Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Writing a blog that people will actually want to read.

How I went from writing Facebook notes to spinning tales of Artemis Clover. Plus tips on how to get people to visit your site...and come back for more.

It all started in mid-2007 when I was still a bright-eyed college student living in the homogenous and sheltered community of Westwood Village. I had a close run-in with James Franco at a local coffee shop and our chance encounter that never truly was inspired me to spin a short story about how this James Dean reincarnation almost asked me out when I bumped into him. I sent the story to a long distance ex-boyfriend at the time that I wanted to get back, hoping to make him jealous of my L.A. lifestyle and burn with envy from all the hot movie stars that were going after me left and right. Or not.

My plan didn’t quite pan out since said ex still wrote me off as a girl as fluffy and silly as ever but he emailed back anyway saying although it looks like I will never take anything in life seriously, he did find my story highly amusing and maybe even suppressed a few chuckles as he was reading it. Encouraged by his positive response of the first story I have ever written outside of schoolwork, I posted my piece on a whim as a Facebook note, preceded to pick at my toes, and went to bed.

The next day to my surprise, I received all these notices from Facebook saying that people were posting comments, and good comments, on my note. And when I walked onto campus, some friends I loosely knew from running in the same social circles gave me high-fives and said, “Hey, read your post. Keep writing!” I felt like I went from almost slipping into the dark abyss of the tormented artist to emerging as a recognizable figure that people actually cared about and that feeling, that high you get from being heard is one addicting drug, I tell ya. So for the next half-year or so, I routinely posted notes furbished with the odd picture here and there about the themed parties my apartment would throw, missed chances in love, how I was dumped on my 18th birthday, killing a friend’s rabbit I while I was babysitting it…you know, the usual helping of life condensed into a few paragraphs on my Facebook page.

Friends were eating my nonsense up, regularly checking my notes to make sure they were all caught up and sometimes even obsessively refreshing their browsers if I had mentioned earlier I would be posting that night. Ah, those were the simple days of blogging when I wrote solely for cheap entertainment and when the drama and jokes were between friends and not one person more. When I graduated college a year later, however, I was urged from all parental figures to “get a real job” and stop dwelling in my fairy life of easy college living since I was no longer a student anymore. Enter the corporate world, a real bitchy slap in the face of mediocre people condemning me and making me feel like shit for being the airhead sorority girl they had so badly mistaken me for. At 21, I was the youngest at my company and I felt very alone and isolated from anyone I could possibly relate to. I started writing about my struggles and misadventures in the office space on a personal blog for my family members and kept it all password protected since it was a very vulnerable time in my life that I wanted to sort through on my own terms.

Fast forward two years and three pretty well-received photography blogs later, I found myself unemployed with babes in arm, living a slow and confusing day-to-day existence as a reluctant housewife wondering how I went from life in the fast lane to a baggy t-shirt wearing stay-at-home-mom who often forgets to brush her teeth in the morning. What I did know was I love to write and take pretty pictures so maintaining a blog seemed like a good way of getting myself out of bed each day to face the world, albeit a virtual world, and continue plugging away at my passions whether or not there was an end goal in site (this was truly a typo but I decided not to fix my unintentional pun).

Little did I know, the blogging world has evolved into a completely new monster from when I had last left it, a rat race of link-ups and badge exchanges and every blog seemingly bursting at the seams with 1000+ followers. All of a sudden, I felt like I was grossly late to the party and had no idea where to start, no idea on how I could possibly get people—not just family and friends but also (gasp!) complete strangers—interested in what I wanted to say. Sure, I could just keep a private account of my life as a new mother and go through the whole woe-is-me phase again but this time around, I wanted some accountability (to make sure I, uh, get out of bed each morning) and maybe make a few new mommy friends I can shoot the breeze with online while I'm at it.

I jumped on the bandwagon as fast as my bandwidth would allow me and scrolled through countless blogs (regardless of content relevance and quality) and made countless more useless comments on people’s posts in hopes that the backlinks will drive traffic to my site. Instead of writing quality niche blog posts about the topics I truly cared about, I was spending the majority of my time doing mind-numbing (and quite tedious!) work to promote my blog, sending all the troops out and leaving the precious home base pretty high and dry. A month after the inception of my blog, I realize with much trial and error that while some promotion is still necessary here and there to keep your blog visibility up within related networks and communities, the easier, faster, and more rewarding way of getting people to your site and keeping them there is to—are you ready for this—have them actually want to read what you write. Okay, I can hear the heavy groans and see the eyes roll because I might be preaching to the choir but here are some things to consider, that I want to consider, as I enter the second month of The real L.A. love story.

