When I started Cinematic Slant last year I knew it would be an uphill battle to grow the site. Every single bit of research and data I’d read showed that launching a blog in 2017 was a much different prospect than it was in 2005. Not only were there simply more blogs and sites to compete against, but the online publishing landscape was vastly different than it was a decade or more ago. Medium was the preferred platform for many. Social media platforms were gobbling up more and more of people’s attention, even as they clicked through to stories less frequently. Blogs had become more insular, linking only back to their own archives instead of out to the opinions and stories from others.
Still…I was determined to do it. And I was determined to do it on my own terms, using WordPress as the platform and emphasizing original content, not derivative “viral sameness” filler. The ultimate goal was – and is – to monetize the site and establish it as a source of revenue.
Despite all the obstacles, as you can see in the traffic chart here, CinSlant has grown steadily since launch.
Knowing how much work has gone into that growth is why I’m more annoyed than ever at the continued rash of articles and advice aimed at writers and others regarding blogging. Freelance writers and entrepreneurs are often told to start or run a blog as a “passive stream of income.” Running a blog and throwing some ads on it, the advice tells you, provides some stability during the downtimes that inevitably befall freelancers. Either that or put some content behind a registration gate or paywall, gathering either direct payments or building your contact list by doing so.
Let me dispel all of that right now. There’s absolutely nothing “passive” about building and maintaining a blog.
That growth chart is the result of a daily grind. It’s come from treating that blog – as well as this one – as another job, one that needs to be done daily lest it fall into disrepair and irrelevance. If you’re not producing new, interesting material and promoting it effectively on a regular basis, that blog isn’t going to be a source of any kind of income.
Does any of that sound “passive?”
This isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it situation. You’re not going to register your domain, publish your first “Hello, World!” post and then see the ad revenue come in regularly. Doing so requires an audience of scale that is not achieved easily. Anyone who thinks it is has probably been among the vast number of people who abandon their blogs early on because it’s hard work.
If you’re not devoted to regular care and maintenance of the blog, to the daily feeding of the gaping maw that is your editorial calendar, which constantly taunts you with the blank space it shows exists tomorrow, next week or at any point in the future, this isn’t going to work. There are plenty of places to find sources of inspiration for your blog’s content. Even if you decide to take the path of least resistance and publish generic, happy-clappy material that sounds insightful but which is actually incredibly superficial, it still requires work. Even if you decide to constantly recycle old posts by taking them down, adding a bit of new material and republishing them, it still requires work.
All of it still requires work.
For some people there will come a day when they’ve built up such a critical mass of both content and readers that they see more benefit from the archives than they do new material. That’s great, but it doesn’t happen overnight. On CinSlant, a few big breaks have helped spike traffic but most of the growth now comes from having established a big enough footprint that it’s showing up in more searches. If I rest on those laurels, though, that benefit won’t continue for very long.
This isn’t easy. And it’s not passive. Stop using that term as it sets up exactly the wrong kinds of expectations for people just starting out, one that’s not in any way aligned with reality.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.