Why I miss old-school blogging

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I remember way back in 2010 (I know, so long ago) when I found the world of blogging. I was working as a golf professional at the time in Reno, NV absolutely hating my career. After some time on the clock searching for other career paths, I found a blog written by a bespectacled bald gentleman named Seth Godin whose written voice immediately captured my attention.

His posts were short and his headlines were — well, short. They were more like asides or post-it-sized notes than they were editorials.

Each one spoke to me...

Drip by drip, one day at a time, Seth convinced me that I could open up this thing called the internet and write directly to whoever might be paying attention at the time — someone who was into the same weird things as I was.

I fell in love with the art form (yes, I said it) of blogging…

Here are some headlines from the blogs I was following back in the day…

From Julien Smith’s blog, InOverYourHead.net — and this was a really popular blog at the time:

  • The Myth / The Reality
  • Tent
  • Guts

From Seth’s Blog — yes, one of the most popular blogs in history:

  • Form and function
  • Skinnier
  • First, make rice

Fast-forward eight or nine years and the blogging world has changed. A lot. Most popular blogs boast headlines (names not shared to protect the innocent) such as:

  • 7 Ways To Be Happy Right Now
  • 32 Things That’ll Make You Say, “Well, There Goes All My Money”
  • I Was Labeled The High School ‘Slut.’ It Affected My Whole Life

Even personal blogs carry headlines like…

  • 10 Ridiculously Simple Steps for Writing a Book
  • What to Do When You Feel Like a Fake (and Why a Shadow Career is Necessary)
  • HOW TO MAKE 1 MILLION DOLLARS ONLINE (EVEN IF YOU’RE BROKE).

Sure, the old-school blogs I harken back to have hosted clickbait-ish headlines, OCCASIONALLY. But nothing like what the tabloid-laden blog world looks like today.

So what gives? Why the drastic change in tone?

I say it’s because we’re human. We humans want more. We want bigger. More mass appeal. More eyeballs on our stuff.

So we write for new eyes instead of for the eyes that are already paying attention. We write for Google bots instead of human hearts.

I’ve been guilty of this, to some degree. I’ve always tried REALLY hard not to use clickbait headlines. I’ve always tried to keep my voice towards those in my small circle at the time I hit publish.

But there’s no denying that I’ve hosted my writing on a platform that’s meant for broadcasting to new people. And it’s been great. I really owe a lot of the fact that I’m still writing to you today to Medium.

I’m at a place where I want some more of that old-school blogging magic back.

I just want to open up the internet and write a small, personal, heartfelt note to you, dear reader, without worrying about the page views or trending topics.

This is the art of blogging. Not the modern tabloidish kind of blogging, but the kind that the magic of the internet has afforded us. The kind of blogging that’s intended to be small and personal, not epic and bombastic. The kind that whispers to the insiders, not the kind that shouts from the rooftops.

Yes, there’s a time and a place for broadcasting. New eyes are important. Absolutely.

But as messengers, we can’t abandon the eyes we have before us at the moment (yes, I’m talking about the folks on your email list). And we — the ones who are currently enrolled — we already like you. We don’t need you to yell at us, shock us, or try to impress us anymore.

Just talk to us.

I want blogging to be weird again. I want to keep things brief and casual. I want to use insider baseball.

Just some things I’m considering these days.

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Your greatest hits will never get old

“person playing piano” by Gregory Hayes on Unsplash

Billy Joel was playing at Wrigley Field the other night. I could hear him outside my window.

Piano Man. Uptown girl. She’s Always a Woman. All the hits.

And he was rocking out — he wasn’t phoning it in. Which made me think…

Billy Joel has been singing the same songs for almost 50 years ( the album, Piano Man was released in 1973). How many shows has he played between then and now?

And not just big shows — how many weddings has he played for celebrities and royalty every year? How many nieces and nephews have had ‘uncle Billy’ play at their birthday parties?

This goes for all the pop artists from the 60’s and 70’s. They get up on stage time after time, decade after decade, and play the same handful of songs over and over again.

