Zen and the Art of Remarkable Blogging

Zen and the Art of Remarkable Blogging

The 1974 bestseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance begins with the following disclaimer from author Robert Pirsig:

“[This book] should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

Likewise, this article isn’t going to teach you much of anything about Zen Buddhism, and absolutely zero about motorcycles. But I hope it does provide some insight into effective blogging, or, at a minimum, gets you to think differently about your current notions regarding content and the attention you seek with it.

The Four Noble Truths of Blogging

1. Get Over Your “Self”

Buddhists believe that suffering begins with our perception that we are separate and distinct from the rest of reality. In other words, our own egos make us miserable.

In blogging, the publisher / reader mindset can also cause you unnecessary pain. The key to successful blogging is an alignment of interests between writer and reader. It’s that sweet spot where what’s good for your readers matches what’s good for you.

Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.

2. Free Your Mind

Zen is all about seeing deeply into the nature of things by direct experience. Blogging that gets noticed and linked to is all about seeing existing information from a unique perspective and writing with a fresh angle.

Zen encourages meditation, and great blogging requires contemplative thought. If you’re truly going to get into lateral thinking mode, you’ve got to step away from the keyboard and think. Stop surfing, twittering, and reading RSS feeds and go for a walk.

Albert Einstein figured out that time is relative while on a stroll with a friend. Go do something else and a killer angle for your next blog post may just pop into your head.

3. Detach From Results

Another key to existential angst is an attachment to outcomes rather than simply focusing on excelling in our actions. This is true for any pursuit, including blogging and social media marketing.

When you focus on the outcome you expect from your content, you are almost invariably failing your readers. Moreover, while one great piece of content may change your blogging profile immensely, a failure to consistently perform at or near the same level will make you nothing more than a one-hit wonder.

Focus on consistently producing excellent reader-focused content and effectively promoting it. The results will come.

4. It’s Up to You

While still steeped in Buddhist philosophy, Zen is more concerned with attaining wisdom through doing, in that daily life and mundane tasks will teach you more than any sacred text could. In this way, blogging and Zen are closely aligned—simply showing up and keeping at it will teach you more than anyone else can.

Zen encourages practitioners to learn from teachers and other students to better understand how to attain truth through direct experience. The blogging community offers a similar environment, but the final breakthrough will always occur in your own mind and be the result of your own actions. You’ve got to accept responsibility for your own success.

I’m sure the story of the origin of Zen can make this point much clearer than I ever could:

Buddha gathered his disciples at a lake on Gridhakuta for instruction. His adherents sat in a circle about him eagerly awaiting his teachings. Wordlessly Buddha reached into the muck and pulled up a single lotus flower. He then held it high for all to see.

Practically everyone was bewildered. But then the disciple Mahakashyapa began to laugh.

Finally, Buddha handed the lotus flower to Mahakashyapa and said,

“What can be said I have said to you, and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”

Get it?

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Reader Comments (111)

  1. says

    The concept of mindfulness applies well here, too (like point #2). The best writing is when your focus is fully present – the flow of your ideas is unobstructed. Editing comes after, which leads to…

    Only doing what is necessary and nothing more. This concept works on the editing side, allowing you to get to the core and using as few words as possible. Which I believe is what good copywriting is about. Something I struggle with sometimes :) .

  2. says


    This was an ingenious follow-up to your previous blog on the irrelevance of the A-list. My hunch is that you took an Einstein-like “stroll” this past weekend after reviewing all the comments you received for that post. You made your point effectively and efficiently. Thank you for your thoughts.

  3. says

    Wow! I have been sitting here in a daze, and suddenly I am struck with Inspiration.
    Yes, I do believe that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, why do you ask?

  4. says

    I really loved number two- as for me fear is the reason I do not blog. The fear that it will be too much talking or just not good enough in terms of catchy- so how can I balance that?

    Anyway, I get my best ideas at the gym or on a bike ride along the Hudson River at sunset!!!

  5. says

    What a great post (and beautiful headline!) Going for a walk is good advice. I often come back even just from a short walk along the canal with my fingers literally itching to write…

  6. says

    Existential thought seems to be all over the place these days. I recently published another Buddhism inspired post titled “5 Steps To Save Money Like The Buddha.” Thanks for another great post Bryan.

