After an exciting (and spontaneous) conversation on Twitter about the ever-changing blogosphere, why we write, and why we should, the incredibly talented and always charming Ryan Knapp and I decided to join forces and weigh in on a topic (I think) is on many of your minds. Why do we write? Why do we blog? What should we be writing about? Keep it personal? Or professional? Here goes…
No matter what you do in life, you must write.
These words came from my fifth grade Language Arts teacher, Mrs. McKenzie, and at the time, I don’t think I really fathomed how much those words would shape the rest of my life. Throughout Middle School and High School, I always excelled in Language or Literature driven classes. When it came time to pick a major in college, Journalism was an easy decision. Why Journalism and not English? I have been given the gift of articulation, and I wanted to tell the stories of those who were unable.
So I wrote. A lot. Every day. At this point in my life, I actually have accumulated seven volumes of personal, hand-written journals. I’m currently working on volume eight.
When I became Editor-in-Chief for the CU Independent in college, I stopped writing. I was managing an editorial staff of nearly 20 and a reporting staff of over 40. I sparsely wrote in my personal journals, and I never wrote for the paper. I felt like a part of me was dying.
I started a blog.
I started TheOffBeatReport one late evening with my dear friend (and predecessor), who helped me choose a theme and design the site (I had very little coding experience). Why a blog? I wanted to have a place to be open and share my experiences and opinions with friends and family. But more importantly, I wanted an avenue where I could write — for me.
I didn’t expect many people to read it — mostly just family and friends. I only updated my blog when I had something to write about. When I had a profound experience I wanted to share. When I needed to articulate an emotion I was feeling. When I needed a place to just be myself, spill my guts through each keystroke.
Slowly, I began acquiring readers. I remember being utterly confused when I started receiving comments on my posts from complete strangers. How did they even know my blog existed? Who were these people? But, I thought it was neat — I was reaching other people that were feeling and going through similar experiences. They could relate to me and I to them. I was beginning to build a community of friends, family and strangers alike. And I kept writing.
It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that my blog actually “took off” (whatever that really means). I began making real life friends through my blog. I used social media to let people know when I published a post. Through Twitter I made even more friends and I used their blogs in order to get to know them better. Sometimes, I feel like I know someone so well without even having met them in person. In fact, I have two incredibly close friends whom I’ve never actually met.
And then I wondered.
If I’m using blogs to get to know other people, aren’t other people using mine to get to know me? Is my blog an accurate representation of who I am? Do I want it to be? Should I say this? Will they judge me? Should I care who’s reading? And that’s when I began calculating my blog posts.
I found it difficult to write about friendships because my friends were reading (and would call me if I said something they didn’t like). I found it difficult to write about family because they were reading and would get angry at me for “airing dirty laundry.” I found it difficult to write about relationships and sex because 1. my family was reading, and 2. the boyfriends/dates/exes were reading, too. Not to mention, my current and future employers have access to this blog.
I still think I need to have a release form that clearly states, if you are going to be a part of my life in any way, I reserve all the rights to write about you.
For a brief period of time, I turned to generic, universal posts. I distanced myself from my blog posts. I generalized everything, making it a point to stay out of it. Of course, I shed some light into the posts, but not as before.
Not only was I entirely conscious of my audience, and therefore adjusted my writing style, but I began to look at blogging as a commitment. I had readers who were “expecting” a blog post once a week. If I didn’t post for two weeks, I’d get emails wondering if I was okay, where I’d been, etc. I began creating blog posts out of, well, nothing. I hit blogger’s block more times than I’d like to admit. I was no longer writing for me — I was writing for you.
Continuously creating something out of nothing became tiresome (and, quite frankly, went against everything I learned in J-School). I’d take an experience and overgeneralize thinking I could better “appeal to the larger audience.” I lost touch with the reason I started this blog in the first place.
Blogs are now such a popular medium — companies have them, the majority of my friends have them, heck, my dad has two! I use blogs to learn about people, places, companies, everything. Blogs are how I learned most about social media, Community Management, marketing, even blogging. Now, there are techniques and tactics and strategies to get more readers and more clicks and more pageviews and oh my gosh my head is spinning.
