No one reads my blog. Okay, fine! I am exaggerating. But I don’t get hundreds of retweets when I tweet my articles. I am lucky if I get more than a thousand views on a post. Occasionally, my articles can do well on sites like Hacker News, but those instances are few and far between.
I don’t have an active readership anticipating what I will publish. Part of the reason could be my lack of focus on a single subject. My interests are varied, so I have a tendency to write on a multitude of topics—from Fossil Fuels to AI.
Having only a few readers used to upset me, but it doesn’t now. I have realized that there are perks to blogging even if your writing goes largely unnoticed.
1. You Accumulate a “War Chest of Written Pieces”
Rachel Kroll, a software engineer who is currently working at Lyft, is a prolific blogger who has written more than a thousand posts on software, technology, and system administration. I was naturally curious how she avoided self-doubting questions like: “is it of value”, “will anyone appreciate it”, and “is it something worth writing about”. So I sent her an email. Her full response is here.
What stood out for me is this:
What I tell people in general is: write. Just pick a venue and write. Don’t worry about who’s going to see it, because, honestly, at first, nobody’s going to see it. If you have a proud parent or other relative, OK, they might follow everything from day one, but hardly anyone else will. Still, keep writing. Write the stuff you’d want to read. See if it suits you, and if you enjoy doing it. If you do, great! Keep going.
Eventually, you should find if you like doing it or not, and if you do, you will find yourself with a “war chest” of written pieces. Then, you can strategically link to them where appropriate (reddit, Facebook, HN, that sort of thing), and save yourself from having to re-explain yourself when you’ve already covered a topic in depth.
When you’ve written extensively, chances are the topic you’ve covered will spring up again—maybe on an internet forum, maybe in a real-life discussion. Not only you can cite your piece when the opportunity arrives, you’ll also have a more informed opinion on the subject.
In 2021, I wrote a piece on a person I met over an Internet forum whose ambition was nothing more than watching movies. It wasn’t a hit. However, whenever the question of ambition comes up in the future, I can cite the article as an alternative perspective.
2. Maybe it’s Not Relevant Now, But it Will be in the Future
In blogging, there’s a tendency to be disappointed by the lack of short-term success. You write an article and post it everywhere, only to find that it has barely gotten any views.
However, writers ignore the article’s potential in the longer run. It’s possible the piece wasn’t immediately relevant, but it might become in the future. This was covered by Steve Yegge in his post, “You Should Write Blogs.”
About, oh, maybe 3 years ago, long before we had company internal blogs, Jacob Gabrielson wrote and circulated a brilliant essay called Zero Config.
And nobody read it.
I’m sure Jacob felt pretty bummed about having wasted all that time on the essay.
I didn’t give Jacob’s essay much thought after that [reading it], although I’d of course internalized his core ideas, which helped me steer my own teams’ work occasionally. About eight months went by, and then the most remarkable thing happened: suddenly all the VPs were talking about the “config problem”. They were citing Jacob’s paper, and from the way they were talking about it, it was obviously considered a well-known and long-standing problem: in other words, in 8 months it had gone from a relatively unknown issue to one that had permeated our corporate consciousness.
This is especially true for technical posts. Immediately, they won’t do great. But if your posts are helpful, people will start finding them organically. Google will start rewarding them with traffic for relevant keywords.
In 2014, I couldn’t find a simple JSON of Indian States and their ISO Codes. So I made one myself, put it out there as a gist, and forgot about it. Eight years after creating it, the simple JSON has helped countless programmers who are searching for the same thing as I was. It showcases how useful anything can become over the years even if it’s not an immediate sensation.
3. One is Still Greater than Zero
In 2017, my company was dealing with GDPR compliance. Although I wasn’t part of the team, I was curious about how other startups were dealing with the issue.
I came across an article that talked about the same issue while casually browsing through the new submissions on HN. It was super useful for me because it explained in detail all the steps a real company had to take to be GDPR compliant but it received only one upvote, which was from me.
The author must have not realized at all that at least one person in the world found the article valuable. And neither do most of us.
If we keep that in mind though, we would be less bummed about not finding a large audience.
Sidenote: If you liked an article, let the author know. It will make their day.
4. You’re Writing for Yourself
One of my favorite books on writing is, “On Writing Well.” Whenever I am stuck in the self-doubt phase, I remind myself how the author emphasized “writing for yourself” more than anything.
Readers want the person who is talking to them to sound genuine. Therefore a fundamental rule is: be yourself. No rule, however, is harder to follow. It requires writers to do two things that by their metabolism are impossible. They must relax, and they must have confidence.
You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for. If you lose the dullards back in the dust, you don’t want them anyway.
— Excerpts from “On Writing Well”
But what does it mean to write for yourself? For me, it means my worry should not be about pleasing an imaginary audience, but about pleasing the ‘future me’.
When I publish an article I don’t immediately appreciate it. Perhaps, the self-doubting instinct is still prevalent in my mind. However, when I look back at the things I have written, I am able to admire the richness of ideas and how I have presented them.
That’s one reason my blog is not restrained to a single topic. The authentic me prefers to explore multiple domains, and write whatever I have on my mind.
5. Your Blog is Your Portfolio
Even if your day job doesn’t revolve around writing, your blog can still serve as a portfolio of your work, your ideas, and your expertise. A curious person can go through your blog and get a glimpse of things you’re good at and your thought process.
Even though my blog doesn’t have much readership. People who have gone through my writing have appreciated my wide-ranging interests and told me to continue writing. In at least one of my jobs, my blog was definitely a factor in being considered for the position.
If you write regularly, it will help you in ways you didn’t anticipate.
In all, Steve Yegge couldn’t have said it better:
When it comes down to it, I’m asking you to write blogs because I know you’ve got really interesting things to say, even if you don’t think they’re that interesting. Your life is interesting, and your opinions of technology, Amazon, and life in general matter to me, and to others. I bet you’ve got a lot you could teach me, even if you don’t think you do.
Heck, I was in my mid-twenties when I realized I had a gross conceptual misunderstanding about the reason it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The stuff I think I know is an invisible speck compared to the superset of what all people know today. Do me a favor and save me the effort of tracking you down in the hall and asking you to enlighten me.
— You Should Write Blogs
Go ahead and write!