remember Your PR Guy. I didn’t connect that was you. Cool. It would be hard to start all over again. I’ve thought about that and it’s depressing : ) It has taken so much effort to build this community!

  • Ha!! I have already have the freedom to suck all I want here. I always have that option : ) Thanks so much for commenting Jeb.

  • You crack me up. Thanks for the great comment and your wonderful support Ross. Thou rocketh.

  • Great analogy cited here.

  • I can say the same about my blog and my photography. Regardless of the thoughts in my head, I can never stop shooting. If I do, I a guaranteed to never improve.

  • Well said Demetrius!

  • Ross Quintana

    Thine eyes hath seen, and ye shalt shew wheresoever thou goest, peradventure ye speaketh in olde English.

  • Thx Mark!

  • Elisabeth TenBrink

    Thank you very much for writing this! For a while now I’ve known that my blog needed to change significantly, that it was pretty pathetic, but this really tipped the scale, as well as helping me in knowing how it needed to change.

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  • Heather Piazza

    Love it! Thank you for sharing this. I say this to myself about lots of different things at lots of different times. But seriously, it’s all about learning. That and taking advantage of opportunities, then learning again. I don’t think you suck… I think you are brave, and you are making us all the wiser for it.

  • Travel Thailand

    I started writing on Hubpages to help me get over severe writer’s block. Thankfully it worked, so I ventured forth to wordpress and blogspot, trying to decide which platform worked best for me. I think the hardest part of blogging is deciding what should be posted on my blog for free and which stories I will submit for publication elsewhere. Kudos to all bloggers who have the patience or endurance to keep on blogging, especially in the beginning when you have no idea how many people are even reading your posts.

  • That was a fascinating article, Mark. The key for all writers is to
    recognize that no matter how good you think your work may be, you can
    always be better. The only way to get better is to keep plugging away,
    until what you wrote today is better than what you wrote yesterday.

  • I can relate to this with some of my first videos. Boy did they suck. In fact they sucked so bad I had to unlist them. There’s no way I can leave those up. I created a little piece of colored vinyl to hang on the wall to make it look like a professional background, then I spoke against it with inadequate room lighting. Another was taken using the webcam embedded in my laptop – the up the nose angle. Really elegant. That one’s unlisted, too.

    Now it’s just the sucky ones I can actually accept that are still up. At least I’m in the 5% still working on making the product more useful and fun for viewers (and readers when I do blog). Thanks for introducing this discussion with your lessons. Love reading what others have written, too!

  • Hurray! Glad I could help!

  • Very kind of you to say Heather. I appreciate that feedback very much.

  • An interesting dilemma. I wrote about this problem in a recent post. Guest posts or other article that distract from the quality of your blog can be kryptonite! : )

  • Well said Justin. I agree.

  • Thanks for joining in Michael. I’m glad you’re part of the community and took the time to share.

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  • Pepper Gang

    Oh. My. Gosh. I love this I love this. Thank you! I struggle with this stuff and I haven’t written anything in a week because of it. I’m going to post something new today!!

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  • Dino,
    I am soooo glad I am not the only one who cringes at what they’ve previously written. And at the time I thought, “this is some great stuff”. LOL! I just hope I don’t say the same thing in a year about the content I am writing now.

    Julia

  • This is so refreshing! Thanks for being honest and sharing. This is my first time on your blog so I can’t vouch for your early stuff but this post is the epitome of anti-suckery! I think the first year of my blog I published a whopping 38 posts…most of which I wish I could erase eternally. But as you said I am sucking less and less (i hope) as I go.
    Julia

  • Awesome! You made my day!

  • Julia thank you very much for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it and hope to see you back often!

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  • I loved this post. Anytime I have posted about how I suck at something I’ve received a similar response to what you have; lots of comments and shares. In a discussion with one of my business partners the other day, we were talking about how to become better at blogging and he told me that some of the most popular blogs that he reads just write about the same 5-7 themes over and over again….only from different angles and with different stories/examples. What do you think about this approach? Is this what you do?

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  • Speaking of spelunking….During my brief months as a small town newspaper reporter in the mid 80s I wrote a story on spelunkers. More than a few people stopped to thank me for teaching them a new word. Not sure that would happen today.

  • There are definitely themes to my blog but I never really cover the same ground twice … at least not yet. I think I would be cored by that : )

  • : ) Thanks Sheree.

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  • Alexandre Lopes

    Thanks for sharing. That is a great insight. I have started a blog roughly 3 months ago, so am glad to have passed the 1st month 🙂
    The idea of starting with a question is great, it’s something you use to captivate an audience is a speech or presentation, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work with your audience.
    I definitively take that.
    And I do agree with you, each post might not be better than yesterday’s, but the trend is getting better.
    Once more, thanks for sharing.
    http://flytothecloud.blogspot.com/

  • Nice, thanks.

  • Ed Oyama

    hey hey! fun post. yea, i agree that the starting with a question idea is key. i’m just restarting my own blog and wondering already what to do next 😀 but i’ve heard that “you can’t really steer a parked car” – so it’s good to just be in motion. thanks for sharing!

  • Ed Oyama

    hang in there. i feel the same way!

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  • Its honest, and I can relate. Love your style Mark. I don’t know who said it, think it was about music:
    “A work is never done, only abandoned.”
    I try to look at my writing this way; make it is as good as I can in the time frame I have, hit publish and move on. It’s always a work in progress until you decide to not work on it anymore. Never really “finished”. Sometimes that’s tough which is why I have a lot of “draft posts” — hopefully, always improving…
    cheers sir.

  • Thanks Trace.

  • I’m digging the made up stat about bloggers quitting in the first month. I find the hardest part is the “who to write to” when you’re just starting out. Life lessons = business lessons. Noted! Thanks Mark.

  • Happy it helped you Naomi.

  • You can’t fake a response. This is what I dearly admire in your writing.

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