Meg is a friend and former Canadian Tire co-worker from back in the Windsor/Amherstburg days. We hadn’t spoken in the better part of five years when I get a message from her via Facebook, asking me if I blogged.
I swear, people, I wonder why I even try.
Anyway, Meg was interested in writing regularly and wanted to start a blog to do it. Sounds familiar. She wanted to check out mine, if I had one, to see what it was like.
“Blogging is so super strange,” she wrote. Yeah, it is. But it can also be kind of fun and amazing. I thought I would reply to her in public, as a chance to wax poetics on everything I know about blogging, which ain’t much.
I was pleased to get your message, if a little surprised, given how long it’s been since we last spoke. I’ll admit, somewhat shamefully, to having you and the rest of the former CTC crew on the Facebook chopping block not too long ago. I’m glad I didn’t drop the axe.
So, you’re looking to start a blog to keep the chops up. That’s actually the very reason I started this up in the first place. In 2009 I’d long been downsized from my position as Chief Blogger/Onine Editor for the University of Windsor paper, cranking out a couple of entries a day eight months a year. Suddenly I had a surplus of free time on my hands. Working at the bookstore had put me in a more literary frame of mind, as did the friendships I formed with a number of my coworkers there. By that point I’d been blogging since 1999 or so, writing mostly in the style of emo, though we didn’t have a name for it then. Writing for The Lance had scrubbed most personal details from my writing in favor of news and opinion, with the occasional reference to the persona I’d constructed to stand in for me.
What became PFG’s been a bit of an amorphous beast since then, moving from the story of a guy who wanted to finish some fiction and try to get it published, to pop culture commentary, to something that’s now spun out into the occasional podcast or video and now sort of back to a fiction focus [though results in the recent poll suggest that’s not what people want from me].
I’ve thought a lot over the years about what blogging means to me. I still, despite the bile most Internet-famous writers push into my throat, believe blogging and the ease of access to content creation for most people is one of the most important developments in recent memory. Yes, a good number of blogs, including some of the more famous ones, are little more than vanity projects or single-topic stunts trying to spin into a book deal, it’s still an amazing tool with an infinite number of uses [something I had the amazing fortune to speak about to a group of students at the Queen’s Fac of Ed years ago. It was a simpler time].
1. Know why you’re doing it. You’re keeping it locked up at the moment, and there’s nothing wrong with that [and as a teacher, it’s probably the more sensible approach]. If that’s the way you want to keep it, accept the fact that you’re not really going to connect with people outside of the circle you trust to read it. If you’re cool with that, aces.My problem is I never really am. I do this because I want people to read it, but I hardly do anything to advertise or promote [look at you, you’d forgotten about it completely]. I chose when I started to subvert every tool available to me because I I’m averse to marketing and self-promotion. If you want to be discovered, don’t tag your posts with things like ‘Namedropping for Googlejuice’ or ‘Confused White People.’ Funny, but not exactly search optimized.
2. If you do find yourself fortunate enough to develop a bit of a readership, engage with them. If they cared about what you wrote enough to comment or click a Like button, always be sure to respond, even if it’s just to say thank-you. It’s hard to notice, but the laws of common courtesy still apply online. That goes for making promises as well. I blow this one all the time, but if you say you’re going to do something on your blog, consider it an iron clad contract. I’ve had the good fortune of building a small but loving group of people who dig what I do here, and I can think of at least three separate occasions where Ive let them down. If that was my thing and what I aspired for this to be, then cool. As it isn’t, significantly less cool. Learn from the idiot.
3. Tame the two-headed beast of consistency: both of voice and of posting. I feel like if you’re doing it for personal expression, once a day is usually fine. If you’re looking to be read by other people, you should aim for two. Anything more than that is pushing people’s attention spans.This from the guy who can watch a week go by without writing anything. There’s not a single guide to any form of writing that doesn’t order you to write every day first and foremost. This is still something I have a problem with. But if you can stick to it, it’ll start to feel more natural, and your voice will start to develop, even if you don’t notice it happening. To this day I don’t think I have any sort of recognizable written voice to people who don’t already know me, since most of my writing around here mimics my own verbal tics and cadences [down to these Foster Wallace-esque parenthetical asides]. But I can admit I’ve bred a certain type of familiarity around here. People pretty much know what to expect from me.
4. Never write anything online you wouldn’t be willing to say to someone in person. There’s a temptation to view your little corner of the Internet as a sort of gated community; it isn’t. Nothing ever really dies on the Internet, with enough initiative people can dig through your digital closet and find all sorts of goodies. You don’t want to get caught out there over something you wrote in a fit of pique. Lucky for me, fits of pique are pretty much my everyday.
5. Purely design aesthetics: skip lines between paragraphs. Nothing bores a reader quicker than a screen full of text with no breaks. Remember the on-screen reading experience is much different from traditional page reading. Choose fonts and template layouts accordingly, especially on Tumblr, which you’re using. Some are perfect for lengthy written entries, some are designed for photos and images. Keep an eye on that.
6. Don’t post on Friday nights if you expect anyone to read it.
That’s all I can really think of at the moment, Meg. I’m sure there are a variety of tips I’m forgetting, but if you’re that gung-ho, there are endless resources you can Google that can help you out. I mentioned the most important ones: know why you’re doing it, and be consistent. Harder than it sounds, but if you can pull it off, you can write your own ticket, and no one can tell you anything.
I look forward to reading what you come up with.