Happy New Year! What better way to kick off 2014 than with some unsolicited advice?
I distinctly remember the small, Xeroxed sign stuck to the wall with a little piece of clear tape. It hung behind the counter of a linoleum manufacturer in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I’d stare at it while I waited for my sheet of linoleum to be rolled and put into the back of the VW. (I was a commercial photographer’s assistant and the linoleum was used as backdrops in photos. This was some twenty years ago now.)
On the paper was a hand-drawn picture of Charlie Brown wearing a suit and looking like Charlie Brown looks after Lucy has pulled the football away for the umpteenth time. He was sitting down with his head in his hands. Next to him it said: Working here is like peeing in a dark suit. It gives you a warm feeling, but nobody notices. I think about that sign from time-to-time. Blogging is kind of like that, isn’t it?
Sometimes you feel that you are writing into a dark and silent abyss. It gives you some satisfaction to put the words down, but if nobody is reading them, does it matter? It never seems to fail. The post that you labored over, that you’re head-over-heels in love with – the one you are sure will draw readers and accolades from across the globe – drops out of sight mere moments after it’s been published. What’s the sound of one blog clapping?
A good exercise in understanding why you blog is to ask yourself this question regularly: why do I blog? For fame? Money? Free stuff?? For your friends and family? For yourself? The answer will affect how you write your blog and how you present yourself to the world.
Being the (ahem) blogging expert that I am…here are some suggestions for new bloggers or anyone contemplating becoming a blogger.
Acknowledge your ego. We all enjoy and even crave a little attention now and again. What is a blog if not a deeply personal, public request for attention? It’s okay. It’s especially okay if you have something interesting, constructive, funny, or unique to share. I’ll probably pass on the blog that’s nothing but selfies at the gym, however.
Don’t blog too much. Or too little. When I first started blogging, I thought that I had to publish a post every single day – sometimes more than one post a day, even, to attract and keep readers. I thought everyone would be just dying to read what I had to say. But after a few months of that reality hit in the form of Major Burnout. Life is stressful enough without adding that kind of journalistic pressure on one’s self. I’ve settled on a two-times-a-week schedule and that has worked out the best for my own sanity. And probably for the sanity of my readers’.
Here’s another way to look at it. Let’s imagine that you’re a blog reader (which most of us are). What if all of the blogs you follow published one or more posts every single day! You’d have to quit your job! Meals would be eaten computer-side, and the dog would need diapers.
Bottom line – figure out what writing/reading schedule fits with the other parts of your life.
Learn the difference between destructive and constructive criticism. If you’ve blogged for any length of time, you’ve received a snarky or downright nasty comment or two (I personally love the one someone wrote about how the blueberry-macadamia nut sauce on my peanut butter and banana waffles looked like the “blueberries threw up.” Nice.).
And every now and then someone leaves a comment that is uncomfortably close to the mark. Those are the ones that really sting. The trick is separating the wheat from the chaff. Mean comments aren’t constructive – garbage-in, garbage-out I say. But you can learn something from a thoughtful (if painful) comment. P.S. it doesn’t hurt to let 24 hours go by before responding to a harsh comment. And remember the delete function is your friend.
Don’t write for someone else. (But write as if you have readers.) Couple of points here. First of all, don’t try to write in the style of someone else. Readers are canny at sniffing out insincerity. But – – if you like what someone is doing, study their technique. What do you like about their writing? Why do you think it’s successful and/or interesting? Then distill those points down and write in your own voice. (Bonus tip: Writing well also takes lots of reading. I’ve learned more about writing from reading books than from anywhere or anyone else.) My favorite blogs are those where I can really hear the author’s voice and get a feel for their personality. If you don’t like to write, keep the words to a minimum; some blog types (food, photography, art, etc.) don’t require lots of words.
If you want to write: writing well takes practice. Lots and lots of practice – most of which should never, ever see the light of day. Save the good stuff for your public, and in my opinion, spelling and grammar are important. Not only in how something “sounds” to a reader, but it shows that you have respect for the complexity and beauty of the written word, and for your audience as well.
Blogs are like crack. True, not everyone has an addictive personality, but for some of us, blogging is a voracious, time-sucking monkey on our backs. Once we get even a little taste of success (one person commented – woohoo!), next thing we know, we’re upgrading the original blog and contemplating spin-off sites.
The blogosphere is fickle. Blog trends come and go. Readers come and go. Admittedly, I have the attention span of a gnat. Don’t take it personally. You’ll build up a nice loyal cadre of followers and friends. Your
dog blog pack is what makes blogging worthwhile.
You’re only as good as your last post. Keeping in mind your posting schedule and the fickleness of readers, remember that blogs are all about fresh content, activity, and consistency. Once someone leaves your site, chances are they aren’t going to really carry a particular post with them for very long. That’s why you have to keep them coming back with new stuff.
Don’t buy an expensive camera just for your blog photos. I started out using the camera on my cell phone – and yes – it shows. However, there are many bloggers who get fantastic results with their cell phone cameras.
I graduated to a little point-and-shoot and my photos started looking a little better. When I was sure I wanted to keep blogging and I wanted my photos to be more professional-looking, I treated myself to a Nikon D3100. I use it primarily for food photos, but I also take it with me on trips and to capture special moments or situations. It’s a purchase I don’t regret in the least. Incidentally, I’m still strictly amateur. My camera continues to confound me – but every now and again I’m kinda thrilled with an image or two. So – it’s absolutely true that you don’t need fancy equipment – special lighting, props, etc. – don’t break the bank with trappings. Use natural light and the “props” you already have. To hone your skills, food photography advice abounds online and Amazon has tons of books on the subject. A couple of good resources for polishing up your photos:
Focus on Food Photography for Bloggers, by Matt Armendariz
Tasty Food Photography, by Lindsay of Pinch of Yum
Food Photography E-Course by Dana Schultz of Minimalist Baker (well worth the $19.99 price tag)
Screwing up is part of the process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hit Publish when I meant to hit Save Draft; or wrote tablespoon instead of teaspoon; or forgot to include the key ingredient. It happens. And it happens to all of us. Believe me, your readers will let you know when you’ve messed up!
Have fun. Duh. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, why are you blogging? You need to go back to my first point and ask yourself, why am I doing this?
What are some of your blogging tips/suggestions? Why do you blog?