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Blogging: You’re Doing It Wrong

28

October 19, 2014 by Paula Reed Nancarrow

From a post by Tom McPharlin - The WordPress Way

From a post by Tom McPharlin – The WordPress Way

There’s a right and a wrong way to do everything, isn’t there?

Why should blogging be any different? So when I had the opportunity to enroll in a six week online blogging course, taught by an expert, I jumped at the chance. After all, if I’m putting this much effort into a weekly writing venture, shouldn’t that effort count for something? Don’t I want to do it right?

The course began last week.

It is sponsored by the Loft Literary Center, a unique institution in Minneapolis that fosters writers of all kinds. I have taken several courses on writing and memoir there, but “Becoming a Standout Blogger” from Patrick Ross is my first online course. Which seems appropriate for the subject matter.

Patrick writes a blog called The Artist’s Road: Creativity, Writing and an Art-Committed Life, and he has a book coming out on that topic this month. His blog has won a few awards of its own – not chain letter awards, like I’ve discussed in one or two recent posts, but awards like the 100 Best Websites for Writers award for 2014; Top Ten Blogs for Writers (2011, 2012), and Top Fifty Blogs for Authors. He has a page rank of 5, which is higher than mine by a factor of…umm…five.

I can – and will – learn a lot from Patrick Ross. Yet the question remains.

What makes a person go out of their way to find an expert, only to then disagree – or at least offer a caveat – to everything they say? I see it in my fellow students. I see it in myself. We ask for advice, and then we resist it.

I believe the Powerpuff Girls have been assimilated...Via knalljaas at deviantart.com

I believe the Powerpuff Girls have been assimilated…Via knalljaas at deviantart.com

A former boss of mine (who I naturally see as much more of an expert, now that he is not my boss) once lent me a book by Peter Block entitled Flawless Consulting. I was doing some freelance work at the time, but I think the main reason he lent me the book was that I needed to learn how to handle a perennial professional problem: being in a position to have influence over behavior and attitudes within an organization, but having no direct power to make or implement any changes myself.

Consultants are not the only ones who find themselves in this position. Teachers – especially continuing education teachers in courses with no grades – encounter resistance frequently, in ways that I know I would find very frustrating.

For most people, resistance to new or different ideas is part of the learning process.

Please point on the map to the blogosphere...

Please point on the map to the blogosphere…

The trick is figuring out when that resistance is coming from an emotional place that impedes growth, and when it is the result of a healthy skepticism that fosters growth.

Resistance that comes from an emotional place, as the aptly-named Block notes, often looks like this:

  1. Your assumptions/ premises don’t apply to me.
  2. You’re not saying anything I didn’t already know.
  3.  I don’t have enough information to know whether or not I agree with you yet (and I never will).
  4. Your suggestions are nice but impractical.
  5. Sure, ok, great, whatever. (Accept, then ignore.)

 

Where resistance to blogging advice is concerned, it is easy to get stuck in any or all of these places, but I think number one is where there’s the most room for legitimate debate, as well as heavily invested emotion, especially when writing is a form of creative self-expression.

There are so many different types of blogs.

Patrick offers us a spectrum, from blogs which are essentially personal journals to blogs which do investigative journalism – and so many different motivations for blogging along that spectrum.

 

For example, watch this TED talk by Mena Trott, “the founding mother of the blog revolution” (if you can watch it; I found her moving back and forth at the podium distracting, so I just listened). It’s one of the introductory resources Patrick pointed us to.

Then watch this video by Darren Rowse from Problogger, which I came across myself:

With the exception of one reference to a friend who writes a blog on personal video recorders and supports his family entirely through ads, what do these two pieces have in common? Precious little.

Much of the advice available on blogging these days is professional, not confessional, in nature, and product, not process, oriented. Darren Rowse is still giving much of it. Mena Trott, as far as anyone knows, has gone back to sewing. (And she may have the better bargain.)

So what does it take to be unique in the blogosphere?

Is it genuinely possible to develop common strategies for being a “standout blogger” within such a broad spectrum? I guess I am about to find out.

If, that is, I can keep an open mind.

What do you think?

