Blogging in the Age of Twitter and Other Bits of Unsolicited Advice

canstockphoto4930986Whenever a blog post gets any attention, I receive comments and emails from new bloggers asking for advice. This is all very flattering and for a few moments, I puff myself up to expound on guidelines about blogging. Except they’re only guidelines for me. What works for me, serves my purpose, meets my needs as a writer, reader and blogger, might be entirely different for you. This is the beauty and the challenge of blogging. We’re all just feeling our way through it.

We’ve heard that blogging is dead for the last ten years. That goes right along with physical books and the personal essay. It’s taken me nearly 50 years to fine tune my obliviousness to trends and so far, it’s worked out pretty well. I rarely read e-books and I still ingest paper books by the dozens. I write personal essays and I still post them on a blog. I’m not wealthy, powerful, or famous, so you might see that as a weakness in the plot, but most of us aren’t destined for those things anyway.

Whatever the state of blogging might be, I’ll share what I’ve learned over the last five years about writing for a blog and what I see as a reader of blogs. Take it with a grain of salt and feel free to ask me questions. I’ll try to sound sage, like I actually have my shit together.

Content

In terms of topics, I will write about anything. This has served me well over the long haul. Niche-oriented blogs can run out of steam when the kids grow up or the traveling ends and shifting gears can sometimes be a challenge for reader retention. On the other hand, my blog relies on my voice and not subject appeal to attract readers. Both this and the longer form writing are specific choices and have consequences which likely result in fewer readers.

A recurring comment I get is about my authenticity and honesty often to the tune that I’m being brave or have courage. As much as I’d like to absorb the compliments, the fact is that I prefer to live simply by being myself in all venues. This also has consequences, but one of the happier ones is that I’ve been able to develop genuine connections with people over the years.

canstockphoto10267603That being said, I follow a rule that I never put out anything for public consumption that I haven’t processed. As I mentioned to a commenter on my post about depression, I protect my sensibilities. I write about something when I am strong enough to withstand scrutiny and not a moment before.

Not only do I feel responsible for protecting my own sensibilities, but also those of my family and friends. I’ve never written about my daughter or husband without their permission. Most of my family of origin literally do not know how to use computers and those that do, don’t care about my writing. I still try to be circumspect when I write about them.

Lastly, I have no problem using blue language here, but I do recognize that many people find that unappealing. This last year has been a banner year for swearing at The Green Study, but considering the state of things, I’m a little proud that I’ve managed to write posts without drowning them in f-bombs.

Length & Frequency

canstockphoto8168587If you listen to marketers, we’re all serfs on the content farm. Everything is about churning out frequent, easily digestible nuggets for a population with attention deficits. I ignore that. I prefer longer form writing and taking an idea on its natural journey. Sometimes that journey ends at 500 words, but as I become more resistant to Twitter culture, I’ve been unabashedly running up around 1,000 words on a post.

I don’t post on a schedule. My preference is quality over quantity and sometimes quality takes a little time to brew. I have randomly blurted out a poem or short post on occasion, but my pattern seems to be that I post every 1-2 weeks, taking intermittent hiatuses. Since I’m not trying to drive a business with my blog or run up stats, this works for me.

Format & Grammar

I stick to a pretty straightforward format – writing interspersed with a few pictures to give the eyes a break. For me, the primary focus is the writing. Finding pictures after the fact is just a bit of fun. I’ve had eye issues over the years which make me very cognizant of what a strain small text, large blocks of uninterrupted text, busy backgrounds, and clutter on the sidelines can cause the eyes.

My writing has grown stronger in many ways since starting to write a blog. I am less afraid of ending sentences in prepositions, forgetting an Oxford comma, or writing more stylistically. I am occasionally a vicious editor. But in all the discussions of grammar, we often forget its main purpose: to provide a uniform way so that we can communicate effectively with each other, tell our stories, get our point across, and connect.

canstockphoto6222255Paragraphs, punctuation, capitalization, and proper spelling are all useful tools in effective communication. It also allows the reader to breathe. It provides structure, flow, and rhythm. People get excoriated for being insistent about these things, but the fact of the matter is, most of us are not James Joyce, e.e. cummings, or Cormac McCarthy. We still need to use basic tools and it’s disrespectful to expect readers to do our work for us, by making them machete their way through a jungle of print.

