by Christopher Butler on in culture, marketing

Blogging is hard. I don’t mean setting one up—that’s easy enough; the vast number of blogs that arrive on the web DOHW (dead-on-hello-world) is evidence of that—I mean keeping it going in a way that is worthwhile, both to you and to readers. It’s hard for all the reasons that writing is hard, and then some, because it’s a very particular kind of writing that, at the end of the day, looks far more like a relationship than a task.

In rare moments of objectivity, I can see that we’re doing a good job with our blog. But that perspective is framed by my acknowledgement of how difficult it is to do even that, not to mention create and maintain a blog that is very good. Maybe it looks easy from the outside looking in. In fact it probably does, as I know it does to me when I look at the blogs and writers I admire. But the reality is that, from the inside, it looks hard and it feels hard.

In a recent team meeting, I asked each person to spend five minutes composing a mission statement for our blog. As each one read his or her mission statement aloud, I wrote down the words that seemed to be emphasized most on the whiteboard—call it a realtime tag cloud. Here is the cloud that formed from our group’s mission statements:

These all sound like good things, right? There are clear intentions—to educate and be a resource on very particular topics—and there are loftier ambitions—to be experts, to be leaders, to inspire. But looking around the room afterward, I didn’t see too many looks of excitement.

So, I sent the team back to their notepads, this time with a different instruction. I asked them to take five minutes to freely write how they felt about blogging. Again, we each shared a statement and I took down the words that stood out. They were:

Notice the mixture of positive and negative? That’s pretty much what I expected, if the statement I wrote was any indication. Here’s what I read to the team that afternoon:

“There are some blogs that I read regularly that create such a rich feeling of wonder and inspiration in me, often through the simplest, maybe even unintentional means, that can only be the result of completely earnest participation by their authors. Like teachers, they seem in it for the ideas, not for themselves. They portray inspiration, fascination and curiosity in such a way that it’s contagious. I catch it and want to spread it myself. Yet, I feel like I routinely fail in doing so—that I am the endpoint for something that should pass through me instead.”

I imagine that if I am struggling with this, so are you. So let me confess a bit more. Tell me if this sounds right to you.

Creating content on the web and promoting engagement around it:

  • enables me to share information I care about with other people
  • inspires me to learn more
  • causes me to engage with new and interesting people
  • engages my vanity
  • makes me feel competitive
  • causes me to worry about being misunderstood
  • creates frustration
  • feels defeating

Some of these feelings I like, but most of them I don’t. I especially don’t like admitting them. I’d have a hard enough time being honest about them to a friend; writing them here feels like one of those dreams where you are somehow naked in public.

Back to the feelings cloud for a moment—Did you also notice the temporal emphasis of some of the words? I know that time, and the pressure it can create, is a significant issue for me. So, again, here are my confessions. Tell me if any of them sound right to you.

Creating content on the web and promoting engagement around it:

  • takes more time than I have to spend
  • takes more time than I want to spend
  • is distracting me from other things I need to do
  • lacks the feeling of satisfactory completion
  • results in stuff that feels overworked to me anyway

Those are much easier to share, and I do so fully aware that it may be frustrating to hear them from me given how much content I and my colleagues at Newfangled are able to create. Just know that it’s the truth: we create a lot of content and yet we continually struggle to do so.

The Feelings/Reality Feedback Loop

What’s the point of these thoughts, other than being a nice bit of therapy for me? Well, first and foremost, I think it helps to be honest about the struggles that come with doing this. We talk a lot about how important content is to a successful web strategy, and we even talk some about it being difficult—specifically in terms of the time it takes. But we don’t talk much about what it feels like, and why those feelings actually make creating content even more challenging. To me, that is very important.

There is something that I think of as the Feeling/Reality feedback loop that comes to mind here. In fact, Katie hit on it in a recent post about the challenges of project management where she mentioned that delivering bad news was the hardest part of the job. She wrote:

The longer news like this brews in your mind, the more emotional and apprehensive you’ll become about delivering it. You think about it on your commute home, as you’re spending time with family, as you’re falling asleep. It can color your interactions with the other party in negative ways that you might not even realize. 

The negative emotions—those often borne out of fear or assumptions about consequences that haven’t even happened yet—begin to define reality. As a college mentor used to ask me (rhetorically) all the time, “Is perception reality?” For anyone, it mostly is, just as it is for me. I say all of this because I think it’s essential to acknowledge the struggle in order to get past it. There is no simple trick to beating it. But if I am not able to break that feedback loop every now and again, I will burn out on doing this content creation thing very quickly.

Honestly, I’ve come close several times.

There, I feel better already. Does any of this resonate with you, or am I the Woody Allen of blogging?

  • http://offwhitedesign.com Josh White

    Interesting. And so true.
    You are forgiven my son…

  • https://www.newfangled.com/chris_butler_blog Christopher Butler

    Josh, ahh, sweet absolution… Thanks for reading, CB

  • http://www.michaelbabwahsingh.com Michael Babwahsingh

    Amen, Chris! Any meaningful creative endeavor will make demands of its creator – especially those which we release into the world. It seems the more we care and the higher our standard of “good,” the more we pay in time, energy, and inner anguish. And, typically, the more validation we seek, the less we get (and vice versa). Still, whether by dogged determination or sheer madness, we persist in this cycle until we come to terms with it or abandon it altogether.

    I say keep fighting the good fight (or, um, writing the good write)!

  • http://www.kieselaw.com Steve Kieselstein

    “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”

    Robert Heinlein

  • https://www.newfangled.com/chris_butler_blog Christopher Butler

    Michael: I was just thinking about the notion that the more we expect of something—particularly in terms of a sense of accomplishment, validation, or other more internal things—the more angst we’re likely to experience—in general—because external things tend to not produce the internal things we hope them to. I guess that’s right in line with the idea of not drawing an inordinate amount of meaning or sense of identity from what we do professionally. I’ve fallen into bouts of that and it only leads to disappointment, frustration, burnout. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m looking forward to our next chat!

    Steve: A Heinlein quote! I’m a big fan of his…how did you know? ;-)

  • http://www.patiencenyange.wordpress.com Patience Nyange

    I resonate with you. At times I ask myself, but why do I have to create so much time for this? But when blogging is your kind of hobby as it is to me, I assure you, I never struggle. I walk around thinking about my next blog post and it gets easy when I finally sit down and put my mind together. And the most important to me, I do free writing, I find it interesting!

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By Christopher Butler

Chris Butler is the COO of Newfangled. He writes and speaks often on design and the web. You can follow him @chrbutler. More by Christopher Butler