Photo by HENCE THE BOOM on Unsplash

9 Things I Know After 9 Years of Blogging

June will mark nine years since I started Red’s Wrap. But because someone asked me yesterday how long I had been blogging and I said “nine years,” it occurred to me that now would be a good time to blog about blogging. Even if it is only April. Here’s my advice from nine years of blogging.

  1. Write who you are. I can tell real from not real in about five words. I have no patience for pretenders or posturers. Say who you are. If you are stuck about that, use Hemingway’s advice: write one true sentence. And then go from there.
  2. But keep yourself to yourself. I don’t want to know your every pore. I’m fine with a few drops of blood, leaving the rest to my imagination, but I will leave if the blood is gushing and continues, day to day, week to week. Don’t give readers your core. That’s yours. But hint at it, show glimpses, that will be enough.
  3. Have courage. Unless you’re doing recipes, blogging is about exposure and risk. Change lanes! Write about things that make you uncomfortable, make yourself think about foreign ideas, get out of your kitchen or office or front yard. Be bigger than you are. And try different formats. Write a poem. Write a post that is entirely dialogue or one that is mostly photos. Scramble your words. Surprise me.
  4. No cheese without bread. My cousin, Joan, had six kids and this cheese rule was one of her mainstays. I reinterpret it for blogging to say no blogging without a photo. Us readers? We can’t have just cheese. It’s too much. Too dense. And for the writer, a blog without a photo is too hard, too expensive wordwise. Make the words go farther, post some bread.
  5. Make your blog beautiful. A blog that is clean and readable, easy to navigate, welcoming, ah, that’s a blog to follow. One with a lot of extras, ads, pitches, artsy font, and other varied indulgences tells me to click on and click off.
  6. Consider yourself a writer. If you are posting pieces of substance on your blog, you are a writer. You are a writer who blogs. So act like one. First order of business is making sure what you post is literate. Second is constantly seeking to improve as a writer. That takes practice (frequent posting), education (learning new things from experts), and feedback (putting your writing on the table for criticism).
  7. Push the damn button. Don’t suffer the contemplation of whether you should post something you’ve written. If you like it, push the button. If you don’t, ditch it. There are always more words. You will never write the last words. The longer you wait to post something you’ve written, the more scared and tentative you’ll get. You only need your own approval.
  8. Assume your readers are strangers. Most of them will be. The internet is an enormous cavernous place populated by people you wouldn’t meet in a thousand years. So think of those as your readers. Don’t think of your mother, your ex, or your business colleagues as readers because, even though they are quite likely to read your blog, thinking that will cramp your style so don’t.
  9. Be proud of your work. For years, I would run away from my work, disown it like an unpopular potato salad at a potluck. “Who brought that?” I would shrug. But not anymore. Red’s Wrap belongs to me and, while there are posts that are silly or over the top, there are pieces that are so clear and ring so true that I can’t believe I wrote them. I’d hang them like jewels around my neck if I could, I love them that much. It is grand to be proud of oneself. Very grand.

My Writing Armistice

I’ve come to this conclusion: if the wars in your head ever stop, you’re done for.

There have been a couple of wars going on in my head lately. One of them is about this blog.

Do I write every day and suffer the not infrequent dread of it being 11:30 p.m. and having to come up with words? Or do I write when I am so moved which is, if I’m honest, rarely. The muse doesn’t chase me around the table while I play hard to get, it heads straight out the door to take up with more willing partners.

I want to say that I have been of two minds about writing every day. Mostly I want to say it because it has to be one of the most descriptive phrases ever.

My not-writing everyday mind says I should save myself for great essays, that all the words I use here could be better used in a longer essay that some journal publishes after I’ve shopped it around for a year or I publish myself in a book that won’t be finished until I’m eating pureed peach cobbler from a spoon held by a stranger.

My writing every day mind says I risk becoming a depressed mess, a triple knot in a cheap necklace if I run around mute all the time. If the adage, ‘I don’t know what I think until I write it down’ is as true as I’ve always said it is, then I will be perpetually bewildered unless I get my daily writing act together.

Plus daily writing encourages observation and analysis, greater presence, and discipline which I really need right now, having lived a long life of obligation and expectation, and now refashioning that into a new persona, a new way of being. I can either become slack from having all the external demands removed or reconstruct myself from the inside out as a tougher, more insightful, and more skilled person.

So I am back to writing every day – unless, unless – but it will be an intention rather than a bar room bet. Long, short, pretty good, not so hot, there will be something in this space until, you know, the war starts up again.

Wrestling with the Concept of Brand

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“What is your brand?”

“You need to define your brand.”

When I first heard about the pressing need to define one’s brand two years ago at the Type-A Parent conference in Atlanta, I pushed the concept aside. I wasn’t interested in monetizing my blog, would never seek paid advertisements, didn’t want any junk on my sidebar interfering with my aesthetic. (That I say that is laughable, as if I’m some great graphic artist.)

