Leo Babauta: notes on writing

Some thoughts on trends I see in online writing (which is becoming the only kind of writing, really):

  • Footnotes: Lots of bloggers seem to use footnotes, a habit likely carried over from their days in college, and also influenced by Gruber and others. It’s a bad idea. Footnotes are a distraction from the main text, a side journey that disrupts the reader’s flow, a laziness that could be avoided by working these thoughts into the body of the text. They’re inconsiderate of the reader. As Noel Coward wrote: “Having to read footnotes resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love.”
  • Social media: While I love social media as a way to share and discover great content, too many people put too great an emphasis on it these days. Don’t become a social media marketer, or a social media expert or consultant or strategist. Become a creator. Make cool things, help people, do something different. Social media success will follow, because people will want to share your great stuff. But writers and other creators spend much of the time they could be spending creating, on social media. Perhaps it’s just a way to procrastinate, or maybe they’re worried about missing out on a way to reach new readers. Either way, get back to writing (or other creating). And drop all those share buttons.
  • Ads, affiliate sales, sponsored links, mailing lists: Writers and other creators really want to make a living online, so they fill up their blogs with junk that they think will make money. But the junk is disrepectful of the reader, and so the reader goes away. Trying to force people to be on your mailing lists by making them sign up to get stuff, or putting a popup in their faces before they can read your content, is disrepectful. Ads and affiliate stuff are tiresome for the reader. Here’s how to make a living online: create great stuff that will help people, and build a readership. Then create great stuff and sell it to those readers in a respectful way, while still giving away your free great stuff.
  • Pageviews and other metrics: People who want to be successful online want to find a way to measure it, so they can know if they’re improving. Pageviews is one metric, but the problem with this metric is it’s meaningless (who cares how many pageviews you get — it doesn’t affect anything important) — and it drives people to do things that irritate the reader, just to drive up the metric (like creating 5-10 pages for one article and making me click “next page” a bunch of times). The only metric that matters: did you help people? It’s a binary metric: yes or no.
  • Giveaways and other promotions: Bloggers think they’re going to get a lot of readers by giving away stuff, or doing other kinds of promotions and contests. Readers don’t come to a blog for any of that. They’re looking for great content. Just do that.

Get rid of all the distractions on your site. Ads, banners, popups, blogrolls, tag clouds, social media buttons, blog networks.

Just create the great content. Then get out of the reader’s way. There is nothing else that matters.

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