  7. says

    Truths are True whereever they are applied. Good to see that spirituality and blogging make good bedfellows.

    In Spirit,

  8. says

    You know the most important thing I learned about blogging was that I shouldn’t be doing it. However this is really amazing advice.

  9. says

    But, but…I thought if I just put the number 42 on my blog all would be revealed, monetized, and there would be no hard work involved! Sheesh! Now, I have to actually write interesting stuff? (You have to be a hitchhiker in the universe to get this). CNN reports that the answer was really 43, but the CIA squelched it.

  10. says

    Great article. I’ve been practicing Buddhist principles for the past 5 years or so, and I always appreciate people who weave the simple, straightforward advice into day-to-day concerns!

  11. says

    how is getting over your “self” attained by “focusing on your readers” – now you are thinking of what “you” are giving to “them”; you, the provider of content. that is ego

    get over your “readers” instead.

    what they want to read is their business. what you want to write is yours, unless your blog is a product you are selling – is that what is meant by “successful”?

    is writing your art or your business? if it is your art, you must do what you must do. if it is your business, you must produce what your market will consume.

    it’s ‘zen and the art’, not ‘zen and the business’

  12. says

    “It takes two hands to clap, so there is more than one.”

    I can clap with one hand… Hit the tips of your fingers against your palm quickly. See! A one-handed clap!

    My own blog is a huge smattering of whatever interests me. I am constantly checking Google Analytics to see who has visited but really – I suppose it doesn’t matter.

    Even though I blog for myself I crave attention as well. I don’t think that’s bad. It’s just me. 😛

  13. Zoran says

    Zen Blogging – Blow Mind of Your Readers
    Zen Art – Make Your Readers Think on Your Blog
    Zen Wisdom – Art That Takes Breath Away

    :) Just practicing

  14. says

    This was an ingenious follow-up to your previous blog on the irrelevance of the A-list. My hunch is that you took an Einstein-like “stroll” this past weekend after reviewing all the comments you received for that post.

    Mike, although this post has been kicking around in my head for awhile, that’s basically right. :)

  15. says

    Whew! It did not occur to me until just now that this was a perfect transmission! What could be said was said, and yet what was not said was transmitted to me.
    If only I can now pass this wisdom on…

  16. dazza says

    What can be blogged I have blogged to you, and what can not be blogged is here in this JPEG of a Lotus flower. Click _here_ to forward it to Mahakashyapa.

  17. says

    I’m inspired by point #2 as well. I find I do my best thinking (or get my best ideas) when I’m working on projects other than my blog. The ideas don’t come when I’m staring that text box in the face, but if I’m working on other things and musing over possible posts I find myself with clearer revalations.

    I guess that’s my version of going for a walk.

  18. says

    What reader(s)?

    Weird, was racking my brains yesterday to remember the name of the book (Zen/motorcyle), as if by magic it appears today.

    Also odd, as I started walking this morning I said to myself, “self, you always write when you are walking”.

    Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  19. says

    Good points, too many egoistical bloggers out there already (especially SEO bloggers who try to sound noble and honorable by commenting on their victories and trying to make it sound like they’re not tooting their own horn. Usually they prefix “I don’t want to sound conceited, but”…

    I’d add a few additional things – “Don’t Blog What’s Popular” – people feel the need to blog about what’s popular, based on ideology (just search for the #1 talked about topic on technorati – I’ll save you the trouble it’s “Bush [Bashing]” ..we get it, the world hates him..get over it.

  20. says

    I wrote specifically on #4 on my blog earlier in the week. The act of doing is extremely important. Read, learn, but ACTING will teach you more than anything. Don’t be afraid to get bruised up a bit, it is part of life!

  21. says

    “Zen” you are ready it is time to blog when you are not, it is time to read other blogs.

    I appreciate the noble blogging truths here.

    I have always loved the line from Alan Watts: “If you make where you are going more important than where you are there may be no point in going.”

    And I think Gertrude Stein said: “When you get there, you find there is not there, there.”

