Friday, May 23, 2008

365 days of blogging: 11 tips about writing

Do all new bloggers learn the same lessons? There's so much information on blogging out there, but surprisingly little that is comprehensive. So let me say that I hope the following narrative and information will be useful to all other sixty year old political bloggers without advertising-- and a few other folks, too. I welcome comments and other tips and experiences from fellow bloggers.

Michaelann Land'
s initial purpose was to allow me to stay in touch with day to day organizing because I was no longer able to stay on at Arise for Social Justice, an anti-poverty organization more than twenty years ago, but Arise was out of money, and I had bills to pay. (We're doing much better and I'm still on the board and on an organizing committee.)

I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do when I started-- reach and influence readers to take action on homelessness and poverty-- but I didn't know that over the first year I would also improve my writing skills, learn more about issues I care about, and discover diverse and talented communities of fellow bloggers with something to share.

I actually started my blog on April 1st, but consider May 19 the real anniversary date-- that's when I discovered there was such a thing as stats and that I could actually find out how many people were reading my blog. I was humbled to look at the numbers but also learned to take pleasure in each new reader.

One of the decisions I had to make early on was how much of my personal life to share on my blog. I knew that complete anonymity, even if desired, wasn't possible. I'm pretty involved in local organizing, and quite a number of people know at least something about me. What I do freely share about myself (if it's interesting) is what I'm thinking and feeling, and I share what I've always done as an organizer: the connections I see between things, and the sense that solutions exist and change is possible.

At first almost all of my posts were original writing and primarily linked to specific organizing campaigns happening in Springfield, MA. As time went on, I began to include environmental and criminal justice issues, and even a bit of humor (although not everyone appreciated it-- one person on my blogroll demanded to be removed). Initially I posted only when I felt like it-- but I started feeling like it more and more; by August, I was even using a bit of my precious vacation time elbowing for a space on the public computers at Wellfleet library. What I posted during vacation, though, was the poetry that came to me on the beach. If folks didn't like it, they didn't have to read it.

With some embarrassment, I admit I had barely read another blog prior to starting my own. I didn't know how big the blogging world was and how much extraordinarily good stuff was being written. Eventually I recognized that bloggers borrow from each other! (Duh!) So I started to borrow also, but usually mixed linked material with at least some original writing.

To some degree I have ignored the common advice for new bloggers to find a niche and to stick with it. I have that luxury partly because I don't have advertising on my blog and therefore don't have to add the dimension of money-making to my considerations. I want my blog to be readable and enjoyable, I want readers, but I decided never to let that desire influence what I write-- although it does influence how often I blog. So I've developed strategies for developing content.

So here are the writing lessons I've learned so far and some tips about composing a blog::
  1. Have a focus for your blog but let it evolve. Don't be too rigid about content.
  2. Decide what you do and don't want to share about yourself.
  3. Write as much original material as you can; don't let your entire content be borrowed.
  4. When you do borrow, don't copy the whole post of another blogger and make sure to link back! Give your reader a reason to go to another site; it'll pay off eventually.
  5. Watch out for libel! The best online source of info I've found so far is the Bloggers' FAQ at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Check out their Intellectual Property section, too.
  6. Keep a journal of works in progress and keep adding to it.
  7. Save articles and posts on topics you're interested in; when something current happens, you'll have some background material ready. Use Google Alerts and such to keep up on news in your area of interest.
  8. Don't post without reading what you've written one more time and go back and edit, even after posting, if you need to.
  9. Don't get hung up, though-- not everything has to be a great work of art.
  10. Take a break when you need it. Don't get addicted to blogging!.
  11. Stay true to yourself.


michael said...

Congratulations on the one year anniversary of your blog.

I track your blog via RSS feed - so I'm always aware of when you add new content.

Like you, I found that blogging has its own unique learning curve. But I also discovered part of that learning curve has to do with ourselves as individuals because - as you pointed out - we begin learning more about the very issues that caused us to begin blogging in the first place.

I look forward to continuing to read your post for many more years to come.

- m -

Mary E.Carey said...

HI Michaelann -- This is fascinating and such a good idea. It would be great if all of us local bloggers did something like this and compared notes. (I, for one, am very interested in hearing what long, longtime blogger Tommy Devine has written about his experience and how the focus of his blog has evolved.) I always think of you as the bee person and look to you to point out stories about social injustice that I've missed.

Michaelann Bewsee said...

Thanks, you guys. I'm not bored with it yet, and may never be!