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Lessons Learned in My First 90 Days of Writing

Notebook Lessons Learned

I realized recently that it’s been about 90 days since I started this web site and committed to the publishing schedule of three essays per week. I thought it would be good to summarize what I’ve learned, including the mistakes I’ve made as well as the things I’ve done right.

Even if you’re not a writer or blogger, this might be interesting to you. If it’s not, there will be something else for you on Friday, where we’ll go on to the Persian Gulf after heading over from Jordan.

What I Learned To Do

*THE WRITING IS MOST IMPORTANT. An artist has to be excited about the work itself. It has to be sacred to you even if no one is reading. I write this out first because I really do struggle with it, but I also believe it wholeheartedly at the same time. There are a lot of other things that take up time throughout the week, but if the writing is not of good quality, then there is no foundation for anything else.

I even repeat it to myself sometimes when lots of other things are going on: THE WRITING IS MOST IMPORTANT.

*Honor Individual Requests As Much As Possible. Since beginning the project, I’ve replied to almost every email that has come in from my contact form. As far as I could tell, there were only two psychotic people who wrote, so everyone else should have received a response.

(If you didn’t get a reply to something and you are not psychotic, please write again as I do have an active spam filter.)

*Show Failure and Vulnerability. Some of my most popular writing is when I point out dumb things I’ve done around the world or examples of loneliness and challenges I experience while pursuing my goals. I believe in setting and achieving highly significant goals, but I know it isn’t always easy—so I’ve learned that it’s good to show that side of things.

(If you’re interested in reading more about this, you can also see a guest post I wrote on Blogging and Insecurity over at Problogger.)

*Show Success and How to Overcome Obstacles. Many readers have asked for information on how I earn money without a job, how I travel to crazy places, and other practical topics. I’ll be covering this more in the future after we launch the manifesto and prepare for stage two of the project.

*Ask for Help and Feedback. I asked some of you to give me your feedback and say hello, and many people responded with comments and emails. Thanks! The funny thing is that the site traffic has actually gone down a bit since I published that post, but the comments remain fairly active.

*Bring Others In and Help them Look Good. The round-up response we did to my original Follow Your Passion? essay was well-received around the internet, with a lot of links and buzz. I was pleasantly surprised that so many A-list bloggers participated, but I think it was because I approached them with a win-win proposition that brought them new readers as well.

What I Learned Not To Do

On the other hand, here are a few things I learned NOT to do in my first 90 days of writing.

*Writing for Digg. In the blogosphere, there is a great deal of emphasis on writing articles specifically for the audience of Digg.com. This audience can bring tens of thousands of visitors (or more) to an article they approve of, and if done well it can be a huge boost for a new blog. However, I am starting to believe that most of my articles are not a good fit for Digg, so while I welcome any traffic from them, I won’t be writing specifically for the Digg fan base.

(If you read something I like and think it’s a good fit for Digg or any other social network, by all means, please submit it. But as for me, I’m not going to worry about that too much.)

*Writing for SEO. Search engine optimization, or SEO, is also an active blogger topic. A lot of bloggers write posts deliberately designed to rank in Google for specific search terms. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it adds value, but I’m just not thinking about that right now either.

*Selling Anything. I would like to go on record as saying that there is nothing wrong with artists earning a living. In fact, I’ll be writing soon about the poverty mentality that a lot of artists have—I am opposed to it, in case you didn’t notice. At some point after the manifesto launch I will probably have some things for sale here, but for now my focus is on the writing and building up this community. And even when we do have products or services, all of my writing will always be free.

*Putting Adsense on the Site. I have done a lot of work (hundreds of hours) with Google Adwords and Adsense as an entrepreneur, and I know how to use them fairly well. (FYI, Adsense ads are the small text link ads that you see on a lot of different web sites, especially blogs.)

While I don’t object to advertising on blogs per se, I also don’t want your experience to be inhibited in any way. Therefore, I don’t expect to ever put Adsense ads, or anything else that detracts from the writing, anywhere on this site.