Yoan Capote, Open Mind, Courtesy The Farber Collection

Yoan Capote, Open Mind, Courtesy The Farber Collection

28 thoughts on “Blogging: You’re Doing It Wrong

  1. Annecdotist says:

    Oh dear, Paula, I started reading your post with great enthusiasm: you’re going on a blogging course and can share the results of your learning with the rest of us and soon we’ll all have The Answer. Then I watched the two videos: oh, yawn! Is this my resistance at work? Maybe I’d better mull it over and reserve judgement until you’ve enlightened us a little more.

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    • I don’t expect I’ll do the enlightening, Anne; I took the course because I really like Patrick’s work, and primarily because he promised to talk about how blog posts are similar to and dissimilar from essay writing – which I believe is the topic this week. In fact the first blogging advice I ever paid for was from Darren Rowse – $9.95 for the Problogger’s First Week of Blogging Guide, which I took months to get through, to plan a blog on mindfulness and creativity that I then never launched. And that’s not to say that there was not a lot of good, useful advice in it. It may come down to that “planner vs panster” debate I see so often among novel writers. Perhaps I just need to get out there and do it, then figure out where the intersection between what I’m passionate about and what people are interested in is located. At any rate, I’m trying to reflect on my own experience while also respecting the privacy of the class. We’ll see how that goes.

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  2. Terry Tyler says:

    I realise that I might be talking about something irrelevant here…. I am sure my posts break all the rules, especially those on my personal (as opposed to my UK Arts Directory) one. I think people can either write engagingly or they can’t – and I’m afraid that I stopped watching the videos early on, too. I get that this is probably something entirely different (ie making money from blogging).

    There are some blog that make me want to go to sleep or throw my laptop out of the window, namely the ‘my wacky domestic life’ ones, in which the family are called things like Trucculent Teenager and He Who Must be Obeyed – there are too, too many of them and few can do them well (Carol Hedges is the only one I’ve seen). Others are the writing tips from people who’ve written one novel. And the too personal ones – those that should be kept for a diary, really; I think that if you’re writing about a personal experience it needs to be done in such a way that you are ‘speaking’ to the reader, not just talking about yourself. For blogging is about communication, isn’t it?

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    • Not irrelevant at all. And I need to make it clear that one of the first things I read from Patrick was that you need to break the rules on occasion. The title, ironically, comes from a piece I recently read on how to write compelling blog post titles. And the RTs today from people I don’t know through MondayBlogs have definitely increased – though sometimes that seems to be just about the image.

      Making money from blogging IS different, and yet it’s not, to the extent that a clear focus is a part of engaging writing. I think part of the reason I need to listen to advice from people like Darren is that I will obsess over things that do not advance me financially, because I am passionate about them. Let’s face it, I can’t put my blog page views into a retirement account…. ;-)

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  3. Greg Mischio says:

    Paula – I think the key to any blog is for you to write about something that you truly enjoy writing about. A blog is a long-term engagement, and if you find yourself avoiding doing the writing, then you’re sunk.

    My blog has nothing to do with writing self-tips, or anything that the “experts” might have proclaimed to be strategic in terms of building a following. I just chose to write about things I like to write about, and I really don’t care who follows or who RTs it. I write for a living, doing content marketing for people, and if I have to compromise my creative writing, then I’m right back working for the man.

    Long answer short: Write what you love. You won’t be able to sustain anything else.

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    • Good advice, Greg. Unfortunately I also love been followed and RT’ed… and I’ve begun to wonder if that is causing what we in the nonprofit world sometimes refer to as “mission drift.” But that’s a post for another time. I don’t find myself avoiding the writing; but I am a slow writer and thinker, and I do find it hard to write (let alone think!) after a full day writing at work; if you ever choose to break custom and do a tips post on that, I’d be one of the first read and RT’ers. Not that you care. ;-)

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  4. Patrick Ross says:

    Hi Paula,

    Kudos for exploring your initial reactions to my class on your blog. For the benefit of your readers, let me direct them to a post I did for the Loft Literary Center on the spectrum chart I developed that you discussed. People can make of it what they will: https://writersblock.loft.org/2013/06/14/2446/knowing_your_blog_audience

    I would note that Mena Trott does not speak for me, nor me her. I should make this clearer to students, but the third-party material I direct people to is designed to provoke thought and reflection; I am not presenting it as “right way and a wrong way.” I do stand by my own curricula, but as you hint at, I do not believe there is a right way and a wrong way to blog, and I think my own curricula reflects that.

