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Three Blogging Lessons from Leonardo Da Vinci

This guest post is by Martyn Chamberlin of Two Hour Blogger.

It was getting late.

The sick old man sighed and set down his brush. Learning back deeply in his chair, he gazed at his painting.

No matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t seem to finish it.

It was only a medium sized work—30 by 21 inches. And yet, the canvas seemed like a monolith of impossibility, stretching towards to the unforeseeable future…

Maybe he should just abandon it, like he had dozens of other works. This painting wasn’t getting anywhere. He couldn’t even give it a name. It was time to admit defeat.

After gazing thoughtfully at it for a bit longer, he shook himself away. Nightfall had long since fallen, and it was past his bed time.

It was May 2, 1519.

Leonardo Da Vinci never woke up. He died with his painting the Mona Lisa in his bedroom.

He never finished it.

He’d worked on it for four years, and given it nearly 30 layers of paint. But he never finished it.

Still, it’s considered the greatest painting ever brushed by mortals. Leonardo hit a home run. He created a masterpiece that would transcend the boundaries of location and time. How’d he do it?

Let’s peek at what Leonardo had going for him. The good part is that you’ll be able to apply these to your blog too.

1. He knew his stuff before he got started

Leonardo was a master at painting before he began the Mona Lisa. He spent decades learning and studying. He’d already mastered drawing and painting in oils.

There was a day when Leonardo picked up a paint brush for the first time. He made a lot of really lousy paintings when he started out—horrible, absolute disasters.

But he stuck with it and got better. After decades of unmitigated labor, he was finally ready to paint his masterpiece.

How this applies to you: If you stick with it, your blog will become a collection of masterpieces. But like Leonardo, you don’t start out professional and successful. The pursuit of excellence requires patience. Don’t let your failures discourage you. They’re essential to growing and getting better.

Nobody can create a masterpiece without lots of prior experience.

2. He had an incredible idea

Leonardo knew that people love an extra-ordinary painting, so he gave it to them. In his day, all the portraits had serious looks on their faces. He gave his a smile. That ticked people off so much, they’re still talking about it today.

How this applies to you: Don’t blog like everybody else. Stand out. Ask what nobody else is doing, and do it. Be exciting. Be weird. Be interesting. Be different.

People love to read a blog that’s got something unique about it.

3. He spent four years executing his idea

…and he still didn’t finished it.

Leonardo was a perfectionist. He didn’t slap together 30-minute paintings and shove them out of the studio. He didn’t ship anything until is was polished to perfection. He abandoned lots and lots of paintings.

Leonardo understood that creating art takes time, and creating really good art takes a really long time.

How this applies to you:No, you don’t want to spend four years writing a blog post and then never publish it! But you do want to spend a lot of time writing and polishing each article.

If you’re just blogging for fun, that’s okay. But if you want people to read it, you’re going to have to work hard at creating value for your audience. Don’t worry about “just getting something out there”—don’t ship until you’ve actually got something worth reading.

This could mean that you spend a lot more time on each article.

This could mean that like Leonardo, you abandon the majority of your work.

This could mean that you publish less often than you currently are.

One great post per week is a lot better than five mediocre ones. What if Leonardo had painted 20 mediocre portraits of a smiling woman instead of one great one? We wouldn’t be talking about any of them.

The same applies to your blog. You don’t have to give it 30 layers of paint, but more than one is certainly nice.

If you want your next blog post to be like the Mona Lisa, be patient, conceive a great idea, and execute it thoroughly. Follow these three steps and you’ll be creating art folks will be linking to years to come.

Martyn Chamberlin is an entrepreneur who blogs about copywriting and digital marketing at Two Hour Blogger. You can catch more on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Harrison Li says:

    Wow, this headline just got me so curious into reading the post, in fact, I read every single word and I loved how you put Leonardo into the point of views of blogging.
    I extremely agree with number two, there are so many blogs out there that are doing good writing unique good quality information but what’s wrong? Bloggers out there have probably read them somewhere else, the blogging niche I reckon is already decreasing in popularity as the users rely on top sites like ProBlogger, and if a blogger does not have interesting enough content to attract readers, when there’s nothing so unique about their blog, why wouldn’t they read it on the top and best blogs instead?
    Anyways, I loved this post, thanks for the information,
    Harrison,

  2. Martyn is one of those young guys who knows what they are doing. He writes some awesome stuff. A blog for every blogger to read. Wish you the best Martyn.

