This month marks the 10th anniversary of my first publishing on this personal site of mine. That’s a decade of publishing at least once every single month for 120 consecutive months. That sounds batty to me.
I first bought my name as a domain in 2005 and built a little site using Dreamweaver, when it was still Macromedia, sitting in my university computer lab, but I let it lapse. I had no body of work, and even the compressed versions of short videos I was creating then were too big for my early hosting package — this was before both YouTube was at scale and Amazon Web Services had even launched, you’ll remember.
By December 2007, I felt like I had a greater purpose. I was an undergraduate active in my college newspaper, frequently writing fiction and learning as much as I possibly could. So on December 4 of that year, I bought a domain and redirected it to a WordPress.com blog template, starting with this post. I was an active and early Google Reader user, following and reading a growing array of bloggers I admired and wanted to join the conversation. I was super excited by RSS feeds.
During the next 10 years, this blog has been a major part of my personal and professional development. To look back, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned along the way.
2007: When the cost of creation is zero, experiment with form.
In that first month here, December 2007, I had no idea what I was supposed to publish. So I experimented with form — I shared travel essays and reporting clips and creative fiction and personal updates. That’s how I first laid the groundwork for using this site as a mix of journal and curriculum vitae.
As I finished college and entered the professional world, I took extremely seriously the idea that to develop my writing voice, I simply had to push out as much copy as possible. I took to heart an early tech mantra I heard: ship product. So I was throwing almost anything on this site, from videos I thought were interesting, national news items I thought were telling or my own experiences or ideas. Looking back now, it’s clear I was searching for my voice and for an understanding of what I wanted on this site. That couldn’t have happened by talking about it, I had to go and do it. That’s what I did more than 450 times that year — yes, that is literally nearly averaging one and a half posts a day, every single day of that year. In those early years, I was copying the format of bloggers of those days, and I’ve since graduated and grown into something different today. (Look in the above graph at that huge decline over time and more recent uptick).
2009: Use announcements to hold yourself to pledges.
I announced the launch of what would later evolve into Technical.ly and later a hyperlocal site I contributed to and a healthcare site with a friend, while breathlessly updating on each individual freelance story I landed. As I struggled through starting a freelance writing career, I shared what I learned. It’s here that I migrated more toward this site being about my experience with the world.
2010: Everything is content.
It was here that I nurtured my obsession with minimizing the discarding of work that I had done. From literally running freelance pieces I couldn’t sell, notes from speaking engagements I was then beginning to have to just about anything I was learning on the web, I didn’t miss an opportunity to share with others. I found this helped me: writing and publishing something helped me cement the learning and it had the added benefits of sharing and building an audience. On the web, publishing is cheap, so share often to see what sticks with people.
2011: Organization and complexity are two parts of the same spectrum.
By then, I was trying to house just about everything I did online — it was a resolution of mine. That was a lot of work, but I found it really rewarding. I forced myself to rethink how I used WordPress’s native taxonomy system (categories and tags, in their parlance) and wrangled a pair of friends to help me migrate some larger efforts I had into separate subdomains. Interestingly, I created a single place for my undergraduate honors thesis and for a complete archive of my writing while studying in Tokyo. Equally well-intentioned but less clearly the right idea: I also fumbled through trying to understand how to archive personal experiences online, first with a separate blog, then a subdomain — later an aborted Tumblr. Fittingly enough, I only got my first smartphone (and joined Instagram) late this year. This is how I dealt with digital clutter for the first time, and it’s something we can all think about: yes, you should organize but you can certainly create unnecessary complexity.
2012: Be realistic about being persistent.
As seen in the graph above showing the number of posts I published here by year, you’ll note that 2012 was the first year that I began to dramatically cut the quantity and focus on quality. I halved the amount I wrote, later moving to something resembling once a week, which I still do now but could likely further reduce. Whatever the number or your process, what I know is true is consistency matters more than just about anything else. I’ve since found lots of ways to make the consistency easier but this is when I first got to thinking about that.
2013: Define your place with industry thought leadership.
This year, I began feeling more confident in my place among journalism and local news peers. So though I had been warming to it, I started more regularly sharing my perspective on an industry I felt I could contribute to shaping, with things like this and this. Doing this helped me rapidly develop the voice of my opinions. I got stronger in making arguments and thinking through our place in them. A personal site is a great way to do that.
2014: Share research I wanted anyway.
When I’m trying to figure something out, I now simply plan to share it here. I first started playing with that this year, including this post, which led to other ‘cool data‘ posts. Similarly that year I began closing out earlier projects, including that hyperlocal site, and I loved the forcing function of trying to bring out lessons from any experience I have. Push yourself to get something learned and shared.
2015: Track your own accomplishments.
Though I had surely already done so, this year I got very comfortable with sharing honors, awards and goals I had met. This certainly was a touch of boasting but it also helped me track my own growth. Posts like this, led to my tracking honors and systematizing my speaking.
2016: Own your own platform.
As my use of the popular (if ever changing) social media of the day matured, I was thinking a lot about why I stayed so focused on publishing here. The “blogging” concept that first brought me to write regularly had faded, but something never felt write about focusing my thoughts on Medium or Facebook or Linkedin or other places of, ahem, “thought leadership.” In the end, it’s because I wanted to have control over my relationship with a community reading me. But the web had changed standalone platforms, so though I always shared my writing here on social, I redoubled my efforts with a curated newsletter launched then and since grown. You should join it!
2017: Build toward larger projects.
I’ve slowly been pushing myself to a bigger goal of pitching a nonfiction book, as I received the feedback that as an untested book-length author, I would likely need most of the project fully sketched out. So I’ve been using my commitment to regularly post here to do just that. Every month or so I’ve published something that I think is testing out the voice and format of that project. I hope you’ll be hearing more about that next year, the start of the next 10 years.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll keep doing so — and let me know about what you’ve learned in regularly writing for yourself.