10 Lessons from Writing More Than 1000 Blog Posts

“The first thing you learn when you’re blogging is that people are one click away from leaving you” is a quote attributed to Alex Tabarrok. Through more than a decade of blogging weekly and trying to keep people from clicking away until fully digesting what I’ve had to share, these are the lessons I’ve learned.

Consistency matters

I have repeated Scott Ginsburg’s advice that led me to blog every Sunday, whether I felt inspired or not, often because it is so true. “Make a date with the page,” he said. He was right. I may have missed five Sundays out of the ten years, max. Scott’s advice made me discipline myself and overcome the mythical idea that it takes a magical shot of brilliant insight to get words from the brain, through the fingers, and onto the page. It takes dogged determination to keep at it. Period.

People are going to be insulted and hurt

Honestly, I can’t think of a topic so neutral that someone won’t object. Although my blog topic started off as something pretty specific (being a back of the pack runner), it expanded. I write what I think, and I sometimes write to spark dialogue between people. I try to do so respectfully, factually and clearly. But the online world is not a place where everyone agrees, and a blogger can’t fully control her message. One of my personal principles is to ask myself “is this something you would say in person?” This is especially true with questions that have local ties, such as the student who threatened to sue because she wasn’t selected to the cheerleading squad at my daughter’s alma mater.

Likewise, it still bothers me every day that a Facebook “friend” shared my post about gender reveals with one of her groups, that the group then raked me over the coals as I sat there, diplomatically responding to every single barb and attack, then unfriended me. I know I’m the one with the thin skin to still be bothered by it. But I stand behind what I wrote and am the kind of person who takes it to heart when I can’t come to some sort of reconciliation following a conflict. (Of course it was the attack about my writing that irritated me the most, almost more than the multiple ones about how “insensitive” I am and the fact that I must have some deep-rooted psychological issue.)

Some things are better said face to face (or not at all)

This is a bit of an offshoot of “people will be hurt and insulted,” but it involves a different nuance, I think. While I can’t think of a post that would have been better delivered face to face, I do think the things I write may be perceived differently by people who don’t know me personally than by those who have a different sense of how I conduct myself in person.

Errors happen

I am a freak about accuracy, but write more than 1,000 posts and you’re going to make mistakes. Fortunately, there is an “edit” function and mistakes can be rectified, but it’s much more pleasing to get things right from the outset.

I think way too often of the error I made on this 2012 post about the opening of Jason’s Deli. The restaurant was built on a site that had housed a previous restaurant. Having driven by the vacant building almost daily, in my head it had been several things, so I wrote it as “a location that had seen a parade of short-lived establishments.”

One of the comments (from an anonymous commenter) was:

A “Parade of short lived establishments” in that location? Umm… There was ONE short-lived establishment: Helen’s Diner. The previous occupant, Banjo’s BBQ had been there for decades. One short-lived tenant does not a parade make.

I immediately added an author’s note to respond to that comment, acknowledging that I was unable to document the “parade.” What bothers me is that I’m pretty sure I know who the commenter is. If so, it’s one of two people with whom I still interact frequently and I just wish we could talk it out!

I know I need to make like Elsa and “let it go.” It has been six years after all, but it bugs me!

The other error that sticks with me is one from this blog I wrote as a reflection on a New York Times “Modern Love” column. The column responded to a letter from a reader who had started a relationship with a man, and who wrote about how the man’s former wife was supportive of the relationship. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a former wife choosing to be supportive of a relationship, but this woman didn’t convince me with her account of how she fell in love with the guy while he was still married to his wife.

I did some very amateurish poking around on social media that led me to the inaccurate conclusion about the wrong individual, and made a few unfair and distinctly wrong leaps of “discovery” about the author’s mental health. This is not good because I consider myself a mental health advocate. Once I came to my senses (and my facts), I corrected the post and wrote a clarification. Unfortunately this all came after I had shared a link to my post in the comments of the New York Times article. Lesson learned several times over.

Our positions change

Ten years is a long time to be on this earth. And pretty much anyone, if they are dedicated to personal growth and keeping an open mind, may come to a different conclusion over time compared to what they originally said (or wrote). That said, I can’t think of many posts I look back on and think “how could I have ever felt that way?”

