Well, it’s April 30, and I have successfully met my challenge to myself to write for this blog every day during April. What have I learned? What now? Herewith a few lessons and some additional thoughts on the whole blogging thing….
1. This discipline has been a bit all-consuming and it would be hard to sustain the daily postings for the indefinite future. I started out with several posts in the works, so I was a day or two ahead for the first week. But then came days when I didn’t know what the next day’s post would be, or when what I thought I would write about just wasn’t going anywhere. It’s one thing to be a daily blogger when that’s your job; it’s quite another when it’s done in the cracks of one’s life, in between a part-time job, volunteer assignments, helping out the daughter and grandchildren, and everything else.
2. Blogging has been fun. For a long time I’ve been wanting to write my own stuff instead of always writing for this or that assignment. So it’s been nice to have this outlet for writing what I want to write. I’ve discovered I really do enjoy it and would like to do more.
3. Based on the stats WordPress collects for me, the posts that have been most “popular” are the personal stories from my life, which reinforces what I already know about the power of stories. People don’t seem as interested when I start waxing philosophical or theological, although I did notice that those more theoretical posts drew out some completely different people than the story ones. Maybe it’s good to have a balance between stories and topical essays?
4. Spam infects blogs too, and sometimes it’s difficult to sort the spam from real responses. People I don’t know (usually other bloggers) have “liked” a post, and I don’t know whether they actually liked it or are just trying to increase their own blog traffic. Of course, I’ve also received genuine and kind responses from people I don’t know who somehow happened across my blog and enjoyed it. That’s gratifying.
5. Gathering an audience of regular readers is a challenge, or to put it another way, promoting myself is difficult (especially for an introvert like me) and it’s hard to know the best ways to put myself out there. Which makes me wonder: what does it take for a blog to hit the big time? Not that I’m necessarily wanting to hit the big time, but it would be nice to know how it happens! It’s clear to me that you can’t just expect people will find you; after all, I had a blog sitting here in cyberspace for four years and NO ONE read it!
6. Feedback is highly valued! Thank you very much to those who regularly commented (especially Donna Climenhaga Wenger, my MK friend, who responded almost every day). I’ve resolved to try to comment more frequently on my friends’ blogs because I know what it feels like not to know whether anyone has paid any attention or what others think of what you wrote.
6. You have to believe in yourself and trust that others will be interested in what you have to say. Which brings up some further thoughts about the whole process of blogging:
Besides wanting to write, I ask myself why I want to blog? I could just as easily write a journal (which I have done sometimes, particularly at times of crisis or when I travel) or record the stories of my life for posterity and let others find them when I’m gone. Why do I want/need to publish my writing in a blog or anywhere else public? Is it a vanity thing, because I think I have something important to say? My best answer is that like most writers (or poets, artists or musicians), I need an audience; while writing for private consumption is helpful and often therapeutic, I write to communicate to others. I suppose my reason can be summed up in a poem my husband Dale wrote some time ago called “Real”:
Until we’re heard,
seen, and touched,
we’re not real,
even to ourselves.
(For more of Dale’s poetry and gorgeous photography,
check out his website, Druthers and Dragons)
I also wonder about my audience. For whom am I writing? When I write for a newsletter at work, I know my audience consists mostly of those interested in children’s mental health; when I write for Shalom!, I know my audience is mostly Brethren in Christ people interested in peace and justice issues. Since the main place I promote the blog is on Facebook, I’m conscious of my friends there from so many different parts of my life – immediate and extended family, close friends, church friends, former board colleagues, co-workers, acquaintances, and some I hardly know at all but ended up becoming friends with on Facebook. As I’ve written this month, I’ve been keenly aware of the diversity among those audiences; I wonder whether everyone will understand my references or if I need to explain and provide a back story, whether someone will misunderstand something I say and make inaccurate assumptions or judgments, and so on.
Finally, writing about my life (childhood, family, marriage, parenting, church life, professional life, etc.) has raised some questions for me about the ethics of writing memoirs and autobiographies. Some people have encouraged me to write a book, and I want to (what writer doesn’t?!). But, telling my whole story would mean writing in much more detail about some of the most challenging times in my life which involve others. A complete memoir would have to include those stories as well because they have had such a significant impact on who I am today. Do I want to reveal certain information about other people in order to tell my own whole story? How vulnerable do I want to be about my own failings and neuroses? A complete memoir should probably be more self-revealing, and that could be 1) embarrassing and invite judgment I’m not sure I’m ready for, and 2) a case of what we’ve come to know as TMI (too much information). Does anyone really want to read my “tell-all” book?
On the other hand, there are many memoirs out there that tell unflattering stories about people in the writers’ lives, not to mention unflattering stories about the writers themselves. It’s certainly commonly done; I’m just not sure I’m ready to do it. Maybe sometime…. I am curious, though, about how others resolve with integrity what I’m sure must be a common dilemma in memoir writing.
What now for this blog? I can’t keep writing every day. I have other lives to live and things to do. Now that I’ve come this far, however, I don’t want to stop either, so I’ve set a new goal of writing twice a week. What I write about will likely be more connected to my current life than many of the posts this month, but I may revisit topics as well. I welcome ideas from readers – what would you like to hear more about?