Sunday, September 05, 2010

An answer to Markus' and Sarah's question: How to Start A Blog

I got a very, very sweet email this week from Minion Markus and his wife, Minion Sarah. In it, they asked how I decided to start a blog, and why things weren't rough at the beginning, and how other people could do it, too.

Given that I'm finally a Real Blogger (I got an offer recently in which some poor sot offered to pay me for writing) and not one stuffed with sawdust, I figured I'd give that whole stack of questions a shot. Herewith, Jo's rules for becoming a blogger:

1. Pick something you can stick with.

For me, this was nursing. I do it practically every day; even when I'm off, I think like a nurse. My life has slowly begun to revolve around efficiency (twelve pairs of identical socks) and idiot-proof solutions (nonstick pans).

2. Shake it up now and again.

Your blog can't be all one damn thing day after day; that's not how people live. It's okay to blog about your cats, your wardrobe, your home renovations; it's fine to talk about product reviews or occasionally get political. You'd be shocked how many comments and reads off-topic things get: my most-commented posts are the ones about how being a nurse changes you, but the most *read* ones are the ones about Max or the Avatars of Concentrated Evil (aka the cats).

3. Start slow.

A post every three to seven days is plenty when you're starting. In that vein....

4. Don't be discouraged if you don't have the writing thing down right away.

Markus mentioned in his email that this blog seemed very polished from the git-go. It was, because I spent HOURS editing things when I first started. I had grown up with a very academic, concise writing style that still managed to inject humor (my father's), but it was hard to get the correct balance at the beginning. Given that most blog posts are short, because that's sort of the point, I had to edit the hell out of things for the first year or so.

Rough writing is fine. Bad writing is not. You will get to the point where you can tell the difference in the first few lines. If a story isn't going somewhere, don't try to force it.

I'm not saying that I'm a good writer, necessarily, but that I have a defined style that seems to grab and hold people. Once in a while I'll post something that makes me feel like God on the seventh day and that, in retrospect, I can't believe I wrote. Those moments are worth the thousands of semi-literate, semi-interesting things that show up here.

5. You are not your blog.

If I got upset over every criticism that I get, I'd be in therapy even more than I am now. Thankfully, the people who get upset about what I post can rarely spell or punctuate correctly. That gives me the luxury of a better grasp of technical English than they apparently have, which means I can pretty much ignore 'em.

Still, it's important to remember that You Are Not Your Blog. Criticism and kudos should be given exactly the weight of the electrons it took to send 'em in.

6. Do not shy away from snot.

"If it bleeds, it leads" is a chestnut, but it's a true chestnut. Sometimes, the grossest, most horrible things can lead you into meditations on the Bigger Meaning Of Life. You just have to go there.

7. Be not afraid.

I was afraid--really and truly afraid--when I started blogging about my diagnosis of depression. I was scared that people would brush off some of my darker writing with an "Oh, she's a whackjob anyhow", or that I was revealing too much. I agonized for several hours over whether or not to push the "post" button.

Thankfully, nobody was an asshole. The last thing a depressed person--even a stable depressed person--needs is people to be assholes. Instead, I got comments and emails and even a couple of e-cards from people who were pulling for me.

That experience taught me not to be afraid. Saying, "I lost a patient today through a stupid mistake, and it really sucks" is something we all dread having to do, but doing it in public? is now a whole lot less intimidating. Because we do make mistakes.

8. It ain't all that.

This is a corollary to "you are not your blog". Your blog ain't the be-all and end-all. If you find yourself getting all wrapped up in it, and wondering what happened to those last three followers who dropped away, it's time to get outside.

9. Emotion should be used like hot mustard or daikon: it's a condiment, not the meal.

Too much pathos ruins a blog, or turns it into something you'd see from a thirteen-year-old.

10. You should always, always doubt.

Doubt your abilities. Doubt your talent. Doubt whether you're keeping your readers engaged. Doubt whether you ought to do this at all, or maybe just hang it up instead and start searching for the perfect cinnamon roll recipe. Doubt is an extremely powerful thing in writing of any sort; it makes you work harder and edit more carefully.

And with that, I leave you to start your own blogs. Me, I have a date with some hard salami and a homemade batch of sourdough bread. I'm still looking for that cinnamon roll recipe, though; feel free to email me.


Shannon said...

Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

Jo, I've said it before and I'll say it again: you are effing rad and I love your blog! I'd like to blog and may eventually get there. Someday.


messymimi said...

Excellent advice, and from someone who knows how to write well.

'Drea said...

Good advice...

Markus & Sarah said...

Thank you Jo!!!!!<3 I think I'll make a slow probing attempt to start. That is, if I (we) survive my anatomy test tomorrow :-).