Since having my son, I have not been the best blogger in the world, but that doesn’t meant that I’m not thinking about blogging. I probably have a year’s worth of posts in my head, but always time with adorable toddler trumps blogging. I wish I could be more of a Tweeter, but I find it even more difficult to find my rhythm in that medium. I can’t just sit all day at work with Tweetdeck open because it distracts me from the work I’m doing (how do people do that and actually get anything done? I’m really curious!). Popping in and out periodically doesn’t really lead to the sort of satisfying conversations I’d like to be having. And it’s the same with Google Plus and Facebook — I just can’t find a way to use these in as satisfying a way as I did blogs.
Let’s face it: I’m a blogger. I like the asynchronicity of it. I like not missing things (my RSS reader will hold everything until I have time to take a peek). I like long-form writing (both my own and others’). I like being able to really process my thoughts about something rather than blurting out my first impression. I like easily being able to see other people’s reactions to blog posts in a single space. I know so many people who have given up blogging for Twitter and I totally understand why they like it. The immediacy. The ease of commenting. The fact that it’s a social world and not just one person’s blog. I get it and had Twitter come out two years earlier, I probably would have integrated it into my information diet and online social world much more easily. I often feel sad because I know I feel like I’m losing touch with many dear friends in our profession by not being on Twitter or Google+ or Facebook more often, but I have come to accept that multitasking just doesn’t work for me.
I hope blogging won’t go the way of MySpace, Google Wave and so much other social media. To that end, I thought I’d encourage new bloggers by sharing some advice about what I constantly remind myself of when I write blog posts and what attracts me to blogs as well.
Be authentic – As a new blogger, it can be tempting to try to be like some other successful blogger out there; to emulate their writing style, write about the topics they cover, etc. I can tell you that there is nothing more appealing to me than a blogger who is uniquely themselves in their writing. It’s so obvious when someone is being authentic. It can take time to find your voice. Look at the first few posts on my blog (way back in 2004) and you’ll see that I clearly hadn’t found it yet. It took me a while to be comfortable enough writing in my own voice, expressing my own opinions and writing on the topics I found compelling. Sometimes you don’t know really what topics you find compelling to write about until you’re doing it. We all flounder a bit at the start, but it’s critical to find your own voice. Some great examples of librarian bloggers who write authentically (and beautifully) are Barbara Fister, Char Booth, Andy Burkhardt, and Iris Jastram.
Sometimes you have to ignore your inner critic – oh, I have such a mean inner critic. Basically, my inner critic tells me that everything I write is either too controversial or completely ignorant. I can’t tell you how many times I have hit publish with a sick feeling in my stomach only to find a few hours later that I’ve received tons of comments saying “I totally agree!” or “way to go!” I am a terrible judge of the quality and appropriateness of my writing. It’s helpful to have a friend or partner to read your work when in doubt, though sometimes my husband is even more cautious than I am. I usually ignore my inner critic except when my inner critic tells me I’m disclosing too much. Whether it’s about myself, my place of work, or someone else, if I have the tiniest inkling that what I write might be inappropriate in that way, I will likely shelve it. I also try never to write in anger (this is something learned from experience) because angry posts are almost always a mistake.
I appreciate longer, more thoughtful posts – While I appreciate blogs that provide links to other useful information, my favorite bloggers seem to be working out their thoughts on the page. That’s why I originally started blogging; I was in library school and had so many swirling thoughts about our profession and technology that I needed to work them out through my writing. Even now, I often don’t know what I’m going to write about something until I start mentally working it out while I write! Posts don’t have to be long, but I’ll take a long, thoughtful post over a short post with news and no insight. And I know that not everyone feels that way. Every semester my students seem about 50-50 split on whether In the Library with the Lead Pipe is a fantastic blog or way-too-long journal articles pretending to be blog posts. To each his own. Not everyone is going to like your writing. And if you’re not a long-form writer, don’t try to be. But I personally think blogs like In the Library with the Lead Pipe and Library Babelfish offer such valuable food for thought. I usually have to save their posts until I really have time to digest them, but they’re so worth the wait.
Self-disclosure is great and also can be terrible – I love blogs where I can really get to know the bloggers. I want to know what they struggle with professionally, what they care about, what excites them about our profession. It makes me care about them (and thus, their writing) more. The best professional blogs manage to inject themselves into their posts and all of those bloggers I mentioned under authenticity do that beautifully. However, some bloggers go too far with that, whether it’s personal disclosure, disclosures about work, or about others. I might mention my son from time-to-time, but I’m not going to write blog posts that are solely about him or go on and on about the adorable things he did here. I’m not going to blog details of my trip to the Oregon wine country last weekend. I know most people reading my blog are here for library-related stuff and don’t care about all that. I’m also not going to write about work, my colleagues or my family if I have any inkling that what I write could make people here feel uncomfortable. I choose to respect their boundaries. I will not write things about people that are designed to hurt their feelings. Criticism of ideas is one thing; personal criticism is another. Blind items about people, in my opinion, are actually even worse than writing about someone directly. It’s usually obvious to some people who it is and to everyone else, it just feels like you’re trying to hurt the person you’re writing the blind item about. There were times early in my blogging career when I screwed up in what I disclosed and who I wrote about and I’m sorry to anyone whose feelings I may have inadvertently hurt. I believe strongly that you can be authentic and interesting without ever violating other people’s boundaries or personally attacking people (though people may also be hurt by criticism that was not personal and meant to be constructive — see below — and I don’t think that’s a reason not to criticize someone’s ideas so long as you do it respectfully). Some things just shouldn’t be discussed publicly, in my opinion. If you need to vent, that’s what friends and partners are for.
Accept criticism gracefully – this is another one that I was not always good at and certainly learned from experience. It can be difficult to read negative comments, especially on a post that you really put your heart into. It can sometimes feel like people are attacking you personally. I would suggest that if a comment makes you angry, defensive or sad, do not respond right away. Wait until you are calmer to respond and respond assuming that they had nothing but good intentions with what they wrote. You can disagree with them, but do it in a way that is respectful of their viewpoints as well. And also be open-minded enough to consider their point-of-view. My views on things have changed over time, sometimes inspired by a commenter who saw things a different way. One caveat: sometimes people are actually attacking you personally. The best thing you can do in that case is ignore it. The issue is with them, not you and attacking back or even responding graciously will not lead to a satisfying conclusion. Let it go.
Engage in conversations – whether it’s commenting on another blog post, writing a blog post in response to something someone else has written, or engaging with your own commenters, treating blogging like a conversation instead of a monologue is the best way to attract readers. I’ve been much better at that in the past than I have been lately, but I’m feeling inspired to engage more through blogs (even if everyone is on Twitter). This is where I want to be.
Just thinking about this stuff makes me want to blog more often. We’ll see if I can tear myself away from that adorable blonde budding comedian long enough to do it.
There are so many other important things to consider when creating a blog that people will want to read. What tips would you offer to a new blogger?