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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thanks for visiting. I am no longer updating Notes to Self. I hope you'll join me on my current website,

Blogging 101: Session I

Two friends asked me within a few weeks of each other if I had any pointers for new bloggers, and I think I looked up from my work long enough to send them each a very helpful link to google. Over the weekend, it occurred to me I can do better. I started this blog a little over three years ago, anonymously posting as "K.," never dreaming it would lead where it has. I've learned a few things along the way. It's only fair to pass them on.

From the beginning, I made it a rule to not have rules for my blog. The beauty of a blog is that it's a continual work in progress. The context evolves with you. So these aren't rules, as much as marks scratched in tree bark: "I came this way." I'll keep moving beyond them. So should you.

Author! Author!

I used anonymity as a safety harness while I figured out what a blog was, and what I wanted to do with it. A redundant move, since hardly anyone was reading anyway in the beginning. But I felt more secure knowing that a google search of my name wouldn't bring anyone to my blog before I was ready. After a while, it became clear to me that what I was writing here was as much my "real writing" as anything I'd written offline, and it only made sense to claim it. I think long-term anonymity is a tough row to hoe, from what I've seen. The internet is an increasingly small world, and your chances of being outed become greater with time. I think it should be regarded as an eventuality. Can you withstand a worst-case scenario? If not, should you blog about it?

There's a middle path, and that's to adopt a persona. People see that word, and think it means "fake," but persona is simply a protective layer, like an outfit you put on to go in public. There's nothing phony about it, unless it becomes your whole identity (if you sleep in your work clothes they WILL get smelly). Many bloggers have developed personas (usually a nickname, or actually using the name of their site as their online identity). They don't hide their real names, but using a nickname signals that the person behind the blog is more than the sum of her posts. You'd think that would be obvious, but the immediacy of the medium heightens the illusion of a 360 degree view.

A reader once confessed that she couldn't shake the feeling that she was snooping through my underwear drawer, because my blog seemed so personal.

"Oh honey," I laughed. "My underwear drawer is way more interesting than my blog."

Maybe it's a pocket of Canadian reserve, or the fussing mother hen in me, but I worry about bloggers who over-share, though they would probably reassure me, as I did the reader above, that it's a controlled transparency. To each her own. But I think it's healthy for your soul, if not your site traffic, to reserve some mystery. It's the new radical act.*

Can't please some of the people any of the damn time.

Let's get back to the worst-case scenario test, because if there is a rule to follow in blogging, I think this is it.

Picture someone in your world with whom you share nothing in common. In a million years, you will never be friends. You presume they don't care for your kind, and you preemptively don't care for them back. Now picture this same person becoming an ardent fan of your blog in a few years. Hey, aren't you glad you didn't post that snarky thing about them that one time? Whoops, you did post it? I guess you feel like a dumbass. I know I have.

Take it from me, it is an iron-clad law of the blogosphere that the person you least want or expect to find your blog will find it and read it. Everything you post needs to be considered with that in mind. Everything. Note I said "considered" not "censored." Writing is risky. If you are putting out anything at all meaningful or interesting, in any medium, you will lose a few friends and alienate some people. It's Dale Carnegie in reverse. There's no avoiding it. Someone, somewhere, is going to hate something you've posted. Someone, somewhere is going to hate the fact you blog at all. Not everybody is excited about the way social media is transforming and levelizing communication. It's getting better, but there are still people who recoil as if I cleared something nasty from my throat when I say "my blog."

Learning to be okay with not being okay with everyone is a necessary (and sometimes really painful) part of maturation, both as a writer and as a person, but that doesn't mean you should be reckless with your words. Don't post anything you're not prepared to take responsibility for. Be mindful, but not timid. No matter what, if you do this long enough, you will stumble across an old post from time to time and cringe. And that's a good thing. It means you've changed and grown.

Coming up: Rules of Engagement (blogging kids, friends, enemies and innocent bystanders) and Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Trolls.

*"mommy-blogging" was famously declared a radical act at the 2006 Blogher Conference in San Jose.

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Blogger Elizabeth Harper said...

As a relatively new blogger of almost ten months, I struggled a bit with how much to say and when.

I believe as you do that a little mystery is a good who'll buy my first book if they think they've heard it all before.

Your blog has been an example to me of how to walk the line between too much or too little information.

I just share what I think must be said and let the worry about it go. Additionally, I try to think about if what I'm saying is exploitative in any way or does it serve some better purpose even one as simple as opportunity to laugh.

Also, I try to think..could this make it past the NYT fact checker in the honesty department...

I have long appreciated your writing as well as your decorating style and sense of humor...thanks for sharing this new information.

8:29 AM  
Blogger JCK said...

I think this is great that you are posting these tips. I would have loved to read them when I started blogging almost 2 years ago.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Rowena said...

I started blogging 5 years ago, but had no readers until this past year. The readers came when I realized blogging wasn't so much about me as it was about them... or perhaps it was more a dialogue between me and my readers. Keep your readers in mind, give them stuff that's interesting, talk back to them, visit their blogs. That's blogging-- community. Not a place to publish your essays hoping you'll be discovered like some 50's starlet in the drugstore and be made rich and famous... that's NOT blogging.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Schmutzie said...

You've really nailed it with respect to the delicate balance between putting yourself out there and retaining some mystery/not burning friends and acquaintances.

