April 4, 2012

10 Things My Blog Taught Me

When I started this blog three years and 586 posts ago, I wasn’t sure where to take it. I knew I wanted to connect with other writers so I used that as the theme. Now, thanks to the 430,000+ people who have visited, I know much more about the ‘why’. Yes, it’s about getting to know kindred souls, but there is so much more I’ve gotten from blogging. Like these:

How to write

We bloggers divide ourselves into two categories: 1) those who write short, under-1000-word posts and 2) those who write in-depth, lengthy articles. I’ve chosen the former. I like pithy ideas that readers can consume in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. As a result, I’ve learned to be frugal with my words. I choose verbiage that conveys more than one-words-worth of information and I leave tangential issues for another post. Because I realize readers are consuming on the run, I make sure to be clear–no misplaced pronouns or fuzzy concepts like ‘thing’ or ‘something’.

Prove my point

This part of writing transcends what print journalists and novel writers must do. Yes, they do it, but my readers expect me to support ideas with links to sources. If I’m reviewing a book, I can easily link to the author’s website for deeper reading. That’s something that can’t happen in paper writing. Sure, they can provide the link, but to put the paper down, open the laptop, copy that link–I mean, who does that? In a blog, I get annoyed if someone cites research and doesn’t provide the link.

What my voice was

I write thrillers. To pen a good thriller, you have to do what James Frey suggested in his exemplary guideline for thriller writers, including:

  1. Have no bland, colorless characters
  2. Have a hook at the end of each chapter
  3. Be fresh in your writing
  4. Keep the clock ticking and the excitement mounting

For me, that means keep my writing relevant and engaging with hooks that make readers come back for more. Literary fiction writers do it differently. My blog approach matches my novels.

How to work through the dry times

I rarely have writer’s block, but when I do, I jump into the blogosphere and see what my colleagues are writing. In my novel, I discovered that researching would water down the dry spells. The same thing works for blogging.

How to persevere

Three years of blogging and I’m still waiting to make it big. What’s that mean to me? I want that knock on my virtual door from Atlantic or USA Today asking me to come on board as a paid house blogger. Truth, that probably won’t happen and by now, I wouldn’t know what to do if I stopped personal blogging.

How to market my writing

I try lots of ideas to market my writing, but thanks to the blogosphere, I know what everyone else is doing. I can try as much or little of it as I want. For me, I found a comfortable baseline and add a few pieces every year (this year, it’s Pinterest).

One point worth mentioning is headlines. Usually, all you get from a reader is seven seconds–long enough to read the title, maybe the first line. If that title doesn’t seem personal and relevant, potential readers move on. There are over 450 million English language blogs. That’s a lot of competition. I better hit a home run with that title.

There are lots of opinions out there

Often, I share my thoughts on the pedagogy of writing. Sometimes, I’m surprised at comments I get. They might touch a corner of the idea I hadn’t thought of or be 180 degrees from my conclusions. It forces me to think bigger as I write, consider how people who aren’t me will read my words. That’s both humbling and empowering. I think I’m much better at that than I used to be.

There are a lot of smart people in the world

In a previous lifetime when I built child care centers for a living, I read lots of data that said people thought the education system was broken–but not in their area. They considered themselves lucky because their schools worked. Well, as I meandered through life, I realized that applies to everything. People are happy with what they’re comfortable with and frightened/suspicious of what they aren’t used to. Through blogging, I get to delve into those ideas with them because we feel like friends. I’ve found that lots of people are smart, intuitive, engaged in life, looking to improve the world. I’m glad I learned that.

How to be responsible

Yes, blogging is demanding. I have to follow through on promises made in my blog profile and posts. When I say I’ll offer writing advice weekly, I have to even if I’m tired or busy with other parts of my life. It’s not as hard as it sounded when I first started. If you’re a mom, you’ve got the mindset. Just apply it to blogging.

How to be a friend

My readers visit my posts and comment or poke me with a ‘like’. Maybe, on good days, they repost. Those are nice attaboys. I always return the favor by dropping by their blog to see what they’re up to, drop a line or two on their latest article. It takes time, but like any relationship, is worth it. I have online friends I’ve never met who I feel closer to than half the people in my physical world. I’ve seen them struggle with cancer, new jobs, unemployment, kid problems. I’ve learned a lot about life from them.

Thank you to my virtual friends who have taken time to get to know me–you know who you are.

I’d love to hear your ideas.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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