What I Learned from Being Freshly Pressed

When I tweeted one of my loyal readers yesterday–a memoir guru and creativity instructor–that my post on avoiding “truthiness” when writing about yourself had been featured on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed, she tweeted back that she already knew. She was subscribed to comments on that post, and her inbox was filling up with a tsunami (her word) of comments.

It’s a compelling metaphor. A tsunami wave rises abruptly from the sea, a giant wall of water jutting from stillness. That’s how the little hourly hits counter atop my WordPress dashboard looked yesterday after my post hit Freshly Pressed. I’ve now learned that there are more than 500,000 WordPress blogs, so being singled out like that will generate attention. But tsunamis bring death and destruction. I’m still looking for the right metaphor that will capture the joy I feel at the expansion of The Artist’s Road community.

It wasn't a tsunami, but I encountered a hailstorm when I drove into Charleston, West Virginia on my 2010 cross-country road trip. When I told the hotel clerk that her parking lot was a lake (above), she said, "Sugar, welcome to the Low Country."

It wasn’t a tsunami, but I encountered a hailstorm when I drove into Charleston, West Virginia on my 2010 cross-country road trip. When I told the hotel clerk that her parking lot was a lake (above), she said, “Sugar, welcome to the Low Country.”

I have also asked myself, “What can I learn from this experience?” And the WordPress editor who selected my post was there to help. She sent me a link to a useful article titled “So You Want to be Freshly Pressed.” The article itself adheres to many of the pieces of blogging advice it offers. It has a clean layout, with a visual element and no spelling or punctuation errors. It has a headline that gets to the point in a conversational manner.

Given, however, that one of my gigs is teaching blogging at literary centers both in person and online, I’d like to focus for a moment on their first three items of instruction, which address the content of the post.

  • “WRITE UNIQUE CONTENT THAT’S FREE OF BAD STUFF”: My first challenge with this post is to not simply rewrite their post, right? It turns out their guidance here is basic. Give credit where credit is due, don’t plagiarize, don’t spread fear or hate. One thing I tell students is that the most powerful element of a blog is YOU. Even if your blog primarily is to educate about a cause or promote a business, we want to connect with the writer. One of the most powerful words in blogging is the personal pronoun “I.” Used judiciously yet generously, it captures us as readers and makes us come back.
  • “HAVE A POINT OF VIEW”: I love this statement from the WordPress article: “Freshly Pressed posts make people think and provoke a response.” I developed my curricula for my blogging classes based in part on lessons personal essayists are taught. One of those is that some of the most powerful writing is when the author is working hard to understand the true meaning of something, and invites us in to that process before they have reached a “final” conclusion. Acknowledgment that you haven’t fully figured it out is humanizing. It also invites plenty of feedback. There’s a lot I haven’t figured out in life, so I’m never short of blogging topics.
  • “DON’T BE AFRAID OF YOUR VOICE”: I’ve been blogging in various forms for nearly 20 years (yes, before the term “blog” existed), so I’ve come to understand that each blog should have its own voice, but that the voice also has to be authentic to the writer. I would add to WordPress’ advice, however, another important point I have addressed before, namely you must also not be afraid to allow your voice to evolve. Some bloggers feel they will lose their existing readers if the blog’s voice changes over time. In fact, you will recruit new readers while engaging your loyal ones, who will enjoy experiencing your growth with you.

Of course it is all well and good to be featured on Freshly Pressed, and enjoy that spike in traffic and comments. The key is ensuring that your new readers stick around. So while the advice WordPress offers gives guidance to the type of post they choose to feature, it’s good advice for each and every post. And that leads to one final piece of advice I give students when they ask what is the ideal schedule for posting. The short answer is you’ll get higher traffic with more posts than less. But the right answer is that you should post when you have something compelling to say and the time to say it compellingly.

I’ve outlined some of the things WordPress looks for in a Freshly Pressed blog post, and some of the things I encourage bloggers to incorporate into their writing. What do you look for in a blog? And if you blog yourself, what is one area–original content, point of view, voice, or something else–that you focus on to stand out from the crowd?