One of the major shifts, though, probably has to do with how I look at disabilities and how I am (hopefully) doing less “othering.” I was heavily involved in Autism Speaks around 2012. There has been quite a bit of movement among many former supporters of that organization. I think specifically of my friends Matt and Jess, who I met in 2012 when I ran a half marathon for Autism Speaks. Although I still feel strongly about supporting people with autism and their families, and especially about making sure there are options for adults with autism to have meaningful work and the opportunity to function as independently as possible, I view autism less from the perspective of “something to be fixed” now and more from the angle of “a different set of features and life skills.” I still can’t adequately address this, but Jess of Diary of a Mom can, and did so here.

Success at blogging requires more than blogging

This depends on your goals, of course. I started blogging to “flex my writing muscle,” but quickly started wanting more: more interaction with readers, more opportunities to do sponsored posts and make some money from blogging, more “community.”

If you want your blog to be more than words on a screen, you have to share it (even though being self-promotional can feel awkward). You also need to share it in other forms (such as video), because people prefer to receive information in other ways. For example, this is a video I did to support my blog about dress codes at internships.

Everyone needs feedback about their writing

Hopefully this goes without saying, but writing is one of those areas where we all need to seek (and act on) feedback. We are our own worst editors. I am thankful to Randi Atwood, who taught a fantastic writing course earlier this year, and who has helped me shape my theater reviews (and opinion pieces) for the Tallahassee Democrat.

People love food posts

Out of all my posts, the 2nd-highest performing post was one I wrote about “hippie juice,” an adult beverage made with powdered lemonade mix and flavored vodka five years ago. It was outperformed by a post I did about brain health, which reassures me a little bit! But still … hippie juice instead of white privilege, getting tested for HIV or a great book? Go figure!

People are reading, even if they don’t comment or tell you

While I know the proportion of people who comment on blogs is small relative to the number of people who read, it still surprises me when someone tells me they read my blog. I’m glad (very), and I know commenting is a pain, but I suppose I wish I could hear more about what people think after reading what I have written. My favorite was a conversation with a friend/reader and the turn the conversation took when we began talking about grocery dividers. It makes me laugh a little bit that people think about me when they are at the conveyor belt (thanks, guys). More importantly, I hope the post makes people recognize microaggressions and resolve to be more aware of them.

I still love writing

A love of writing is the main thing that propelled me down the road of being a blogger. It’s nice to interact with others. It’s really nice to make money occasionally from blogging. Most importantly, it’s rewarding to try to help people be aware of causes for which they can advocate and social problems they can help resolve — to try to help people have a broader perspective that hopefully helps them contribute more fully to the world around them.

If none of that happens, though, I usually walk away from the keyboard happy because words are so enjoyable.

NOTE: Thanks to Mona Andrei, whose How writing 500 posts for my personal blog helped position me as a writer post inspired me to write my own reflection.

lessons from blogging

GRATEFUL CHALLENGE 2015

It’s year two of my taking the Grateful Challenge! (For last year’s post, click here.) Inspired by Spin Sucks, the goal is to set a timer for 10 minutes and try to list 99 things you’re grateful for.

GRATEFUL CHALLENGE 2015

This year’s installment:

  1. My parents
  2. A spouse who understands why it is so important to me that my spouse be my friend as well as my lover (Wayne)
  3. My daughter (Tenley)
  4. My son (Wayne Kevin)
  5. Our cat Alice Cooper
  6. Our cat Bella
  7. My father-in-law (also a Wayne!)
  8. The memory of my mother-in-law (Barb)
  9. A roof over my head
  10. A house with a great running route right outside
  11. Running
  12. Running friends
  13. Fitness
  14. My fitness friends
  15. My Fitfluential relationships
  16. Blogging
  17. My #ChevyPlayMiami experience
  18. Having my son with me in Miami Beach while I was doing #ChevyPlayMiami
  19. My NASA Social experience
  20. My Social Good Summit experience
  21. Being a Shot at Life Champion Leader
  22. Toastmasters
  23. That one special friend
  24. Lunch at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel with that one special friend while the crowds streamed in to see Pope Francis in Central Park
  25. My friend Mary Jane
  26. My friend Audrey
  27. My friends’ children
  28. Tenley’s oportunity to do the Disney College Program starting in January 2016
  29. Dairy Queen Blizzards
  30. Reading
  31. Audiobooks
  32. The perpetual influence of The Diary a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  33. Tallahassee
  34. New York City memories
  35. New York City memories to be made
  36. The play Wicked
  37. My son’s new (to him) car
  38. My son teaching me how to drive his new car
  39. A bus option in Florida that gets me from point A to point B affordably, with wi fi
  40. The Spin Sucks community
  41. My work with Weaving Influence
  42. The leaders I work with through the Lead Change Group, a division of Weaving Influence
  43. Chocolate
  44. A nice glass of wine at the end of each day
  45. My Coach, Kristie Cranford
  46. My KR Endurance team
  47. The child I run for via I Run for Michael, Gareth, and his family
  48. Friends who help with my father-in-law
  49. My sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law
  50. My nieces and nephews
  51. My goddaughters
  52. Being free to worship how I want to
  53. The Twitter community (except the jerks!)
  54. People who teach me about WordPress and help me climb other technical learning curves
  55. Patient people
  56. Smiles
  57. The beauty all around us
  58. Sunrises & Sunsets
  59. Learning about weather from people who are more than “forecasters”
  60. A great set of crepuscular rays in the sky
  61. My coworkers at Weaving Influence
  62. Being paid to do social media
  63. Scott Ginsberg (The Nametag Guy) who encouraged me to “make a date with the page”
  64. The potential of the Global Goals
  65. My role as a Florida Prepaid Blogger Believer
  66. Every opportunity I have had to get paid for blogging
  67. Other blogging opportunities which I did not get paid for or paid my own way for which which have paid off in other ways, most notably in the incredible people I’ve met
  68. The two people I have mentored in Toastmasters
  69. Being able to practice my Spanish
  70. The drivers/staff in Miami and Orlando who just start speaking Spanish to me and expect me to follow along
  71. My half brothers
  72. The trails in Tallahassee
  73. My electrophysiologist
  74. Being able to run still (so I guess thanks for beta blockers and that “running through mud feeling”!)
  75. That one friend who said “talks with you are my sanity”
  76. A sense of humor
  77. That my FIL’s cancer appears to have been obliterated
  78. Doing the zoo run in Tampa in August with my friend Diane
  79. Margaritas!
  80. The ability to read
  81. The ability to write
  82. The ability to speak
  83. The HAMP program
  84. Tenley’s employer, Chicken Salad Chick of Valdosta
  85. Everyone in Valdosta who has helped Tenley the last 1.5 years
  86. The teachers who give Wayne Kevin a chance
  87. The teachers who give Wayne Kevin more than worksheets
  88. The freedom of speech fo expres myself during the “Curious Incident” kerfuffle
  89. The ability to see Curious Incident on Broadway the month after the kerfuffle (which reinforced the fact that the kerfuffle was worth making a fuss about)
  90. Journalists here in Tally who have intelligent dialogues with readers
  91. TV journalists here in Tally who support me in giving voice to important issues like World Immunization Week
  92. My involvement with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
  93. My NYC Half Marathon in March 2015
  94. The Light the Night Walk last month
  95. Silvia, the first child we sponsored in Guatemala via Unbound
  96. Estela, the second child we sponsored in Guatemala via Unbound
  97. Stanley, the child we sponsor in  El Salvador via Unbound
  98. Coming home tonight to find the bah humbug spouse had put the lights on the Christmas tree
  99. My Faith

Want to Join?

It’s never too late to spend ten minutes focusing on gratitude! Let me know if you do the challenge!

Photo Credit: Gratisography

Top Ten Tips for New Bloggers

The Blogoverse has a new citizen and that is a very good thing. Since March, Pam has been blogging at Pass The Honey. pass the honey Pam and I recently started a Facebook conversation about blogging and how to make the most out of a blog. As I started my response to her, I decided to share my thoughts as a blog post.  Pam does have some specific questions, but I am going to share some “basics” first with my top ten tips for new bloggers and save my answers to the specifics for a later post.