*Checking Stats All the Time. Visitor statistics can be addictive for any web site owner, and I found in the beginning that I ended up spending a lot of time reviewing the data. After I logged in to my server, I would feel deflated when the traffic was low and excited when it was high, and I learned that this kind of manic depressive blogging is not optimal. Now I check the stats once a week and look for general trends rather than all the details.

*Writing One Thing Only. I am taking a big risk here, because most experts recommend starting with a very narrow niche and then slowly expanding. I decided from the beginning that I would write about Life, Work, and Travel—all from an unconventional perspective that I call nonconformity.

This is tricky, because not everyone is interested in world travel, personal development, and entrepreneurship all at the same time. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that most people aren’t interested in all three of those things. The fact that my writing is not easily categorized can be a strength or a weakness depending on the context.

I do know that I have some readers who are interested in only one or two of my three themes and just check back for those updates. However, I’ve also found that many readers are interested in the other topics even if they do not directly relate to them. I have probably heard from 20 people who say that they don’t travel much, but like reading my stories from around the world anyway.

For better or worse, I’m sticking with the broad themes of Life, Work, and Travel for the long-term.

A Few Other Observations

These things don’t really go under either category above, but I thought I should keep them in.

*Apparently some people have said that ‘Guillebeau’ is not the easiest name to spell. What? I can’t believe it! OK, OK. I do have the domains ArtofNonconformity.com and .org that redirect to this site, but perhaps in an act of defiance, I made the choice to brand the ChrisGuillebeau.com domain for now. Sometimes I think it was the right choice; other times I think I should have gone the other way. Because I have so many inbound links now, there’s no going back.

*I do not like the term blogger, so I don’t describe myself that way. I prefer to say I am a writer. I don’t have anything against people who prefer blogger, and I realize the terms can be somewhat interchangeable, but for me there is something more serious about saying I am a writer and I take what I write seriously.

*I originally said that I wanted 1,000 visitors a day by the end of the year. Well, I achieved that goal much earlier than I expected, but I also realized that I should have been more specific. I am happy about the lurkers out there who are just reading along whenever they have time (that’s totally fine), but my long-term goal is 1,000 true fans. The concept of true fans comes from an amazing essay written by Kevin Kelly that is probably my favorite reading of the whole year so far.

The short version is that every artist (or every business) has a relatively large number of casual fans and a much smaller number of true fans. The true fans are the ones who are most excited about the artist’s work. They are deeply committed to the artist.

Anyway, I’m looking for my own 1,000 true fans. If you’ve read this far, maybe you are one of them. Don’t worry, there is no Kool-Aid to drink and I don’t want your money. But it would be cool if you could sign up for email updates or add me to your RSS reader.

(This is not a one-way relationship, by the way—there are lots of people out there who I am a true fan of. It is just that now I am at the point where I am looking for my own committed base of readers.)

The Next 90 Days

It has been great to learn these lessons along with many of you who have been reading. Thanks so much for your interest and encouragement. In the next 90 days, I plan to apply what I’ve learned here in the second phase of the project.

We’ll be releasing the manifesto in less than two weeks, and after that I’ll go back overseas again to visit several exciting places.

I’ll be documenting all of that for you, and I hope you enjoy it. Remember to be the change you want to see in the world.

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18 Comments

  • Ari Herzog says:

    Congratulations on being a nonconformist and sharing your wealth of tips with others!

    As evident by my blog URL, linked to my name here, I see myself as more of a writer than a blogger. (Then again, I’ve written for newspapers.) Bloggers have a stigma that they exist for readership and income, which is true for anyone, but my motivation is to write for my own audience and not necessarily for search engines and social bookmarking sites.

    I am pondering aliasing my yourname.com or to use a subdomain on that site, but for now anyway I’m happy where I am.

