Being Original, Yet Never Really Breaking New Ground: My First 20,000 Hits on WordPress

Thanks for 20,000 hits.

It seems like only six weeks ago that I was thanking my readers for this site getting its 10,000th hit in Being Down to Earth, Yet Never Really Touching the GroundWait, wait a minute… It was.

That was on April 11th.    How did that happen?  Why did it take seven months to get the first 10,000 hits (September 2009 to April 2010) but only five and a half weeks to get 10,000 more (April 2010 to May 2010)?

Here is a reflection/tutorial for anyone wanting to know more about how to obtain and build a readership and following by using a WordPress website, based on what it took for me to get my first 20,000 hits.

Just like the first million dollars are the most difficult for a multimillionaire to make, so is the case with getting any new form of art off the ground and flying.  It’s the snowball effect.  I have now posted over 250 of my writings on this site alone.

Each month that passes, that’s another 20 to 40 new posts to add to the library to be recycled.  On any given day during any given hour, there are more people reading my older stuff than my new stuff.  Then the new stuff becomes the old stuff and is read by newcomers.

Something almost magical happened back in February.  Suddenly, people started subscribing (getting all my new posts through e-mail); on top of that, the number of hits that month quadrupled from the month before and have been steadily increasing since then.  So really, after that fifth month of this site’s active existence, things exploded.

On December 30, 2009, I went to www.godaddy.com and paid 10 bucks for the domain name www.scenicroutesnapshots.com.  Yes, it’s too long of a name.  And when I tell people audibly, they often don’t understand what I’m saying.  But it’s a name I believe in because it best represents what I write about (Dr. Deja Vu: The Scenic Route).  And really, once a person goes to the site once, they can easily go back to it again.  Besides, people don’t end up on my site because I told someone about my site, they go to my site because of Google searches, facebook links, and cough-cough-Twitter-cough cough.

Another huge part of it is this- I accidently found a niche.  I half-heartedly decided to start doing a recap of The Bachelor when the Jake Pavelka season premiered in January, not realizing that people actually cared about it.  But they do.  Very much so!  Much of the quadruple increase from January to February has to do with my Bachelor recaps.

So aside from the snowball effect, and aside from finding an unlikely niche, what else has helped readership growth?  I want to know, not just for myself, but also to help other fellow writer friends.

I believe in something I call “learned talent.”  Which may be a phrase I just made up.  Basically, I learn from other people’s talent mixed with my own trial and error.  It’s the writer’s initiative to become better through regular practice and a willingness to cater to readers while still staying true to self.  And that concept is something that is often given as advice from the judges on American Idol to the contestants as they make it past the Top 10. Be you, but also stick with what you know works and what other people will like.

Particularly in writing, “learned talent” has a lot to do with the writer’s “voice”.  The tone, the choice of words, the subject matter, the level of professional distance.  I am not as talented as any legendary writer I could name in this sentence.  But just like an actor can change their accent or demeanor for a role, so can a writer “tweak” their own writer’s voice.

Because I believe, like a Rubik’s Cube, (The Truth and Irony about Solving a Rubik’s Cube) it’s all about figuring out the formula and acting on it, I am under the educated impression that what I lack in talent, I can make up for in simply learning how to write in a voice that leads with confidence and optimism and what I call “business-casual professionalism”.

A lot of this comes down to Rule #7 of my Writing Code:

“Write about weird stuff but make it seem normal. Or write about normal stuff and make it seem weird.”

My current literary role model is Michael Chabon, whom through his series in Details magazine, I learned better how to get in touch with my nostalgic side and hopefully make it seem interesting; not too technical or too abstract.  A happy medium that invites the reader to connect to the same train of thought.  In one of his newer books that I recently began reading, called Maps and Legends, he reiterates my #7 Rule:

“Let’s cultivate an unflagging reading as storytellers to retell the same stories with endless embellishment… The key, as in baroque music, is repetition with variation.”

Retell the same stories with endless embellishment:  Be original yet never really break new ground.  The familiar with the fresh.

Repetition with variation:  Take a subconsciously familiar thought and then put a new spin of originality on it.  So that readers feel a sense of comfort (the old familiar thought) along with newness (the author’s personality and his or her unique perspective).

