It’s stunning to me how much guilt comes out when writers talk about writing. Though, I suppose it shouldn’t be. I’ve done my own share of guilt writing.

Guilt Writing: When a writer starts an indefinite project and nurses it along for too long because they’re so afraid of being a flake they can’t admit they’re boring themselves.

Usually, guilt writing happens to a blog when a writer publicly commits themselves to, say, posting a book review every Monday. This (like all other pending guilt writing) sounds like a good idea at the time. The writer reads a book a week. Why couldn’t they commit to review what they’re already reading?

But then they miss a week. They pretend it never happened or write an apology post and promise to do better next time, but the following week they read a book so terrible they don’t have the heart to review it. Now they’re two books behind, and they feel obligated to read double-time in order to catch up. The next time they sit down to write a review, their desire dries up quicker than hot glue. The result? Failure and disappointment or boring prose.

After watching guilt writing take down another blogger recently, I started thinking about the blogs that go on for years without changing the subject or going through major design overhauls.


Here are some things I’ve noticed about most of these blogs:

  • A good long-term project grows with you. 101 Cookbooks, Heidi Swanson’s cooking blog, started as an attempt to cook through her recipe book collection. With a cookbook collection the size of Heidi’s, this is guilt writing waiting to happen, but Heidi allowed her blog to grow beyond its original vision. The posts themselves haven’t changed much since she launched years ago. Each is still a single recipe and Heidi’s reflections on it, but today 101 Cookbooks mainly features Heidi’s original recipes instead of selections from her cookbook collection. 

 

  • Single-subject blogs aren’t really single-subject blogs. It’s a cardinal rule of blogging that no one will read your work if you post on more than one subject. No, you can’t write about TV and knitting or what you’re knitting while you watch TV. You must either write about TV or knitting. But follow 101 Cookbooks long enough, and you’ll notice that the blog is as much about Heidi as it is about cooking. Like a good memoir, it focuses on her interest in cooking, but that focus is a hub for reflections on the past and chronicles of her travels, as well as a chance for her to exhibit her stunning photography.

 

  • New posts appear when the writer has something to say. Neil Gaiman posts to his blog about every five days. But sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he posts every day. Sometimes he posts multiple times a day. Sometimes he doesn’t post for weeks. When he doesn’t blog, the next post usually starts with a good story about what he was doing since the last time he blogged. (Of course, there’s a good story. It’s Neil Gaiman.) Does he apologize? No. He’s Neil Gaiman. Even if he wasn’t, he doesn’t owe us a blog, so why would he apologize for failing to give us one?

 

  • Posts are as long as they need to be, or as short. Studies have shown that most people never read more than 200 words, and almost no one reads more than 600. Sucks for Amanda Palmer who almost never posts less than 600 words. And, yet… Somehow broke the record for most money raised on Kickstarter.

 

  • The design is either simple or hopelessly out of date. This is a trap I fall into a lot. When there are big gaps between blog posts, it’s hard enough to pop up again and pretend I haven’t updated in months. Then, I sit down to blog and notice that my color scheme embarrassing. Or, my introduction says that I’m a grad student when I graduated months ago. If I were smart, I would write what I have to say and then redesign if i have time. But, usually, I’m so embarrassed by the design (or the last thing I said–usually both), I can’t resist the urge to fix it.

…Which is what I did tonight before writing this post.

But I learned something.

If you’re reading this on the site, you might notice that this site is much more simple than it was. No more cute themes or stylish colors or titles. It’s just me. (Gulp.) In black and white and blue. And it isn’t blue because blue is so Web 2.0. It’s blue because I like blue.


And italics.

And I’m not saying anything about when I’ll post again. I hope I’ll post again soon. I’ve been working on an exciting new project, and I can’t wait to talk about it.

But that’s all I’m going to say.

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