  • Nathan says:

    Chris,
    Great article. As a new writer to the scene, I’ve found some of this learning curve in my own struggles and successes. You are especially right about stat checking, as that can become an addiction in its own.
    My site also has 3 themes, and I agree with you that although some readers can be turned off by the lack of consistency, there is a benefit in the end. Good Luck.

  • Cheryl says:

    Interesting article by Kevin Kelly — thanks for pointing that one out. While I don’t know where I fall in your spectrum of fanhood, I can say that I recently cut my blog subscriptions down to about 10 (from about 40) to cut my blog reading time down for awhile while I concentrate on pursuing some goals. Anyhow, along with five others, yours was never even considered as a possible cut. (Neither was Robert Bruces, BTW) So, I guess that says something right there 🙂 Also, I thought I’d point out that while I originally came to your blog because I was attracted to the idea of your world traveling, it isn’t the main reason I’ve stayed. I like the entire combination of your posts. I’m looking forward to seeing the Manifesto, too 🙂

  • Danny Garant says:

    Hi Chris

    Wish you succes for the next 90 days and will look for your next essays. I live a life that is more like the conformist model (9 to 5 job, house, car, neighbours and 3 weeks vacation a year). I think it refreshing and inspiring to read about an other lifestyle cause it’s not directly related to me. More, you seems pretty successful with it.

    I don’t think you should worry much about your three themes since you choose them broad enough. Life, Work and Travel matters for most people, I think. It’s just in the treatment of the subject we could feel that it’s not related to us. For exemple, I’m more interested about car travel than airplane travel. Though, I can link both topics easily.

    Anyway, I wish that there’s one thing you could add to your collection writings : The road from conformity to nonconfirmity. But, It’s like to ask for an ” something for dummies”. Cause I think that I’m the sole master of my life and that I should build my road to nonconformity myself with the help of insights like yours.

    Farewell

  • Heather says:

    Hi – just wanted to say keep up the good work. (I’m sorry that’s such a cliche – can’t think of a more original way to say it at the moment.) I *am* interested in world travel, personal development, and entrepreneurship, as well as nonconformity. I like that your writing doesn’t fit any one niche. I get tired of niches. And I do check your blog every day. So I guess I am a true fan. 🙂

  • Taisha says:

    Love this post, especially because I am new to the world of online blogging (writing). Reading this saved me hours of research and internal debate regarding what does and does not work in terms of building an online community. I also felt like adsense made no sense for me! 🙂 This post sealed the deal on that. So thanks. I subscribe to many feeds and, sometimes, feel as if I am reading the same tidbits of opinion again and again. I don’t want to generate this feeling with my blog and I appreciate that, in reading your blog, I always leave with some information that I can implement to enhance my life, if I so choose.

  • Ryan says:

    I’d like to hear more about this “writing one thing only” … thing. I’m torn on the issue myself. Writing one thing only makes writing a little more dull than writing on a more broad subject. But, as it’s been pointed out many times, writing on many topics discourages people from subscribing. I suppose it’s because they don’t want to fill their reader with articles they don’t want to read. I can understand that.

    I guess it depends on what your goal is. If it’s to write because you love writing and expressing yourself and sharing your thoughts, travels, whatever, then I say write broadly. However, if you’re looking for a larger reader-base, making money from traffic, etc., then maybe being specific, catering to search engines and digg readers is for you.

  • Cheng says:

    Has it seriously been 90 days? I actually can’t remember when I first found this site, but I’m pretty sure it was by following a link from another site. Now that I have to think about it, I believe that I’ve only been reading since late April. The site has a “feel” about it, as though it has been running for much longer than three months. Although when I first read it, I thought that much of it was fresh and new in my mind. Here’s to the next 90 days!

  • Jen T. says:

    Chris…thanks for another interesting piece. I’ve recently started a personal blog aimed mostly at family/friends and I found many of your ideas also applicable to my writing.

    Cheryl…if you read this, I’d be really interested in hearing what other blogs made it into your top 10. Heck, if anyone has a recommendation or two, I’d take ’em. I’m not all that blog-savvy and am curious to know what you all read!

