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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The First Steps on the Earth

I like to be where no man has gone before.



Ten years ago during the summer of 2000, I travelled to California for the first time in my life.  The plane landed in Sacramento (which ended up being the hometown of my wife, whom I would meet six years later), then I took a 3 hour bus ride north to Redding.  It was the token instance in my life where the airline sent my luggage to the wrong city.

Meaning that I, along with the group of ten or so others I was with, had to wait until the next day until our clothes and toiletries arrived.  Since that flight, I have always made a point not to bring on any luggage onto a plane other than my carry-on.  (I even spent an entire week in New Zealand in 2007 with just one bookbag of my belongings, which I was able to stuff into the overhead compartment for the flights.)

That summer, age 19, I was part of college singing group that got to spend two weeks out in the mountains of northern California as we performed songs at a summer camp and were the actual camp counselors as well.  Best I can remember, we thought we were pretty cool at the time.

Christi Soderberg, one of my friends from the group, always called me Peter Brady, because in an attempt to mock the college’s dress code, I “permed” my long shaggy hair, so that it would appear that my hair was short enough to be deemed acceptable (above the eyebrows, off the ears and collar).  And even after my hair eventually grew back straight, I was still Peter Brady.

During the weekend between the two weeks of work we were rewarded with a hiking trip to the top of Mount Lassen, which is an active volcano that’s peak is 2,000 ft high.  Because the volcano is so steep, the only safe way to climb it is to hike around and up it, which takes a good two hours minimum.  We started at the bottom in the hot summer sun, but by the time we reached the top, we were marching in snow.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Lassen

Mount Lassen

It was definitely my kinda thing.  Spending a Saturday morning hiking a volcano, shimmying up and over to the most dangerous and scenic spot once I reached the top, finding some weird satellite-type device in the process and wondering how few people in the world have been at that exact spot. That’s something I often think about.

How many people have stepped on the exact spots of the Earth I am standing on right now?  How often (seldom is the better word) do I step on “unstepped” spots?  I try to visualize all the ground around me covered in blue footprints, seeing random spots that have never been stepped on.

I realize the Earth is really old and that billions of people have lived here during its lifetime, but surely sometimes I take the first step on certain corners of the world.

The Winter Olympics is coming to an end.  These athletes (and ice skaters, whom I watch mainly to see fall after they do a Triple Axel jump and also to make fun of their sequin-infused outfits) live for the opportunity to break the current record.  I’ll never know the high that Shaun White gets to experience as he flies through the air on his snowboard.  My only experience snowboarding was in Maggie Valley, NC back in 2001 and involved me constantly falling over every 4.3 seconds.

I’m not an athlete who finds freedom and thrills in breaking records of Olympic history.  Instead, I am an explorer who finds freedom and thrills in discovering new niches of the world.  I may not be able to discover something new, but I can discover something rare.  It’s nothing impressive, really, to the rest of most of the world.  But for me, I thrive on those places and those moments.  Then I can take snapshots of the scenic route.

Related Posts by the Same Author:

The Scenic Route http://wp.me/pxqBU-pL

Parks and Rec http://wp.me/pxqBU-jw

WOLBI Florida Ensemble 1999-2000

My friend Christi Mack and I at the top of Mount Lassen in 2000 and 2001

Dr. Deja Vu: The Scenic Route

If I could go back in time and speak to the version of myself from ten years ago, I would give myself “good advice”. About which college to go to, what to major in, what hobbies to take up, and where to live after I graduate college. About what to say to people and what not to say. There are a lot of things I would tell myself to do differently. So that I could become the best me.

But then I would be a much different person today. In essence, I wouldn’t be me. Though I would have life figured out, it wouldn’t be my life.

From 1995 to 2006, I spent hundreds of hours writing and recording and performing music. All that time, it seems all I really did was keep myself entertained. At the surface, it led to nothing lasting.

But writing hundreds of songs made it easy for me to write for this website. It took an old hobby to make a new one.

If I went back to myself ten years ago and told myself to take up an interest in daily creative writing (instead of music) so I could eventually have a website that a small corner of the world reads, the younger version of myself probably wouldn’t have been very motivated.

Life is made up of countless bland surprises that end up shaping who we are.  The ordinary turns into the exciting.

And of course my musical past is only one minor detail in the strand of events that brings me to my present day.  But without it,  I wouldn’t have moved to Nashville to pursue a musical career and a year later met my wife.

So what’s the best advice I can give myself today? Don’t go back in time and give yourself advice. It would only mess up everything. Not help it.

As much as I try to structure and plan out my life, it has ended up being something slightly different instead. Instead of taking the interstate, by instinct I end up on the scenic route every time. Capturing my current thoughts and perspectives in my writings which become like snapshots. Scenic route snapshots.

“And when I look behind on all my younger times, I’ll have to thank the wrongs that led me to a love so strong.” – “Perfectly Lonely” by John Mayer


Funny Church Signs or Just Holy Smoke?

Not cool, Zeus.

The 13 mile drive from work to home every day is a 38 minute trip either way; whether I a) join the Mad Max battle on the Interstate or b) tailgate the grannies and mini-vans driving down the rural two-lane backroads which are annoyingly equipped with stop signs every couple of miles. For the last couple of months, I have made the backroads scenic route my new default. It’s more relaxing and the scenery is bit better. And sometimes more entertaining.

A landmark I have begun to love to hate each day as I drive by is this small brick church with its marquee sign easily readable from the road. The messages on the sign are consistently weird. For Mother’s Day, it said: “Dear Mom, you did the best you could.” That sounds more like it should be the title of a Lifetime movie starring Cybill Shepherd.

The annoying thing about their obscure messages is that they often seem to alienate passers-by that aren’t already believers. Prime example, last week their sign said: “Choose the Bread of Life or you’re toast!”

I try to imagine myself not believing in God or Jesus or eternal life. I try to imagine myself never having stepped inside of a church. I try to imagine not understanding that God loves me and has a plan for my life.

Why would I want to even consider going to that church? I question whether a non-believer would even understand the Bread of Life reference anyway. The message on the sign is a “cute” inside joke from the church to the church. And the people outside the church aren’t laughing.

I’ve always been leery of Christianized memorabilia that is intended to convert. Like the WWJD craze of 1998. And Christian movies in general (the horrible acting itself is enough to run off a good portion of possible converts). And if only words can express how badly I loathe Christian e-mail forwards that tell me if I’m really not ashamed of Jesus then I will pass the e-mail along to all of my contacts.

The problem is that it all just comes across as irrelevant. When I see a man wearing a brown t-shirt tucked into his jeans that says “Real Men Love Jesus”, I have to wonder which recent research shows that the actual reason men aren’t converting to Christianity is because they think Christian men aren’t manly enough.

I want to be associated with a God who loves people, who is inviting and inclusive. The marketing executives from holy huddles sometimes miss the point: All that holy smoke must be getting in the way of seeing a church through the eyes of an outsider.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on church signs, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

 

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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