Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Tips for Becoming a Happier Blogger

Before I started blogging, I carefully considered a lot of aspects of the experience and purposefully set out to avoid certain behaviors which I felt would undermine my enjoyment. Keep in mind that I'm not looking to be a "successful" blogger, but a happy one. If you're blogging for personal fulfillment rather than financial success, you may find this list of tips helpful:
  1. Don't put a counter on your page or monitor page views or access from unique IP addresses. Once you start thinking about who and how many people are reading, you will start to feel sorry for yourself if your audience isn't big enough or pressured to write even when you don't feel like it to maintain your audience.
  2. Don't write everyday because you feel you have to have a steady track record of writing continuously. If you don't feel like you have anything to say, don't coerce yourself. If you pressure yourself to write, it'll feel like a job. Conversely, don't slack off entirely because you aren't on a daily schedule. When you have the thought, "that would be interesting to blog about," or think you've had an experience you'd like to remember, make sure you act on the impulse to blog about it.
  3. Moderate your comments and don't post rude or offensive ones. It's fine if people disagree with you in a civilized way, but a great deal of disagreement on the Internet tends to be expressed with hostility and at times includes ad hominem attacks. If you are sensitive and find comments upsetting you or spoiling your blogging experience, disallow comments. If you really want comments and are sensitive to anonymous people writing you abusive messages, have someone you trust moderate them for you to shield you from them. Note that, in blogger, you can selectively allow or disallow comments to individual posts so you can decide not to accept feedback on certain types of posts.
  4. Never belittle your subject matter or your thoughts. Don't write about something in your life and tell your readers that it's boring or mock yourself about how "exciting" your life is. If you want to talk about something and enjoy doing so, then that is all that matters.
  5. Try to research the topics you write about which seem to reach a dead end or feel somehow incomplete. You'll find that learning more about a subject will help you flesh out your ideas and assist in building a more gratifying post.
  6. Seek balance in your rants and learn more before carrying on about an issue. If you focus excessively on the negative, you will be dwelling on how angry or unhappy you are as your write. Seeking mainly to justify that anger as you write rather than trying to get past it may be cathartic, but it won't serve you well emotionally in the long run. It'll also invite people to disagree with you because it's much easier to take issue with a heavily-slanted viewpoint than a balanced one. If you try to take the time to research and consider the flip-side of an issue, you may find your anger dissipating and your understanding growing. You'll also write a better post.
  7. If a topic interests you but you can't seem to get the ball rolling on talking about it, save it and go back to it later. If it feels flat when you look back on it 3 months later, abandon it. There's a good chance though that the impulse that inspired you to start writing about it initially will re-visit you and you'll get your momentum back.
  8. Don't check search engines to see if you are showing up in them as a means of determining if readers can find you. Since you have no control over what shows up in search results, it will only make you feel disheartened, ignored, and powerless if your posts are on the 3rd page or later when searches are conducted.
  9. The most positive way to increase your readership is to read other sites and post interesting or insightful comments and to link to your blog. A lot of my readers have found me through my comments on other sites. You not only bring readers who are already interested in what you specifically have to say, but you also make someone else happy by commenting to them.
  10. Never use (full) real names for yourself or others. If your blog is a business one or meant to generate money, it may be useful to use your full name, but using real names can introduce the threat of "discovery" by people who know you (and open you up to stalking). The chances that you'll feel anxiety related to blogging (or possibly even decide to delete the blog or posts in fear later) increase if you use real names. Remaining anonymous will allow you to talk about relationships that interest or trouble you as part of your blog should you like to do so.
  11. If you don't have a digital camera, consider buying one so you can add pictures to your blog. Your posts will feel more interesting (even to you) and you'll have a visual record of the things in your life which were occupying your attention when you track your personal history through your posts. However, don't put up personal photos (same reason as the previous tip). If you want to put up a site or gallery to share with distant family members, make it a separate one from your serious blogging site so your writing can be free of the fear of "discovery".
  12. When considering topic fodder for a blog, don't dwell only on "news" or experiences. You'll find writing about thoughts and opinions more fulfilling then simply being a news anchor to your life's events. Most people's inner lives are much richer than their outer ones. Using your posts as a means of exploring your internal processes can be very fulfilling and more enjoyable. It'll also reduce the chances that you'll find yourself having to follow tip #4.
  13. Don't be competitive with other bloggers or think about how your writing, content, or readership stacks up to theirs. Focus on self-fulfillment and how your writing helps you grow personally and explore life.
  14. Try not to be self-conscious and judgmental about speaking about your feelings. If you keep things anonymous, you can express any idea on any topic you want including what makes you incredibly happy or sad. While my blog is not "hidden" from family and friends, I'm probably about as uninhibited as a person can be about telling those around me who know me in real life about the things that make me happy or trouble me. Most people aren't that comfortable putting themselves out there in front of people who know them. If you wall off writing about your life in this personal way, you have to write around your life in an awkward and somewhat stifling way. This forces you to contort your content or gut it of its essential elements to sanitize if for the consumption of those who know you. This can feel like wearing a straight jacket and undermine your enjoyment of blogging.
  15. Don't let your blog consume your life or define you in any way. It's an outlet for creativity, logging your personal experiences and developing ideas, not your real life.


mjgolli said...