Readership & Social Media

Ah, the old trap of Likes and Follows. I spent my first eight months of blogging with 3-10 readers tops. Fortunately, I hadn’t yet discovered the addictive nature of those little buttons and statistics. I was still just freaking myself out by writing publicly, oblivious that I should be upset that the only thing going viral was me during flu season.

I made the mistake of reading advice articles about SEOs and social media venues. I opened Twitter and Facebook accounts halfheartedly, where they sit ignored and unwanted to this day. Time is of a finite nature and while we have many opportunities to yap about our lives, it’s important to actually live a life offline. I can’t manage that and juggle multiple venues of writing.

canstockphoto4429085Currently my readership is running around 16K, but that is a fake number and is not to be relied on as a bellwether for my abilities as a writer. It breaks down to about 50 regular readers, 2300 sporadic readers, 1000 readers who only want posts on writing or mental health, 2 relatives and 6 friends. The remaining 12,000 readers want me to take a vacation getaway to their remote island resort, to sell me a knockoff handbag, or to sign me up for their dating site marketing Russian and Asian women.

Over the last five years, I’ve come to appreciate the real people, no matter what the number, who read and engage and connect with me. Writing in public and having someone say “this made me feel less alone” or when they earnestly engage in a conversation about the topic and interact with other commenters – well, that’s the sweet spot.

Blogging Etiquette & Peeves

canstockphoto7547507The Reciprocal Follow: I’ve heard several perspectives on this. I do not Follow people expecting them to Follow me. Nor do I Follow people just because they’ve followed me. We know how quickly our Readers can fill up and it again comes down to finite time. While I appreciate people subscribing to my blog, I always hope that it is because they have found something here that appeals to them and assume they’d prefer genuine readers and not just a stat on their blog as well.

The Comment Mercenaries: “I like your post. Please look at mine (usually followed with a link).” This does not move me to look at a blog. If someone leaves an engaging comment, I will likely look at their blog. A generic comment with a looky-loo request suggests that they barely read the post and that they’re just blog-jumping in order to direct people to their blogs.

Comment Policy: I wrote one this year due to the fact that I thought I’d be going off the rails with political rants. Turns out That Guy is not that interesting and that there are plenty of people railing at the sky. Still, I wonder why I didn’t have a policy sooner. It sets the tone for the blog that says “This is not Facebook or Twitter. We are civilized and respectful here.”

Comment Response: I try to answer every comment in a relatively timely fashion. Sometimes it might be several days depending on my schedule or if I accidentally miss it, several months. If the comment section is open, then it is my responsibility to monitor it. I hold comments in moderation for sensitive posts regarding mental health issues, but for the most part, it’s free range.

Being a Good Reader

I am not a good blog reader in that I only do it as time permits, when titles catch my attention (that are not obvious click bait). Since I’m trying to finish a book, I have to be careful not to get too sidetracked with blogging. I only comment when I think I might add to the conversation or when the post is stellar in the shape of its content and skill of writing. This is the best I can do with limited time.

canstockphoto4609080That being said, being a new blogger means the expanse of one’s readership counts on you interacting with other bloggers on a genuine level. I have often found new blogs to read in the comment sections of a blog and readers have told me that they got to my blog through the blog of someone else. This is the community aspect of blogging which takes time and effort.

Blogging as If No One’s Life Depends on It

Blogging is, for most people, a hobby. Statistically, very few people make a living from it. And if you’re a writer, the conventional wisdom is that you must, must, must have a social media platform. We’ve all read blogs that were essentially product pitches. For me, this is a huge turnoff and really defeats the purpose of social media, which is engagement.

I remember the jitters I experienced publishing my first post, as if it would be a deal-breaker for my writing. My nightmare of being a writer unmasked as a complete fraud would surely come true.

Then nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for a long time. I kept writing and posting and writing and posting. It felt like shouting into a void. I kept focusing on structure and content. I thought about themes and voice. My voice got stronger. And eventually, comments began to pop up. I engaged sincerely (like an eager Labrador) and started to make connections.

So despite this meandering post, blogging boils down to a few things: enjoy it, keep practicing, and be patient. It only took me 1800 words to get to this point, but it’s Sunday and my vicious editor is lounging about reading a book, drinking coffee, and lazily reaching over to hit the Publish button.