Make A Date With The Page

This is the single best piece of advice I have ever been given about blogging. All of the credit goes to Nametag Scott. He advised me to “pick a frequency and stick to it, whether you feel like writing or not.” I prefer a less ambitious frequency to a more ambitious. For example, I blog every Sunday and occasionally create a post on an additional day. If I felt pressure to post three times a week, however, it would be difficult for me to keep that up. “Perspicacity will post every Sunday” also helps readers know what to expect.

Choose A Platform

I began blogging on Blogger and eventually changed to WordPress. For me, the move has been for the better in several key areas. My spam problems (and “anonymous commenter” problems) have been virtually eliminated by the use of Akismet. My ability to use Google Analytics has been enhanced (maybe it’s just as easy with Blogger but I did not start using Google Analytics until I had switched to WordPress).  I find it easier to work with images in WordPress than Blogger.

Quality Writing Matters

No matter how you write (or how widely you distribute your blog), poor writing will hurt your blog and your audience’s receptiveness to future content. Do you want to read mediocre writing? (That said, the main reason I blog is to flex my writing muscle, so I know that some of my writing will be better than other pieces. As with anything else in life, take the time to pay attention to your content rather than posting just to post. (Conversely, I can paralyze myself with worrying about a piece of writing’s readiness. There are times we you just have to press “publish.”))

Think About Images

Different bloggers have different thoughts about images, but for me a post feels almost incomplete without at least one image. I know as a reader I prefer to have a visual to accompany the words. One source of visual content is (wait for it…) our own lives! Here is a post that presents some great tips for creating your own visual content for your blog. Sources of free photo content that does not require permission from the creator are plentiful. I like Morgue File and a WordPress Plugin called PhotoDropper which literally drops in a photo you choose from its collection and attaches the appropriate credit to the post (it is only available for WordPress, though).

A favorite image taken with my iPhone.

A favorite image taken with my iPhone.

Be Accurate

I suppose I worded this one pretty bluntly, but if you are going to write about facts, get them right. I once hosted a giveaway for Jason’s Deli on my blog and stated that there had been a “parade of short-lived establishments since Banjo’s Barbecue had vacated.” There had not been a “parade,” there had been one (not sure where my memory pulled the “parade” from) and a commenter called me on it. Unfortunately, that was when I was still on blogger and the commenter was anonymous (although I am pretty sure I know who it was). The frustration is I would like to have followed up with them personally but could not due to the anonymous comment. (I did make a correction to the post, however.)

Say Yes to Yoast

If you want your posts to be found, one component that is important is your SEO (Search Engine Optimization). A fabulous tool for making your post more “findable” by search engines and the like is the WordPress SEO Plug-in from Yoast.  Among several useful features, Yoast helps the blogger create a “meta description” that is most attractive to potential readers. Let’s take my World Book Night 2014 post, for example. When I first published the post, the meta description was a mess (it appears in the “snippet preview”): WBN Yoast I went into Yoast and made some adjustments (the text in the “meta description” box): WBN Yoast Two

Get Permission

There are protocols that you should follow as a blogger. Certainly if you are going to use an image, give credit to the creator and obey all copyright laws. But “permission” extends to other areas of blogging too. If you are going to excerpt someone else’s writing, link to their original work or credit them prominently and (if it is an extensive excerpt) let them know in advance (or at a minimum send them the link afterwards).

Get The Word Out

I have read various estimates of how many blog posts are published in the world daily. Suffice it to say the number is high. There’s no way you could read them all. For that reason, it is important to make sure your blog gets in front of people.  This is an area where I could certainly make improvements, but for now here is what I do.