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About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

55 Responses to “What I Learned from Being Freshly Pressed”

  1. Hi Patrick, I’m one of your new followers introduced to your blog thanks to Freshly Pressed. For me, the blogs I follow are the ones that teach me new things about topics that I care about (yours would be writing), but the best blogs are the ones that teach me new things about topics that I wouldn’t ordinarily pay attention to (which is why Freshly Pressed is important; it highlights posts across the spectrum of the WordPress community).

    As for my own blog, I’ve shifted its focus over the course of my experiences from what I originally thought a blog should be – a place to focus on one particular thing and become good at focusing on that one thing (in my case, movie reviews) – to whatever interests me (including introspection into myself) and spurs my own train of thought (right now, it’s poetry). But it is my fault that I blog sporadically, often abandoning it for months at a time, although now I’ve set out to change that.

    P.S. I can empathize with you about that spike in traffic and comments, that recently happened for me when I got featured on the official NaPoWriMo site. But the downside of such appreciation is the onus it puts on you to write as well as you did the last time. Then again, I’ve never really understood what attracts people to a specific post on my blog.

    • Welcome to The Artist’s Road! One thing I intend to do once I can catch my breath is to go check out the blogs of my new commenters. I love that you have allowed your blog to evolve to reflect what you bring to the blogosphere. And I sympathize with the challenge of continuing to feed that beast.

      Kudos on your NaPoWriMo promotion, that’s fantastic!

  2. Congrats. I’ve been posting for a year but writing much longer. This is a community for feedback and give-and-take like no other. Thanks for the tips.

  3. After 17 years in a job I hated (the politics, never the patients), I am embarking on the only thing I ever really wanted to do–write! I will be following you, Patrick, and I would be interested in your online services. Because I am still feeling my way around this blog, is there a page that details what your services are, etc.? Thanks!

  4. How exciting! Congrats! I love the phrase “free of bad stuff.” It’s so simple, and so true. Great lessons all around. I especially agree with posting only when you have something to say.

    • “Free of bad stuff” seems to be a good motto for life, eh Annie? :)

      Glad you agree with me on a posting schedule. You are a serious blogger and your opinion matters.

  5. Congratulations again, Patrick! The tip you mentioned here that struck a chord with me was the bit about letting the reader in on your ponderings and not already having it all figured out. That is a hallmark of your blog, and I’ve always thought it was the reason you have such an engaged community.

    Although my current blog isn’t even two months old, I think what will make it unique is that it is focused on giving writers permission. It might be permission to fiercely protect their writing time, write utter crap, or even take a break from their writing. It’s permission to tell their story even if no one else cares about it or to write for only 10 minutes. The way most people were taught about writing created all kinds of inhibitions, and my goal is to undo that so that people feel free to share their story.

    I’m now grasping for the right metaphor for your spike in comments, since you’re right that “tsunami” has a negative connotation. Windfall, perhaps? Being featured in Freshly Pressed was the wind, and all the new comments were the delicious fruit that were effortlessly collected as a result. (Although you may have to quit your job to respond to all of them the way you usually do!)

    • Ooh, windfall! I like that. When I look at the graph, there is this sudden cliff that rises, and now there is a slow glide downward to the right. Yours is a nice play on words, but still doesn’t capture the graph itself. Oh well!

      You’ve got experience blogging and you’re a writer, so I think your blog will do well. What benefits you is that you have a conceit, if you will, for the blog, a place to start that takes into account the realities of what expectations can be put on the reader. That sounds like a winning formula to me.

