One Month of Blogging: Writing, Passive Income, and Audience Building

I’ve been blogging for about a month now, and if I had to summarize: It’s been great. In my original post,  I mentioned a few reasons why I started this blog. For those not inclined to read that post, here’s a summary:

  • I want to write more, and not necessarily for any specific goal.
  • I want to explore passive income streams.
  • I want to build a stable audience for my work.

As a way to to keep myself honest, as well as a general diary that might be helpful to other novice bloggers, I thought I’d discuss my progress towards all of these goals.

Writing

If my original goal was to write more and not just in the academic style, then I’ve succeeded. Every day, I write. Maybe not a lot, but I write. No matter what. Even at the time I’m writing this part of the post, I’m supposed to be at a Halloween party in 30 minutes. But I enjoy working on this blog enough that I’ve decided to meet my minimum goal of writing for 15 minutes before I head to the party.

At first, I thought I would quickly run out of things to write. I could not have been more wrong. Writing is meditative and generative. While writing one post, I think of at least 3 others that I want to write. I enjoy this feeling of unbounded possibility. The flip side is that I think that many of the posts I’ve written this month lack a common thread. The absence of a common thread makes it difficult to describe to people, in one sentence, what my blog is about. Maybe that’s okay for now. My goal for these first few weeks is to just to build a habit of writing. If that means I’m publishing a scattershot of loosely related posts, so be it. I’ll focus once I have more experience in understanding what types of posts I enjoy writing and what people enjoy reading. I don’t want to impose unnecessary constraints on myself before I fully understand what I want for this blog.

In terms of improving my writing, it’s too early to say —  it has only been a month. One pleasantly surprising side effect of starting this blog, though, is that I can write more confidently now, and not just for this blog. Before I started Make Write Learn, it was difficult for me to start writing. The thought of writing was a bit daunting, so I would often procrastinate or get distracted. Now that I’ve made a commitment to write every day, it’s much easier for me to start writing and stay focused while writing. While this does not mean I am a “better” writer,  I have a feeling that lowering the mental barrier to start writing should ultimately result in improvements to my writing, too.

In writing this post, I realize that I should start “tracking” my writing more concretely. Of course, I keep track of how much time I spend on this blog through my success spirals. But I’m not strictly tracking writing time: just any time spent on my blog routines, including reading about how to blog, dealing with back-end technical issues and generating ideas for posts. I’ll try and do better for next month, but here’s a few interesting stats for this month:

Cumulative words written: 8927 (edited; just a bit more than a 10-page academic paper)

Posts written: 6 (averaging 2 per week) 

Time spent per post: ~3 hours (this a rough guess)

Passive Income

I’ve been wanting to blog for a while. Probably years. But one of the things that lead me to finally take the plunge is Pat Flynn’s blog: Smart Passive Income. Don’t misunderstand, though. I’m not heavily driven by money, but the prospect of being able to generate money for myself is appealing. Not because of the money itself, but because of the sense of freedom that I expect to feel if I can make money for myself outside of a salary.

That said, while it is still a goal of mine to make some passive income, I haven’t been too focused on it. I think that focusing on making money at this point would distract me from providing value. I would be too worried about doing peripheral things like getting more e-mail list subscribers. I’m a firm believer that if I provide enough value through my posts and stay observant, opportunities to earn money will present themselves. I want to give more than I take, and right now I haven’t given very much.

Nevertheless, I do want to log my progress on this end as well. So far, I’ve had a couple of realized costs: buying this domain name and purchasing a hosting plan.

Buying MakeWriteLearn.com: $19 for 2 years, or $0.80 per month.

Hosting Plan (Linode): $10/month. Promotional code that offered a $10.00 credit.

WordPress: free

So, given that I had a $10.00 credit for Linode and dividing the $19 up-front cost of the domain, I’ve basically paid $0.80 for this blog this month. Not bad.

