Welcome to Midlife Crisis Crossover’s 1100th entry! In the grand tradition of comic books and The Simpsons, every 100 entries we mark the occasion as a sort of accomplishment and sometimes celebrate it. Those 1100 moments have been an interesting way to spend the last 3½ years of my internet time, but odds are it’ll take another two or three hundred years of consistent blogging before I stand a chance at becoming a household name. By then I’ll be more renowned for my refusal to die than for any paragraph I’ve ever written.
Every blogger who somehow makes a living off it has their official list of blogging tips that you’re supposed to follow in order to achieve fame, success, impact, and/or income. I’m happy for them and I wish them well as they make lasting contributions to the world at large and change the course of mighty rivers. Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum, stubborn folks like me keep plugging away at their sites without regard for conventional wisdom, official procedures, or dime-a-dozen “Blogging for Dummies” articles. My approach to the game can be summed up in two words: “low-key” and “counterintuitive”.
Wanna blog like me? Here’s ten tips for how it works in my world, through happy times or blah:
* Write about anything you want, anytime! The average blog picks a single topic and sticks with it. If you’re an authority in the one subject, over time you might attract a crowd of like-minded individuals who want to talk about nothing but the one topic day-in, day-out. When I openly discussed MCC with a couple of established gents back in May (possibly one of the twenty bravest moments in my life), they couldn’t emphasize enough that the stronger and narrower your focus, the easier time you’ll have in attracting and holding on to a dedicated audience. They’re both right.
But I just can’t. I’ve been collecting comics for over thirty-five years, so I have thoughts on the subject, but they’re not the only thing bouncing around in my head. I could say much the same for movies, my former restaurant career, or what it was like growing up a geek. I’m 43 and my inner muse is diversified and flighty. Where it leads, my attention span follows.
At the base level, MCC is about what makes me tick, what catches my eye, what my wife and I do, what rubs me the wrong way, what tickles my fancy, what triggers my skepticism, what informs my faith, and whatever else crosses my path that evokes a wordy response or a series of connected images. If you’re a fan of one aspect but not the other, wait patiently and I’ll circle back around to it. You can even ask me to return to certain topics or questions or ideas. Input’s always welcome, unless that input is “Stop writing about different stuff.”
* Write about stuff only you care about! Sometimes the entries most satisfying for me to post are the ones that garner the least number of Likes from other WordPress users. I appreciate that form of silent input in lieu of verbal input, but I can’t let it rule me. I opt out of commenting on current events if I have nothing to contribute that sounds unique or worthwhile in my head. I’m staunchly anti-partisan and generally avoid writing about politics unless what I’m thinking might frighten and confuse both sides equally, my wife included. I’ve lost interest in boarding the Daily Twitter Outrage Bandwagon. The list of cool TV shows and movies I don’t or won’t watch is super lengthy. And I’m not one for posting wordless images, borrowed platitudes, self-help paraphrasing, or poetry outside wacky haiku.
Even with those personal restrictions, so far I haven’t run out of material or thoughts. Yet. Besides, it’s a more intriguing challenge to take something that means a lot to you and make it mean anything to someone else. That describes 80% of what I try here.
* Write too many words! I looked up “blogging tips” for comparison and found the average recommendation is 300-1000 word per blog post. Less than three hundred, search engines will skip it. Over a thousand, readers close the browser tab and go back to scrolling Facebook, where paragraphs can’t get them. I understand people are busy and they have a billion entertainment options at their disposal, at least 900 million of which they can indulge during TV commercial breaks or while in the bathroom without having to pause or use bookmarks. The more you write, the greater a threat your creative efforts are to their ever-more-finely parceled free-time blocks.
Alas, how I write is how I write. It’s not much different from how I speak, though in person the words come out at a faster clip and take less time to absorb. If an idea in my head is yearning to be free and insists on 1500-2000 words to hit all the right notes and melodies, so be it. I’ve exceeded the 2000-word barrier dozens of times. Honestly, whenever a single-picture entry comes in below 800 words, I feel like I’m doing something wrong.