The audience could care less about the new stuff. Those songs are just distractions. In fact, the audience gets a little annoyed when they hear a song they haven’t heard before. They paid for the hits and they want to hear them, damn it.

And so Billy Joel has to play Piano Man at Wrigley Field in the summer of 2018 just as enthusiastically as he did in the winter of ‘73.

What does this mean to people like me who create content for others? A couple things…

Listen to your audience to find your groove

As someone who creates content publicly (though to a muuuuuuch smaller audience than Joel), it was testament to this fact…

If you strike a chord with your audience, they’ll never get sick of you saying the same thing over and over again.

For example, Seth Godin has been saying the same thing over and over again for decades as well. It goes like this (it was the tagline on his site until recently), ‘Go. Start something.’ That’s it. On repeat. Keynote after keynote; bestseller after bestseller; blog after daily blog — for decades.

Maybe you’ve taken the time and emotional effort to build a body of work, either via your YouTube channel, blog, books, podcasts, or what have you.

And maybe something took off. You had no idea. This thing you lobbed out there went absolutely bonkers. This is insane — you’ve gone viral (or at least micro-viral).

One of the first pitfalls that can come up is the thought that you have to switch it up. It’s easy to fear that people always want new stuff from you. That they’ll think you’re unoriginal for beating that same drum again.

But you have to flip that notion on its head.

Your hit sets the groundwork for a deeper groove to be laid in the minds and hearts of your audience.

This is just the start. People obviously want more. Which can lead us to a certain kind of existential pitfall…

“This is great, but who I am is so much more than that”

I know what you’re thinking because I’ve been there. Your hit is kinda surface-level stuff in your mind, right?

You’re telling yourself that you’re way deeper and more complex than those Top-40-esque hits of yours (as much as you love them). And maybe you are.

I mean, my #1 hit is a post I wrote almost three years ago after one year of daily blogging…

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“But I’m not one of these people who just blog about blogging,” I told myself. “My passion is writing about faith and spirituality, not just blogging for bloggers!”

That’s when my adult self stepped in…

“Stop it, Jonas. You are a blogger and people like that about you. Yes, you’re more than that, but own it!”

(Okay, enough self-dialogue. I had to get that out.)

We can’t discount the responses of our audience. If you’re doing your art for a living — or at least, you’d like to — your main job is to serve them, not to navel-gaze.

I’m sure James Taylor knows his creative depths go far deeper than Fire and Rain, but that doesn’t stop him from giving his audience what they want (48 years later!).

Sure, you have absolute creative license to reinvent yourself. I’ve done it a couple times. And each time, it hurt like hell. I remember wishing I was more like Billy Joel (in hindsight) and could suck it up and play an awesome Uptown Girl for the 9,000th time.

Because, here’s the thing…

Your audience has zero responsibility to continue liking you.

It’s harsh, but it’s true. As an audience member of yours, all it takes is one click to unsubscribe from your world forever.

Listen, you’re an artist. Sometimes, you have to make bold moves. I applaud you for it. Just understand the reality of the possible repercussions and proceed accordingly. If the bottom falls out and everyone leaves, go ahead and be pissed, but you have to enjoy rebuilding from the rubble. And your second structure might appeal to an entirely different subset of people than your first one.

Here’s one way to introduce your newer, more heartfelt stuff to your audience…

Sneak your new stuff in, drip by drip

What smart artists who have hits seem to do is this… They keep feeding their audience their hits (ex: their new song sounds a lot like their old songs with different words) and they sneak their new stuff into the background.

They’ve given their audience what they want. They’ve made them feel justified for showing up. And now, here’s a new thing I’ve been working really hard on that I think you’ll really like.

Test the waters and see if your audience bites — even a little bit. If so, put more and more in until a larger portion of your work resembles your more heartfelt ‘interesting’ stuff.

Take John Mayer for example. I like John Mayer. His songs are like bubble gum: tasty for a few minutes and then they lose their flavor and you move on with your day. No biggie.