Best wishes to you on your blogging journey!

The Blogging Plateau

canstockphoto23123007Over the last year The Green Study blog has hit a plateau. There’s been very little growth in readership, commenting activity has been slow to middling, and I really haven’t improved as a writer. This is interesting to me. If it were a diet plateau, I’d have to make a few more changes to see progress on the scale. If it were a career plateau, I’d go back to school or attain some new certification. What do you do for a blogging plateau?

The first step in defining any problem, if it is one, is to know what you are trying to accomplish.

Reasons for Blogging

My blogging goals go through a regular review once or twice a year. Since writing blog posts takes time and is not financially rewarding, the intrinsic reasons need to be solid. Generally my reasons have been that blogging has kept me writing regularly for 5 years and I have connected with a group of interesting, smart, funny, and thoughtful people. That sounds nice and reasonable.

canstockphoto11177261If I were to really going to dig deeper, it would be that because I write in isolation, having outside, regular input on my writing soothes my insecurities and urges me forward. And frankly, too much time alone makes me super weird. Not in a kidnap-strangers-torture-cellar sort of way, but in a way that when I enter the world, everyone else seems like an alien and I engage awkwardly. Take me to your leader. Meep-meep. Engaging with others online seems to take the edge off, because writing me can do.

Metrics and Engagement

I used to be more aware of the numbers, the stats, the pings. At least the ones I understood. Whether it be a development issue or spam season, there have been several periods of time over the last 5 years when every new subscriber was a spammer. You lose interest pretty quickly in your numbers when they’re a tourist company trying to drum up hits or to sell you knock-off handbags.

canstockphoto9986430My metrics tend to be engagement – the comment section. Two things changed over the last year on my blog. I stopped answering comments in a timely manner, sometimes missing them altogether because I forgot to return to them. Secondly, I wrote more political posts and decided to institute a comment policy. While I don’t think this necessarily had a deleterious effect, it did slow down the social aspect of engagement, by not engaging in real time and by suggesting that there would be some level of curating.

The goal was to be less distracted throughout my day. Stopping one task to engage in another or getting caught up in ruminations about someone’s comment could throw me off-track for a good hour. It hasn’t worked well. I’m still distracted by one thing or another and am coming to terms with the fact that those are hard habits to break.

I think, too, I’ve been less attentive to commenters. When people take the time to write a comment, it is my hope that I can give it my full attention and respond in kind. But there is certainly a degree of burnout in these exchanges. They’re not full conversations, just interactions that connect only briefly as we move throughout our day. I found myself adding “Answer blog comments” on to-do lists which is a sure way to take the fun out of anything.

The Changing Environment

canstockphoto19233296Culturally, social media is not moving in favor of long form posts. Instantaneous feedback, things that don’t require focus, click bait that revs up our emotions, and content that adapts easily to mobile devices is where we’re at. Perhaps we can hope, like slow living or tiny houses, blogging becomes this hip, retro thing to do for people who have a lot of time and disposable income (hence the time). It doesn’t seem promising, though.

I tend to hunger for longer thoughts, developed ideas, and something with a little more staying power. Maybe there is still room for blogging, as long as we don’t compare it to the lightning fast zeitgeist of other platforms and without the expectation of winning a popularity contest.

A Non-Conclusion

These are some of the things that I’ve been mulling over. I know that growth is important to me, but haven’t figured out what that means in terms of blogging.

Do I change content? To me, this is like trying to write for an audience. I like the organic approach – people come here for the subject and sometimes stick around for the voice. Until I write something that irritates them.

Do I run another contest? Contests can be labor, and sometimes dollar, intensive. I’ve enjoyed the five I’ve done over the years, but I’m a little burned out. As the number of readers grew, so did the number of submissions and while I enjoy promoting others’ work, I don’t enjoy “judging” it.

Do I start allowing guest posts? I’ve never done that because I follow blogs for specific reasons, mostly for a writer’s voice. I’ve always felt it better to provide a link to the original work and let it and the author speak for themselves.

Without a profit angle or a willingness to actively use Twitter or Facebook, there are really no gimmicks, click bait titles, or fads I’m willing to engage in that will promote blog growth. There are only a few areas that I can work on: engaging more fully in comments, visiting more blogs and engaging there and lastly, but most importantly, working on my writing game. If it’s not improving, that bit’s all on me.