For MCC trivia fans, let it be known the longest MCC entry of all time (as of this writing) clocked in at a staggering 4,627 words according to the WordPress software. I’m sure that constitutes a crime against the internets even though in literary terms it’s still a “short story”, thousands of words short of novelette or novella status. I had a specific storytelling format in mind, I had multiple reasons for refusing to break it up into five or six mini-chapters, and I nailed every effect and anecdote I had in mind. Readers who prefer shorter entries were surely relieved when the “2015 Road Trip” series resumed. Totally understandable, but I couldn’t let that entry go unwritten.
* Refuse to curse! Everyone in the internets loves them some F-bombs, except those of us who don’t use them. We’re the freaks, the prim rebellion against the cool majority. I used them for a while in my youth, but I pulled them from my communication vocabulary over a decade ago and don’t really miss them. To millions of folks I suppose they’re a signifier of literary quality, or the reading equivalent of comfort food. If you can’t live without them in your diet, then I’m not the right dietitian for you.
* Post when no one is looking! Audiences once loved entertainment as timed habits — TV shows in their weekly time slots, movies with limited showtimes, new comics on Wednesday, sites that update on specific days every week. In today’s culture where we have numerous options for finding anything we want after its official release, appointment viewing isn’t the driving force it once was. The key now is alerting your followers whenever you have new material up for them to come check out at their convenience. My problems are (a) I take days off when my health or circumstances require it, and (b) I typically publish new entries as soon as they’re finished, which is almost always the middle of the night when everyone else in my hemisphere is asleep. That means MCC’s Twitter and Facebook auto-notifications are barely useful except to the kindest of online friends or residents from the other hemisphere. Those who rely on email notices will see the alert at their leisure, but I have no idea what percentage of MCC fans use them. Other WordPress bloggers who follow MCC will see it in their Reader, probably vying for space and attention with the hundreds or thousands of other WordPress blogs they’re ostensibly following. Frankly, in nearly every venue that matters, I’m outnumbered, one of a billion fish in the sea.
Sticking to a regular, announced posting schedule might help me show up more easily in those competitive spaces, but right now that’s not a service I can offer. Entries go up when they go up. Sometimes I need more sleep; sometimes family and other duties beckon; sometimes a 3000-word entry needs an extra day’s work. If anyone remembers me during their daily pandemonium, they know where to find me. When they do, awesomesauce!
(TL;DR ALERT: The 1500-word mark in this entry falls somewhere in the next paragraph. If you need to panic and retreat, your time is now.)
* Never advertise or self-promote! Sure, I could hit followers with more “ICYMI” tweet reminders, buy ad space on other sites, or plug the heck out of MCC with all my social circles. That might work if I didn’t loathe self-promotion. I don’t like bugging other Twitter users with the same link five times a day, my social circles aren’t that large in the first place (I joined all the wrong message boards back in the day, apparently), I actively avoid mentioning this site to family and offline friends, and I can’t wrap my head around the idea of trying to lure prospective readers with a campaign that amounts to “Come watch me write stuff!”
I actually tried that last ploy once. Last June I wrote an entry with a deadly serious message that I thought deserved a wider audience. So I gave Facebook five bucks to activate the “Boost Post” option. Anyone who runs a non-personal FB page knows their posts are only shown to a fraction of their followers at any given time unless you pay them not to hold your posts hostage. Five bucks is the Boost Post starter level; in return for that paltry amount, they showed my now-Sponsored Post to all of MCC’s FB followers and several hundred people beyond them.
To be honest, I created MCC’s FB page largely as an easy access point for old online friends who hate leaving comments directly on websites. Usually my stats there are flatlined. In this graph you can see where I posted shortly before midnight, the money kicked in later in the wee hours, and then FB carried the post on its broad shoulders for the next day.
When the money was used up, stats immediately went catatonic again. The uptick was nice while it lasted, but I’m not convinced every MCC entry is worth five bucks or more, especially since I’m recouping none of that. I suppose I could go the Twitter “ICYMI” route and hope I’m not Muted, Blocked, or intentionally ignored by more Followers than I already am.