1. No matter how much you deny or sugarcoat, we all want site visitors and lots of them. One way I have noticed very popular blogs with little to no real substance to their content having so many comments is for the blog author to visit hundreds of blogs a day and comment on everyone’s respective posts. Of course, because preschool taught us the virtues of reciprocating, the other bloggers will comment back on the first blogger’s post and simpler than elementary mathematics, we now have blogs that people otherwise wouldn’t seek out look like the high school football quarterback of the blogging community. While commenting is a good way of getting your name out there, at some point there has to be “stickiness” to your content so that people will actually come back to your blog on their own without being reminded by your copy-and-paste comment of “Nice post!” each time you want people to visit.

2. I’ve recently discovered a slew of really well-written blogs (there’s actually a good bunch of IT people who write about all sorts of interesting things) and something a lot of them have in common is that they either don’t open up for comments (because so many people visit and subscribe that they don’t need any comments to look popular) or the comments are long paragraphs from readers that want to bring something real into the discussion. And each post is a stand-alone post, meaning that it is unique and intriguing enough on its own that I would actually spend another 30 minutes looking through their archives and the rest of their blogs.

3. My dad has always warned that our audience is smarter than we think. It is easy for the creative/artist types to get caught up in our work and be all narcissistic about it, thinking without a doubt that people will be interested and impressed with everything we put out there. Except that people aren’t and they don’t have that much time so if your content is fluffy or just regurgitates what is already out there in 50 million other places, you can be sure the visitor you worked so hard to lure over won’t be back voluntarily.

4. Avoid all clichés and shallow humor. Creating a list of what we already know is true (like my 10 reasons to quit your corporate job post) is not all that funny and I am guilty as charged. Cheap entertainment is way easier to come by in the form of Jersey Shore and with the marketing execs, ad sponsors, TV stations, and producers backing them up, I will never be any form of competition for them.

5. Say something because you have something to say and not for the sake of just saying something. Again, guilty as charged. With my old photography blog, I wanted to keep the momentum going each day so on days when I didn’t have anything cute to write about, I would slap up a half-assed picture and post with it a trite quote on love and call it a day. In a way, that is almost like duping your readers, putting up something sloppy and quick in hopes of keeping them moderately entertained enough until you can actually get something better up later. If readers really are interested in your content and blog, they can and are willing wait a day or two for that next brilliant piece, right?

6. And along with that goes honesty. Honesty with yourself as you write and honesty with your readers, both which are the crucial cornerstones in allowing genuine relationships and readership to form. A problem I have had my whole life is my incessant fear that people won’t like or accept me for me so I am constantly changing my tune and vision to line up with what I think everyone else expects from me. I am challenging myself from this point forward to write and post freely without trying to please a certain crowd or gain acceptance from anyone. A huge reason why I quit Facebook is because I have had “friends” tell me that they were annoyed by all the baby pictures I kept posting on my wall and would unfriend me if I didn’t stop clogging up their feeds. So I did stop and tried to broadcast as little as I could in order to keep certain “friends” my Facebook buddies. I am learning now that not everyone will or needs to like and care about what you are doing and it’s okay. Keep that in mind when writing your blog, that you are not writing to appease the masses but rather writing to bring something new to the table of the people that ARE your audience or as a form of self-expression for yourself. My college friends have a harder time connecting with me since I have become a mother and am more consumed by the price of diapers than being seen at the newest hot spot in town but again, that’s OKAY. Most of them are no longer my audience anymore but there are plenty more people out there that DO care about the ins and outs of breastfeeding and the trauma that is labor.

In the end, as long as you are happy with your stats and the community you have built for yourself, then whichever method you choose to drive the traffic over and retain readers is fine. But for me, I want to constantly be re-evaluating what I am spending my time doing and what my areas of focus are when I am in blogosphere. I want my writing and blog to evolve and speak for itself and for the people who do revisit or put me on their Google Readers, I hope you will find useful information, engaging discussions, or at the least some good ol’ guilty pleasure reading here.

Please feel free to add your blogging experiences and insight in the comments section and don’t forget that tomorrow is Photography Thursday!


