Categories
blogging VOTY Writing

How to Craft the Best Blog Post Ever

This morning I clicked through some shared blog links, my feed reader, and the Internet at large. I saw a number of posts dedicated to the topic of blogging itself, which isn’t shocking as BlogHer ’14 kicks off next week. I read these posts with interest, but have my own list of ways to craft the best blog post ever I’d like to share with you.

Like to hear it? Here it goes.

1. Write your heart out.

2. Press publish.

Ta-da! You win!

You can write it sitting down at a computer, standing up on your phone while waiting in line at Starbucks for your latte fix, on the train commuting to your job while balancing your iPad on your lap, dictated through an app on your phone or to your kid who types faster than you. You can even write it on paper, kick it old school with a journal and a pen and a lake and the sunset; type it into your blog later, when you have time, energy, space removed from the immediacy of whatever it was you needed to write right then, in that moment.

Writing Old School

You can put a picture on it. If you do, it can be a fancy pants picture you took with your DSLR, full of shiny bokeh and perfect focus. It could be a snap from your smartphone. It could be filtered within an inch of its life. It could have text on it. Or you could simply not put a photo on your post. The world will not end. Your words don’t matter less if you do not include a photo on your post. “They” say that posts with photos are shared more. I say that good writing is good writing is good writing. True facts.

You could share it. On Twitter or your personal Facebook page or your Facebook Fan page or Google+ or Pinterest or StumbleUpon. Or you could just let people find it, relate to it, and share it at will. Or you could do some combination thereof. Or nothing. It doesn’t matter.

Because crafting the perfect blog post has less to do with views and shares and potential for going viral and more with writing what you want to write at the time you want to write it. Too often, and more so in recent years as we’ve become hyper-focused on making sure other people want to share our posts instead of simply reading our words and relating, we censor ourselves. Or we forget to tell our story and instead blather on about things that matter very little to us in the end. Or we completely lose track of why we started blogging in the first place. Not to say your reasons can’t change, but our voices have changed over the years and a lot of that can be attributed to people telling us what success in blogging means, what it means to be a “good” blogger, what it means to be listed or not.

Remember when we came to our spaces and blathered and pressed submit and didn’t think twice about if it was retweeted or shared eleventy times? Remember when pressing submit on a post you poured your heart into—the very essence of your soul—left you feeling accomplished and proud of yourself, proud of the work you put into your own virtual space? Remember when telling your story meant something to you?

I’ve been working for the past few years on reclaiming that for myself. Last year at BlogHer, I spoke on a panel with three smart women, talking about brands, branding, success, and what it all means to us. We had different experiences, opinions, and processes. I keep coming back to my statement that pressing publish is enough success for me. I’ve written some hard stuff over the past year. I’ve also written about my running journey and sometimes neglected to share with regularity for fear that others might find it boring or trivial or not in “line with my brand.” Then I remembered that I’m not a brand, that I’m a human being and running is part of my story. So is losing my grandmother, watching these brothers figure out brotherhood together, the way I’ve learned to dress myself and this body of mine over the years, my struggles with anxiety and mental health, and everything else I’ve taken time and heart and energy to tippity-tap type out into this space, press publish, and send out into the world.

I recognize that I say this from a complete place of blogging privilege. I’ll walk across a stage in San Jose on Friday night and read a post* at the 7th Annual Voices and Photos of the Year Community Keynote in front of a room full of people I know and love, people I’ve read, people I’ve never read, people who don’t really like me, people who don’t know I exist. I’ll read a post that ranks as one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written. Pressing publish on that post, putting it out into the greater space and showing that part of myself marked a success in so many ways. Instead of hiding, I pressed publish. Instead of censoring myself and being brand friendly, I pressed publish. Instead of letting someone else tackle it, I pressed publish—because it was my story. I’ll be recognized for the success of pressing publish. I get the privilege I have in saying, “Oh, pressing publish is success enough.”

But if I hadn’t been pressing publish for years and years and years and gotten back to a place where pressing publish was enough for me—more than enough for me—I never, ever would have written that post, shared my truth, and sent it out there for others to read, to relate to, to share. It simply wouldn’t have happened.

And so, keep writing your hard out and keep pressing publish. You are successful every single time you do so. True facts.

 

*=Voices of the Year readers have been instructed not to share which post they are reading on the stage until that night. I will have a post that goes live that night so those who cannot attend BlogHer ’14 can re-read what I wrote. Rumor has it there will eventually be video of the Community Keynote as well. Here’s hoping I don’t biff it in my brand new (epic) shoes.

 

Categories
blogging

I Am Not a Brand: You Cannot Purchase Me

I am not a brand.

I am not a brand. I am not a brand. I am not a brand. I am not a brand!

I have, over the past few years, uttered that phrase a number of times — aloud, under my breath, and in my head with some choice words inserted. Every conference, every social media event, every blog-get-together, every Big Name Brand Hosts a Something or Other for Bloggers, the advice is the same: Build your brand. Be your brand. Make sure everyone in your spheres knows about your brand. Become your brand. Breathe your brand. Brand, brand, brand.

Meh.

I came to blogging as an overly emotional, extra whiny college student with too much time on my hands. I wanted a space to whine and vent about the mean girls and the jerky boys — but I also wanted to write from the heart, from the soul. 12 years later, I’ve got most of the emotions in check, I get enough whining from my children, mean girls and jerky boys number far less in my everyday life, and still, I just want to write from the heart, from the soul.