Wow! Was this blog directed at me? LOL! I see a lot of me and my blogging habits in your tips. I'm going to try to work a little harder on not being so serious and not being so negative. These are great tips and ever so true. You should write a book on blogging!

Shari said...

This may sound strange, but, these tips are directed at me! However, I've noticed you and I have certain things in common and a similar blogging style so it wouldn't be surprising if they applied to you as well. :-)

Doing this post is a way of reminding myself what not to do because I find myself feeling stress at times associated with my blog.

Well, it's not all directed at me. Some of it is directed at no specific person who comments here but at a general tendency I notice among some blogs to project a relatively "sterile" posting front which hides their feelings and thoughts. I've also seen folks who had interesting blogs delete the entire thing because people knew about it or who have had to edit themselves excessively because their coworkers knew about their blogs.

You probably wouldn't be shocked to learn that not one of my students know of my blogs existence. I couldn't write and enjoy it if I had to censor myself for that audience because I'd have to project a completely non-critical persona and hide any negative feelings I had about experiences with students.

Thanks for your kind words and for commenting, as always!

mjgolli said...

I have purposefully not told anyone of my blog, except for my pal Chris and his wife, and my good friend Brenda. I never had to censor myself in front of them, which is nice. I wouldn't say anything in my blog that I wouldn't say to them in person, so I feel pretty safe.

I just wouldn't want my parents to read it. While everything is relatively mild, I would have to wonder what they thought and how they would react. They can come unglued by some of the, in my mind, silliest things. I'm afraid that I would have to explain things to them, and that can be awkward.

The more I think about it, and going back over everything that I have written, I notice that I wouldn't say anything in my blog that I wouldn't say to an acquaintance or friend. I think that is key. I don't want to be one of those people that has a different persona online than in real life. If you can't be yourself online, how can you be yourself in real life?

The thing that bothers me most about blogging, and when I say bothers me...I mean REALLY bothers me, is my grammar and sentence structure. I read my blog four to five times a day...not because I'm vain and like to read my writing...but I have to go back over it and proofread. I don't want anyone to think I'm an idiot that can't construct a decent sentence or can't spell! LOL!

And thank you for your kind words and for actually reading my blog! :)

Shari said...

I think you shouldn't say anything in your blog that you can't say to those close to you. However, we are all different people based on our relationships with people, and that really is as it should be. There are things I'd only reveal to my husband and things I wouldn't talk about in my blog because there is a time, a place, and an audience for everything.

Some might view this as not being oneself but I think none of us can honestly say we are 100% ourselves with anyone but a handful of people. At work, we constantly have to be other people. Around our parents, we have to be other people than with our friends (otherwise it provokes problems or worries parents).

I'd say I'm about as much of myself on-line as I can be for this type of forum, but clearly, no one is entirely themselves in a blog. For one thing, we have time to reflect and be thoughtful. Emotions get processed out of the picture to some extent. In real life, there's far more passion and far less control.

This topic sort of deserves its own post, don't you think? ;-)

I do my best to control grammar and spelling errors but sometimes there is a short circuit between my eyes, typing fingers, and my brain. I can read the same thing twice and still not see a mistake. It's as if I mentally auto-correct and can miss a mistake several times. Mind you, my spelling, grammar, etc. are actually quite good, but there's sometimes just a mental blind spot there, especially with certain words. Sometimes, I'll type a word that sounds like the word I want to say and I go back and see this weird word there. I think it's because I touch type and do so very quickly.

I tend to be pretty tolerant of other people's glitches because of my own problem, but I hate net speak with a passion. If a person is too lazy to type "are" instead of "R" then I'm too lazy to read what they have to say!

Emsk said...

This is an interesting and very useful post you've got here. Sometimes I do regret saying where I was teaching when I first came to Japan, although I've never named the company. It has meant that I've skirted quite close to the wind, plus of course people can see who I am!

This time, having moved to a completely different part of Japan, I've learnt and have decided not to say where I live, for the very reasons you've listed here. I do think that it's working.
Again I have student stories and the little that is known about where I am the freer I can be in my writing.

I guess I only wanted to keep this as an online diary to begin with, which wasn't far-sighted of me. I'm surprised at myself for not being as I've always been an avid writer. Still, you live and learn.

lostinube said...

My blog is a bit different in tone and style than yours but I find your advice quite useful.

