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Cover image for Developer Blogging: Q&A

Developer Blogging: Q&A

aspittel profile image Ali Spittel ・6 min read

Last night on Twitter I asked if anybody had questions about starting to blog. Answers on Twitter tend to get lost, so I thought this was a good opportunity to write down some answers here! I'm also totally willing to answer questions in the comments as well!

How do you keep motivated?

I stay mostly motivated by a) loving to write and b) loving the response that I get to my writing. It feels awesome to help somebody who is learning or for someone to see a different side of a topic. A lot of my posts are topics that have been covered before, like CSS or React, but I can talk about them from a different angle and bring my own perspective. Even if nobody else reads your writing, it's often helpful to write just for your own sake in order to reinforce your knowledge. Writing about errors can be really helpful for someone coming along too! I tend to write posts that would have helped the me of a few years ago, but I know other writers write stuff that is more geared towards their current programming level.

What platform should I use?

I'm obviously biased here, and have had by far the most success writing here on DEV. I've also crossposted to Medium and hosted my own blog, and had success in both places as well. The hard thing with Wordpress is the maintenance -- it takes a lot of work to get up and running, costs money to host, and then you have to keep the platform up to date. Launching my own site was a lot of work, and while it was worth it at that point, I had been writing for a while and knew that I liked publishing tech articles at that point. I would at least write here (and maybe crosspost to Medium) for a bit before putting in all the time to create your own blogging site.

How do I come up with topics?

I keep a running list of topics I think would be fun to write about. Whenever I have an idea I write it down so I remember it. I like writing intro level/broad articles mostly so usually beginners guides to a concept or my take on a topic. I started writing with a theme: I'd learn a new piece of technology, build something with it, and then write about it. There's an endless supply of tech to learn, so the topics were the easy part! I have more about this here:

You can also check out the following tag to see requested posts!

#requestforpost

#RequestForPost is the perfect way to ask the community to write an article you would really like to read

How do I find time to write?

This is a hard one! Everyone's life circumstances are very different, so I definitely can't answer for everyone. But, what I do is mostly write on Sundays. I'll go to a coffee shop and just crank out a post. There are some posts that take longer, but most of my non-tutorials first drafts took only a few hours. Then I'll edit the next morning before work. I would also say you don't need to be too hard on yourself to always be writing or to be super consistent. Maybe if you want to be a huge blogger, but not if you are writing for a different reason.

This post goes into that more:

Do you have people edit your posts?

I personally don't, but that would be awesome if I had someone that would do that! I write a first draft, make sure all my code works, and then edit using Grammarly, then edit again manually!

How do you get more traffic and engagement?

This is a good question -- so I started writing on Medium in October of 2017 and nobody read my posts at that point (I wasn't posting in a publication or anything either). The DEV Community was pretty awesome to me and my posts started getting a lot more attention on here rather than there. Being on the front page was, at that point, my biggest traffic driver. I had around 100 twitter followers around that time.

I really focused on growing my Twitter, by being consistent, participating in chats, and sharing content that I felt was valuable to onlookers. Twitter is now huge for me and drives a lot of my traffic, both from my own account and people sharing my posts.

I'm also not shy about posting my articles multiple times on Twitter. I'll change up the tweets considerably each time, but I'll link to articles over and over again. Only a small % of your audience sees each tweet, so it's worth sharing a few times.

I've also had some luck on HackerNews and Reddit, which has led to outlier numbers on some posts as a result. I've posted a few of my own articles on HackerNews, but the posts that have done well on Reddit have been posted by other people.

I've tried other social media accounts, like Instagram and LinkedIn, but I haven't had that much luck there.

Also, posting to both Medium and DEV when I had my own platform was really helpful, especially once I got approved as a writer by the bigger Medium publications and my DEV following increased.

How did you get started?

I had an idea for a post, which was creating art with CSS, and I really loved the BaseCS Series. I thought doing a similar challenge would be awesome. It turned out to be way too much work for me, but I still got started writing. I would say to just put something out there -- even if it's not perfect. I've published stuff with typos before, and usually, people don't notice or if they do they're nice about it. Your posts don't have to be perfect to help somebody.

What format do you recommend for posts?

  1. I don't follow a template for my posts! Every topic is different, so the format looks different for each one. That being said, I always include an intro, a conclusion, and lots of visual multimedia.

  2. Generally 1,000-5,000 words would be the sweetspot. I usually do 2-3,000, they don't feel huge but also get a lot of information across. I think longer posts typically do better for search engine optimization too.

  3. I write casually in my posts, it's where I feel most comfortable. I don't use text speak, but I do use the first person and contractions.

