11 Blogging Lessons from 2013

I started blogging in 2007 when my younger sister started one for me as a Christmas present.

She said, “You need to blog.”

I said, “What’s a blog?”

Back then our internet was so slow I would hit ‘send/receive’ for emails, go make dinner, and check back for emails after putting the kids to bed. Back then it was faster to upload a photo to a blog post than to an email so that’s how I sent pictures home. Back then I wrote posts like:

Hey mom, Henry got a haircut!

Back then my mom read it. And maybe my younger sister read it. I didn’t know how to check the stats so I’ll never really know.

I still remember when the first person I wasn’t related to and didn’t actually know in the flesh left a comment. No kidding, it wasn’t until 2012 when I was published in the New York Times that I figured out I had an email address associated with the blog. I’ve been on a steep learning curve ever since.

One good thing about being such a clueless, out of touch, living in the back-country of the developing world, techie idiot is that pretty much everything is astonishing to me, pretty much everything is news to me, pretty much everything besides ‘how to type’ could be put on this list of things I learned about blogging in 2013.


1. WordPress is much better than Blogger and owning my own domain name rocks. I can be more creative, take more control over how things look, and better understand what is going on (what resonates with people and what doesn’t, who the audience is and who it isn’t, etc).

2. Writing fewer posts with high quality content is far more important than blogging five days a week. This is also harder. Much easier to write Hey mom look at Henry’s new haircut than to write 15 things to my Third Culture Kids or articulate my thoughts on western attitudes toward the developing world.

3. Earning money blogging takes a lot of work and intentionality and that is as far as I have gotten on the financial side of things. I’m still clueless on how to make money blogging. Maybe that will be a lesson learned in 2014.

4. Hearing from readers is the number one best part about blogging. Different from articles in magazines or even websites where I’m a regular contributor, I feel connected to the people who read Djibouti Jones. Your words carry weight with me and because of the open dialogue nature of blogs, I love the ongoing interaction that is possible in this space.

5. Courage is key. Controversial posts will raise controversy. Putting my words with my face into the public space means people will feel free to write whatever they like about everything from my hair to my childbirth experiences to my character. I’m growing a backbone, I reread Rachel Held Evan’s post about turning painful words into beautiful origami, and I’ve stopped reading all the responses to things I write. I’ve also chosen to never submit articles to certain venues, to understand that cruelty says more about the person speaking it than it says about myself, and that I can be wrong, that I need to be corrected and need to apologize or retract.

6. Blogging is work. As my other writing projects grow and as writing is not my full-time gig, I need to be wise in how much time I spend blogging. Some weeks the posts are almost entirely designed to steer you to another site, to read an article somewhere else. At first I felt guilty about this, like I was cheating readers in some way by not providing original content. No more (another lesson perhaps?), no guilt. I can’t do it all, sometimes you might find a few lines and a link.

7. I love hosting guest bloggers and topical series and hope to do more in the future. The Let’s Talk about Hijab series and the Painting Pictures of a Third Culture Kid Life series were two of the most incredible writing experiences I’ve had yet. The people I met, stories I was privy to, community that was built in the comments, the ways people were challenged and encouraged…I enjoyed providing the space for that and letting others’ words fill it. How amazing was it to hear from writers all across the world? Each guest post felt like a gift.

8. Some posts will resonate with people and some won’t. Sometimes it is surprising to me which way things go. I think a post will fall flat or almost don’t publish it 20 Things Expats Need to Stop Doing and it goes nuts. I think a post is wicked good and it barely raises a flicker on the traffic stats. I’m still trying to figure out what it is that makes a post spread. Timing? Content? Style? Links? Surely content, but what kind? Content that challenges or that makes a person feel comfortable? Content that is vulnerable, but how vulnerable?

9. I have to write for myself. While I do keep my eye on stats and while I do have certain publishing goals, I can’t write exclusively to please everyone else. Never gonna happen anyway. If I want to have fun talking about what the heck am I going to wear in New York City or peeing in the desert while beach-camping once in a while, I will. However, I have to know and be okay with #2, those posts might not bring up the numbers.

10. Photos matter. And they don’t have to be my own. But I like when they are my own, that feels more personal and Djibouti is so unique and receives such limited exposure that I enjoy showcasing our little corner of the world whenever appropriate.

11. Blogging changes how I see the world. I pay more attention, I take notes, I think in story.

Did anyone else learning something helpful, cool, interesting, boring but useful?