Friday, March 12, 2010

Blogging Advice for a Friend

My friend Janine has a blog, which she's not sure she wants anyone to read. Last night, she sent me an email asking for advice and seeking support.

Now, I'm no professional blogging coach. I am not to be counted among the innumerable Blogging Gurus, Social Media Mavens, Big Kahunas o' Online Interaction (yes, I actually saw one person refer to himself that way), or other supposed "experts" who have been popping up everywhere like crabgrass over the past few years, promising that by following their sage advice you, too, can become the author of the most widely read and highly monetized blog in the history of Ever!

Two points about these folks:

1. If someone has to tell you repeatedly that they are an "expert" in any field, they aren't, and...

2. Remember P.T. Barnum's famous and wise words: "There's a sucker born every minute."

With every coming technology and every coming fad, the hucksters are there ready to take your money to sell you their "Big Secret to Success" in whatever field it is, and all the secret ever turns out to be is either something anyone with an ounce of common sense and who has ever taken a basic composition course in high school already knows, or tickets to a seminar where they try to get more money out of you by selling you books filled with even more not-so-secret "secrets."

Now, before my inbox becomes inundated with the hue and cry of the converted, let me say that there ARE good folks out there with good ideas and valuable coaching to offer. The folks at Mashable, for example, are filled with good advice and ideas for anyone who wants their voice heard above the Internet throng. Chris Brogan offers great tips, as does Inkling Media. All of these work under the wider umbrella of Social Media Marketing, but their suggestions apply to promoting your own blog as well as promoting your own brand or business. As far as blog-specific advice, ProBlogger is a must-read.

Back to Janine. She's not looking to become the best blogger in the universe, or to become independently wealthy through her blog alone (not yet, anyway!). At this point, she's simply looking for a comfort zone:

"I'm working on my blog as we speak. I'm so confused by it. It's feminism, handy-person advice, product tips for a condo-owner, I don't show it to anyone.
Any advice? I'd love to promote it, but only if I can find my own focus.

I'm so hard on myself..."

Boy do I know that feeling! When I started out with this blog two Decembers ago, I was in the same place. I wanted to write; I wanted to be heard. But the worry over whether anyone would want to listen to what I have to say was, at times, paralyzing.

The great thing about the blogging community is that we all seem to be so willing to help each other out and give each other encouragement along the way, because we've all been there. I had friends who had been blogging far longer than I to offer me advice and coaching then. I am certainly willing to offer whatever words of encouragement I can now to the Janines of the blogging world.

Here, in part, is the response I sent her. It is advice I would offer, based on my personal experiences, to anyone out there who is starting out in this crazy blogosphere:

"The best advice I can give you is the same advice I got from a fellow blogger back when I started out: JUST WRITE. Don't worry about "finding a focus" or whether it's "good enough" or whatever - just throw it out there, warts and all. You'll find your voice. Actually, you've already found it, you just don't realize it yet.

My blog is all over the place. I write mostly about music, but also sometimes about baseball, sometimes about shit that happened to me that I want to rant about, sometimes about politics, sometimes about things happening here in Lancaster, sometimes about free coffee. I used to worry that being unfocused like that was a bad thing. For my 100th post, I put up a poll asking for feedback, and one of the questions I asked had to do with whether people would rather see the various topics I write about split into individual, "focused" blogs or whether they liked the mish-mash I was posting. You know what? Overwhelmingly, they said they liked the mixture.

I have a white board on the wall of my home office, and on the top of it I have one quote that has been there so long I don't think it can be erased anymore: "Write to one person." It was the best lesson I've learned: in your mind, create the person who is a representation of the audience you want to reach. Is this person male or female? Are they older, younger, or your age? Single, in a relationship, or have a family? Every detail - make this imaginary person as real and complete in your mind as you can. Then, write every post as if you are writing to that one person.

Stop worrying about pleasing an audience or pleasing yourself. Just write. Your audience will find you. Trust me, they do show up! I get frustrated because I don't always get the feedback I would like - I wish my readers would comment on every post and get into conversations and such, but they don't. My readers give me feedback in other ways - sometimes on Twitter, sometimes on Facebook, sometimes in an email.

I know what it's like to be a perfectionist - I am one, and I am my own harshest critic. I don't know what you think of my writing, for example, but I generally am not happy with most of it. But I've learned to just put it out there, and you've seen that I promote it like it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Develop an ego! Role play as if your blog is already successful and widely-read. Promote it as if people would be crazy not to read it and love it. Be unapologetic about it, be cocky about it, be proud of it.

Most importantly, just be real in what you write. Don't try to force it or it will come off sounding phony, and that will turn people off. Write the way you talk; again, write as if you were writing to that one person. Your voice will change from day to day, and that's fine too - that's real. Go back and read several of my posts, and you'll see sometimes I write more formally and sometimes more conversationally, depending on the topic and on how I am feeling the day I happen to write it.

My last piece of advice goes against everything you've ever been taught about writing: don't keep editing and editing. Don't do a bunch of rewrites. Write your piece, spell check it, do at most ONE rewrite if you feel it necessary, then POST IT. For perfectionists like us, it's the scariest thing to do, but the most necessary. But it forces you to put it out there, and you're writing is by default more raw and more real - more you."

