What I Learned While Blogging for Thirty Days

20130429-214533.jpg

Working on my blog while
visiting my daughter and
grandchildren
(photo by Alecia)

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?

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8 thoughts on “What I Learned While Blogging for Thirty Days

  1. H

    Harriet, Yes I have enjoyed your daily Blogs and I have shared one or two with our son Lowell and his wife…..I won’t be commeonting but if you are ever in this area, please make it a point to stop in and have lunch with us and we will have a good visit….I have always had what I felt was a good feeling for the BIC people that I knew and I still write to some of the “old missionaries” like Frank Kipe and Lois, George Kibler, David Climenhaga, and Ethel Brubaker….Thanks for sharing your story with us….dan ray and madge Bursch………….

    On Tue, 30 Apr 2013 13:59:10 +0000 Pieces of Peace

    • Thank you for responding – certainly a blast from the way distant past! Please give my best to Lowell and his family! Do you remember my parents, Lewis and Gladys Sider? They served at Sikalongo and Macha Missions from 1958-1961.

  2. What I’d like to hear (read) about is your life, your Memoirs. I’ve written mine, in two parts. Part 1 “From Model Ts to Modems” my life span and the lengthier of the two parts. Part 2 “The Shades of Evening”, my more latterly years. In “From Model Ts to Modems”, I struggled with how much to say about two experiences I had that involved two different situations involving someone else in a very unflattering way, and decided to give the barest of details, no name(s), no place(s), no date(s), so as to make it very difficult for anyone to identify the situations. Yet I wanted to report the two incidents, showing some of the difficulties of my occupation at that administrative point in my life. In “The Shades of Evening”, I reported on my experience with Depression and two Hospitalizations in a Psychiatric Hospital. I’ve had someone tell me recently I was the first person he had met who admitted that. While I’m not proud of it, I won’t deny it either.
    I’ve written enough. I look forward to your continuing Blogging. Blessings.

    • David, thanks for this insight into writing memoirs. You obviously have faced the issues I wonder about and have chosen both the route of not saying as much as could because of the other people involved and of being honest and vulnerable about one of your more difficult personal experiences.

  3. Harriet, You were wondering about your audience, so I thought I’d speak up on this last day of your 30 Day Challenge 🙂

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog this past month. Dale had given me the site and I thought I’d read a bit since you and I haven’t had a chance to meet in person yet. I found the early posts on your childhood as an MK enlightening. I remember growing up (as a BIC PK) thinking that being an MK must be such an exciting and “exotic” life. I must have missed the “boarding school” part of the missionary presentations we heard at church!

    I figured I might just read the first few posts, but then I found that I was interested in the stories about your history and life experiences…many different from my own, but many that I could relate to as well.

    You question why you feel the need to blog…and I agree that Dale’s poem pretty much sums it up. It’s been important for me to blog my recent artistic journey – and to get feedback from others – It pushes me and validates what I’m doing. Your challenge actually made me consider the artist’s version: “30 paintings in 30 days” (but just toying with that idea makes me feel exhausted).

    I’m always amazed (and appreciative) when people are willing to tell their stories. It’s especially helpful when the stories are well-written and insightful.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Pam (Bender) Wenger

    • Thanks, Pam. Glad my stories often resonated one way or another.

      Regarding the painting (blogging) every day, are you familiar with the Lititz artist, Andy Smith? We have one of his paintings in our house. He has a blog called “A Painting a Day,” although I don’t think he actually lives up to the title. Here’s the link: http://andysmithartist.blogspot.com/

      Dale has shown me your website and your paintings. They’re wonderful, and we can imagine a lovely painting by you of our three grandchildren. You do wonderful things not only with flowers but also children!

      Maybe our paths will cross some day.
      Harriet

  4. On the challenges of writing a memoir:
    Who will read it?

    My daughter has just written one about her six years as a postal carrier in Lancaster. She included some perspectives on her childhood that are difficult for me to read. Clearly her vision of those years is different from mine. I find myself wanting to “correct” her version instead of accepting it as HER story.

    When Dwight died in 2001, I finally had some leisure. One of the things I wanted to do was to trace my spiritual journey, so I began writing an autobiography. Everything went swimmingly until I came to age 25, the beginning of my marriage. Then I had choices to make about what I would reveal about my relationships with Dwight and our children and ( for that matter) God Could I tell the hardest, most significant parts of my story in such a way that my children and grandchildren (reading it after my death, possibly) would see the real me?

    I’m stuck. I’ve resolved the dilemma by trying to talk honestly to my children when possible, and by reflecting in my journal. As a (recovering?)perfectionist, I have to be satisfied, at least for the present. But it’s far from my original intention.

  5. Yesterday, when I first read this post, I wrote a long reflective comment. And then I pushed “post comment”–and up popped a note “enter a correct email address.” When I went to do that, the comment was GONE. We were heading to the airport (to fly to San Diego, where we now are), so I waited until today.
    ANYWAY…I mostly want to address the issue of writing memoirs. Yes, what we blog about has the foundation for longer works, maybe even a memoir. What is difficult to contend with in writing memoirs is the fickle nature of memory. Time glosses and burnished some memories, and with others time dulls and alters our recollection. We mean to tell the truth, and we do, but as Emily Dickinson says–we tell it slant. Tilted in our favor.
    Some people write memoirs to get revenge. Others write to record an event, but feel constrained to spare feelings. Neither motivation serves history.
    When I wrote articles for the BinC historical journal, particularly those that focused on my family, I drew on personal accounts. Where I trusted, I also sought to verify. So, some recollections I would submit to a kind of “smell test”–did the memory smell right. If someone said that something happened in a particular time frame, was there an independent source to verify.
    Whether you write your own memoir or not, you can certainly keep on blogging. The benefit of blogging is instant publication. As for audience, I too enjoy having an audience, but I write primarily for the joy of writing. I set finger to keyboard (no longer pen to paper) and the words just flow.

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