Annual Blog Report

Even though it’s not quite the end of the year yet, the blogging stat monkeys have delivered their report on how things went here at the Notes in the Margin blog during 2015. I’ll have my own, more detailed report ready early next month, but for now I offer you the stat monkeys’ findings.

“In 2015, there were 121 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 830 posts.”

Of the five most viewed posts this year, only two of them were written in 2015:

Cover: The Girl on the Train
Cover: The Girl on the Train

(1) Review: “The Girl on the Train,” Paula Hawkins, from January

(4) “Books fall open, you fall in.” —David McCord, also from January

The other three most viewed posts were all from 2014:

(2) “The Door,” E.B. White, a Literature & Psychology post

(3) Gothic Elements in Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”, a Classics Club post

(5) Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, a Literature & Psychology post

These were some of my favorite posts to write during 2015:

(1) Getting Lost in a Good Book

(2) Reading in Flow

(3) “Go Set a Watchman”: A Lesson in Writing & Reading Fiction

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Blog a Day Challenge: July Report

After the chaos of my June blogging, in July my main goal was simply to get back into the habit of writing and publishing a post every day. At that I succeeded.

However, I did not work on my word for the year, story.

And I anticipate a bit more chaos in the upcoming weeks because we are taking a two-week cruise along the West Coast between Seattle and Alaska during the last week of August and the first week of September. Once again, both my internet connectivity and my free time will be limited. I am therefore not setting any specific goals other than to end up with a post for each day until the second week of September.

Here are my statistics for last month:

Number of posts written: 31

Shortest post: 210

Longest post: 1,770

Total words written: 22,340

Average post length: 721

I was happy to get my word count back up after June’s scant month. In fact, July’s total word count was the second highest of my seven months of this blogging challenge. And my average post length was the third highest; although I had seven posts of 1,000 or more words in July, I also had several shorter (500 words or fewer) posts as well.

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

Because our two-week European vacation produced an inordinate number of posts to my personal blog, Retreading for Retirement, in June, in July I tried to even up the number of posts across the three blogs.

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

Last month’s featured post:

The Love-Hate Challenge

I’m featuring this post for several reasons:

  1. It was my longest post of the month.
  2. The topic is one I happened upon in a visit to someone else’s blog.
  3. The topic engaged me personally and therefore helped me concentrate on voice as I was writing.

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Overall, I consider July to have been a good blogging month for me.

I’d love to hear your comments.

Blog a Day Challenge: May Report

What I Learned in May

In March and April I concentrated on trying to keep my total word count up by writing a number of long posts (1,000 words or more). However, I changed my focus in May: I tried to go short by focusing on topics that I could develop adequately in the 500–750 word range. I still consider that to be the sweet spot for me in blogging. As a result, my total word count was down almost 5,000 words from April, but my average post length was 573 words, which is in the range (albeit at the lower end) that I was aiming for.

Sometimes life interferes with writing a blog post every day. Last month I learned to keep a couple of short post ideas in the hopper to be completed on days when time is short. This means having research done and photos planned and uploaded ahead of time..

I’ve been getting better at incorporating some personal element into posts, usually how I came upon this topic or why it interests me. But I’m still short on storytelling, or building a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s something I’ll have to continue to work on.

May’s Research on Blogging

Want to Make Blog Posts More Engaging? Apply These 15 Tricks

Working from the premise that online readers scan content rather than carefully reading it, Pam Neely offers:

two primary approaches to improving reader engagement. The first is to make your content scannable. Ie, to work with readers’ existing online reading habits. Second, create content so good that at least some users will actually slow down and take the time to read it word for word.

Approach #1: Make your content scannable

  1. Use the inverted pyramid structure.
  2. Use short paragraphs.
  3. Use subheaders.
  4. Highlight keywords.
  5. Use scannable lists.
  6. Add images or video.
  7. Use short copy elements like photo captions, call outs, and tweetables.
  8. Write simply and clearly.

Approach #2: Create content so good that readers will slow down and engage with it

  1. Write a killer headline that draws people in from the start.
  2. Write for a specific audience.
  3. Show a contrary point of view.
  4. Show an unusual point of view: “Try borrowing ideas, frameworks or approaches from other industries.”
  5. Offer new information
  6. Use quizzes, polls, or other interactive tools.
  7. Ask for comments.

Neely’s first set of suggestions is straightforward. In addition to just plain writing well (suggestions 1 and 8), using structural elements such as subheads and lists is easy with WordPress. I even installed a plugin on my two self-hosted blogs that allows me to highlight tweetable content, and I’ll experiment with that next month.