And now, I turn to those of you out there who are bloggers yourselves. What advice would you add? What would you suggest differently from what I have, and why? There's always more than one way to skin a cat, as they say. How did you go about getting over that initial trepidation that we all feel/felt to some extent when it comes to baring our words to the universe?


  1. Bryan, I think your advice is a great place to start, and...thank you for mentioning my blog in here.

    If this is a personal blog that we are talking about...I need to find too much focus. The focus will happen, and yes...just write. If you are interested in something...chances are there are others who share your interest, whether they agree with your approach or perspective or not.

    When I write, I have a specific type of person in mind...and like you said, Bryan, you write to that one person. Don't be everything to everyone. I know I have my fans, and I know I have my detractors. So be it. I write what I write and if no one comments...I don't worry. Some blog posts are more popular than others.

    It helps to have thick skin. But if you believe in what you are doing, go for it. In the words of Nike: Just do it.

    I love getting comments on my blog, even if they disagree with my stance or are negative. I'm not arrogant enough to think I have all the answers. I love to learn from others and I have changed my opinions and stance on things based on comments from people. Dialogue is good.

    I even recently got slammed by a comment by someone using a fake name and email. They wanted to make a dig at me but didn't have the guts to do it under their own name. Based on the IP address, I know who it is. I could've deleted it, but decided to just respond and show that I can handle criticism.

    So my advice it. Blog. Publish. Write. Share. Publicize. Get it out there and see what happens. All of my blogs have evolved over time as I change and as my readers shape things.

    Let me just finish with this...I LOVE blogging. It gives me a creative outlet. And whether 2 people read a particular post, or a thousand...I'm ok with that. I've put in print (digitally) something that is important to me; something that I think MIGHT matter to someone else. So don't get hung up on the reaction (or lack thereof) from others. Let it happen and let it take shape.

  2. Thank you for the opportunity to comment because frankly I am an "expert" in this field. And as an "expert" in this field, I'm happy to lend my wisdom, experience, and cuteness to any new blog writer who truly wants to learn from someone as wise, experienced, and cute as myself.

    What I've learned in the just under 1 month I've been messin' around with a blog includes, but is not limited to, the following:

    1) Write while sober, or at least when you can find the PC.

    2) Work clean! No one wants to read a stream of 4 letter words posing as humor or candor or coolness. (I am serious about this one. Sometimes an overblown unfunny exception like "Sh*tMyDadSays" becomes freakishly successful, but I'm sure one day not long from now, guys will be writing graduate papers on how social media can be manipulated to enable "CrapLikeThisToHappen." Okay, back to a non-serious finish.)

    3) If you're going for humor, be Jewish, or at least think about becoming Jewish. If you're not going for humor, think about being Jewish anyway, our membership is down.

    4) LET'S GO, PHILS!!!! This has nothing to do with blogging. This time of year, it's good to work it in wherever you can.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Did I mention, BTW, that I am an "expert" in this field?

    Perry Block
    a/k/a Bardoron5
    a/k/a Nouveau Old, Formely Cute

  3. Thank you for adding your thoughts, Ken and Perry. Good stuff, and much appreciated.

    Ken, I simply do not believe that anyone on the Internet would hide behind anonymity to be critical of someone else...that never happens, does it? There really isn't any such a thing as a "troll" is there?!? (B'leev me, I've dealt with 'em here, too, but never had the smarts enough to trace an IP. Putting that one in my ammo bag immediately!)

    Perry, only an "expert"? Woulda pegged you to be a "Big Kahuna o' Online Interaction" type. Another expectation shattered... Well, at least your baseball priorities are in the right place!

  4. People blog for different reasons. If Janine is unsure that she wants anyone to see her blog, she might want to engage in logging instead of blogging. There's no reason you need to put it on the web; you can log in your word processor.

    The two big secrets to writing, whether it's a blog or anything else, are to (1.)Have something to say and (2.) Say it.

    I write to one person - and it's usually me. Sometimes, my posts are on politics, sometimes on science, sometimes on food, sometimes on Lancaster, sometimes on dealing with disabilities. I usually blog on a religious topic on Saturday night or Sunday. If I stuck to one of those, I'd have a lot more readers, I'm sure, but enough people like the eclectic blend that my readership grows about 10% per month. Because my posts are often intensely personal, I tend to get email responses, rather than comments; people want to share their thoughts, but are afraid of having those thoughts "go naked in public."

    If I wasn't retired, I'd be more reticent about posting some of my blog entries; having your thoughts go naked in public can be hazardous to your career. That's why I suggested that logging, not blogging, might be a better idea for Janine.

    On the other hand, cowering in the corner, simpering like a kicked dog, is no way to live your life. If your boss doesn't like who you really, odds are pretty good that there's another boss out there that does like what you have to offer - and you're probably better at being who you really are than anyone else on earth.

    And it's terribly liberating to do that. I'll learn to work the saxophone, and I'll play just what I feel. Drink Scotch whiskey all night long and die behind the wheel. They call Alabama the Crimson Tide; call me Deacon Blues.

  5. Oy, the doc just hit me where I live!

    I don't know esoteric music like you do, Bryan; I just love Deacon Blues.

    I cry when I hear that song. But then I cry at "Dancing with the Stars," and I don't even watch it.

    Were we talking about blogging?