April 3, 2011

I Am Still Confused

I have been blogging for almost 10 months. In that time I have written over 83,000 words, around 145 posts, put together an e-book, guest posted on other blogs, and been interviewed and quoted in various publications. While there are a whole bunch of people who have been doing this much longer than me, you might conclude I am holding my own so far.

I would respond that I still have no firm idea what works and what doesn't. I start each week with no real clue how to craft a few posts that a reader will care enough about to react to or leave a comment. I have written something I could have sworn would generate lots of feedback and strong readership, only to see it bomb. Other times I have slapped something together and been knocked out of my chair by the instant reaction.

Even though finances and financial planning are very important to a satisfying retirement lifestyle, on this blog those topics seem to generate very little interest. There are hundreds of retirement blogs that focus exclusively on financial advice and planning so I have generally steered clear. But, I would have thought an occasional look at a financial subject would make this blog more well-rounded. Readership numbers say, not so much. There is one exception: articles about saving money or cutting out unnecessary expenses do seem to hit a positive chord. But, mention a 401k or long-term investment strategies and I lay a big egg.

There are thousands of excellent places on the Internet that specialize in simple living and downsizing. Yet, the posts I have written about those subjects tend to have a very strong, positive effect on readership. Again, I would never have guessed.

Posts about relationships also seem to be a powerful draw. Posts about losing a close friendship or smoothing over problems with adult children have generated lots of comments. Asking others for help or strengthening a marriage after retirement work well, too.

What does seem to work the best, regardless of the subject, is when I expose something personal about my retirement journey. I have had successes and I have had some colossal failures. It doesn't seem to matter-either one will get a response if I personalize the story.

Honestly, this is not the approach I envisioned when I began last June. I really thought this would be a blog with practical advice about retirement. I would cover the major areas that someone thinks about and provide resources and tips. Personal opinions and my own story would take second place to simply being a non-financially oriented resource. That has not happened. This blog has become much closer to a diary of my experiences, my thoughts, and my advice after a decade of retirement.

So, back to my original point: I struggle each time I sit in front of the keyboard trying to decide what to cover, and how much of me the reader really wants me to reveal.

A saner person might find another way to occupy his time. After all, blogging is time consuming and costs some money. There are literally millions of blogs vying for attention.  Some of the best bloggers have very few readers while many that post stale "eat your vegetables" advice are prospering.

My point in sharing this internal struggle with you is to let you in on a little secret: Each post on this blog will be an adventure for us all. I don't know for sure what to write about but I keep writing. You could help by letting me know, in a gentle way if possible, when a subject is on target and when I've missed by a mile.

In the meantime I'll keep writing and blogging, until something better comes along.


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42 comments:

  1. I'm still confused, too, about so many aspects of blogging. However, like you, I have found that people like to hear something of my personal story. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It seems to me that other people know exactly what they are doing, when in fact many of us are just muddling along, doing the best we can.

    Having said that, it seems to me that you are muddling better than many!

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  2. I know what you mean, I've been blogging on & off since 2007 and my popular post of all time is about how to use stale bread! :)

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  3. Hi Bob,

    You don't have to find something better, you have all ready found it. You do a great job!

    I'd like to know more about how you aquired a talent for writing. Through education, work, or just born with it.

    Why did you pick Blogspot for your blog over wordpress or another platform?

    All I can say is just keep on truckin' through the blogosphere.

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  4. The only writers I read with regularity are writers from the heart. Relationships mean more to you than money and you write that way. One blog that I used to follow has moved to "simply money" and I am dropping it this week. I might as well read my local paper (which I am considering dropping).
    You are an excellent writer. Keep up the good work.

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  5. I agree with Janette. I enjoy reading blogs that are personal. Not too happy, not too sad. Just real. I have dropped some of the blogs that are too incessantly happy all the time. Too much for me. Life isn't that way. Especially older life. I enjoy your blog, even though I only recently found it.

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  6. To the 4 nice people above I woke up to find had left comments your support is unbelievably helpful and appreciated.

    @Galen,

    Your blog is quite personal which is one of the reasons I enjoy reading it. But, I'm glad to learn you are unsure at times, also.

    @Louise,

    Stale bread? really? That is my experience, too. As a blogger you just never know what is going to resonate.

    @Bob,

    I took an advanced creative writing class in high school that, I guess, pushed me to continue. I have always kept various kinds of journals on various subjects as a writing outlet; blogging is the same thing without the paper!