And really, isn’t that really what’s for sale here anyway?  The writer’s personality?

Facts are only so important.  So is a plot.  But ultimately a story or an article is only as entertaining as the person telling it.  And a lot of the reasons we think a writer is “good” is because we relate to them, in some uncertain invisible ways.

Whether that writer reminds us of our own self and the way we naturally think, or they remind us of one of our friends, or ultimately our alter-ego, Tyler Durden (the man who the nameless protagonist of Fight Club imagines himself to be friends with), there is some reason we feel connected.

Of course, just like doctors and lawyers refer to their work as their practice, I too recognize that this site is and always will be a work in progress.  This is me paying my dues.  Learning as I go.  With an end in sight.  Or maybe I should say a new beginning in sight…

Below are the reader stats for this site.  This shows hits per month.  September 2009 is when I exclusively began writing for this site.

Months and Years

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
2009 5 21 2 76 550 552 465 532 2,203
2010 628 2,508 3,357 6,072
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Long Sleeved, Button Downs are the Shirt

In 8th grade, I saved my parents plenty of money because instead of hoping for new cool clothes for the 1994-1995 school year, I just used my dad’s closet as my wardrobe. At the time, I was around 5’ 6”, compared to my dad who is 5’ 11”. Obviously there was a notable size difference at the time, but it didn’t matter.

Because I didn’t need Tommy Hilfiger to be cool. I needed my dad’s long sleeved, button down shirts (AKA “casual dress shirts”). Worn unbuttoned over any random t-shirt pulled out of the drawer. And it didn’t really matter if the shirts matched each other either.

shirt

Fifteen years later, I now wear long-sleeved, button down shirts every day to work. Uncomfortably tucked into dress pants to look professional. And when I get home, I change into jeans. But the shirt stays.

Why are casual dress shirts so awesome? A few simple reasons.

Most importantly, they are made from thin, yet quality material. I am a man, therefore I get hot easily. That being said, casual dress shirts are designed so that the sleeves can easily be rolled up, and because of the turbulence of the buttons on the sleeves, they actually stay up, unlike a sweater or hoodie. And people think that rolled up sleeves on these shirts look good. It’s professional/hip.

And with a casual dress shirt, no one really has to know how little money I spend on them. There are no obvious logos to notice. I buy most of mine from the Unclaimed Baggage Center near my hometown for around $6.

transformer_retro

These shirts link back to boyhood. Transformers, Go-Bots, and even Legos. Boys love things that change into different things. I can go from a professional working man to a casual dude (but not a slouch).

Hoodies are great, but they do have a sloppy connotation attached. And sweaters are okay, but sometimes when I wear them, I feel like I’m wearing a sweatshirt, which makes me think of Hanz and Franz from early 1990’s Saturday Night Live.

Long sleeved, button downs are the jam. And best of all, when my wife and I are out somewhere and she gets cold, which is indeed a constant occurrence, I can sacrifice my casual dress shirt to keep her warm. Only to reveal the dorky Transformers t-shirt I happen to be wearing underneath. Double win.

Comfortable Friday


 

Of all people, I should appreciate the quirky American tradition so many offices participate in once a week called Casual Friday.  After four hard days of working while dressed in a restricting long sleeve shirt, tie, and pants (or at least a polo shirt and khakis), the dress code nearly disappears on the 5th day.  Jeans, t-shirt, and flip flops are completely acceptable.  Goofy.  Just plain goofy.


 

The whole idea behind dressing professionally for work is to establish a mentality for the workers to act the way they dress. It also helps draw lines between superiors and those who answer to them, as managers and bosses tend to dress a little nicer, accordingly. But then that all goes away on Friday.  The playing field is leveled out, according to appearance.


 

If the way a person dresses does indeed reflect their initiative and performance at work, why play around with that once a week?  The answer:  It must not really make a difference.  Often, Friday is my most productive day of the week.  And I’m dressed like it’s Saturday morning.


 

Last week’s rerun of The Office addressed some of the tackiness that often accompanies Casual Friday.  Meredith’s lack of clothes, Oscar’s nasty feet, and Toby’s clashing colors.  It just makes me laugh: the double standard of dressing professionally for 80% of the work week and dressing like a slouch for the other 20% of it.