I have had a couple of people that I know of stop reading my website because I did not adequately defend in the comments people I mentioned in the entry.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

Of course, as insightful as this was, I will be ignoring all the tips, as your most useful tip was to ignore most of the rules.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I'm with Schmutzie - you've nailed many things here. I'm only 10 months into blogging and I want to deleted the first couple of months. I had NO idea what I was wading into. It was intimidating for me. Still is sometimes.

Thanks for the advice. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts and tips!

11:58 AM  
Blogger siobhan said...

One advantage on anonymity is that it can free you - in fact, it may be necessary if you want to write freely. I'm a schoolteacher, and I write a personal blog about my classroom experiences. I often write about difficulties with students, and it's essential that I not reveal their identities. Changing their names wouldn't be enough - if a student in one of my classes googled my name and found my blog, they might easily identify themselves or some of their classmates from the situations I describe. I therefore need to keep my blog under a pseudonym. This doesn't mean it's purely anonymous - friends and colleagues read it and know I'm the writer - but it protects the identities of the innocent.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would suggest? propose? that all of these things, can be applied to real life as well. Why people assume that a blog identity is any different from the identity you present in person is something I don't understand. While I love the freedom my blog gives me to erase sentences that just don't sound right before I publish (if only I could do this in real life) I don't feel that I protect myself any more, or any less in real life than I do on my blog. In fact I often wish I didn't have to agree with the receptionist at the doctor's office who is screaming my home address and phone number to the waiting room, that indeed I still inhabit that space.

I particularly like the last bit about maturation. I do think a huge step towards 'being mature' is realizing the please people game is never going to work and ultimately only results in hiding you from yourself.

as always, probing and inspirational, thanks for your words

1:23 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

I'm really digging that this is becoming a collaboration, with a variety of perspectives and experiences. Keep it coming.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

I too wish I would have read something like this when I started over a year and a half ago. One thing I found is that I was super nervous to leave comments on other bloggers posts. I wanted to come off just right so they wouldn't think I was strange or stalking or whatever. What I didn't realize is that most of the time any kind of comment is appreciated, except the trollish ones of course.

I've been reading your blog for about a year as well and have noticed changes in your style here and there but its always so insightful and simple. I wish I could write like you.

P.S. Have you ever considered organizing some type of Arkansas bloggers group? Or is there one I am just not aware of?

1:42 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I've been blogging for about five years, the first two admittedly being very deep in the photo narrative for grandparents arena.

I agree that it is very much about your audience, but that trueness to self is critical. The times I have deviated from what I believe, or more specifically, from how I live, I am less satisfied as are my readers.

I wish someone would have warned me that there will be those that serve as detractors simply for sport. It is more difficult when dealing without the benefit of social nuance- a look, or an inflection- to know when to stand firm and when to simply carry on.

Oh, and the single greatest pearl I have, numbers don't mean a thing. Gauge your success in personal satisfaction, not stats. Period.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Jennifer H said...

I do have something to add, about being mindful about what to post, kind of another side to the coin. In my case, I started to write things about my family, stories from way back that I had never told. That needed telling. It was a strong, declarative act for me, and very powerful. Though it wasn't the point, in the process I publicly called my parents out for what happened back then (I did change their names, mostly to protect myself legally, but my name is on my blog.) Some of the fallout hasn't been pleasant (2 out of 3 of my parents have read the posts), but there's not a single word of them that I would take back. You're right about having to take responsibility.

Most people don't and won't use their blogs in this way, but I was inspired by two other women who did, and I know of at least two other bloggers who were inspired to write their own stories after reading mine. (Humbling and amazing.) Radical acts, indeed.

This is great, what you're doing here. Fantastic advice. I came by it all the hard way, as a student of the live and learn school. ;-)

2:21 PM  
Blogger Joy! said...

I am reminded that as much as I share, I keep an additional rein? restriction? inhibition? on what I publish, maybe thinking of those few worse-case-scenario readers. I sometimes resent that restriction, but I recognize it as a consequence of posting. Then I take on my blog persona as another outfit to wear.

Great topic, thanks! Can't wait to read more!

6:03 PM  
Blogger Heffernhyphen said...

I think you've already started your next book.


8:15 PM  
Blogger ModernMom said...

I'm just a couple of months into this bloggy world, so a newbie! Thanks for writting such a great post.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Deborah said...

Thanks for finding the time to impart some great tips.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Tis I said...

I thikn that when you are just starting (oui, c'est moi) its very difficult to see past the things you want to say for the therapeutic benefit saying them gives, and the things that are actually worth saying to someone else that will resonate with THEM.

The interwebz blurs this distinction even more than it already might be blurred already. On the web you can talk to your self, but be heard...and be replied to...which might feel like being validated when maybe it isn't. (or vice versa).

Very interesting and helpful post, thanks.

6:51 PM  
Blogger slouching mom said...

These are EXCELLENT tips. I started more or less when you did, so I can't use them (more's the pity), but I fully intend to pass them on.

7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously, this is some of the best advice on blogging I've seen around.

I blog without using my real name, but most of my friends know about my blog. I assume I'll be outed at some point and don't say anything I'm not ready for my mom, kid or husband to read.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Jomama said...

Awesome material--this is like finding a great author in the bookstore who has been writing for years but you hadn't heard of. Suddenly you have 20 great books to read, and no waiting for the next publication date!

I started just a few months ago, so these tips are just in time. Found you through the BlogHer ad on someone's sidebar.

11:18 PM  

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