    • Martyn says:

      Wow thanks Eddie. Really appreciate that.

    • Gregory C. says:

      If this post is any indication, that’s definitely true.

      I really loved the tying in of Da Vinci, a great approach to teaching someone something rather than another list of “Here’s Some Stuff I Think You Should Do”

      All in all very creative and well-written.

  3. 4. The Model Doesn’t Matter

    The model for the Mona Lisa was by no means a ravishing beauty. Yet, she had character, and because Leonardo found her interesting and was able to express that in a way few others could, he created a masterpiece loved by all.

    A blog is similar. The subject doesn’t always have to be a popular topic by itself. But if you are really interested in what you are writing about, and write in a way that properly expresses that interest, you can create interest in your readers that didn’t exist before.

    Great article!

  4. Blogging needs a lot of patience. It’s important for newbie’s to stay patient and not go crazy behind successes of other bloggers.

  5. Stephen says:

    One great post is certainly worth many mediocre posts. I often draft a post, sleep on it (not literally, of course) then come back to it and inevitably I improve it. Accurate research is essential, and looking at topics from different angles also helps.

  6. Wow, I’ve seen the Mona Lisa at the Louvre but I didn’t know the story behind it. Thanks for that.

    There is a fine line between between being a perfectionist and producing high quality content. It’s definitely best to try and balance.

  7. Dearik says:

    This post is very nice, inspiring, and all blogger must read it! I like this post and the writer. I like point number 3. Although, Leonardo Da Vinci painting for 4 years doesn’t mean we have to wait 4 years to publish a post.

  8. Rick says:

    Next to his genius, da Vinci had a good marketeer working for him. The Mona Lisa isn’t that special, but we like to think so. Lots of paintings are better, more original, more unique, but we are pushed to think that Mona is the best thing around.
    The French do that every time.

  9. This is an awesome post, Martyn. Incredible analogy.

    I really felt this one. There have been a lot of times (especially at the beginning) when I’ve been tempted to simply put up a post because it’s “time”. I’ve learned to be more patient because, like you said, it takes time to create masterpieces. I’d rather have my blog filled with 10 masterpieces than 50 mediocre works.

    Thanks again for the great post.

    • Martyn says:

      Right. It’s so much fun hitting the “publish” button, but it’s often a mistake. If you only publish masterpieces, you’ll start developing a reputation for it, and your stuff will spread.

      Thanks Srdjan. Glad you liked it.

    • I’m right there with you on the “it’s time” part. I’m going to have to remove that artificial pressure. Da Vinci was a beast to work 4 years on a painting! Wow! Another excellent post, Martyn.

  10. Amy says:

    This is a great post! I’m a new blogger, and I’ve been stressing about posting frequency. But I even talk slowly, so trying to rush myself to publish something has not been working for me. :)
    I actually went back and deleted a post I’d put up just because it was “time.” I slept on it and realized I didn’t like it, it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t a good reflection of what I want my blog to be.
    I want my blog to make money, but it helps to remember that it’s also a creative endeavor and that almost nothing is “right” on the first pass. And, that becoming a master takes time and mistakes.
    Thanks!

    • Olga SE says:

      These words made me go and have a look at your website, Amy. It is always a delight to read posts by those who are sincere and honest with themselves.

  11. Tom says:

    These are the types of posts that I look forward to. Something to bring home the fact that my blogging career is not going to happen overnight.

    Took me a week of mediocre posts to realize that I needed to stop putting out sub-standard posts just to ‘get it out’.

    My most recent post took me two days to write, and half a day of editing and tweaking.

    I ran it through Darren’s problogger scorecard and after some minor tweaks, got it up to a score of 80. I wasn’t super-happy with that, but it was a lot better than the 50 I started out with.