 

Typically on Fridays I wear my comfortable, worn-in/worn-out jeans (circa 2002 so they’re that light shade of blue that used to be the standard), along with a comfortable t-shirt (usually something I got for free from an event I participated in during 2002 and should now only be wearing to wash a car or do yard work in) and my 2002 Etnie skate shoes I wear not because I skate, but because they’re so comfortable- I refer to them as my Marshmallow Shoes because they’re so soft and cushioned.  The obvious recurring theme: clothing from the year 2002.  The other obvious recurring theme: comfortable.


 

Casual Friday is really Comfortable Friday.  If I dressed casually on Fridays, I would wear slimmer fitting darker jeans, an untucked collared shirt, and sneakers.  But I don’t.  And while I call it Comfortable Friday, “comfortable” can easily become a synonym for “sloppy”.  Sloppy is in the same word family as “slob”.  Slob Friday.  But I’m not complaining.  Some people like to play dress up to look and feel important at work.  For the rest of us, there’s Friday.


casual Friday

 

Manspeak, Volume 2: Heroism

Subconsciously I view handymen and auto mechanics as super heroes. Because the only thing I can build is a Lego house and the only vehicle I can fix is a Lego car. While I’m not a “slow learner”, I don’t learn new skills quickly. It takes daily practice for at least several weeks before I master something new. So to see a man who gets daily exposure to these expected masculine events, I can’t help but have admiration.

Any laugh track infused sitcom that features a typical “dad figure” has had at least once episode where there is a need for home repair and the man of the house rises to the occasion (against the advice of others in the household, namely the wife). Of course, the man botches the job for the comedy highlight of the episode: On Who’s the Boss, Tony “fixed” the toilet upstairs but smashed a hole in the floor which he fell into, causing only his butt to be visible from the living room ceiling by his family below. On Perfect Strangers, Larry “fixed” the shower but it caused the shower head to shoot water across to the other side of the bathroom and blasted Balki in the face, who decides to just stand there with his mouth open and drink the water instead of move out of the way. And as for Home Improvement, “man hilariously attempts home repairs” was the theme of every entire episode.

The fact that under-qualified men continue to try to fix things when they don’t really know how to, is a universal issue. Why? Because it is a man’s job to fix things. It is literally the way men were wired. A woman says to a man, “Our garbage disposal isn’t working right. I think we should call someone to come fix it.” The man hears this: “You’re a man, capable of figuring out how to fix this, but instead, I’m going to call another man to get the job done because he’s more qualified than you”. Shrinkage follows at just the thought of another man walking in the door with his tools.

A man walks around with this hidden fear that he will not be successful in life. In all ways big and small. If he can’t successfully make the evidently simple home repair, he fears he may be seen as insufficient, incapable, and useless. When he longs to be the hero. And hiring someone else to do the job makes him feel unnecessary. May seem a little over the top, but being a man, I recognize the tendency of thinking in terms in worst case scenarios about this stuff.

This also explains the all too familiar (yet somehow not cliché because it’s so true) story of the man who won’t stop to ask for directions. It’s a man’s job to explore and find his own way if he’s lost. A major sense of accomplishment if he can do it. And just for the record, he’s not lost. He’s either taking the scenic route or the short cut (depending on how much time is delayed).

One of my proudest accomplishments regarding home improvement was when I turned down an aggressive salesman who knocked on the door one sunny Saturday morning. If I signed a year-long contract right then since his company was already in the neighborhood, his company would regularly spray my house for bugs for the low, low yearly fee of $545. He inspired me to immediately drive to Lowe’s and purchase a 5 gallon sprayer for $11. Needless to say, I now consider myself a professional bug killer.

Last week as I was getting ready for bed I heard my wife scream loudly from the stairs. My initial thought is that someone broke into the house. I ran over to the stairs to find the intruder to be a wolf spider. A very large scary spider that appeared quite afraid to end up lost and confused at the top of the stairs. I took on the form of the 1984 no nonsense straight-faced Bill Murray, racing downstairs to transform the vacuum cleaner into a proton pack with which I sucked up the monster with great force, feeling the vibration of the thump as it was crushed to death by my weapon. I was a hero. An ego trip shortly followed.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

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