In terms of earning money, I haven’t earned anything yet. But, like I said, I haven’t tried very hard. My strategy thus far has been to avoid advertising (because at the traffic I currently receive, it would just look silly). But, I have signed up for two affiliate programs. The first is linode’s referral program which would give me some additional linode credit for anyone who signs up through that link, and the second is Amazon associates, which would pay out a small percentage of a purchase someone made on Amazon through my referral link. So far, I’ve linked to four books through my Amazon associates referral link:

None of these links have resulted in any purchases yet, and that’s fine. I haven’t been pushing very hard, and I don’t want to. Note that those books are just genuine recommendations. Even if people don’t buy them through my referral link and just happen to read a summary of them online, I’d be okay with that.

So, to summarize:

Total Costs (for this month): $0.80

Total Revenue (for this month): $0.00

Audience Building

mwl_audience

This is a summary of my viewership this past month according to Google Analytics: 558 views from 334 unique users. I actually suspect a lot of these are not real people. One solid indicator of this is the super high bounce rate.

As you can see, I don’t really have an audience yet. But that’s not surprising or discouraging. Again, my current strategy is just to write. Accordingly, I haven’t (yet) tried too hard to advertise my posts. Before I can hope to build an audience, I need to have a steady stream of solid content.

Still, I have advertised a little. Specifically, I’ve had two strategies: Twitter and Hacker News. Right now, I only have around 60 followers on Twitter, so that’s obviously not going to be a huge source of traffic. On the other hand, my 60 followers on Twitter are reasonably likely to engage with my content, so if I can provide some value to even one of them, then that’s a win.

I post to Hacker News just because it’s easy and familiar. Most of the time, my listings on Hacker News are ignored. But it gets a few eyes. Interestingly, one of my posts had a small amount of success on Hacker News: my success spirals tutorial. That one got 6 upvotes and accounts for a majority of the traffic I’ve seen this month (it’s the huge spike you see after October 22nd).

I know there are many other things I should be doing to grow my viewership. I just don’t want to get caught up in “optimizing reader acquisition” and things like that before I have had a chance to deliver good content. Do you have any strategies you would like to suggest that I try?

Other thoughts

So, that’s my progress after one month of blogging towards my three main goals. But I have a couple of other thoughts about blogging I want to talk about before I conclude.

Starting a blog is a very messy process: There’s so much information out there about how to start a blog and what you should do in your first few weeks that, frankly, it’s easy to get completely overwhelmed. Ironically, I almost delayed starting this blog another month just because with all of the content out there about how to start a blog. I thought that I should read it all to come up with an optimal strategy. My suggestion to a potential new blogger, now, is to ignore almost all of it. Just focus on writing at first. By ignoring the need to build income streams and viewership, I’ve been able to get into a really solid writing rhythm. I can look back at what I did this month and feel a sense of pride. Meanwhile, I have plenty of time to sift through and implement all of the great suggestions out there on how to get the most out of a blog.

Blogging is a great keystone habit: Unexpectedly, blogging appears to be a great keystone habit (a habit that helps you keep everything else in your life on track). For example, because I blog, I’ve been more motivated to outperform my minimum goals for my success spirals so that I can brag about it. It also provides a good outlet for me to chronicle my domain-specific knowledge. Before I started this blog, I would look at tasks like learning good deep learning libraries for R as a chore. Now, I see it as an opportunity to create good technical content for others who would also like to apply deep learning to their datasets. Also, as a researcher, you often have to ‘micro-innovate’ in various ways in order to answer a research question. Unfortunately, many of those ‘micro-innovations’ do not make it into a paper because they are relatively minor (but still necessary). A blog is a good outlet to chronicle these micro-innovations to assist others who are either trying to replicate your work or otherwise encounter similar problems in their own research (e.g., my RWeka post from earlier this week).

Parting Words

So this has been a super long post. Sorry about that. Hope it helps someone out there who is also in the early stage of blogging. I tried to be more descriptive than prescriptive in this post though, because, hell, what do I know about blogging?

This next month, I hope to try out many different kinds of posts. I’d like to write about more technical content, but I would also like to write about generally entertaining life experiences. I expect I probably won’t make much “progress” in passive income or audience building, but that’s okay. For now, I’m just trying to find my voice.

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