    It seems so many of us click away in search of the next “smack” of words to give us a reader high.

    Thanks for the perspective.


  22. says

    Ha, excellent post – your ending was brilliant! Parables are difficult for a lot of folks, and your post is a great lead in.

  23. says

    Good stuff—if you get a chance take a look at my photoblog with a touch of eastern philosophical elements. Let me know what you think.

  24. says

    Brian – always a pleasure to read your posts, but this one is stellar. It triggered ideas for about 112 posts. Got to go start writing.

  25. says

    #4, “It’s Up to You”, was my fav.

    In one fell swoop, it speaks admonishingly to “copycat” bloggers (who only refer to other people’s discoveries, rather than processing their own) and also the importance of action in the recipe of success.

    As an incorporator of the spiritual in the worldly, I figured I was bound to love this post, just by the headline… and I was right.

  26. says

    Thanks for this post. It sums up many of the issues I encounter month after month.

    I find Point No. 3 to be particularly relevant. Numbers are a double-edged sword. When they’re up, you feel great, when they’re down, you feel bad — but are numbers why most of us got into this game? I know *I* need to work harder to keep my priorities in line. It’s about the content, not about the outcome.

  27. says

    I’ve gone by the moniker Zenshadow (or Shadowzen, Zenny of late) for sometime – it goes back to my original gaming name ‘Zentari’ waaay back in the early 80’s (!) Anyway, it was with great interest that I came across this post on ‘Zen & Blogging’ here – which is pretty much what I do (in a Westernized, American Fashion). I do enjoy all things ‘zen’ and often cast an Oracle with the I Ching for inspiration. I like to think of my blogging as ‘Zennish’ or whatever. With all that said I really just wanted to say ‘good post’.

  28. Beth says

    Blog-blond – http://blog-blond.blogspot.com/ had this link on her website. First time there for me, as well as first time here.

    I don’t blog and no, I didn’t “get it”. But I loved your blog nonetheless.

    All of my friends blog and blog really really well. I want to blog but have no mission, no burning desire to share with the world what only I know. I haven’t discovered what that is yet. Maybe your tips will be a start for me.

    Why are most of your readers men?

  29. says

    I’m revealing my inadequate mental aptitude, but I don’t get it. I don’t get it. Get over your “self”? What does that mean?

    Anyone, please help me understand because this post is/was freakin’ fantastic, or remarkable – whatever. I just don’t understand what is meant by getting over your “self.”

    Does it mean to write with no regard for the way you appear in print, no sense of self, and just let the words out? If that’s it, then how do we do that while still keeping the writing focussed on one topic at a time?

  30. says

    It means get over your own ego and start satisfying the needs of others. Ironically, you’ll find that your own goals will be met as well.

  31. says

    Brian that was another fantastic article, I just came across your blog and I must admit I am hooked on. Anyway keep them coming.
    BTW: really liked the use of the analogy of the Zen and the art of …

  32. says

    My favorite is Number One: “get over yourself.”

    The best gift any of us can give ourselves is to find a way to align our own SweetSpot with the SweetSpot of those who will benefit from what we have to say.

    Thanks for the post!

  33. masaharu says

    Do not focus on the “self” and do not focus on the “readers”. instead, write as if you are not writing at all. Be like the wind that knows not where it is headed, but one can feel its presence. Be like the wind. Make your presence known, period. do not make your presence known for the sake of yourself or others, just do it for the sake of doing and being. :) you write very well.

  34. LALA says

    this is so inspiring…. and much much discoveries! i have always refined nature to be able to come out with the most natural juices!

  35. says

    Freeing your mind is the most important because direct thinking tends to get in the way of truly percieving REALITY. You can’t see REALITY because your mind is too busy trying to find the right “label” for things.

    When you talk to your friends,you don’t do this as much so there is great spontaneity making for a more interesting converstaion. This is what we want in our blogging.

    Like Morpheus told Neo: “just let go…free your mind!”

  36. says

    A subpoint could be Persig’s reference to frustration while removing a frozen nut, leading to yelling and banging it with your tools resulting in a stripped nut.

    Emotional attachments can slow intended results.

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