    I am on Blogger because when I started that was the only one I was aware of at the time. Frankly, I wasn't sure if I would get the spark to continue so the platform choice didn't really matter. I gather most "serious" bloggers use Word Press, though I'm not sure why...more control over layout? I do own the domain name for Satisfying Retirement so I am likely to at least lose the blogspot part of the address soon.

    @Janette,

    Yes, relationships are at the core of what makes me happy, in addition to my faith. I have found an outlet for the more financially-oriented info: I post it on the Satisfying Retirement Facebook page. That keeps it away from this blog but still makes it available for those who might be interested.

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  7. Morning Roberta,

    Thanks for the observation about excessive happiness being a turn-off. While I would classify myself as an optimist, I am also a realist who tries to present a balanced view of something.

    Besides the obvious pleasure at picking up a new reader, I am glad you have started visiting here for an additional reason: your profile shows a very long list of blogs you follow, most of which are new to me. So, now I have a whole bunch of new places to visit and blogs to help inspire me! Oh, and thanks so much for including me on that list!

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  8. I struggle with what to write about also. Unfortunately my blog is a 'business' with a partner and I'm restricted in what I can write. I've noticed we generate a lot of traffic, but they don't stay. I appreciate your words and will enjoy the prospect of seeing how the journer continues to unfold.

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  9. Hi Cathy,

    I would imagine that, as a business, the "rules" are a bit more stringent. Your goal is to attract and hold regular readers so what topics you cover and how you cover them are of vital importance.

    Your comment does give me an opening to say one of the things I am wondering about is running ads. I have avoided any commercial content to this point for two reasons: I didn't have enough traffic for it to make any economic sense, and too often I see blogs that are so loaded down with stuff I don't come back. I don't want this blog to suffer the same fate.

    I am sure there is a happy medium. If I could just generate enough to cover monthly costs (primarily photos and soon a domain name) I'd be happy.

    We'll see. Thanks for being with me on this unsure journey.

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  10. (via e-mail & edited for privacy)

    I came across your blog a couple of months ago and have read most of your archive and your book. I have enjoyed most of it and think a good share of it is outstanding!

    I have found no other retirement related blog that even comes close in terms of what interests me and the quality of the writing. The personal posts were often among the best.

    I retired three months ago as a CPA/financial adviser after about seven years of cutting back. I found it interesting that we are almost exactly the same age.

    I am currently one of three selectmen managing the affairs of our small town. It is basically a volunteer job with mental rewards that after a year and a half still outweigh the many challenges and occasional frustrations of the position.

    I encourage you to continue blogging whenever and in whatever direction the spirit moves you!

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  11. Hello Tom,

    Your comments are really appreciated. Asserting that I am hitting the target you are looking for is gratifying.

    I'll keeping plugging away. I ask one favor: if I ever start to veer off course, drop me an e-mail and remind me why you visit!

    Have a great day and thanks again.

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  12. I'm pretty new at reading and following blogs, but I suspect that it's still a fairly new venue. While I don't have a public record of which bloggers I regularly follow, I do have my own unofficial favorites list (about 6 or so) that I check often - almost daily (and, yes, yours is one of them).

    I think I'll do a search on blog readers' habit (there's lots on how to be a blogger, it seems). So your reflectiveness here opens up an interesting discussion. I've seen blogs that do stats (really very uninteresting to me), but a discussion of non-blogging blog-readers intrigues me.

    And the idea of blogging for dollars intrigues me too, though I feel no urge to put myself into that e-cauldron. Whatever floats your boat...

    Much luck to you.

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  13. Good Afternoon Steve,

    I'd be very interested in what you find out about blog readers and what they are looking for. If you find something you deem worth sharing, please do.

    Except for the running total of page views on the lower left hand side of the blog homepage. I avoid trotting out readership stats. It seems rather self-serving to me. You don't read something because it is popular. You read something because it fills a need. If you fill enough needs of enough people a blog becomes well-read. Long term I don't think it works the other way around.

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  14. Remember what I said about "Every Day is a Mountain".? It goes for writing too. Every trip is different, and you never know which trip will be "epic" and which will be peaceful, and which will just be a connecting walk to the next adventure. The saying goes "If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you,re lucky enough".

    So...keep climbing! The view over the next ridge may be the one that brings you to your knees (in a grateful way).

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  15. Hi Keith,

    Very well said. I want to be sure one of those trips doesn't lead me to the edge of a cliff with no way down, except very fast and very painful!

    Your analogy is great. Thanks.