But then he came out with his Paradise Valley album. I was blown away. It wasn’t quite a 180 — maybe a 90 or a 60 — but he was speaking my language. Others, I’m sure, hated it. But that was a risk Mayer took. If it was worth it to him, he could have kept going on that trajectory full-bore thus alienating his old fans while gathering a new audience of acoustic bluegrassy geeks like me.

This isn’t the first time he’s jumped into other lanes. He did it with his Where The Light Is: Live in Los Angeles album which appealed more to blues fans than his typical contemporary crowd.

However, John Mayer keeps playing Your Body is a Wonderland just as he has for 20 years (damn, I’m old — I bought his first hit CD when it came out).

In closing, notice your hits. Embrace them. Learn from them. And know you will resent them (but they truly are blessings if handled the right way).

Move forward accordingly.

Empty platitudes

I was struck today by a deep insight that I love what I do for a living at the moment. Here’s what lead to that epiphany…

I was scrolling around on Instagram (like ya do) and stumbled into the spirituality section where I found someone who’s images looked interesting enough, headed over to their profile page, thumbed through some of their posts, and here’s what I saw…

Quote-image after quote-image of statements like (and I quote, directly)…

Don’t listen to what other people think.

Be kind.

Do what you love.

Dreams come true.

Have a brave spirit.

Damn it… I’m so. 
Bored. 
Already.

Not that this stuff is bad or harmful or anything of the sort. I’m sure he’s a good guy who’s trying to spread a positive message(?).

It’s just that I so often see the same recycled drivel in the spirituality space that has about as much depth and complexity as a potsticker (with no soy sauce).

Then I start wondering if I’m doing the same thing. Am I caught up in this death loop of empty platitudes and feel-good fluffery that one can easily find themselves in when they have their heads so high in the clouds that they lose consciousness from extreme spiritual boredom?

See, this publication is my space (no, not MySpace — I wish it were that much fun) to explore spirituality and the deeper matters of my life. I give myself the freedom to do that here.

But it’s times like these where I’m SO happy that I have a line of work where I can sit down and work with people who are creating real businesses and projects in the physical world (just so happens that, because I write often about spirituality and such, I attract clients who are more aligned with my values). Where I can obsess over their stuff rather than my own inner wonderings and ponderings for awhile.

It keeps me grounded.

We must stay grounded. And if we find ourselves bored with our writing, we must mix it up and step out of context.

Good writing comes from friction in daily life. In trying new things. In getting out of our own heads so we can take a breath.

It’s something I have to remind myself of often.

Now… Go live your dreams.

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Multipotentialite Showcase: Jacob Witzling

I wrote the other day about my new realization that I am, in fact, a multipotentialite (someone with a lot of different interests and the inability to specialize no matter how hard I try). And I got a lot of emails from folks who resonated.

So I’m kinda geeked out over this discovery right now. This means that, whenever I see someone in my boat, I get a little giddy (because solidarity, right?).

Well, I want to take a sec to honor another multipotentialite because he did something particularly bold as far as online-persona-type-stuff goes.

Let me say now that most of my Insta feed consists of #cabinporn. I love cabin porn so much. I’m a fiend.

That’s when I ran across one of Jacob’s photos. I clicked through to see the rest of his work and noticed that he had quite a following (107k followers, currently). Although his page is chock full of some of the best cabin porn I’ve ever seen, that’s not what really stood out.

What stood out was how he worded his profile…

Yep:

‘Cabin builder and 2nd-grade teacher.’

The first part of it — the cabin builder part — is obvious. But he totally flaunts the fact that he has a day job doing something totally unrelated to cabin building.

This flies in the face of traditional internet marketing/brand-building wisdom and I love it. I don’t know about you, but I was taught that, in order to grow a following, you had to dig into a certain niche in order to be an ‘authority’ in that particular area. This also means, no going outside that boundary.

