The key to blogging: filter your ideas

I’m looking in dismay at my 29 saved WordPress drafts right now. Some of them have been sitting around for months. I’m too fond of them to delete them outright, but I know, deep down, that they’re simply not good enough to become a post on this blog, so I’ve abandoned them. But what makes an idea suitable for evolving into a fully-fledged blog post?

I’ve stumbled across one of the largely unwritten rules about blogging: filter your ideas. You’re able to easily come up with all sorts of ideas that are interesting to you, but most of them wouldn’t make for a good blog post. In the interests of approaching this topic a rigorously, here is a useful checklist you can use to determine if an idea is worth blogging about:

  1. Is your idea interesting? This isn’t to say you shouldn’t write about niche subjects, especially if your blog covers niche subjects (for example, I write GNU/Linux tutorials here on this blog from time to time). An idea is interesting independently of how large its addressable audience is. For instance, a lot more people have cats as pets than run GNU/Linux, but a post about this cute thing my cat did the other day is a lot less interesting and useful than a comprehensive tutorial on, say, installing WordPress on Ubuntu Linux. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes and honestly ask yourself if anyone would be interested in spending their valuable time to read about it. As a corollary to this rule, make sure that your idea is insightful as well as interesting (this is related to numbers 4 and 5 below).
  2. Is your idea time-sensitive? If your idea consists of a response to a current event, you better get that written up and out the door immediately. Otherwise, the idea will quickly become useless. My drafts folder is full of half-written responses to current events from months ago, events that are now, on web time scales, ancient history. I ran into the same problem when I was an opinion columnist for my university’s newspaper. My column came out every other week, so during the off week, there would often be news I was interested in but wouldn’t be able to write a column about because the news would be stale by then.
  3. Is your idea specific enough? You need to actually have something to say. If you start off with a vague idea, the post just isn’t going to go anywhere. Vague ideas work for writing books (e.g. my idea is Cryptography, so I’m going to go write a History of Cryptography book), but not for blog posts. Blog posts are short in comparison to novels, so you only have the space to talk about one small thing in depth. Don’t try to talk about everything there is to say about a subject; blogging simply isn’t the format for that.
  4. Does your idea have depth? Your idea must have some depth to it. Along with the prior rule, this translates into “Depth, not breadth”. Lacking depth is fatal for an idea, because short blog posts are generally worthless. If you don’t have anything to say about a subject, don’t bring it up at all. Writing lots of little short posts each day on disparate subjects isn’t blogging, it’s twittering.
  5. Can you do your idea justice? I have lots of things I’d love to talk about — how to bring about world peace, for instance — but I simply couldn’t do that idea any justice. It’s beyond me. Focus on the things you know about. Blog posts are at their best when they’re written by an expert on the subject. That way, the majority of the readers will actually be learning something. No one wants to read the uniformed opinions of amateurs. If you’re totally out of your depth and you can’t contribute in any meaningful way to the discourse, then pick something else to write about. A possible exception would be writing about the experience of learning how to do something (for example, amateur telescope making). Fellow amateurs will enjoy reading about a subject from the viewpoint of someone who knows little more than they do, while experts may enjoy seeing their field from the perspective of new eyes. If you’re writing in this manner, be sure to never write in an authoritative manner.

Keep these guidelines in mind and you’ll find yourself on your way to a better blog in no time. In case you doubt these guidelines, to verify their validity, just go take a careful look at some popular blogs that you frequently read. You’ll notice a curious absence of posts violating these guidelines.

One Response to “The key to blogging: filter your ideas”

  1. Better yourself through some brief reading | Cyde Weys Musings Says:

    […] would-be or otherwise. The most important advice to me? Write about subjects you care about and write about things that readers will find interesting. I’m proud to say I came up with those two independently, though I am guilty of frequently […]