  • Make sure there is a place on my blog where people can subscribe by email
  • Participate in Triberr, which amplifies my reach by tweeting out my posts via other bloggers (and vice versa)
  • Participate in Linkups, where bloggers share their posts and agree to comment on others’ posts (a favorite linkup of mine is the SITS Girls Saturday Sharefest)

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Although I blog to flex my “writing muscle,” I would be lying if I didn’t say that comments rock my world. I love to know that people are reading, and I have had some great dialogues via my comments section (as well as heaps of support at various times in my life). “Comment to others” goes in the category of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Share generously on others’ blogs and hopefully many of them will do the same for you. Likewise, respond back when someone comments to you.  Creating a community around your blog (or at least a sense that you’re having an ongoing conversation) is, to me, an important piece of blogging success.

Use Google Analytics

Google Analytics helps you understand how many people are visiting your blog as well as a host of other metrics related to your readership. While it’s easy to get unnecessarily wrapped up in these metrics, it is also helpful to know if anyone is reading (and how long they’re staying, how frequently they’re returning, etc.). I also need to be able to report my Google Analytics data when I am applying for various sponsored post opportunities.

Top 10 Tips

BONUS!

Enjoy it. There is hardly any mistake you could make that would be a fatal flaw. Writing block happens; typos happen. Life gets in the way of posting. Pam, you’re a year away from retirement and, to quote you, “I want an exciting life and I will try my best to have it.” Something tells me you’re going to succeed, and I for one can’t wait to read all about it on your blog!  Pam’s blog can be found at Pass the Honey (link here). Stop by and say hello!

(Lastly, Pam was Tenley’s (my daughter) English teacher last year. Thank you for making her senior year one in which the joy of words was alive and well!)

2012 => 2013 (A Mama Kat Writing Prompt)

2012 => 2013 (A Mama Kat Writing Prompt)

I have fallen out of the habit of responding to Mama Kat prompts. Surprisingly, no search party or anything was sent to make sure I had not fallen into blogging oblivion. Oh well. Her prompts this week are irresistible and, plus, I have already written posts that sort of respond to them. Easy peasy.

For instance, number 1:  Instead of a resolution, some people choose a theme word to live by for the year. Choose a word for 2013 and tell us why you chose it. I didn’t know I even had a word until I went to write a “closing out 2012” post last night. A few hundred words later, I did have a worddirection. You can read about it here.

Number 2 is:  Share any blogging tips you picked up in 2012. I picked this one up before 2012, but the best piece of advice I was given was from Scott Ginsberg, The Nametag Guy. He advised me to “make a date with the page.” Pick a periodicity: twice a week, weekly, every 2nd and 4th Tuesday, every month. Write then, whether you feel like it or not. I don’t think I have missed a Sunday blog in about three years. In addition, I finally switched from BlogSpot to WordPress. That was a long overdue move and it has definitely had benefits.

Number 3 is:   Do you “favorite” tweets you love? Share your favorite tweets from 2012. I do favorite tweets. I have finally given in to favoriting tweets to sort of “like” them as I would on Facebook. That means I do a lot more favoriting than I used to. But my all time favorite is the sequence below. Not to give him a big head or anything, but I think our local meteorologist, Sean Parker, rocks and I always try to give him a Twitter shout-out. So when he tweeted about a local traffic situation only miles away from me, I said, “I’ll never get this kind of personalized news from @samchampion.” (And it’s important to note that I am a HUGE Sam fan; I was just trying to point out the benefits of local news presence.) As you can see below, Sam took exception to that:

2012 => 2013 (A Mama Kat Writing Prompt)

And I have been happy ever since. 🙂

Prompt #4 was: “Resolutions. Love’em? Hate’em? Tell us why. Make one?  Talk about your resolutions or goals for 2013.” Mainly, I still want to achieve my 2012 (and 2011…and 2010) goal of running a 5K in less than 30 minutes. This will be the year.

Lastly, prompt #5 was:  Share your top 10 favorite quotes from your kids in 2012. I have teenagers, so I got nothin’ here. Except this gem that was tweeted by my 16 year old daughter this fall. I can’t find the actual tweet, and she may not know I saw it, but I did. Oh yes I did. And memorized it:

“My parents made me the awkward child I am today, and I don’t know if I can ever forgive them. #SorryNotSorry”

These are the kinds of tweets that could make Sean and/or Sam predict stormy weather ahead……….

 2012 => 2013 (A Mama Kat Writing Prompt)