But he’s like — yeah, I love building awesome cabins plus my day job is pretty great too. He could have left the teacher part out and gone all-in on the cabin builder side. No one would have blamed him (most wouldn’t have known the wiser). They would have seen his Instagram page and asked themselves, wow, how do I do what he does and make a full-time living as a cabin pornographer?

And they would have been fooled. Because Jacob has a job that (maybe?) supports his passion. He fully owned and flaunted his multipotentiality.

And that, I think, is commendable.

Rock on, Jacob. Rock on, multipotentialites. Own your random lives, flaunt that day job, and thrive as only you can.

P.S. If any great photographers/sponsors are reading this, I’d love for you to partner with/hire me to help with your cabin pornography efforts. Not to take the photos (although I do take pretty mean iPhone shots), but I could write really sexy stories and descriptions of cabins that other cabin porn addicts might get all aroused by. Just putting that out there.

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Writers: Don’t stop telling stories

Image: Nick Jio

Maybe you’ve noticed, my last couple posts were more stories than practical advice.

There were a couple reasons for my madness…

For one, it was a yearning to get back to my roots. First and foremost, I’m a writer. I know I happen to write a lot about things of the spiritual/mindful nature. I love my subject matter.

But sometimes, I just want to tell a damn story.

Diving into the beauty and hilarity of the mundane is one of my favorite things to do in this art.

Now, I knew what I was getting into when I did it. Which brings us to the second reason I went with stories — it was a little bit of an experiment (because experiments are awesome).

Sure enough, my theory held true.

I got emails regarding the stories that went something along the lines of, how does this help me? What does this have to do with anything?

Also, my digital high-fives weren’t as many as they usually are. Not as many people read them or recommended them.

Now, if I didn’t know any better, and I wasn’t looking at this as a scientist — I’d get frustrated at the nature of humanity and the internet.

It’d give the following rant:

How did we get so practical as a species? When did we replace fables and tall tales with cut-and-dry practical advice? When did we lose our creative muscle to draw our own conclusions from someone else’s story and, instead, began requiring the 7-step ‘useful’ takeaway for personal enrichment?

And herein lies the point of this post…

As writers, we have to accept something that may be hard to swallow: Stories aren’t the most share-worthy thing online these days.

Now, maybe it’s just because my little whimsical stories weren’t that great. That’s very possible. And they were a little ‘off-brand’ from my usual punchy daily tips. So it probably caught some people off-guard.

But this is a thing. Like, a well-known thing I’ve heard from other writers who write INCREDIBLE stories. This is why we don’t see a heck of a lot of stories on social media (yep, Medium is considered social media).

I wish this wasn’t true. I wish we, as a society, wouldn’t totally drop the imagination for ‘guaranteed’ takeaways. I’d hope we we’d leave some room for wonder and laughter and taking note of the small things in life that bring us joy without us having to ‘JFDI’, ‘hack’, ‘level-up’, ‘hustle’ or whatever hashtag-ridden buzzwords the go-getter achiever-driven society we now live in can shove down our Instagram feeds.

But I still don’t think you should stop.

I think you should keep telling stories, if even sometimes. Dare to go off-brand, no matter what the content marketers and growth hackers say.

Any writers who are still with me, here’s some practical advice to you (I know, I’m totally being a hypocrite here, but it’s for a good cause)…

Write what you’d love to come upon
Anne Lamott

You’re a writer. You are remarkable at describing things. You’re a storyteller. This is your jam.

There’s a TON of pressure right now for you to amass huge numbers of likes, shares, followers, and social proof. It’s intoxicating.

A certain type of post, once you learn what triggers this kind of social response, will do just that. Every time. In today’s world, this kind of post has to do with quick, easy steps to achieve X thing (dropping an f-bomb or four usually helps too). Do this every day with a certain kind of headline, you too can have a big following that you can brag to your dad about.

I’ve toed this line. I really do try to help people through my words (it’s actually advice to myself disguised as advice to others — I digress, that’s for another post).