  • Chris,

    I discovered your site about a month ago after you wrote the article about insecurity on Problogger. I also had the impression that your site was older, at least older than 90 days. Great job!

  • Saravanan says:

    Hi Chris,

    It is really wonderful to see your blog. I also started blogging or rather writing seriously regarding finances that is important to engineers. I am writing from last two months and have got about 1k visitors or so. I know most of them don’t prefer to read financial blogs. But that did not stop me from writing. I write blogs for my satisfaction.

    Buddy, being an Indian it is really very difficult for me to remember your name.. But remembering http://www.artofnonconformity.com is quite easy. I can’t remember your https://chrisguillebeau.com (I did not even try to type it, i did ctrl+c and ctrl+v).

    I came to your blog through getrichslowly.org, from then on I do read your blog as and when you update it (RSS feed helps me to do that). I don’t travel much. But the description that you give makes me feel that I am very much present at that particular place. Your writing is good. I appreciate it.

    I know how it feels when someone says good about your writing..
    Heart felt congratulations for your achievement. Hope you get what you aimed for. All the very best of luck.

    Regards,
    Saravanan.

  • Cheryl says:

    @Chris – Most of the blogs I recently unsubscribed to were finance related. I’ve kept The Simple Dollar, Frugal Dad and Beingfrugal.net. My husband’s been in school for the last year, so I use the blogs to keep me focused on keeping our expenses down while we’re living on one income. The other blogs I’ve kept my subscriptions to (in no particular order) are Problogger (and Darren’s Digital Photography School), strobist.com (photography), Copyblogger, Michel Fortin (Copywriter), Court’s Internet Marketing School, Chrisbrogan.com, (Peter) shankman.com, Zen Habits, Robert Bruce’s blog and a few others I can’t think of right now. I’m studying copywriting (semi-seriously) and contemplating writing a blog of my own, so most of my subscriptions in some way help inspire me in those directions.

  • Chris says:

    @Everyone –

    Thanks for all the comments. I am still in Alaska and unable to respond individually, but I’ll be back Sunday night and can catch up then.

    I ran my marathon on Wednesday (I ended up doing it two days early) and it went very well. The full story for that is coming on Monday– until then, have a great weekend.

    -CG

  • Benny Lewis says:

    Hey Chris! Looking forward to your marathon story; I’ve been following your tweets on the subject and am curious to know more since I can see you were training hard.
    Since I am also somewhat well travelled (definitely not as much as you, but more than your average bear), am just starting off in the blogosphere (I’m definitely a “blogger” and not a writer. I’m going to use my site to learn how to write well mostly.) I fit in to two of your true-fan bases 😉 I’ve got a pretty sweet work situation right now, but I’m very curious nonetheless to read what you have to say on the topic since I can never formulate advice very coherently when asked about it, and might just have to quote you!
    Hope you had a nice time in Alaska with your family!! I’m soaking up all the family time I can until the end of July when I embark on far away travels again – it’s great to love to travel while also loving to be who you grew up with! “Best of both worlds” at its best!!

  • Lori says:

    Hi Chris, I just found this site through your guest post at Zen Habits, and will add it to my feed. I started it my own blog on a whim a couple of weeks ago, and am finding out that it IS about the writing. I too have no specific theme, but am just writing about my life, interests and local explorations. Right now I’m concentrating more on my writing and, to a lesser extent, networking with others online than building an audience. Of course I’d love it to be wildly successful, but currently it’s more important to me that I’m expressing myself. Good luck on your journeys, I’ll continue to check in!

  • Brandon W says:

    I’m very picky about what I spend time reading on a daily basis. I had 7 RSS feeds in my Reader, you’ve now become the 8th. I’m enjoying all three subject areas of your writing and finding them useful and inspiring. Good luck and I’ll keep reading.

  • Chris,
    I’m one of your true fans.

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