One thing about using a tracker for your blog is that I've found different communities and sites by looking at where my traffic was coming from (this is only useful for blogs with low traffic though). I also found a Japanese blogger who took all my photos from a wrestling event and used them in their own blog (they credited me but never contacted me). So tracking traffic does have good points.

Proof reading has never been in my skill set so lots of typos get through, especially during my live-blogs where I'm trying to capture the mood and flow of the events I'm covering. But as long as I'm not doing a scholarly blog I give myself (and others) some leeway in that regard. Unless the error is staring me in the face. Then I have to do something about it.

Research research research. I love googling things. One of the reasons I started blogging was because I would look for something on google but there would be little or no information on the topic, especially in English. I want others to share in the interesting things I've found and done. But I want it done in way that will lead to the reader doing more research on their own. Turning non-fans into fans and whatnot. Even a short youtube derived post can sometimes take up to half an hour because I'm often looking for background information and suitable links to go with it.

Jon Stewart often says don't fall in love with your audience because eventually you'll let them down. Writing everyday creates expectations. Getting linked by bigger blogs creates expectations. Becoming known for a certain type of content creates expectations. However small my audience is I have become known for something and feel like I have to deliver it to them. Right now it's fine. It's still enjoyable. I can't imagine what more well-known bloggers go through. It has to be fun for you first and foremost. The audience is a distant second.

I've just completed my first year running a blog and it's been quite fun to be a creator of content rather than just a viewer!

tornados28 said...

That was some great advice. I agree with mjgolli. It's like your post was directed to me.

Great advice.

Shari said...

Emsk: I think I pondered a bit longer and harder before starting a blog than most folks do because I had a lot of reservations about doing one at all due to some experiences on usenet which taught me how even anonymous exposure can open you up to a lot of grief. Of course, if anyone I teach just happened to do the exact right search and find me, they'd know who it was in a second since they come to my apartment and my site is riddled with pictures showing my apartment (and the neighborhood). However, I consider it a "needle in a haystack" thing and don't really worry about it.

LostinUbe: You make very good points aout the utility of using trackers. To be honest, though my pictures aren't any great shakes (though I think some of the ones my husband has taken are pretty good), I sometimes wonder if any of them get pinched but I can't say that I care enough right now to track them down. I'm curious about what you did when the pictures were used. Did you contact the person who used them and explain that they should have asked?

The quote you gave from Jon Stewart about not falling in love with your audience is a very apt one. I used to have a frequent reader and commenter who really liked my site at first and I could tell was growing increasingly annoyed at me. I think that the more you write, the higher the bar is raised for people to continue to like you because there's an increased chance they'll grow bored or you'll say something that touches a nerve. I felt really bad about losing that person as a reader, but, in the end, had to realize that I can't be responsible for how people process what I write and what conclusions they make so there's no point in growing too attached to any particular person.

tornados28: I'm guessing a lot of us are in the same boat. I don't want to make it sound like I'm a zen blogger or anything. I fight to keep the tips I gave in mind so that I can stay happier, but I don't always succeed.

Many thanks to all for taking the time to read and comment. It's always appreciated!

mjgolli said...

Saying that you have had problems on UseNet...sheesh, that brings back memories. Posting on usenet and chatting on IRC were some of the greatest things about the internet...but can lead to some of the worst experiences one can imagine.

I remember years ago, just after I got my ham radio license, that a buddy of mine and I talked to a bunch of people over IRC, alot of them still friends in the club I belong to today. But there were certain elements that joined in...unfortunately local to us both...that started causing trouble and aggravating us. This quickly left IRC and became personal. Thankfully, I was not the target, but my pal Greg was. Several people that frequented the IRC chat room discovered where he lived and sabotaged his antennas which blew up the amp in one of his radios. All we were trying to do was talk to other local ham radio enthusiasts. That is when most of us in that chat room left IRC for good for AIM and MSN Messenger.

It got so bad that I was ready to return my license to the FCC and wash my hands of it. Thankfully, the people in our club that were there talked me out of it. I'm glad they did, and I'm glad I stuck around with them.

Boy, I make such long winded commentarites! Sheesh! Perhaps I will blog about these events because when I look back on them there are some amusing points that I didn't even go into here...

But I sincerely don't miss the flame wars on usenet and nastiness on IRC...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing. I'm new to blogging and these are some things I need to think about. I started my cooking project in a forum to document what I'm learning about Japanese food, but it seems easier to keep the track of everything in a blog. It's a learning curve, but I'm having fun.

Anonymous said...

Great tips and advice, Shari. I love this post the most..

You always made sense and thank you for that.

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and I am wishing all the love, happiness and best of health this 2008!

Keith said...

Wow! Great advice! I make sure to never tell anyone my full name or the names of my friends, but I've never thought much about most of your other points. Thanks for the tips, I will remember them often!

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice. I tend to obsess about stats and things like that.