Derek Tillotson

What I've learned from starting too many blogs

I've started a lot of blogs. Almost all of them are dead, so I suppose I've killed a lot of blogs, as well. It took me way too long to build DerekTillotson.com, but I'm happy I got to it. With any luck, it'll be the last blog I'll ever use (but not the last one I'll ever create, because I know myself too well). But I've also learned a lot from this on-and-off blogging experience.

1) You can't force passion. I tried to start a site once called Shoulder Buttons. It was going to be a blog that was laser-focused on writing about various video game peripherals and other hardware. I was still doing some paid game reviewing at the time, and thought it would be something I'd love. Ultimately, I realized I was only in it to get the gatekeepers to notice me (and also hoping to get free stuff down the road).

2) The flashier the site, the easier it is to worry about how it looks. I set up a lot of blogs with WordPress. Millions of words have been written about WordPress, and I am quick to recommend it to people. Still, I found myself too concerned about making the site "perfect" but also too lazy to edit things myself. Once I switched to the current DerekTillotson.com, I built it myself. And while it's not pretty, it's exactly what I want it to be.

3) Regular writing takes discipline. If you've ever tried writing a novel, you understand this idea. Fiction writers regularly have to push themselves through the pain of hating what they're writing and forcing content out of annoyance. The same goes for a blog. If you're giving yourself a schedule, and plan to keep it, writing good content on a regular schedule is a job, even if it's a dorky little site like mine.

4) There are always things to write about, but you may need to think hard to find them. I don't know if "Things I've learned from starting too many blogs" is really worth writing about, but it's something that's been lodged in my brain for a while, so I feel like I'm on the right path. Still, getting ideas that click with you is hard. Making idea generation a regular practice makes this easier, but doesn't make it particularly easy.

5) Similarly, all ideas are worth exploring, but very few are worth committing to. I still think that the right person could make an idea like Shoulder Buttons work. But it wasn't a commitment I could make. And it's far from the only idea I've tried to tackle but couldn't follow through. I don't regret the time spent on any of those ideas, especially when I look at the hundreds (if not thousands) of ideas I've thrown out. From my experience, far less than 1 percent of ideas are even worth execution.

6) It's okay to quit. I've lost track of the blogs and other projects I've quit. But I'm grateful I got out of there instead of wasting my time on things I don't love. If you're dreading a passion project, maybe you're not passionate about it.

7) Comment boxes are a hassle. I've tried it before. And even when there was a small dabble of activity (usually from friends and family), dealing with spam and spam requests annoyed me. If you're committed to managing comments, they're great! If not, just cut them out.

8) You don't need to publish everything. I used to try posting everything I wrote. It lead to a lot of things I hated. Some people thrive with daily publishing. But if your writing doesn't give value to your most important audience, think twice about sharing it.

9) Also: You are your most important audience. I learned quickly that it's important to write what you're interested in. If it grabs others' attention, that's great! But if you're not writing with yourself as an audience, it'll be much harder.

10) Having your own platform feels good. Especially compared to social media, which encourages a lack of civil discourse (I don't think it was by design, but there's a certain culture within social media communities that hurts genuine communication). With your own site, everything is on you. You're not stuck to the limitations set by others. And there's something fulfilling about doing your own thing.

Written August 25, 2020


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