  6. Nice followup Patrick – Its well deserved that you are being recognized and your words are spreading. Great writing + Great content

  7. Patrick… you’ve reminded me of my weak spot… that I don’t always admit to the possibility of being wrong. It’s just that I seem to be obsessed with casting a ray of light into what I call “the mystical heart of a story”. And since no one else is doing that, that would be my unique and “area-original content”. Some of my best friends tell me to move on from that… but I can’t quite, yet. Perhaps when I complete this new ebook on the subject. It’s almost a memoir, something I’m calling “The Writer in Love”. In fact, I’m in Mexico right now on a writing-retreat blitz, hammering it into shape. Your blog is one of the few distractions I’m allowing myself. Yum yum.

    • Wow, “anonymous,” loving your life right now! Thank you for bringing The Artist’s Road with you, when there are so many other distractions that would be far more enticing. I’m intrigued by your almost-memoir, “The Writer in Love.” Have you blogged about that? I’d love to read more, and share it.

    • PJ, I’m glad I scrolled through Patrick’s blog (looking for a response to a completely different post) and saw this. I had to butt in and say, who are these ‘friends’ telling you to move on? Cast them aside I say and throw out all that good free advice they’ve been giving you while you’re at it. Trust yourself, man. You have a purpose. You have a mission. You are on your own path and ain’t nobody should be messing with that. Follow that star, my friend, myself and plenty of others will keep on following you :-)

  8. My mother calls me Bob, I call myself PJ, but your website likes to call me Anonymous… for some reason.

  9. I’m thrilled to hear your post was Freshly Pressed!

    I personally found that post stuck in my mind for a long time as it’s a subject I feel confused and uncomfortable about in my writing and when reading the memoirs of others. Perhaps it was sticky because it put my emotions into words, or perhaps it was because you didn’t fully answer the question. Either way, I’m glad it got attention.

    • Jessica, I’m glad it spoke to you. If I ever do fully answer the question, I’ll let you know what I learn! But I suspect the hard truth is that it is somewhat unanswerable, or perhaps more accurately, there is no bright line.

  10. Another thought-provoking question. When I look for a blog to read, if I have to sum it up, I look for someone who is trying to do something different, with a strong individual voice. E.g. there are some “women in business” blogs that would usually appeal to me, but if the major stories they have addressed in the last few months are Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “having it all” article in The Atlantic, or Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” – I’ll pass. There was so much in all kinds of media about both, and unless the writer has a truly original take on either, I likely wouldn’t read it. The one blog post on Sandberg that I did read recently was titled “F*** Off, Sheryl Sandberg”, and it was a really forceful and witty condemnation of all that the writer found wrong with “Lean In”.
    For my own blog (http://www.allaboutwork.org), the theme is writing about work and organizations, and if I try to do anything, it’s *not* to write the same thing that’s being written about by other business and organizational blogs. It’s definitely a work in progress, but I’m hoping that the readers will hang on even when the posts might seem kind of off-track!

    • Fiona, you’ve figured it out. There’s more “content” out there than ever. The key is to find what makes you stand out, and then help readers who value that to find you. Kudos!

  11. Patrick – I’m so glad I stumbled upon this post and your blog. Thanks Freshly Pressed! I look forward to enjoying your existing and upcoming posts. Terrific and thoughful advice – feel like you’re posting just for me!

    • Wow, thank you for that feedback! Well, if you feel I’m posting just for you then you found the right place. I do try to have a conversation with my readers, people who are interested in creative endeavors and are intellectually curious. Welcome!

  12. Patrick – just started following you because of Freshly Pressed. What a wonderful blog, full of useful information and good reads. In this article I was especially drawn to the “Don’t be afraid of your own voice.” The focus of my blog has changed since I started and I have somewhat struggled with that, but have decided to let it take me in whatever direction my creativity wants to go in the moment. Thanks!

    • I love that you “have decided to let it take me in whatever direction my creativity wants to go in the moment.” We all evolve and change in our lives, just as characters in our favorite novels do. Stagnation is boring. So who wants to read somebody’s blog when they keep doing the same thing? But following someone who is following their own muse is exciting. You have no idea where it will lead, but it will likely be interesting, and the readers go along with you. And yes, the voice can change as that process happens. Kudos and good luck!

      Thank you for your kind words on the blog, and I’m glad Freshly Pressed led you here.