Blogging has become such a way of life, a way to “live your life out loud.” A way to express yourself. But, I fear, people are taking it too seriously (myself included at times). We get so wrapped up in stats and numbers and followers and comments that some of us lose touch with the whole reason we started a blog in the first place. We’re so worried about what people will think if we write something a certain way, if we talk about a taboo subject, if we speak unfavorably about something the majority favors. We’re in fear of being judged. So we censor, and cut down, and control, and stifle. Slowly, we lose our voice. That voice that we’ve worked so hard to build up. That voice that the blogging medium is so perfect for. That voice that changes and affects lives just by existing.
And I hate it.
What we forget is the reason we’ve built communities — the reason I’ve made such incredible friends through my blog — because we’re ourselves. Because we’re real. And we are relate-able. And even if we’re not relate-able, who cares?
So, if you all don’t mind, I’m going to continue writing from my heart, with just a little inhibition (you know, to protect what really isn’t anyone’s business), and resume writing for me.
And according to Ryan, that’s exactly what I should do. What all personal bloggers should do.
His writing love story is a little different than mine — but I’ll let him tell it himself.
I remember when I decided to start blogging.
It was March 2007 and I was living in Villacañas, Spain teaching English and staying up way too late watching Buffalo Sabres games on bad illegal streams. I thought, “Hey, these guys on Deadspin make blogging seem fun, why can’t I get in on the action?” With no experience and a writing style which would cause an AP Style Guide to explode, I went for it.
And so Lets-Go-Buffalo turned into Center Holds It, turned into moving to BigSoccer, The Offside-Sevilla, Bleacher Report, and a myriad of other sports sites. I’ve written about games, players, accidents, almost civil wars, cultural explosions, tragic deaths and everything in between. I’ve written in Spanish, been interviewed on radio shows abroad and have been featured in magazines and papers.
Experience in hand, I bought www.ryanjknapp.com so I could have my own personal blog. I could share my thoughts on anything I wanted that was NOT soccer related. I could talk about how my dad died when I was 14 and how I was forced to grow up quickly or why I think getting a tattoo is a pretty religious experience. I was ready to write about anything that came to mind with no regrets and nothing holding me back.
Except for the fact I suck at writing about myself.
No…really I do. For the first time in my blogging career, I was writing just for me. I was writing to not write about soccer, but with no audience in mind my posts were terrible. I even went as far as to delete them. I had the opportunity and I couldn’t come through.
A few things happened when I had freedom to write about any topic.
First, I couldn’t think of any topics to write about for fear of offending anyone in my immediate circle, including friends and family.
Second. I was completely swayed by reading way too many articles about ‘personal branding’ and to write for your audience. Write about what they want to read. This turned into 10 Ways to Write Horrible How-To Posts and to give advice on things that I wasn’t even doing myself. I kept trying to ‘add value’ and ‘be there for my readers’ when I didn’t even know who my readers were and why they wanted to get to know me.
Third. I gave up. I realized quickly I was good about writing about me only if it had to do with my job.
And with that, I went back to blogging personally…about soccer.
Please don’t change!
At least I can take solace in reading other people’s personal blogs. Oh wait..no, don’t change what you write about!!
I’ve been disappointed as of late because I’ve seen so many personal blogs go the route of ‘self-help’. I go to most personal blogs to get to know the author and have a glimpse in their life. I don’t go to get 10 Ways to Get My Next Job. Sure, there are plenty of advice focused blogs out there which I read, but I don’t want information I have to digest all the time.
If we all start writing self-help and advice blogs, the world is going to be a boring place.
Look, I can’t write for myself, so why am I asking you to keep at it? Because you make the blogging world a better place. You make life interesting through your stories. I get to know you through your writing and you give me hope and inspiration through your personal accounts on life, love and anything else that comes to mind.
Writing for yourself is the true ‘awesome content’ solution. When you write about the crazy date you went on last night, you create something that has never been written before, instead of being the 1000th person to give their take on whatever story is the flavor of the day. When you just write, you give me the opportunity to draw my own conclusions and create my own inspiration from what you’ve written.
Every post you write is a new chapter of a never ending book that I’m lucky to have the opportunity to read.
And I don’t want to lose that opportunity.