I know, you guys. I know. I know there are a thousand posts out there with this kind of title. I’ve made fun of them. I have begged whatever internet gods may be to stop people posting topics like this (also, topics like “The X Guide to Such-and-Such” and damned if I didn’t write one of those too.)
The reason people write them, I’ve discovered, is that it’s very easy to get caught up in the online world. To think that everything in the world is contained somewhere between Google and your RSS feed. And when you do reconnect to the real world in a visceral, tangible, thoughtful way, it feels pretty profound.
You start to learn things. You start to apply what you’re learning to what you do the most: blogging.
This is more or less what happened with me and the mushroom hunting.
How’d You Wind Up Mushroom Hunting, Of All Things?
Well, I have a friend. This friend frequently makes me dinner. And those dinners frequently contain the kind of mushrooms that cost upward of $50/pound, so I started to wonder how he was bankrolling these dinners of ours, and if I might happen to owe him, say, a Porsche.
Turns out I don’t owe him a Porsche. I do, however, owe him several tanks of gas. Because what he does is drive three hours up the mountain, to where the elevation is just right for mushrooms to grow. He wanders around the woods for a couple hours at a stretch looking for the edible ones.
My asking him where the mushrooms came from must have been some kind of secret code, because I was immediately invited on an excursion. Which is how I spent about three hours in the woods in utter silence, looking for mushrooms with a distinctive pattern on their tops and discovering some things about blogging.
- Silence is Good
- Some of Those Things Are Poisonous
- You Only Have Today
- There Are Bad Days
I have never thought about how much silence I get in the world. It is fairly infrequent and often kind of painful (the silence of the line in the post office is a good example). When I walk, I walk with headphones. If I’m being social, I’m being talkatively social. I’m watching a movie. I’m chatting on the phone. I’m listening to music as I ride in the car. When I work, I’m listening to music, getting distracted by my next-door office neighbor’s voice through the wall, or watching a video trying to distract myself from the work I’m about to do.
It is very, very rare that I am completely quiet.
People. Quiet is amazing for thinking.
Thinking is essential for blogging. It is not essential for work. When you work, you have a task at hand: a sales page to write, a product to create, a phone call to make. You can pretty much hold off thinking until you begin the task.
With blogging, you not only have to do the task: write the post. You have to decide what the task is: the topic of the post.
Almost every blogger I know tries to dive headlong into the post without thinking about it. They think of it like a job whose parameters are already determined. A blog post is almost pure thought. It has to be considered first. You have to find, and reject, a hundred possibilities before settling on a scant few you actually want to talk about.
Being alone in the woods for three hours gives you plenty of time to do that. By the time I got out of there, I had a basket full of edible mushrooms and about a dozen new things I wanted to write about. And a blister, which I believe could have been avoided if I’d just sat in my chair for three hours thinking of new topics instead of trying to shlep up a mountain.
Actually, lots of those things are poisonous. Official warning: should you ever get it into your head to go mushroom-hunting, take someone along who knows which ones are edible, because you would not believe how many of the incredibly tasty-looking ones will kill you.
That’s mushrooms, though. Surely blog posts aren’t poisonous.
Well, yeah. A lot of them are.
There are blog posts that involve link-baiting your favorite famous bloggers. There are blog posts that will get you a lot of traffic, but all of it angry, controversial traffic, not good, loyal-fan traffic. There are blog posts that will absolutely alienate your entire audience, even if you really want to jump in on the latest controversy surrounding a politician. There are blog posts that will make you seem boring, inarticulate, misguided, ill-informed.
There are a lot of poisonous blog posts out there. And if you’re in a hurry, you’re far more likely to accidentally wind up choosing one of them instead of a post that will sustain you and enrich your readers.
Know what you’re looking for. Know what kinds of posts your readers enjoy and which ones are going to truly help them. Know which posts are nourishing your blog and helping it thrive.
And keep an eye out for those poisonous ones. Some of them look remarkably like the good ones.
When we’d picked a giant basket heaping full of mushrooms, I’d thought we were done. I was excited about all my succulent finds and ready to go get a burger and celebrate. But the picking was good that day. There were mushrooms everywhere and they were easy to hand. We put our basket in the back of the truck and went back out for more.
This was unusual, he told me. It’s not often you get a day like this. You don’t want to waste it. They won’t be here tomorrow. They won’t be here, definitely, the week after that. You only have today.
For bloggers, sometimes you’ll write a post that truly inspires you. Your mind will be on fire with ideas. You’ll be humming, practically vibrating with that urge to create. You’ll write out a full post and you’ll know you have so much more, that you could write a whole book, you could write a whole shelf of books.
But you’ll stop. You’ll stop because you did what you needed to do that day. You wrote one post.
You’ll stop thinking you pick it up again tomorrow.
You can’t. You only have today.
When you have a good day, a truly magical day, you have to ride it out. Write down everything you can. Write all night long if you have to. Write until your fingers hurt. Write and write and write and write and when you honestly can’t do anymore, then you can stop.
Those days are rare and far between. You don’t have to post everything you create in that time. But you have to pick while the pickin’s good. There’s time to enjoy what you’ve harvested later. Right now, there’s today. Get everything you can out of it.
There’s a corollary to the above, and it’s this: Sometimes today is not your day.
The weekend I went up with my friend happened to be a good weekend. There were good mushrooms everywhere. We got two huge heaping baskets-ful. But the eight weekends before that, he hadn’t had such a good time. It was a strange year weather-wise and the factors that make for thriving mushroom colonies weren’t there. This was the first weekend that had been good.
In that situation, it’s okay to pack it in because it’s not a good weekend. But here’s the trick: you still have to show up.
Every weekend. You can’t skip one because the last one wasn’t good. You have to show up every single time hoping for one of the magic times, one of the ones where everything goes your way.
If he’d given up six weekends before, we never would have had those two baskets of mushrooms to tide us over all the weekends to come with none.
Same for you and your blogging. You show up every time. You show up every day. And you try like hell to reap enough good work to tide you over when it’s a lousy day, when you have no ideas, when there’s absolutely nothing left.
If you don’t show up for the bad days, you will miss the good days entirely. You’ll never know they could have happened. Because you weren’t there.
So yes. There are bad days. Not every day is a magic day. But it’s by showing up for the bad days that you get to those glorious days.
What I Learned
There’s a reason for all the many posts about what non-blogging activities have taught us about blogging. It’s because it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. It’s hard to get new insight into blogging simply by blogging more.
Sometimes you have to get offline. Sometimes you have to get out in the woods. Sometimes you have to try something new to get better at this thing you enjoy doing, this thing that sustains your business and your life.
Mushrooms aren’t any good by themselves. Mushrooms are amazing in butter, with herbs, as part of a larger dish. A plain, raw mushroom is no fun to eat.
Blogging is the same. Blogging by itself doesn’t sustain you. You have to mix it up with other things. You have to learn what it works with. You have to experiment. You have to find new ways to add to the base.
Try it. Try something new, and see if you can glean anything that helps you become a better blogger.
Then take half an hour to think. Choose a post that’s right for you. And have one of the good days.