Moreover, I resisted writing in a niche, which I presumed was the prerequisite of effective branding. Was I an old mommy blogger, an angry feminist, a deaf person? Or all of the above? I wanted to be niche-less. I wanted to write about whatever I felt like writing about without thinking I had an obligation to some brand. “Oh my God, what is that old mommy blogger doing writing about Donald Trump?”

So I meandered around, not worrying about branding, just doing my thing. And after a while, I started thinking that my thing or things, as it were, had gradually become my brand. And then I realized that my brand was something to nurture and develop. It surprised me that the whole notion of having a brand no longer felt foreign or contrived. It didn’t seem like acting or pretending.

The biggest surprise was that the brand for my blog, Red’s Wrap, was me.

The beauty of this is that writing my blog has helped me define myself during periods of great difficulty and transition. In the manner of Joan Didion’s famous comment, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down,” blogging settled me when my thoughts were chaotic and disabling. I would try to do what Hemingway recommended: “Just write one true sentence.” And often that gave way to writing many true sentences that revealed to me who I was at that moment. Not who I wished I could be or wanted others to believe I was, not a construction or fiction, just the realest truest me. Writing my blog revealed to me who I really was as a person.

And it is that exercise, even more than the result, that I consider to be my brand.

When people take the time to read my blog, I want to deliver content that is true to my brand. It makes me think twice about what I write, puts some things out of bounds, brings others surprisingly in bounds. Having a sense of brand makes me careful but it also makes me brave.

When I read others’ blogs, I can tell which bloggers have developed their brand (knowingly or not). They have a confidence and comfort with themselves that is obvious and attractive. It’s as if they are saying “stay with me, I know what I’m doing.”

How do you get to the place where you recognize and embrace your brand?

Just write one true sentence and go from there.

___________

The Daily Post: Voice

 

Note to New Bloggers: What to Write About

Comparison is both the fuel and the death of creativity.

Knowing that, I read just a few other blogs. Not all of them are terrific but they all have something unique. Artwork, humor, insight, style. Comparing my blog to theirs and to others highlighted by Discover, a curated site operated by WordPress, helps me position myself in terms of other writers. How do I measure up?

But as in the rest of life – brains, looks, charm – the comparison game quickly sours. That’s when I know that if I persist, I’ll get depressed. And because much of my life is about mood management, I am loathe to continue down a road headed for a cliff with rocks and thorny cactus below. Self-preservation outweighs my attraction to the creativity of others. I have a pretty high opinion of myself but it needs constant protection. Too much information about the glory of others is not helpful.

I think this is a valuable tidbit for new bloggers. Manage your exposure to other bloggers for a while. This is another way of saying manage the intimidation you feel. Just write what you write and let things unfold. I talked about this yesterday. Be glad that no one reads your blog when you are starting out; there’s protection in being ignored. Revel in it for a while until you get your bearings.

So what do you write about when you’re starting out?

Write about the smallest big thing that happened to you today.

Be a laser beam.

Find the tiniest stitch.

Paint the untied shoe.

Love the one thing.

This is so hard for people who have been driven to writing a blog because they have a lot to say. But let me tell you this, don’t say all you have to say. First of all, you won’t do your experience justice in one blog post. Secondly, you can’t convey true heart with too big a picture. Third, the tiny and beautiful draws people to you.

It takes discipline to find the smallest big thing. And the discipline has to do with not thinking about what other people will think is the smallest big thing.

It has to be entirely yours.

I will tell you about the smallest big thing that happened to me once. It was the day this picture was taken.

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This was the moment that one of my grandsons took a shell from the hand of a stranger at the coffee shop. I wrote about that moment and what I thought it meant. I’m not saying this is the world’s greatest blog post. It’s just an example of zeroing in on a moment in time. And then realizing what the moment told me: my daughter, these boys’ mother, is raising them to be happy and friendly. I loved that about her and about this moment in time and so that’s what I wrote about.

So that’s what I encourage people who are just starting out to do: write about the smallest big thing. Make it your precious moment. Unique and glowing.

And then share it.

 

The Coward’s Guide to Starting a Blog

 

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You’re not really a coward if you want to start a blog but are afraid to do it. I just said that to get your attention.

I started my blog, Red’s Wrap, because I wanted to write about adoption, specifically from the perspective of an older mom of young adult adopted children. It was to be sort of a ‘this is how it turns out’ blog.

I already blogged on my business website  and the blog posts were often very personal even though they ostensibly dealt with community planning and research topics. My personal views, especially about issues of feminism and racism frequently bled through and I started to think that a separate, personal, blog might be a more appropriate vehicle.

Before I started my blog, I’d taken a couple of writing classes. Not with the intention of writing a blog, I just took the classes because it seemed like a good idea. From the class, I got this takeaway. If I were to get a tattoo, this is what it would say: the most important thing about writing is having something to say.