26 comments:

  1. I have very few blogs that I read every word of most of their posts and I have to say that your blog is now up on that list. The way you write is refreshing.

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  2. ahh...2007. back when we were young and the biggest worry in life was whether or not james franco said hi.

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  3. I think this is very well written and interesting! As for me, I can't stop thinking and talking and writing. It's my platform and of course I care about what people think and do hope they come back but I'm not foolin' myself into thinking that I have some kind of blogging elixir so I truly blog for myself and my family most of the time. I have 'met' some great photographers though, THAT is what I am most excited about this whole blogging practice. It's been very rewarding creativity. Dare I say? Nice post:)

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  4. I just scrolled up and counted 14 chunky paragraphs (not counting the last sentence) with tiny, tiny text and I actually read through every word.

    Keep writing! :)

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  5. Wow - what an incredible post. I've been struggling recently with my own blogging identity. I love my photography blog but it can be a bit difficult to keep up with...the daily grind of producing something. I've learned that if I don't post one day, it's not the end of the world and that people will still comment when I come back. Your points really hit home with me and I loved reading every word. Now I'm off to read your facebook piece since I took have quit Facebook.

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  6. I don't know what photograph Thursday is... do tell : )

    One thing I learned VERY QUICKLY is that long posts do not go over well. People just don't want to spend more than 2 or 3 minutes on your page. It doesn't even matter if the writing is fabulous. They want to click, look and go : ) so I try to write less. Every once in a while I will have something to say that is long and I do : )but I do try to be brief.

    I see people out here in blog world that do the most ridiculous giveaways and promotions and they have millions of comments and you know what, I don't even car. Not one iota. Those bloggers annoy me like no other. I do go visit when they have left like 10 comments and I feel I must return at least one, but I hate it the whole time. I just have no interest whatsover in your plastic baggie giveaway! None at all.

    What kind of jerky friends did you have that didn't like the baby pictures? I put pictures on facebook all the time. No one has complained yet. And if they did, well, I would drop them faster than you could say jack rabbit : )

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  7. Oh, and P.S. The only time I really and truly care about getting comments is on Thursday when I do my photographer interview series. I worry that the photographer will not get enough feedback and feel discouraged. That would make me so sad. I don't want anyone to ever feel badly for putting themselves out there. Do you know what I mean?

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  8. I love your writing style and read every word. Keep them coming, Missy!

    -L.K.

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  9. I love that I started reading your blog close enough to the beginning that I can just keep up as it moves along - and I am a faithful follower, and love to read whatever it is you have to say :). It bugs me that you had FB friends that didn't APPRECIATE that adorable baby of yours' pictures! I love seeing his new pics. It could be because I'm in the mommy-of-a-baby-too stage, but I'm thinkin' it's more because he is just pure CUTENESS!

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  10. hi puna,
    i'm honored u r a faithful follower and there is a special place in my heart for the first few followers i had (i remember them all!). i think unless u r a parent, u just wont understand why 25 different angles of the same baby pose is so cute! and i think u r even more crazy as a first time mom. :)

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  11. Thank you.

    For getting the word out there.

    Ive been blogging since 2004 and stopped in 2008. Went back again 2010 and was unpleasantly surprised by how the blogging world has turned out.

    Of course I wanna get noticed. I want readership. But should I bite the dust and do giveaways too? Mindlessly comment just so I can get another comment back? I don't know. Maybe not.

    I want my readers to love me for what I write and not for the stuff I give away or because I posted a comment on their page.

    So to you, thank you. It's great to know there are bloggers out there who value this.

    Feel free to check my blog at

    www.theteethingmom.com

    I hope you don't mind if I follow you. This time it's for real ;)

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  12. Missy, I can't recall how I came across your blog not too long ago. But I must say that taking a bit of time to go through your posts even if not in order all is proving to be satisfying. I'm starting to see your personality through your words and that is super important to me when reading blogs..and of course very inspiring to keep going as well. Really like your thoughts on things. Keep being you and doing this for yourself!

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  13. I particularly like #5. "Filler" posts drive me nuts. I don't need to see a new post every day. I am content waiting for the good ones, even if new articles are added more sporadically.

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  14. Missy,

    I may be in the minority, but I will say that your facebook page is what led me to your blog and it's been like an addiction. I can't say that I understand much about blogging (yours is the only one I've read), but I find your writing very refreshing!

    - one of the non-mommy-college-friends

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