Have you reached a blogging plateau? Have you made changes to deal with it?

A Green Study Valentine

canstockphoto3823102As much as I’ve been twisting in the wind lately here at The Green Study, I’ve decided to take a break from my wannabe writer hand-wringing to say thank you to the many lovely writers, readers, artists, poets, musicians, photographers and generous people who have read, liked and/or commented here over the last few years.

When a blog has been around awhile, sometimes hopping in with a comment feels like showing up at a party uninvited. People seem to know each other and you wonder if you need a special handshake to get in the door.

If there is any measure of pride to be had in blogging, I have it about the commenters here. They’re kind, generous, astute and some of them are very, very funny. If you’re new to blogging and feel some commenter anxiety, this is a great place to dip your toes in the water, contribute to the conversation and introduce yourself to other bloggers.

canstockphoto9909736Thank you to the following regular commenters, in no particular order: Ruth (I miss you!) at A New Beginning, Kirizar at The Dust Season, Outlier Babe at The Last Half, Bill at pinklightsabre, Ross at Drinking Tips for Teens, Sandy at A Mind Divided, Helen at Tiny Lessons Blog, Luanne at Writer Site, John at A Napper’s Companion, Belladonna Took at American Soustannie, Lyle at Krahnpix, Almost Iowa, Dave at 1pointperspective, Kathryn at Art-Colored Glasses, Fransi at 365 and Counting, Alison and Don at Adventures in Wonderland, Honie at HonieBriggs, transforminglifenow and Elyse at FiftyFourandAHalf.

I know there are some new readers who have started jumping in and I look forward to our continuing conversations.

I’m always looking around for blogs that inspire, teach or just make me laugh. Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed lately:

Math with Bad Drawings I found Ben’s blog through the Freshly Pressed page and have enjoyed his astute, often humorous observations about math, science and teaching. Lately his posts, such as “The Church of the Right Answer” have a lot to say about learning and life.

Tropics of Meta Another Freshly Pressed find. A collaborative effort that is absolute brain candy.

The Brown Road Chronicles Steve couldn’t quit us and we’re grateful. He’s back with a delightful and talented mix of writing and music and goat tales (maybe). And if you’re in the mood for love or something that might actually kill love where it stands, don’t miss his Valentine’s Day Song.

Alena Dillon Anyone who can write a book called I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean: And Other Amusings from a Girl Wearing Sweatpants is bound to be funny.canstockphoto5319068

It would be impossible for me to capture in one post all of the readers and commenters who have contributed here, but you make all the difference in the blogging experience and are greatly appreciated.

Thank you and have a lovely day!

And if you dislike this holiday as much as I, may it be one that passes quickly.

Dear Spam Followers, This Blogger Will NOT Be Visiting Your Site

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I’ve been out of circulation for the last week. I’ve been extremely busy following through on some volunteer commitments. I was astonished to see that my readership had jumped an unbelievable 15% in a week – without having written a single thing. The WordPress bot attacks reported in the news are in relation to denial of service attacks with the WordPress.org installation, so this is a separate issue.

To the people who have legitimately read and found something here that appeals to them, I sincerely thank you. I have so many great “conversations” with you and I value the time that you have taken to read, like and/or comment on a post. I am slow to catch up on my reading, but I try to visit each and every subscribed reader’s blog. Sometimes I follow it as well, if I find a subject that resonates or the writing or story is compelling.

However, with spam followers – there is NO indication that they have read the blog – no corresponding likes or comments by them. I will not be visiting their sites without some evidence that they have read the blog.

I don’t do courtesy follows. If I follow your blog, I will eventually read, like or comment on your posts. To do otherwise, would skew your numbers and not be respectful of the work and time you put into writing and establishing your blog. I am one person and can only read so many blogs. I will occasionally review the list of blogs I follow and cull the ones that have gone into retreat, just posted on how to eat babies or skin kittens, or have decided to reblog on a regular basis. I try to follow blogs for original content, context and conversation.

To my fellow bloggers, I would encourage you to implement this policy as well. It discourages spam followers and maintains a level of integrity in the system.

Regularly scheduled programming will return to this blog tomorrow.