Sunset on One Thought

I come to this place to fill up the white space with the words that can’t always be said aloud, with the thoughts that don’t quite make sense until they’re put down on paper, up on the screen. I come here with a sense of urgency at times, desperate to share both the happy and the sad. I tell the stories of the lives my boys create with one another, the way they weave the canvases of their own lives into that of their brother, of me, of their father, of those around us. I write to remember both the good and the bad, the everything in between. I write because I know nothing else.

But yes, I admit to falling prey to the branding of it all at one point in the mid-range of this journey they call blogging. Shortly after our first son blessed us with his volume and his presence and I fell into the Mommy Blogging Track, people came calling. Not just people, but companies. Brands wanted to work with me, to send me free things — books and toys for my kid and food and on and on and on. Overwhelmed and, yes, flattered, I dug right in. I felt very, “Look at me! Look out how famous I am right now! Voted Most Likely to Be Famous, I am living up to what my high school classmates thought I would become!”

But nothing in life is ever free, is it?

My writing changed for awhile as I wanted to be acceptable to the marketing gurus, to the PR powers-that-be. I shied away from sharing the real me here in this space, left some of the darker sides of my journey in life for a niche blog that I kept separate from here… from me and who I was as a whole person.

And then, I decided I didn’t like the game anymore, or perhaps, being forced to play the game in ways that didn’t feel quite right. Being forced to write a “balanced” review when I couldn’t really think of anything I liked about the product began to rub me the wrong way. Other things — lack of pay for my time, lack of respect from the industry, lack of desire to be what they wanted me to be — began to chip away at my resolve to be part of the branding tribe. I slowly began to back out, taking a year off from reviewing anything that I didn’t purchase myself. After that point, I chose only to work with companies I actively use or through networks like BlogHer that understand that I’m me, first and foremost.

To further illustrate my lack of brand, I will pull from another example in my blogging life.

I had a good thing going with my other, now defunct blog, The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. I won multiple awards. I found myself on many “best of” lists. People recommended that blog as “the best birth mother blog on the web.” Meh. I don’t want to be known as one thing and one thing only. Yes, I’m a birth mother to one of the coolest girls in the world, but I’m also an everyday mother and a wife and an editor and a photographer and a runner and a billion and one other things. The niche narrowed me too much; the expectation that I couldn’t be anything other than that one thing in that one space constricted me to a point that I didn’t want to fill the white space with words and feelings and truths. Other reasons as to why I chose to shut it down after years of success abound, but the truth remains that I cannot be narrowly defined.

Do I feel that those bloggers who do identify as brands are “doing it wrong” or that I am somehow better than them in some way? No. I don’t roll that way; my world has never been black and white, all or nothing. I read and love many a blog written by an individual who identifies as a brand. I follow them, I subscribe to them, I enjoy them. They do things in a different way… and I learn from what they do and don’t do in their own spaces.

Sunrise on Another Thought

But I am not a brand.

I do not rely on editorial calendars, though I do jot down blogging ideas as I go through life. I do not look at the big picture of my blog as a business. I don’t want to be blog famous. I don’t need one million hits to feel validated. I don’t even really check my stats all that often anymore except to see what people Google to land here amongst the pages of my life. I do work with brands, but never in a way in which my personal integrity is ever compromised. I do host advertising on my site, but very passively; I pick out affiliate programs of brands I like and I work with the BlogHer Publishing Network. I do review things (lots of books), many of which I buy on my own. I do respond to PR inquiries if they match my interests; I also often reply with, “I’m not a good match, but you should email so-and-so.” My words, my time, my Internet space, my family, my self cannot be purchased with promises of shiny things or money or free goodies, even if those goodies come in the form of wine.

And, perhaps the best part of not being a brand: I never second guess myself when I write something “controversial” or “outside of the box of socially acceptable material.” I’m not going to lose a sponsorship or a spokesperson job if I cuss in a passionate post. I’m not going to get a slap on the wrist from a marketing rep when I talk about sex or politics or faith or farts or penis jokes or menstruation or whatever.

I share all of this to say, “HEY! COME LOOK AT ME! I’M BLOG FAMOUS!” I kid. Kind of.

I’m speaking at BlogHer ’13 next week in Chicago. The panel I am moderating is entitled, “The UnMarketing Manifesto.” Here’s what they wrote about us on the official Agenda:

What does success look like if you aren’t seeking out advertisers? How do you use your voice to make it have the resonance and reach you need to create the success that matters to you? Define the next steps of success without an editorial calendar or a business plan.

We’re speaking from 2:30-3:10 on Friday, July 26th and again from 10:30-11:15 on Saturday, July 27th at McCormick Place.

For more “I Am Not a Brand” goodness, please check out the manifesto type posts from the speakers on my panel:

These smart women all have different variations and personal reasons for taking the I Am Not a Brand stance. I encourage you to stop by one of our panels if you’ve ever had a weird feeling in your stomach when someone tells you that you need to focus on your brand, if you sit in a networking panel and think, “This isn’t me,” or if you have questions about how to work with brands when you don’t identify as a brand. I also invite those who want to tell us we’re doing it wrong because that could create for an encouraging and important dialogue between parties!

Feel free to leave any questions here you’d like the panel to address, or go ahead and discuss your thoughts on to brand or not to brand.