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  16. You go by the number of comments per posts. The posts that get the most comments are what your readers are interested in. Period. If your goal is to get more readers, then you write what they want to read. If your goal is to just write and voice your opinion, then you just write whatever you want.
    Personally, I like short and sweet posts. Lengthy, pithy posts just make my eyes gloss over.

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  17. Hi Morrison,

    The national figures are that only 1% of your readers are ever active enough to leave a comment. Even so, if I post something that doesn't generate much in the comment column, I am disappointed. Human nature, I guess.

    Length is an interesting point. If I go to someone's blog and I find posts that are only 200-250 words or so I generally don't go back. It just seems too brief to have much substance.

    On the flip side, some posts that run closer to 900 words do cause my attention to wander. I'll mark it to come back to later, but often don't.

    I realize that basing a decision on size of the post is probably counter-productive, but there it is.

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  18. Bob,
    I've been blogging for over two years and I confess to total ignorance about what I'm doing and what attracts and keeps readers. I think you nailed it with the personal statements. I know I don't want to hear preaching and advice. I do respond to inspiration. I think we all appear to be normal, undifferentiated and uninteresting people on the surface. (Why we do this I don't know). Underneath, there is so much going on that most people won't share and it is the thing we all need to know about them. When you reveal the depth beneath the bland exterior is opens us all up- at least it does me to finding more adventure inside me. Don't worry, just keep doing what you are doing.

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  19. Good afternoon Ralph,

    Avoiding anything that smacks of preaching is always a fine line for me. When my life experience or plain common sense points toward the solution to a problem I have be careful to temper my opinions a bit. It seems best to explain why something does or does not work for me and let others draw their own conclusions.

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  20. Hi Bob, glad for your visit to my blog, via Roberta. I agree with your assessment of blogging themes on this post, though, it may change day by day.

    I have a blog that is over three years old, and is still my main one:
    http://sixtyfivewhatnow.blogspot.com

    In a couple of years, as more people retire, there will be more of us writing about this time of our lives.
    Glad to meet you, btw.

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  21. Bob -- I stumbled onto your blog a while back (sorry, I don't remember how I linked to it) and have been checking in a couple times a week ever since. Also asked for a download of your ebook and have enjoyed it very much. I am definitely part of the "401K talk makes my eyeballs glaze over" crowd; I have someone local I trust to talk to about that. It's the daily nitty-gritty that's helpful -- what worked, what didn't, what you are happy with, what you wish you'd done differently, that makes really compelling reading. Please hang in there; you're filling an important niche.

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  22. Hi Rosaria,

    Yes, I'm glad I followed a link from Roberta's site to yours. It is always like finding a hidden treasure!

    I'll go check out the other blog you referenced this evening. And, you are so right....the audience for retirement material is going to grow substantially over the next decade or so. The figure I have seen is between 8-10,000 Boomers retiring every single day. I'd be happy if 1% found their way here!

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  23. Good evening Pauline,

    How you got here is not nearly as important as the fact that you come back! Thanks so much and I'm glad you enjoyed the book. I'm planning on a 2nd edition with pictures, graphics, and updated info for later this year.

    Thanks for your suggestions on where I should focus my writing. The comments so far have made it quite clear that my original vision for this blog isn't what is wanted.

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  24. Bob,

    Yours is the only blog I read regularly. Here's what comes through your writing: authenticity, respect, open mindedness, integrity, and insights gained through knowledge and experience.

    Glad you are enjoying it. It shows.

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  25. Rick,

    Thank you. There is nothing else to add.

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  26. Hi Bob, I've noticed the same thing when we are writing. It seems like anything that provokes a reaction from a reader (positive or negative) through their own experiences will get a lot of comments and attention. Sharing a personal story that readers can relate to.

    On the other side, investing and retirement planning is a bit foreign to most people, and while they might happily read along and soak-up the information as presented, those topics don't seem to provoke that personal reaction from people. They are more informative articles, which are important too.

    The only investing topics that tend to bring out a reaction from people are those that discuss specific stocks or a peak at your portfolio, because I think people can identify with that personal side better than the general information side.

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  27. Hi Echo,

    I had thought I'd be a strictly informational blog. But, as you note, reactions come from personal experiences that others can relate to. Every post with very low comment totals has been strictly informational.

    Thanks, Echo. I appreciate your insight. Now, I'm off to visit your site.

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  28. Hi Bob, I'm not sure what your posting frequency is like but on our site my mom (Boomer) and I each post twice a week and find that one informative post and one personal story each is a nice balance for our blog.

    The stories keep the readers engaged, and the other posts satisfy the need to share our experience and advice when it comes to the more technical aspects of personal finance and investing.