The technical aspects of putting together a blog have pretty much been minimized by the great utility of WordPress. Basically, any fool can put up a WordPress blog in about an hour. The biggest sticking points will be the theme, the look, the colors. WordPress makes it easy, like shopping at Target. It’s amazingly plug and play.

So where does the cowardice, or let’s say, hesitation, come in?  Right here. Get ready for it. It’s your worst fear.

Being judged.

If you write something and publish it on the internet, someone is going to read it. It might be your mother who loves you or it might be a stranger living in Australia. You have no way of knowing. If you write it and publish it, it exists. And you have to be able to take that risk. You have to take the risk that people won’t like it, your mother won’t like it, the person in Australia won’t like it.

Worse. You have to take the risk that you will be ignored.

It’s deflating to try to write something meaningful and get no response. I know. I have a whole string of posts I wrote when I first started my blog in 2010 that got no response. I read them now and think, gee, this is a pretty good piece, why didn’t anyone like it?

At the time, though, I didn’t dwell on the lack of response. Actually, I think part of me was glad that there as no response. It was a classic sorry/not sorry situation or, more aptly put, I’m a writer/I’m not a writer situation. In other words, I was both proud and embarrassed about my writing. So I was glad I had my blog and pretty happy with what I’d written but hanging back in the ownership department. It’s a paradox but a pretty common one.

I see it now as a necessary transition. The fact that everyone in the world was ignoring me was a blessing. It allowed me to write what I thought was important (remember that the most important thing about writing is having something to say) without worrying about people’s reactions. Gradually, as I got my footing and felt more confident, I got more readers. And getting more readers didn’t scare me. It was fun.

Blogging is enormous fun, tremendously rewarding and educational in a way a thousand writing classes couldn’t be. The synergy of writing, publishing, reflecting and improving is powerful, electric. I would wish it for anyone who wants to write and be read. So how to begin?

If I were to sum up my coward’s guide to starting a blog, it would be with one word. You know what it is. No mystery about it, it’s not complex or difficult. Here it is.

Start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August Saturday Night

The thing about blogging is when you start doing stuff so you can blog about it, you’ve pretty much won the Disingenuous Derby and ought to go sit down.

I’m not there yet but it hits me at various times of the day that I’ve got a date with a blank blog page coming up. So then the pressing question becomes: what do I decide to make more of a big deal of than it actually warrants? Like what sliver of a thing can be made to represent something momentous, moving. Because as a blogger, I really only want to hear two things about what I write: 1) that’s really moving or 2) that’s really funny.

As I get along in blogging years, it is the latter that seems like the holiest and remotest grail. “Can someone just fucking say I’m funny?” I ask myself, brushing away all of the ‘that’s so moving’ comments. I want to be funny. Just once.

I came close this week with a fictional piece depicting a conversation between my two dogs. There was a healthy number of ‘likes’ and one person actually said she was laughing. So that’s close to being funny, instigating some laughter. And my husband smirked. He doesn’t actually laugh. Well, he has one of those silent (and expressionless) laughs. I only know he’s laughing because he covers his mouth with his hand as if to stifle some enormous, neighbor-stunning guffaw. We have shocked the neighbors by screaming at our kids but never with our laughter. That’s grim if you think about it. Let’s not.

Years ago, before Donald Trump popularized the incredible astonishing misogynist insult, people used to say (not everyday and not everywhere) that there were three things you never told a woman: that she wasn’t a good cook, a good mother or a good lay.  What? Oh my God! Can you imagine? And I grew up in this sexist stew.

I’d add to that, maybe, that one ought not tell a woman she’s not a decent blogger. ‘What you write is neither here nor there.’ If I heard that, I would run the speaker down with my car. I wouldn’t even borrow the old man’s SUV, I’d take my 10-year old Thunderbird and gun it.

Maybe I’m too sensitive about my writing. Too needy.

All of this is a prelude to what? Well, I remembered tonight that several weeks ago I decided to run a weekly Saturday night feature (that ran one week) about ‘things that struck me this week.’ It was such a paralyzingly good idea that I put it on a post-it note stuck to my computer but never thought about it again.