But where I most need to concentrate is on her second area, creating content that readers will slow down and actually read. By the end of each month I usually have a bunch of open browser tabs featuring articles that I meant to engage with myself. Here, for example, are a couple that have been open for at least two weeks:

Both of these articles deal with topics with which I have personal experience and on which I have strong opinions, and I kept meaning to write a blog post about my reactions to each one. In the future I will undertake such posts when I come across the opportunity instead of waiting until some later time (that never seems to arrive).

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but notice that Neely posted this article on the Scoop.it blog on May 18, 2015, and as of May 30 there were no comments. Maybe other people were, like me, too busy thinking about their own content to engage with hers.

My Statistics for May

Number of posts written: 31

Shortest post: 250

Longest post: 1,300

Total words written: 17,775 (down about 5,000 from April)

Average post length: 573 (down about 150 from April)

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

Last month’s featured post:

What a Single Sea Gull Taught Me About Life

Blog a Day Challenge: March Report

Here are my statistics for March:

Number of posts written: 31

Shortest post: 220

Longest post: 2,150

Total words written: 23,345

Average post length: 753

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

Last month’s featured post:

On Rereading “Anne of Green Gables”

This post generated a lot (well, a lot for me) of “favorites” and retweets on Twitter. At first I thought that might have happened because the use of the Classics Club hashtag targeted the post to a specific audience. But I published another review with the same hashtag within just a few days of this one, and the second one did not receive the same reaction.

So I’m guessing that the personal orientation of this post caused the increased reaction. The other Classics Club post was a straight book review, but this one emphasized my personal reaction to how reading the book now, as an older adult, affected me differently than had reading it as a child.

What I Learned in March

In February I focused on post length. In March I decided not to worry about length. Instead, I concentrated on writing however many words were necessary to cover each post’s topic. Here are the results of that change of focus:

  • My total words written increased by 2,890.
  • My average post length increased by 93.
  • My number of posts of 1,000 or more words increased from 6 to 9.

The lesson I take from these statistics is that I should worry about each individual post and let the word count fall wherever it may.

The second lesson, which I take from the relative popularity of the post about rereading Anne of Green Gables, is that I should strive to incorporate more personal storytelling into my writing. I knew that, of course, at least in theory. That is why I chose story as my word for this year. But the interest in this post reinforced the lesson for me.

I continue to read more blog posts than I did before starting this blog post a day challenge. From now on I’ll make a more conscious effort to look at which ones most engage me and to learn how and why they do.

Blog a Day Challenge: February Report

January was all about convincing myself that I could indeed find something to write about and produce a blog post every day.

In February I turned my gaze outward and looked at other blogs and bloggers instead of just my blog/myself as blogger. I found a number of blogs that I learned a lot from. I also began reading more articles online about how and why to blog.

Here are my stats for February:

Number of posts written: 31

Shortest post: 215

Longest post: 1,880

Total words written: 20, 455

Average post length: 660

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

What I Learned in February

  • Despite February’s being three days shorter than January, I wrote the same number of posts, 31, this month as last. However, my total word count in February was 1,340 more than in January. My average post length went up, from 617 in January to 660 in February. And my longest post in February was 520 words longer than its counterpart in January.
  • One thing I was surprised to learn in my reading about blogging is that some people advocate writing posts longer than the 500–750 words I had long ago read was the optimal post length. So instead of trying to limit myself to 500–750 words, I tried to write longer rather than shorter in February. In January I wrote only four posts of 1,000 words or longer, whereas in February I wrote six posts of 1,000 words or more. But I’m still not convinced that more than 1,000 words is an optimal post length. I’m more comfortable with posts of about 800 words. Although there will inevitably be shorter posts, I’m going to work on writing more posts of about 800 words from now on. And I’m going to think of posts of more than 1,000 words as occasional occurrences, when the subject warrants, rather than as ideals to aim for.

Last month’s featured posts:

1. An Ode to My Bracelet, in Memory of Frayne

Over the last two weeks of February I participated in the WordPress Writing 201: Poetry course. I learned a heck of a lot, even though grinding out a poem that fulfilled three specified criteria didn’t always produce top-quality results. But I’m happy enough with this one to share it.

2. What Your Favorite Books Tell You About Your Writing

Most writers are also avid readers, because the only way to learn about good writing is to read a lot of writing by others. This exercise helps writers to discover what their own areas of passion are by analyzing the books that appeal to them the most. I found it an invaluable discovery.

What advice do you have for me about blogging? I’d especially like to hear your thoughts on the best length for a post.