  4. I think how technical you get depends on the post -- I show a lot of code in mine, but only in bitesized chunks. I also tend to really break things down.

How about a mailing list?

An email list is the most valuable thing you have for reaching out to people. That being said, I have a thousand person email list that I don't use because I don't love the format. I should probably figure out a way to reengage it though!

People sharing your content is super valuable, though if they have a personalized caption on it it's way more valuable! Usually just the title doesn't get that high of engagement.

How do you deal with trolls?

Honestly, this is way harder than outside observers think. Dealing with one at a time is not too bad, but if you get an onslaught it's really tough to get through. I keep a log of positive comments, so I can look back on them when I get some tough ones. 99% of them are positive, though it can be hard to remember that! I will also filter stuff on social media sometimes, and have periodically had Reddit blocked on my computer. I think the positive so outweighs the negative. The negative sucks, but the positive is so, so positive!

Why do you blog?

I blog for a lot of reasons, mainly because I love teaching and the community aspect of it. I wrote a post with more on this topic last year!


I think this answered most of the questions since a lot were on similar questions! Again, feel free to ask any more in the comments!

Discussion

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maniflames profile image
Maniflames

Thanks for this!

I did see the tweet but I'm still kind of shy, especially on social media 🙈
I recently started writing to practise my writing skills and keep track of the stuff I learn at the same time. But recently I've started to feel the desire to just explorer threejs in combination with WebGL and write about that. In the back of my mind I know I shouldn't care about this but I'm afraid that the topic may be way too niche for several posts. What are your opinions on writing on something niche vs writing something for a broader audience?

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Ali Spittel Author

For sure!

I think that's a super cool blog post, I would read it! Even if it is niche, you're still establishing yourself as an expert on those topics which can be helpful careerwise! And sometimes more advanced content like that can really take off!

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Maniflames

Thanks you so much for your reply! I think I'm just gonna give it a go 😊

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Lindsey Kopacz

Chiming in here as a niche blogger. Niche blog posting is something I do and I've found great success in doing it! Niche things may not grow as quickly, but it's really helpful for people to find you.

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Maniflames

That's a very good point. The main reason I want to write about is because I have trouble finding beginner friendly resources myself. Thanks for your help 😊

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Beautus S Gumede

Question: How did you figure out what to put on your privacy policy? At first I didn't think I'd need one, until I looked under the hood of my Jekyll setup. Also, there's just so much text there. Did you write it out yourself or you got a tool?

And thank you for inspiring me to start writing. 😊

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Pritesh Usadadiya

Normally it doesn't matter that much. Most of the time we tend to do it because Google Ranking algorithm treats websites with Privacy Policy and Terms and conditions better. (Also helps if you have SiteMap)

there's just so much text there

Most policies i see, on individual bloggers sites are just copy/paste with few alterations.

Couple of Policies generators.

termsandconditionsgenerator.com/

gdprprivacypolicy.net/

Just fill in some basic details and you are done :). copy and paste it on your blog / website.

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Beautus S Gumede

Thank you very much. It's this, a sitemap, site manifest and I'll be SEO ready

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Ali Spittel Author

Yup that's what I used too!

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Ali Spittel Author

Ah awesome! I used a generator for it!

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Sebastian Witowski

I made a New Year's resolution to start blogging - mainly to get better at writing technical stuff (so far, I've been writing mostly proposals of conference talks and it was always taking me ages to write them). I'm also taking some time off from work and I will try to start consulting later this year, so first - I have more time now for the blog and second - I (hopefully ;P ) will be able to find clients through my writing.

So I wrote my first blog post in January and my resolution was to publish one post every week. So far, it's working well (yet, it takes me around 2 full days to write a 1000-1500 words post that is not even so technically advanced).

Some posts are boring, some get more traction. I wrote two posts about git .dotfiles and some interesting aliases that I'm using and they got quite popular on reddit's r/git - that was a very motivating feeling. Today, one of my posts on Medium (I'm crossposting from my blog to dev.to, Medium, HN, LinkedIn and reddit) got included in the "programming" topic and I finally got some readers there - around 30, but still (before, it was almost always 0 views). I wasn't really expecting many people to read my blog (ok, I was hoping for it, but not expecting too much traffic - meanwhile, I got 1,8k views in January).

Now, the best part of this whole story - when I was starting to write my first blog post, I found this very nice post called "My Blog Post Workflow: from Topic to Publication" on a blog called "The Zen of Programming". I've never heard about the author before (I don't follow the CSS and JS world too much), but I really enjoyed the read. It contained so much useful information and the style of writing was very nice to read, that I think it was the most useful blog that I found that day. Now, that I remember the author's name, I'm glad to see you here on dev.to (amazing community!) still giving great advices to people and thank you for helping me to start! ;)

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Ali Spittel Author

Woah, that's so cool! Congrats on starting and gaining traction!

