Five lessons learned after five years of blogging

This week marks the 5th anniversary of, which originally started as my pseudonym while writing this blog under a different title ("Life's Short, Ride Your Best Horse First" - kudos if you've been reading since then).

I've learned a lot over the years that I couldn't have expected to learn when I set out to start a blog one September afternoon.  For those of you who might be about to write "My First Post," some advice:

1.  If you write it, someone will read it.

While I didn't set out to write a political blog, the first post I ever wrote was most certainly political.  It was about Hurricane Katrina.  At the time, I was in a long-term relationship with a Captain in the Army who was deployed, along with 5000 other members of the United States 1st Cavalry Division, to New Orleans.  It was the first time in American history, other than during Reconstruction, when an entire US infantry division had been deployed on American soil.

Since they had no idea how long they would be in New Orleans, living in a warehouse in the Ninth Ward, I decided to call the Inspector General's office in Fort Hood and demanded to speak with the IG.  Pretending to have a husband in the Army, I demanded answers: When would they come home, why are they there, what is their mission?  The resulting conversation, which I wrote down word-for-word, was like something from Catch-22:  They would come home when they came home, the reason they were there was classified and their mission was to complete the mission.

Frustrated and fuming, I looked at my transcript of the conversation written on a notepad and thought "Now what?"  I wanted to be a whistleblower.  I wanted to have control over something that I recognized was entirely out of my league.  I wanted to cause an uproar.  So I typed the entire thing out and posted it as my first blog:  Ringing the Bell.

No one read it, and no one cared.  The 1st Cavalry Division redeployed to Fort Hood twenty-one days later and life went on.  It took two years before my blog was ever mentioned in a mainstream media news story and nearly five for me to break a piece of news before the mainstream news did.  But the point is:  at first, and frankly, everyday, you will have something to say and you'll think no one will read it.  But someone will.  And then another person will.  And eventually, you realize that it doesn't really matter who reads your blog:  it's more important that it's being written.

2.  Over time, your blog will change.

As I said, my blog wasn't political when I first started writing it.  In fact, for the first few months, I only wrote when something interesting was happening: I was going to New York City for the first time, a horse getting injured at work, a poem I found in The New Yorker that spoke to me.  There was no theme and not a lot of direction.   Sure, there were lines I needed to draw but I was still learning how to color.  When my then-boyfriend deployed to Baghdad in 2007, I alternated between railing against George W. Bush and writing about going downtown and drinking, my preferred choice of how to pass a very lonely, very difficult eighteen months.  There was a tipping point for me with regards to the war in Iraq and in 2008, as a way of funneling some of my anger and frustration into something productive, I became more politically active and started writing more about the events I went to and the people I was meeting.  The Mean Rachel blog in 2010 is very different than the Mean Rachel blog in 2005 or 2007 was.  But so is this Rachel.  That's just life.

3.  Your most popular posts are rarely your favorite.

I'm not here to make a living out of my blog, so this goes against any sound business advice (particularly advice I might give you if you wanted advice on a corporate blog, which I also write).  But it took me a long time to realize that the blog posts that bring me the most traffic are rarely the posts that I am the most proud of (like this one).  That's okay: don't stop writing what you want to write.  Eventually, you'll find a way to write both.

4.  If your heart is in the right place, write it.

There's no sense in being controversial for the sake of controversy.  But if you feel that your heart is in the right place, don't ever let anyone tell you not to write something.  You won't get in trouble for writing about something you believe in, even if it might make someone else mad.  And if someone does get mad at you, chances are they weren't someone you'd want to know in the first place.

5.  Your blog's value isn't always measured in dollars and cents or page views and search traffic.

No amount of banner ads, pop-ups, sponsorships or advertising could compare to the riches I've had in experiences since I've started this blog.  Some moments were caught in international headlines.  Others were quieter.  But it seems those experiences would never have happened were it not for my little space on the internet.

And if all that makes you think I sound like a nerdy blogger, then you'd be right.  There's really nothing else I'd rather be.

10 Response to "Five lessons learned after five years of blogging"

  • Teddy Wilson Says:

    I am going to print this out and post it on my wall.

  • Greg Says:

    Nice post Rachel. I wish you'd had your five year anniversary coincide with my first blog post. I did receive some advice, the best of which was, "Why don't you publish your own blog? I want to know what YOU'RE thinking."

    At that point, all my posts were news stories for the RR Leader and

    While I've learned most of the lessons you've mentioned in your post, it's a relief to see even successful writers such as yourself made similar mistakes as I did in starting a blog.

    Going to share this with some people who are just getting started blogging.

    Happy 5th! Congrats!

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    Thanks Teddy! I'm glad you found it helpful! How long have you been blogging now?

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    Thank you, Greg! I didn't know you were blogging now! I need to read up! I appreciate you passing this post on to others, it means a lot!

  • Michael Pearson Says:

    Thanks for writing this Rachel. You are a very talented writer. The past 5 years have served you well. Thanks Greg for pointing me in this direction via twitter. It has taken way too long to (finally) take the leap into bloggerdom. If you want to see what I am up to, it is here: I seriously just started. I expect it will take me years to get decent in this medium, but excited to see someone doing a great job of it! I hope this post is also one of your more well-trafficked posts, I bet it will be! :)

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    Thanks Michael! I didn't know you've started blogging. Welcome to the jungle! I've subscribed to and followed your blog on Google Friend Connect. Have fun - it's like exercising: hard in the beginning, hard if you stop and even harder to keep going. But, it's also addicting!

  • Teddy Wilson Says:

    I've been blogging for two years and change, and I've had the radio show for just over a year.

  • Nanette Says:

    #5 is my very fave, wait, #4 is! No, #5 is.... :)

    groovy post rachel

  • missris Says:

    Absolutely love this post. All of this is very good advice, whether you've been doing it for 5 years or are just starting out.

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    Aww, thanks Nanette & Ris! Glad you both enjoyed it. :)