    Thanks Martyn, hope to see more from you here. :)

  12. TJ says:

    Wow I loved this post! I shared a link to it with my blogging sisters in our Facebook group. Sometimes I feel so much pressure to “keep posting” and this reminds me to reel it in and focus on quality content. Thank you Martyn. (And funny I recognize your avatar from BT’s site. Wacky). Best wishes from germany, tj

  13. Wow, I never knew the Mona Lisa was an unfinished work. I love the analogy Martyn, it underscores a very important point —– becoming a successful blogger requires patience and tenacity.

    Thanks for writing this!

  14. Interesting post. I’m trying to reconcile this with other advice I’ve been given lately. Some bloggers advise that we write “as if no one’s reading” in order to overcome the fear and anxiety of publishing a post. This is not to say that our posts should be dripping with grammatical errors and the like. However, there is some wisdom in the notion that our posts do not have to be perfect.

    Still, you are correct that some people need to give their posts more attention. I swear that half the bloggers on Tumblr do not preview their posts before submitting them. It’s absolutely astounding. You would think some writers do not even know what a paragraph break is…

  15. Definitely treat your blog like a masterpiece. If you put real time and effort into it, then others will take notice.

    Great post!

  16. Frederic says:

    and once you finish that masterpiece, it’s always worth checking your headline for typos, too…

  17. Wow!! This is a great post. It seems like Martyn has created a masterpiece himself just like Leonardo Da Vinci.

  18. Dean Saliba says:

    I like the anaolgy. I did not, however, get the reasoning for the several mistakes you made in the post. :P

  19. Great post! Thanks so much for these insights. They make me feel better for not getting more readership, even though I try to remind myself that I’m doing this mostly for me and my own growth as a writer.

  20. Kat says:

    Lesson #1:

    Spell check/proofread.

  21. Talen says:

    The Mona Lisa that everyone knows was finished between the years 1503-1507 there were two other works that were also called Mona Lisa that weren’t completed.

    • Martyn says:

      That’s for historians smarter than me to debate, Talen. Scholars who I respect differ from your sentiments, but it’s okay. ;)

  22. Buck Inspire says:

    Saw the Mona Lisa, but never knew Leo died before it was complete. Tying with your theme, when you actually see it, you are almost left asking, “That’s it?” If you spend the time publishing a masterpiece, its reputation will grow and make it larger than life. Keep up the great work, you’re on your way to being a Da Vinci of blogging.

  23. Great post!! Well explained,

    Patience is the best quality that a blogger must have , without that he could not become success in his blogging journey, many of bloggers give up at early stages because of lack of patience!

  24. somarendu says:

    Really u have to to spend some time with your blog.since the effort will lastly pay.
    Hey if any body wants to know about diamonds OR want answers about it visit diamondsface.blogspot.com.

  25. Guy Hogan says:

    You sure know how to inspire a person. Okay, I’ll do it!

  26. Great lessons. Just a side-note: Leonardo da Vinci actually died in the arms of the King of France; the way it’s written here, it may read that he died alone in bed. He knew he was dying too. What a loss to the world.

  27. Absolutely love this post. Punchy, to the point, well organized, and inspiring. Everything a blog post should be. And I love the opening. I had no idea that he died in front of the Mona Lisa having never felt finished!

    • Martyn says:

      Leonardo didn’t actually work on the painting the very night he died. I took a liberty there to keep it “punchy.” :)

  28. Steve Amoia says:

    “Pity the student who does not surpass his master.” Leonardo da Vinci

    “According to Giorgio Vasari, the biographer of Leonardo da Vinci, the name of the model was Lisa Gherardini. She was the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, who was an affluent merchant. “Mona” is a contraction for “Madonna,” which in that time was similar to the formal use of “Madam” today. The painting became known as the Mona Lisa.”

    Source: http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/74914

    • Martyn says:

      The story behind the painting is fabulous. Apparently, it took historians centuries to identify the model. Gherardini’s alternate name is “La Gioconda” which means “happy.” Leonardo traditionally identified his subjects by leaving some clue in his paintings. The Mona Lisa had a smile – which tied in with her name.

