I recently passed my anniversary of two years of blogging on Medium. Including this post, I’ve blogged 93 times in two years, with 65% of those posts coming from the past two months, when I’ve been blogging almost daily.
I blog for myself first — if I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it. But I am still trying to figure out the best cadence for myself personally: What’s the right number of posts at what frequency that both brings me satisfaction and is generally well-liked by people who read this stuff?
But since I’m currently stuck at the Indianapolis airport in a 4-hour delay, I decided to do a little digging and better understand my writing style, my cadence, and my audience. Here’s what I learned:
Overall, my posts tend to take about 4 minutes to read, are viewed 329 times, and 62% of people who click read until the end. My shortest post has been 1 minute long; my longest has been 16 minutes long. If I had to generalize, I guess I’d say my “niche” is to write first-person narrative stories that loosely relate to my work, my life, and the communities I frequently interact with.
Of the 60 posts I’ve written over the last two months, only 5 have received more than 1,000 views. But the momentum factor of the daily habit seems to have inflated my overall perception of my status as a writer among my friends and colleagues.
Generally speaking, I see a higher likelihood that someone will finish reading one of my posts if it’s shorter. But of course, there’s an exception to every rule — with my longest ever post (a 16-minute read about spending New Year’s Eve alone in Paris) also being one of my most popular stories.
I’ve only had a few “breakout posts” — the most notable of which taking place over a year ago, when I wrote, “The Creation Story of Women in VC” with 5600 views (that’s a lot for me) and 280 “fans” on Medium. This was also the only post (I believe) that’s been picked up by 3 separate publications. All of these stories in my top 10 include a pretty even blend of descriptive, personal storytelling mixed with either observations or advice. Three relate to women’s issues, and three relate to either work or productivity hacks.
Finding my sweet spot
While this is mildly interesting information, the exercise I really wanted to take on was a bit more nuanced — how could I find that perfect sweet spot intersection of the stuff I really enjoy writing and the stuff that people tend to enjoy reading?
It’s great to write, of course. But to write publicly is to assume some element of interest from somebody else.
Chances are, there’s a good deal of things I could be writing that don’t necessarily need to be broadcast out to the world.
Early on when I started blogging, I was being overly selective in my approach — choosing only one or two pieces that called out to me that I would write each month. While these pieces did tend to be good and entertaining, it also limited my experimentation to understand if there was another, shorter-form version of writing that I could unlock.
Now that I’m round out 100 posts, I have enough information (call it little data) to make a more informed decisions about what’s working and what might be best kept in a private entry.
This is a fuzzy proxy, but go with me on this. I categorized each of my blog posts into one of four categories based on who seemed to enjoy it the most. They are:
- Me only: Something I thought was either really fun or a great piece of writing but wasn’t reciprocated in terms of readership or “fans”
- Them only: Something that I felt I wrote more of less “off the cuff” that surprised me by resonating with one or more people in a meaningful way
- Both of us: Something that I thought was good writing (or really fun to write) and other people agreed too (through # of reads)
- None of us: Something that I felt mild to neutral about and received little interest from readers
To calculate “enjoyment” I looked at Medium’s data from my top posts and flagged any with more than 350 reads or more than 20 fans. But I also flagged any blog post that “came back to me in conversation” from a friend or someone else— either via Twitter, Facebook, or in-person.
Many times, these were the posts that wound up categorized in the “Them” section: Things I wrote that didn’t always have the highest metric to support them, but where people around me made a point to tell me how much they appreciated it. This seems like my opportunity zone.
It’s good to see that my instincts feel directionally correct 35% of the time — where something I think is good is also validated by others. Generally speaking, I can tell when I’m writing something that I think will resonate (My posts on mentorship and job searching were two recent examples.) But I also get quite a few false positives of assuming people care about things that they don’t. And apparently, 38% of what I write isn’t worth posting at all.
The challenge, of course, is the unpredictability of it. If 1 in 5 posts stands out to someone else in meaningful way, but it doesn’t necessarily strike me as brilliant, how can I ever identify those gems from the 38% of posts that won’t resonate with anyone?
One way to mitigate this is to just keep posting. I can increase the odds of getting a hit by just doing it all the time. This is how artists continue to iterate on their craft. Another way is to learn a more about your audience and be more discerning in what you write about.
I spent a lot of time looking at these two segments of the pie chart — the stuff that nobody liked and the stuff that other people liked — trying to come up with some compelling tip or obvious takeaway. What patterns exist among those two areas that I can learn from to improve for next time? Why was this one a hit and this one a flop?
Sadly, I don’t have any conclusion. Writing is an art, not a science. It’s equally exhilarating and frustrating. Even though you can have all the data in the world to dig into, there’s sometimes no telling what’s really going to stand out in the end. But honestly, for me, the fun is in the process. And while it might seem like an insane waste of time for you to go through an exercise like this for yourself, I enjoyed the project — both in understanding the data and in writing it out here. So maybe that’s all that matters for now.