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    • Thanks, Patrick. I don’t think Mena’s trying to give any advice about blogging either – I meant to include her, as you did, as an example of the wide range of blogs out there, relative to the question as to whether there’s any way to generalize as to what makes for successful, or standout, blogging. Like I said, I was more interested in the psychology of where my own caveats come from (including perhaps my own desire to impose a “right” and a “wrong” on things), and trying to decide whether those caveats were even legitimate. I’m not at all sure what to make of the fact that the advice I’m getting about compelling blog titles may have made the post sound more combative than I intended. I am already thoroughly enjoying the course.

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  5. Lisa Reiter says:

    I caught the end of an interesting BBC Radio 4 program on communication the other afternoon whilst driving. From the bits I heard, the internet along with blogging and tweeting are evolving new forms of communication – sort of equivalent to dialect – so fast, it’s probably too soon for anyone to claim to be an expert on any aspect of it!

    I’m an expert at my own blog and that’ll have to do!

    Another great thought-provoker, Paula – Thank you :D

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  6. Appreciate the resources you’ll worked in here; just checked out Patrick Ross’ link on The Loft site, and learned I’m an experiential blogger. Good to know! The Loft will be at the Texas Book Festival in Austin this weekend, and coincidentally, I’d made a note to visit their booth. Glad to know you’re taking their course, Paula, looking forward to following what you share.

    It’s hard to tune out the advice of all of the “pro bloggers” who have made a business of telling the rest of us how to be just like them, but I’ve learned to do so, after a year or so of avidly trying out all of the candy they offer. In my jaded yet humble opinion, they’re making a living out of exhorting the rest of us to use their techniques to become marketing machines. But people like you, and I’d like to think me, who blog with genuine effort to be real and honest aren’t suited to their form of blogging. Sure, the advice blogs all have their place; I read them, of course, but not too much anymore. I prefer the writers whose words (and images) come from someplace real, like their hearts.

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    • Jann: Yes, there’s a real self-referential, almost solipsistic feel to all this. It reminds me of the media’s preoccupation with the influence of its reporting on events. (Not that there isn’t some.) At one time, I was told, 50% of the tweets on Twitter were about how to use social media. Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget made me keenly aware of the issue of who owns the platform. And who’s making the money. But we all want that golden ticket, don’t we? And people who market well insist that it does come from their hearts – that they don’t try to sell products or practices they don’t strongly believe in. I also do believe there are things about good marketing that are fundamental to good communication – I have to “sell” a nonprofit’s programs every time I write a grant. At any rate, I did find the contrast between Mena’s idealistic “we’re going to change the world one blog at a time” and Darren’s “be passionate and focused and your blog will make money” interesting. It’s worth noting that all we’re talking about in class is what goes into compelling writing. It does have me thinking about the difference between the kind of writing I want to do in my blog and being a copyblogger.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The Loft is an interesting model for creating learning communities around writing. I’m not quite sure why they’d be at The Texas Book Festival, because they don’t publish books, so I’ll be interested in hearing more. I do think that Darren and many other professional bloggers value authenticity; he says over and over again that he can’t persist in a blogging project that he’s not passionate about, and that you should write about things you truly love. Still, I read Marsha Sinetar’s Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow when it came out in 1989, and I’m still waiting…

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  7. I’ve been blogging since 2006 (has it really been that long?) and I find that, like me, it keeps evolving as I go!

    I even deleted it and started over in 2008 or so… It certainly does not take the place of my personal journal. While I’ve never been averse to making money from my blog, I haven’t directly monetized it in years.

    That said, it was blogging that turned me into a professional travel writer to begin with! An editor stumbled onto my blog and hired me for a paid writing gig, and it just grew from there!