      Leonardo was a genius.

  29. Marcie says:

    “The pursuit of excellence requires patience. Don’t let your failures discourage you. They’re essential to growing and getting better.” I’m going to use this in life and my blogging ventures. Although I don’t feel like my blogging is in vain, I do feel more people should know about them. What does that mean? That I have to use patience in my pursuit of excellence, get creative and make something happen. I encourage others to do the same.

  30. Drone 1 says:

    Since I am getting back into the blogging game, I find this to be a very inspiring post.

    Sometimes as bloggers we need the inspirational postings more than the “How to” postings.

  31. I agree that taking your time and polishing each blog post is a worthwhile effort. My first few blog posts were done rather hastily but now I do my best to research, write and edit to the best of my ability.

  32. I saw the eyecatching title and immediately had to see what it was about. I tried to come back to it a few minutes later and couldn’t find it … I finally did by retracing my steps. Figured out why I couldn’t find the article. *wince* The N in Leonardo is missing in the title of the blog. My brain saw it as Leonardo because it filled in the N so that it made sense. Sadly, Google did not. :(

    Impressive analogy and advice. Thank you for posting it.

  33. Olga SE says:

    Great post, Martyn! Appreciate the effort you had to take in order to write it.

  34. ibnujusup says:

    wow,

    simple but effective tips… :-)
    that is the thing that i do with my new project…

    thanks for the tips…
    to be consistent is hard, but it is my mission for this month…

  35. Robby G says:

    Martyn, that’s a great post, I must admit. I liked the second point especially. I personally noticed myself compromising to conventions as time went on, but you’re right about how we should “stick to our guns” and thought be innovative, never get rid of the fundamentals of what makes us unique. And spread that voice! Cheers!

  36. Hey Martin,

    Fortuitous timing with reading your post. They give me a few things to reflect on at this early stage of blogging. The tie-in to the mona Lisa made for an article that drew me in and gave a great frame of reference.

    Matt

  37. Angelica Ars says:

    This sounds so familiar. Although I don’t know my stuff.
    Am working on my – rented – house, cleaning, organizing, in a few days hopefully start painting the walls. First time in my life though. But, I am cleaning the wooden “plints” close to the floor, then have to fill holes in the walls with the substance you fill them with. I also want a decent outcome, and it takes so long. Just take the time to do it, I guess.

  38. Great post, Martyn! Appreciate the effort you had to take in order to write it.

  39. Who can spend 4 years executing an idea? I can not, that’s why I am still nothing now :-)

  40. Blogruler says:

    One of the biggest points to take from Leonardo is found in one of his most famous statement turned famous quotes, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” he took a simple idea of layering a painting with various layers and produced something so sophisticated it can never be duplicated.

    We bloggers often look for the in-depth sophisticated post idea that will impress but for get the simple things . Simple posts always grab a bigger audience than excessively complicated in depth posts. start with simple stokes of the keyboard you might just end up with a your Mona Lisa

  41. Michael says:

    I always love people’s take on what some of the greats would do in a certain situation. Imagine, Da Vinci as a blogger? My guess is that he’d be working at Apple.

  42. sajeev kumar says:

    very interesting perspective on Leonardo da Vinci blogging:)

  43. That was one of the greatest things I have read recently. Doing some research before making the post is all that is needed along with a good hold of language to make our post professional. The thoughts must flow smoothly and must not interrupt the readers attention due to bad english. Sometimes I straight away hit the close button when my reading is interrupted and I’ve to refer back to understand the context. Thanks for sharing such a nice thing in the making of Mona Lisa.

  44. Oh wow, I had no idea that the Mona Lisa was unfinished! Maybe if he’d finished it, he’d have given her a smile! (;

    I would also add to this post that a blog is a work in progress, just like any other painting. Is your blog ever truly finished? You can always add more content, tweak the layout, and add new features and sections.

  45. Robert says:

    Would you mind providing a reference for that Mona Lisa story? I had read that he had sold it before his death.