But I hardly ever use clickbait. My headlines are simple. No gimmicks. I hardly use bullets or numbered lists. Even the practical advice I give, I try to keep it light. Story-based. As if you and I were talking over a beer. Or three.

Having an audience is a valid desire. We’re writers. In order for our art to be worthwhile, it helps to not be speaking into a black hole. And when we get a taste of social approval in-scale, we want to keep on doing what ‘worked’ time and time again until EVERYONE likes us.

But I strongly warn against it. Forcing yourself to write a viral-type post every time usually carries a couple ramifications…

One, it will burn you out. You’ll become monotonous and your inner-spirit will have been apprehended by numbers of the masses. Don’t let this happen.

Two, you’ll lose your muchness as a writer. Even if you’re not a huge fiction person (you and me both), stories are likely what drive you. You know it’s true.

Now, that said, if advice is your thing, don’t stop that. We all love it. (As a matter of fact, my favorite books are books about writing from my favorite authors).

But never stop writing stories. Share stories. Tell us a tale. Switch it up. This is the complexity of a writer.

Even if you don’t get as many digital gold stars with these, keep writing them. Your real fans will love them and they’ll give you tremendous depth. Your storytelling abilities will keep you ahead of the game in today’s Hegelian world.

I’m waiting…


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The business of being human

Image: Annie Spratt

Gary Vaynerchuk has lately been going off about the topic — ‘Document, don’t create.’ Essentially, what he’s pointing to is the value in showing your process — with all the ups and downs — along the way rather than just shelling out advice and expertise.

It would be really cool to have content right now about when Vera Wang started learning — like, literally learning — how to create a dress.
Gary Vaynerchuk

As much as I love this concept, hearing it made my palms sweat.

Don’t we need to establish authority from the starting line? Who’s going to hire me if they see that I’m just ‘learning’ something? Would I buy Vera Wang dresses if I knew she was just a… Beginner?

The advice I received long ago was to only share your flaws after the fact. Like, after you’ve succeeded. Then, and only then, can you touch on your failures.

I think it’s much smarter for you to talk to the world about your process of going through this than the advice you think you should be giving them.
Gary Vaynerchuk

After sitting with it for awhile, my fears subsided. My ego calmed down, and — as is usual with the mind — clearer thoughts started showing up. I actually got a boost from this message.

It made me think back to when I started Higher Thoughts and blogging daily. I had zero clue what my end goal was. I just wanted to share a higher thought from my human experience every single day. That was it. That’s what drove me.

The content just so happened to end up being generally about creativity, mindfulness, and living better.

But then the ego swoops in…

You gotta find your niche. Stay on-topic and (again) ‘build authority’.

Well, here’s the thing about ‘building authority’...

When everyone’s a self-proclaimed ‘authority’, no one is.

I know… Establishing expertise seems like the best business decision around. But I believe, at this point in time, the real business is the business of being human.

Gary Vee’s thoughts have sparked my insatiable urge to reconvene with and share my day-to-day truth, which was the fuel to this daily collection of thoughts to begin with.

I’d say this is universal among humans. We want to get the truth out. The ugly, dirty, and beautiful of it.

So here it is. My documentation, if you will.

In actuality, I don’t know who/what I am, exactly. I wouldn’t call myself an ‘authority’. I’m just a guy who loves to write and share. I’ve fought my share of dragons and have had some of the most incredible insights along the way and it’s really cool when my little essays end up helping others in their human experience and creative journeys.

I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing professionally a month from now, a year, or a decade. But there’s one thing I know I’ll always be for the duration, and that is… a human. And as long as I’m a human, I’ll continue documenting my work, sharing my process, and asking myself the timeless question that Montaigne asked throughout his life:

“How to live?”

(Yes, this particularly snooty ending was intentional #highbrow #ftw)


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The power of talking about the same thing every day

Image: Cameron Kirby

A lot of people ask how I come up with things to write about and share every day.

If you haven’t done it, and you sit down to think about doing it, this can seem like a daunting task.

How do I write about something every day without repeating myself?

Here’s how I do it…

I repeat myself. Every. Day.