  13. Such a well-deserved honor, Patrick. I know you’ll get many new readers from being Freshly Pressed. In my own blog, I talk about the obstacles and pitfalls I run into in my writing life, because I know if its happening to me, it might be happening to others. And I always try to write in my own voice. When I don’t, my posts sounds labored. Congratulations again!

  14. Thank you Patrick! I appreciate your added advice to the Freshly Pressed feature. While I have a few specific blog topics I like to explore, I enjoy the thrill of discovery that Freshly Pressed provides. I just go to the page and play “pick a blog, any blog.” Quite fun and I’ve learned a lot and have been entertained and moved. I’ll add motivated and inspired to the list too. I look forward to reading more on Artistsroad! :-)

    • And I love that blog readers are eager to play “pick a blog, any blog” on Freshly Pressed! It’s been great to have new additions to The Artist’s Road community. Welcome!

  15. For me, length is a factor. Like most of us, I’m exposed to hundreds of social media opportunities a week. I’m also committed to my own writing, so I like the Artist’s Road because it gets to the point in a graceful way, yet it ‘s lean and concise.

    • Hi Anne! Always great to have you here. Thank you for those kind words. I suspect my journalism background helps me, in that I hated handing in a story and having it come back slashed down to half its length by our executive editor’s purple pen. And yes, your primary focus should be your own writing, so blogs about writing shouldn’t keep you from doing that.

  16. Congratulations. Methinks some of us bloggers have given up of ever being Freshly Pressed.

    I did receive a compliment which I don’t know what the result would be but most likely not the desired result by the complimenter. I will be profiled soon on the main page on an intranet by my employer for my health and fitness. It’s Wellness Month in our organization. There are several thousand employees who will read the intranet when they get time or are bored.

    The communications person for the intranet did great job in streamlining my profile but he wanted to try linking to my personal blog. He liked my blog for my “warm” voice.

    I balked to reveal my personal passions to so many employees so boldly. So we’ll see where his unexpected suggestion goes.

    • Hi Jean!

      Glad to have you here. And let me say, a compliment on your “voice” is very important. In my blog teaching, I argue there’s really nothing more important. If your voice engages the reader, they will keep reading and come back. If not, they won’t.

      I understand your hesitation at being “exposed,” if you will, to your co-workers. I work to maintain a pretty strict firewall between my paid job and my writing life; in fact, I haven’t told a single co-worker that I was Freshly Pressed. But I always assume that co-workers could be reading my blog if they wished. A blog, after all, is public. So I think this is a great opportunity, and I like the thinking of the intranet editor for highlighting an employee who is doing something compelling that ties in with an organizational effort.

      Good luck!

  17. Kudos, Patrick and, yes, well deserved. You work hard and smart at this. Per blog reading, the operative words for me are relatable and fresh. This can be a blog like yours that speaks to the creative process or one where I can find consistently good poetry, short personal narratives (usually ones that are niched/funny/insightful), or unique visual art. I’m very much a hypocrite in that I agree with Anne – most of what I read is much shorter than what I write on my blog. (I’m working at rendering shorter pieces or cutting larger pieces into “parts.”) I stay away from blogs that try to duplicate the style of more “popular” bloggers.

    To these ends, I avoid any mommy blog that features a martini glass in the header. If the word “snark” appears in a blog’s subtitle, it goes on my don’t-read list. And zombies. Anything with zombies is out. Also any blog that suggests “Fifty Shades of Grey” as a must read is, likewise, out.

    • I love your “don’t-read” categories, in part because they are all ones that have been identified as hitting popular trends and tastes. But you make me want to attempt a blog about snarky zombies who love reading sadomasochistic romance novels.

      Ultimately a blog needs to be true to its author. On your blog you tell heart-wrenching yet heart-warming stories, but those stories can’t be told briefly, at least not as well. To put my instructor hat on for a second, you could consider mixing in very short observational posts about lessons you’ve learned, and then direct people to some of your personal essays if they’d like to learn more. Just thinking off the top of my head here. But your writing is beautiful and your story is easy to relate to, at least for me, so you need to keep those elements.