So because I’m going nowhere, I will go here. Five things that struck me this week:

  1. I made a mistake related to my work and had to alert people and apologize. Not a big mistake but, at my age, any mistake is a symptom unless one can recoup ASAP and sound like a fucking wizard for having discovered and corrected said mistake.
  2. It occurs to me that my hearing disability makes me too much trouble to talk to for a lot of people. Oddly, the people with the most patience in talking to me are much younger. I wonder if I am becoming a Yoda in the forest, worth the effort for the small bit of wisdom I might impart. ‘Stay sweet,’ I would say to them.
  3. My husband wants to buy an enormous truck that will require a personal guide with a flashlight to lead him up and down our narrow shared driveway. I am wondering what I could buy to match this extravagance but then tallying Target runs over the past year and wondering if we might be close to equal. I buy toilet paper though, changing the entire equation.
  4. In the check-out line of a department store (not Target), I was surprised by a former client and was so unexpectedly and unabashedly happy to see her. She was well and hearty and had not been so the last time I’d seen her. She’d had cancer but seemed now to be fiercely healthy and happy. Wow, I thought, what a beautiful thing to see.
  5. Today, I went to a neighborhood event partly sponsored by my husband’s nonprofit organization. We were two of four or five white people there not counting the police who were there with free books and a K-9 German Shepherd that may have had the biggest dog head I’ve ever seen. And even though I have years of experience being one of few or the only white people someplace, I never lose consciousness of it. I am at home here, that’s what I feel. I always feel at home. But I think people wonder about me. Hard to explain.

So that’s my Saturday night. No enormous laughs, nothing very moving. Just a slice. That’s all. Just a slice.

 

 

Will Write for Gum

Publishing on other sites is great especially on curated sites where there is a chance that a piece could become an editor’s pick and get featured to a wider audience than would ordinarily frequent an individual’s blog. By publishing on other sites, I don’t mean posting a link to your web page. I mean publishing or re-posting a piece so that it appears wholly under another banner.

It can be a very heady experience. I had a piece selected by then Open Salon as an special pick by an editor who hours later emailed me to tell me the piece would run on salon.com as a featured piece. It was a confessional, painful essay about an illegal abortion I had when I was a freshman in college, a piece of writing forty-five years in the making.  So scrolling through Facebook and seeing my piece with a new title and a woeful picture of terribly sad woman sitting on the floor of a bare room made my heart stop.  There was no controlling where it went now. The Open Salon editor had asked me if it was okay for him to send it for publication to salon.com and I just immediately said yes. I think of myself as a writer. What would I say to the chance for more exposure?

It was an extraordinary experience. I felt strong and righteous. Outed in the most complete way, standing for my pre-Roe v. Wade generation, my grey sisters, the only people alive who could tell young women what they had to fear if reproductive rights continued to be restricted across the country.  More than a hundred thousand people read the piece. It was great.

And then many months later, there it was again in the salon.com feed. No warning. No message from an editor. Just there it was in the Facebook feed getting likes, comments, like it was new. It was my little piece of truth that I thought I’d so gallantly shared with the world scrolling in the news feed on a slow news night,  just another confession from a red ink writer. Only this one wasn’t about going to an orgy in a New York hotel or finding out my mother was a part-time Russian spy, the usual Facebook fodder. This was my little life, flashing up again, the same poor sad woman sitting in the same bare room. Only now it was deep winter and not late summer. She needed to put on a sweater.

I just shrugged it off.  You know Facebook, in a few minutes, everything is old news.

And then it happened again last week. A piece I’d written about my father, a sarcastic, over the top rant of complaints meant to counter the endless ‘my father is the greatest person who ever lived’ tidal wave of gratitude that is Father’s Day reappeared after being featured by BlogHer last year. When it ran the first time, a lot of people read it and most took me to task – for complaining, for not having a mean enough father. My pale little stories of a strict dad who overworked himself and the rest of us in our chintzy five and dime store didn’t measure up to the blood and gore of modern day exposes about dads. So I got scorched. It happens.

The rerun of this unfortunate piece was a few days after the Charleston shootings, a day when every serious blogger was about her/his business trying to make sense of the incomprehensible. And then, boom, in the stream of things was my mug and the piece with the same, over the top, inflammatory title. It was sickening to see.

So I tried taking the piece down from my BlogHer site but quickly determined that one cannot take one’s own work down. I Googled how to remove a post on BlogHer and found out that I should email a particular editor. So I did and she graciously agreed to remove the blog post so it could no longer be accessed but not before reminding me that, by publishing on BlogHer, I had given them permission to use the piece in whatever way they wanted pretty much forever. I knew that but I didn’t. It still felt to me like I’d loaned a pair of shoes to a friend and that the friend should give them back when I wanted them again. And here was the piece again, only now it was awful, the juxtaposition with the events in Charleston hideous. I couldn’t stand it.

So the moral of the story?  I’m not sure I have one. Be careful what you give away?Don’t write something you wouldn’t want to see published and republished at random times? Don’t let the attention whore part of you as a blogger grab your good judgment and run down the street with it?

Seeing my work published to a larger audience has been great, very rewarding.  But losing control of my work makes me feel oddly exposed like I have to keep feeling the way I felt the day I wrote something, keep being ready to respond to people, defend it in my head and heart. Nothing gets filed.

Knowing that has made me a lot more cautious, more circumspect, like I could do with a lot less bubblegum. Just something to think about.