    I’m curious to read about all the things you learn from this course!

    ~Tui, popping by from #WWWblogs :)

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    • This comment particularly heartened me, Tui, because it’s nice to remember that things like this do occasionally happen. I expect they’ll be a few posts on what I’ve learned, hopefully spread out a bit so it’s not all blogging, all the time. Right now there’s a lot of peer critiques and forum interaction within the class itself which is taking up time I normally use to read and respond to other blogs…

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  8. A thoughtful post as always, Paula. As I read your discussion of the course, (which sounds worthwhile) I also measure it against my thoughts about my blogging journey which, for me, is different from my journey a writer – but then maybe questioning the process, questioning oneself, not being smug and derisive of others efforts is all to the good.

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    • It is a different journey. I am more and more aware of that. And I’m all in favor of questioning, humility, and compassion. ;-) I would love to hear more about why it is a different journey for you, either here or in a post of your own sometime.

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  9. I often ask myself this same question, Paula. And the answer to that question come in part with understanding no matter how much we resist change and our own growth, it’s inevitable. Once we learn where we stand not only within the blogosphere, but within the entire universe, I think our writing shines. All of us are different. If we learn to use our uniqueness and knowledge in art, writing, experiences, and life itself, I think our blogs can definitely gather up followers and take us places. It’s also about being honest and true to ourselves; not fake. We use our differences to stand out and this is what makes us special; all of us.

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  10. Interesting post, Paula! I think when you write posts like the binders for women one you get a lot of interest because you were showing a new angle (how the secretness of it wasn’t really a secret) about something people on Twitter & fb were interested in. And you wrote about it really well too!

    I’ve been tempted to read some of the blog advice posts out there but then I have to remember that no matter what I do I’ll probably continue not making money from blogging so I might as well write what I like when I like :)

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    • Thanks, Ariel. #Binders Full of Fight Club Women and its followup post On Getting the Binders Bump were indeed a unique experience. I recently got an invitation to peek behind the curtain; not at all sure whether I should take the opportunity.

      I do think that a lot of the blog advice for people trying to make money blogging is good information about writing and audience attention span. I did find it interesting that Mena’s talk was about how blogging had changed the world through opening up options for self-expression and ease of publication, and only incidentally about how some people could now make a living at it (unlike Darren’s, which focused on this). And yet when a personal post of hers went viral and she got comments urging her to leave her husband because he wouldn’t let her buy a mandolin, she really didn’t like the attention. It was a “standout” post, by all the current measures, but the response felt intrusive to her, and she stopped posting things people who were not in her immediate circle of friends and family might misinterpret. Now both she and her husband seem to keep a very low profile; they both have Twitter accounts, but rarely seem to use them. Perhaps they made their fortune early and can now focus on family and do what they like. I hope so.

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  11. Wow … where do i even start from? Trying to articulate my response using the keyboard and my brain, whilst feeding my child and keeping him on my laps.

    A lot to digest … i haven’t read something this academic in months. I’ve really enjoyed the deep thinking about blogging in your post and comments. My blogging journey is very centred about my entrance into motherhood and I only started my blog just about 3 weeks ago. You’ve definitely given me something to think about. I’m struggling to express myself (blame the baby brain) so i’ll pause here for now. I’m pinning your article to revisit later.

    Thanks for sharing :-)

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    • Oh, my dear, you really don’t need to think about any of this yet. Just use the blog for what you want to use it for. I’m actually working on a new post for Monday on just that. ;-) And thank you for visiting. Will hop on over to yours and take a look!

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  12. rob paxton says:

    That resistance to change is a human thing, and serves us across a lot of different aspects in our daily lives. Not just writing. From a personal perspective, as one who likes to think he’s in ‘perpetual growth mode’, I’m not. It’s a nasty, hard lesson to learn that I don’t know everything and even harder to admit it because that means letting personal barriers down, and opening up. In regards to writing, I write because I have something important to say, at least to myself, and if someone else happens to listen, not read, but listen, I’m all the more happier. I’m also not constrained by a belief that I’ll ever make any money by writing. I’m just free to write. Lots of good thoughts, tho’.

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