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  29. Hey Echo,

    I started posting 3 times a week but found I was struggling with quality. Since I cut to twice a week I'm happier with my output and the blog traffic has increased.

    Your blend between informational and personal blogs sounds like a perfect solution to the question. Thanks for the extra info.

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  30. Hi Bob,

    One nice thing about blogging, as opposed to having a website with articles, is that you get to give your opinion and talk about your experiences and that's what keeps people coming back.

    Your blog is one of the few I read regularly and I feel I've gotten to know you through your posts.

    My background is in journalism so my blogs function more like websites and it's hard for me to get away from that.

    I think you do a great job in coming up with ideas!

    Joan

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  31. Good morning, Joan,

    Thanks so much, Joan. It is the idea generation that sometimes wakes me up at 3 AM. What if the well runs dry?

    So far it keeps flowing so I'll keep writing. Thanks for being here.

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  32. Just started following you from your guest post on Gutsy Writer. Also appreciated your comment on my post last week. I sense you pick content on your blog much as I do. As a release of thoughts about some subject with a curiosity as to how univwersal is the application. I started blogging because of a presentation made by Gutsy Writer at our Writer's Club. At the time I was working on a book and thought a blog would help push sales as an adjunct to my website: www.deefitzgerald.com . Am unsure if that is true, but I do believe regular blogging sharpens my writing skills.

    I intend to continue to follow your very entertaining blog.

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  33. Hi Dee,

    The Internet is great for allowing all sorts of connections and new relationships to form. I found you from Sonia's blog, too.

    I guess post ideas can come from lots of different sources: my life, something that happens during the day, something in the news. I simply have to stay open to inspiration.

    I certainly agree that the writing necessary for good content on a blog does improve one's ability to express a thought clearly.

    Thanks for the support.

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  34. Bob, sometimes I have trouble with ideas too but I keep a list so when I do have an idea, I write it down. Sometimes I even start an article and save it in drafts. That way, when I sit at the computer with no idea what to write about, I can always go to some idea I've saved.

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  35. Hi Joan,

    Starting a post, not knowing quite where to take it and saving it to draft to finish later...good idea. I can do that.

    I do have a pad in the car and next to the bed for ideas. Have you noticed they come at the oddest times?

    Thanks, Joan.

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  36. Thanks so much,Bob.Your blog is the only retirement blog I read regularly! I have also read your book. After many years of fear I have finally set a time spring 2012!You are my crutch.

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  37. Hi Anonymous,

    What a kind comment. Thank you and please let me help you all I can as you prepare for the giant leap.

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  38. So, I'm late in my response, however, I agree with the answers many gave about YOU being "authentic" and coming across as someone we can trust. I thought it interesting that one person said she can no longer stand the constant positive upbeat blogs that often feel like they've had plastic surgery.
    Humans want stories, and that's what will always appeal the most. Now the secret is to turn mundane information into a story that people can relate to. You know me, I'm struggling with a lack of focus, as I go with my interests rather than sticking to my theme. A constant learning skill though.

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  39. Good morning Sonia,

    That comment about overly happy blogs caught my eye, too! I know the type of post that person is referring to and I find a steady diet of them over-the-top also. In fact, several have disappeared from my Google reader subscription list.

    I believe you are getting a clearer focus on what you can be doing. It will be exciting to watch it all unfold. Stay Gutsy!

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  40. Still confused and blogging here since 2005

    http://dontknowhatodo.blogspot.com/

    . . . For people who are yet to figure out the purpose and motive behind their actions and existence.

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  41. I have been blogging since November 2007 when I decided I would leave teaching in 2010 and someone told me I needed an online presence if I was planning to change careers. I have had lots of fun with the blogging because I love to write, just as I love to talk, and I love meeting new people. My online influence is pretty high, however, it certainly hasn't helped me find a job. I've decided I really don't want another job and that the activities I've developed since leaving the classroom are keeping my quite busy and fulfilled. Including the blogging. Now that I don't blog about teaching, though, my numbers have taken quite a hit. Oh well.

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  42. dkzody,

    That's my biggest question mark at the moment. A recent article in Money Magazine gave this blog a huge boost that lasted a few days. The hits have settled back to about 50% higher than before, but I expected more growth.

    In thinking about it, the primary reader of Money is interested in a financial focus and my blog doesn't provide that. So, the folks came, didn't find the financial stuff they wanted and left.

    Still, with 10,000 boomers retiring a day I expect more hits than I am getting.

    As you say, Oh Well.

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