  18. Love the new blog idea … somehow the three, together, might work. I appreciate your thoughts per my story length/how to make it work. Hmmm. You have me thinking. Most of my readers (the folks who truly read and don’t visit primarily to network) are there for the stories and stay with them (kind of like a free e-book). Of course, the goal is that the material not be free at some point. p.s. – yes, I know, Shades of Grey up there needed no quotes.

  19. Excellent sound advice here. I especially like your point that the posting schedule mostly depends on how often you have something compelling to say and the time to say it well. That’s pretty much how my “schedule” works now. It averages once a week, but it’s sometimes less.

  20. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed, Patrick! You deserve it (and great tips/insight above).

    • Melissa, great to see you here! And thank you for the tweet. You of course have been a contributor to The Artist’s Road, and thus are part of the family. And tomorrow morning Cynthia Robertson joins that family with a guest post of her own. Stay tuned!

  21. Hi Patrick and congrats on making it to Freshly Pressed. Thanks so much for this post. I just embarked on my first blogging adventure at Light Living. My mission is to help people live a simple, happy life by sharing my own experiences and the lessons I have learned. Embarrassingly, I don’t think I’ve had any visits yet. But I will definitely use your advice as I add more posts. Love your writing and appreciate your tips!

  22. O.K., besides the fact that you’re a cutie… I really enjoy your writing. You have a nice command of the language and you really gave us some amazing “gems” (especially those of us new to this blog thing!). I appreciate your candor and just tapped, “Follow”, so I will keep reading. Best of luck to you and thanks for all that you do,
    Shawn

  23. The second piece of advice (“Have a point of view”) reassures me that I should be more opinionated and less passive. Thank you for that. I’ve always had this fear that I someone may take my opinion that wrong way and be offended. Now I’m learning to be less afraid. Of course, I wouldn’t say something too ignorant.

    The last bit of advice motivates me to post more than once a week. This post has been helpful. :)

    • I’m so glad you found this post of value!

      As to owning your opinion, it’s worth noting that folks are not always so friendly on the web, particularly when they have the power to speak anonymously. But you can embrace those who are supportive or disagree respectfully, and learn to dismiss the “trolls” for what they are.

  24. Much to my surprise, my first post – yes my first post – on my new blog has been picked to be Freshly Pressed. I got the email but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m glad to know what to expect thanks for your post here, which Google led me to. Now, I’m going to spend some time enjoying your blog. Thanks.

  25. Hello, Patrick. Like SWT before me, I too have recently been Freshly Pressed.

    http://sinisterbend.com/2014/01/20/quantum-mechanics-and-enlightenment/

    The spike in traffic and confidence has been amazing, but now I am on that, “gentle downward slide” as you described in an earlier comment.

    The trouble is, while I appreciate the new exposure, part of me is starting to panic. How do you deal with the stress of declining stats, and the despair that the new readers will soon find out you are a fraud, or a hack? (I’m not, but they might think I am!)

    I try to post at least twice, but preferably three times a week. Of course, I will continue to do so, but now there is new pressure to do good work.

    Any advice for a young writer who is not completely sure of himself?

    • Advice? Enjoy the recognition and the new followers! I suspect that the post that was Freshly Pressed was not one that came because you sat down and methodically constructed a post that would, in fact, be Freshly Pressed. I’m sure it came as a complete surprise, right? Well, it’s an acknowledgment that you’re doing something right. After the hubbub died down with that first Freshly Pressed post, I went back to doing what I had always been doing, figuring that new followers wouldn’t just follow me due to that post; that they’d explore the site a bit to determine if it as a whole worked for them. And lo and behold, a few months later I had another post Freshly Pressed. It was again a surprise, but also a confirmation that my strategy was right, to just keep doing what seemed to be working and not do what didn’t seem to be. Congrats again.

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