Okay, not literally. I don’t just copy/paste from the day before. But my core message is pretty much the same over time. It says something like this:

Your experience is created from thought, not circumstance — so you might as well live accordingly.

One of my mentors, Seth Godin, has been blogging daily for almost a decade. The tagline on his website gives you the subject matter that he’s been repeating in daily blog posts, keynote speeches, and bestselling books for years now:

Go. Make something happen.

Four words. That’s the essence of what he writes about every single day in thousands of different variations. (The shorter, the better, mine’s too long — I’m working on it).

This is the power of establishing a core message. Take a stand on something. Commit to it.

There’s so much power in this.

Not to say you can never change, evolve, and grow. There’s a virtue in being aware of when it’s just not working. But the biggest problem people make is never having a core message in the first place.

If you can find a simple, powerful statement that acts as a tuning fork for your soul, you’ll have a lifetime of content to share in regards to it.


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What I love about pocket content

Image: Etienne Desclides

Although I am, at heart, a ‘content’ guy (I mean, I write a daily blog for heavens to Betsy), I’m really liking less and less — okay, fine, I CAN’T STAND— content that’s too polished.

I used to, in a way, look up to these extremely polished, airbrushed, edited websites, videos, and big personal/professional brands. But it made me feel like there was no way I’d be able to establish myself or build an audience online.

No disrespect. Not blaming them. It was all me. But as impressive as it was, it was also frustrating and discouraging.

So, in my frustration — having nothing to lose — I threw my cynicism to the wind and just started creating the best I knew how. That’s what I’ve been doing since that day. Doing it daily, has made my process unapologetically unpolished.

These daily blog posts only take me about 25 minutes to write. I do a quick once-over for editing (yes, I’m leaving in my ‘heavens to Betsy’ remark above). And I publish them.

Same thing in my weekly videos. I have no fancy, musical, flashy intro section or ‘branding’. My ‘branding’ is my awkward self in front of a camera stuttering through an unprepared answer to a question from a reader. These take me about 10 minutes to shoot and another 25 or so to upload, lightly trim, and publish.

And lately, I’m really enjoying Instagram Stories and Snapchat(follow me on Instagram here). I love that they’re on-the-fly and you can’t really make them too fancy. I’m starting to see the humanity in these big personal brands I’ve been following for years. I see the boogers in their noses, hear their heavy breathing, and feel their nervousness.

Here’s the deal… I’m no good! Really. (At least I don’t think so.) I’m driven by passion for my message and don’t really care about how they ‘look’.

Although I have no mega-brand, I’ve built a substantial audience of dedicated, engaged humans doing what I LOVE to do… Building people up through simple, raw messaging. And in looking around at those I look up to, I’m LOVING the fact that they’re totally winning doing the same thing — unpolished (or minimally polished) content.

I call it ‘pocket content’. You know… Stuff you can make on your phone while you’re parked waiting for your Sonic burger to be skated out to you.

Your personal brand is you — not your makeup.

Yes, as usual, there’s an internal message here (you knew it was coming).

Create from the heart and the hip. Not the ego.

Misuse and overuse of thinking is the devil when it comes to creativity.

Spending all your time on HOW YOU LOOK only makes this thought-abuse worse. You focus entirely on your image as opposed to getting your sh*t out there.

Don’t worry about the way it looks. Focus on where in you it’s coming from.

I don’t give a sh*t if my video is a little blurry (maybe because of that grease from the Sonic burger that I got on the lens) or if I misspell a cuple werds (ok, but not too much — this can destroy your credibility, there is a line).

Creating from thought in the moment is the key to content that connects.

Too much thinking (editing, polishing, etc.) on my end might connect with your head, but not your heart. I want in your heart.

Sure,make stuff that looks good. But if all you have is a good-looking piece of content, it’s going to fall flat.

Heart first. Polish second (and don’t obsess over this).

Give it to me from the hip. Show me your flaws while you show me your magic. The real ones, not the ones you edit in ❤️


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