(Incidental fun lesson from the experience: the traffic spike gave FB enough data to provide me with my first real set of demographic info. According to their machines, MCC’s target demo is ages 35-44, 72.2% women versus 27.8% men, and entirely from the U.S. Results may vary on WordPress, Twitter, or the email list, but these stats were fascinating to me. I like numbers.)
* Take the middle ground between positivity and cynicism! My moods frequently dictate my tone, but my general approach tends to be about weighing pros and cons, as opposed to pretending one side or the other doesn’t exist. Approaching life as if it’s all light or all darkness seems intellectually dishonest. I prefer the light, I should say, but if something’s bothering me, I’m terrible at shutting up about it.
* Throw a velvet rope in front of the “I’ll follow you if you follow me” crowd! Y’know, the internet’s idea of cross-promotional teamwork sounded keen when my followers numbered in the single digits. I followed anyone who followed me, and I tried keeping up with their blog. I tried being nice, but it didn’t take long to discover which topics I never, ever want to read about on a daily basis ever again. (Exhibit A: fashion. Sorry, pass.) Meanwhile on the flip side, once I followed them, suddenly their “Likes” dried up and they stopped visiting MCC forever.
Theoretically such a trade should happen between bloggers who genuinely like each other, but that wasn’t my experience in the majority of such cases. What I kept seeing was Blogger A would follow Blogger B for the sole purpose of hoping Blogger B would follow them, regardless of whether or not Blogger A enjoys anything Blogger B writes. Once the exchange is made, Blogger A now feels free to ignore Blogger B forever, but is satisfied because now they have a new follower, and follower head count is the greatest measurement of one’s writing talent, marketability, and self-worth. Blogger B’s talent and feelings are irrelevant in this business model.
That model sucks and I dumped it for WordPress purposes years ago.
If you’re following MCC because I wrote something at least once that didn’t suck, I greatly appreciate your support and I hope I can keep finding ways to make it worth your while forever and ever. I do honestly check out the site of every single WordPress user who Likes an entry or Follows MCC, but if you’re Following MCC because you want me to “owe” you a follow-back, and for no other reason whatsoever, please be aware I cannot sincerely read thousands of blogs every day. I do occasionally add new blogs to my reading rotation as standard attrition eliminates older users, but my rules of thumb are narrow and not one of those is the “follow-me-follow-you” rule. Cheers.
* Be an introvert! Odd, I realize, considering how many thousands of words I’ll use when I think I’m basically talking to myself. This is why I’m terrible at networking, why I’m not great at leaving comments on the blogs I do routinely follow, and why you’ll rarely see me visible within any comments sections or community spaces where hundreds of other folks got there first. As noted above, I’m rather poorly connected, and large crowds aren’t my thing, not even in virtual spaces. This feeds into the whole awkwardness with self-promotion, too. Unfortunately this means I don’t really have the kind of support networks who go forth, Share my posts, and act as my de facto unpaid marketing department.
* Monetize, schmonetize! My wife and I have full-time day jobs that cover our needs, bills, charitable giving, and assorted hobbies. That means I can afford not to worry about writing income. MCC does earn a very, very, very tiny ad revenue, but it’s not a primary motivation. (I’d do something different with them if the other two WordPress ad paradigms made more sense to me. Right now they don’t.) If money shows up in unusual amounts in the future as the result of something I did here, I might not decline it, but being beholden to no other interests or patrons means I have a wider latitude for topicality and expression. Writing without worry comes a lot more easily to me, writing when I want to write versus when I have to write to live. So that’s a bonus.
Follow these complicated, alienating thoughts if you will, and presto! You’ll be on your way to being just like me in no time. Dreadful sorry about that. If you made your way through all 2600 words, please enjoy this bonus photo of Lucky as a reward for your persistence. Thanks for reading, and here’s hoping the next 1100 entries will be worth all the typing, let alone the reading.