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DeChamp

I love your post Ali, thank you! I really appreciated hearing about you not being afraid to retweet your post. I've feared so much that I'm going to annoy people if I repost. But really, you're right, if one person get help, then it's totally worth it.

Also the part of the haters/trolls. That is really hard. On here I had a post blow up big, then I was told it make hacker news and reddit too... well I was not prepared to go from the kind feedback on here to the rude and mean comments on the other platforms. I'll be using your "list of favorite comments" advice.

I am curious, what do you get for an average view on your post, do you find that matters?

Do you try and space our post or just post as you feel it.

Do you see your personal post (ones where you speak about something that has to do with you personally) or you tech post getting more traffic?

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Ali Spittel Author

Awesome!

Agreed, it's so tough to get used to the negativity, there are usually so many "silent upvoters" that will upvote your content but won't leave a positive comment, and factoring them in is important!

I am all over the place, if I don't get on HN/Reddit usually around 15k-ish, but if they do well there I've gotten around the 70k mark, though when I was doing crazy high numbers, I usually was posting here, my own blog, and Medium so those numbers are all of those combined!

My tech posts definitely get a lot more traffic than anything personal, but I still like writing the personal ones!

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Glenn Carremans

Any suggestions for a markdown editor? I thought you mentioned one before in a post of yours but couldn't find it. Am trying to go for a post a week (if I get the inspiration for it 😂) a decent editor that manages my WIP posts would be a great improvement compared to making them in the DEV editor.
Preferable a free one, even if the features are limited. A native macOS app would be a benefit compared to an electron one but that is just an extra bonus.

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Ali Spittel Author

I use VS Code with some plugins for markdown and spelling! It’s where I write my other code. Shorter posts I’ll write directly in the editor though!

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Glenn Carremans

Thanks for the quick reply!
I use JetBrains IDEs for most of my development (Android Studio, PHPStorm, ...) so installing an other IDE seems overkill to me.

I read a couple of times about MacDown, an open source markdown editor for macOS. And my favorite theme also supports it! draculatheme.com/macdown/
So going to give that a try for now but might switch in the future.

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Sundeep

I'm looking to start a tech blog myself, so this is a very informative post, thanks :)

lots of visual multimedia

do you have tips on choosing visual stuff? basically, a blog post on this would be useful

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Ali Spittel Author

Awesome!

I make my own diagrams for my posts -- just things that I think could do with a more visual explanation. Not sure if I have much more advice unfortunately!

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Ali Spittel Author

Yeah, that's a great question. I, unfortunately, can't keep on top of all my tweets/DMs/emails at this point, and have to selectively respond. Sometimes I'll have more time and will be able to answer more, but I think I have more reach and can help more people if I allocate my time to writing longer posts instead. I am always changing how I filter notifications -- sometimes I get all of them, sometimes only mentions, other times only stuff from people I follow back.

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ItsASine (Kayla)

You mention Grammarly but have you ever tried Hemingway Editor? I'm liking it a lot more lately since it breaks down the types of infractions and is online or desktop (and desktop is a one-time payment rather than a subscription service like Grammarly)

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Hanane

Thank you very much for the post! It was so helpful! Also, thank you for answering my question (:

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Toma

Hi, I am also finding a lot of the platforms not that engaging - like LinkedIn, receiving only recruiter messages. Unfortunately I am not so good at others either. Here is my current list of platforms I try to make time for dev.to/tomavelev/social-networks--...

I personally find a motivation realizing that most of the stuff out there will still exist in the future - so it is a legacy.

In a post of mine you could find my opinion about the emails and not only: tomavelev.com/blog/Do%20you%20have... . Also, putting something on a place you (truly) control will less likely get banned in a long run. And, while all this social media is free - it will be missed opportunity to not express yourself.

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Kaelan Mikowicz

Hi Ali! Do you use any tools to help you publish across different platforms or do you simply copy and paste between platforms?

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Ali Spittel Author

I copied and pasted! But you can set up RSS pull in for both Medium and DEV!

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Max Ong Zong Bao

I really like your post it's always a joy to read awesome posts from you.

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Ali Spittel Author

Thank you so much!

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Asim Dahal

Thank you very much for this article. This is so helpful for starters like us.

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Geshan Manandhar

Thanks for the answer.

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DIANE GAYDEN

Thank you. There's a ton of valuable and useful information in this post.