letter to a young emerging creative who thinks she wants to blog (gods help her)

 

 

1

Anything with a low barrier of entry will let in a lot of crap. This is just the natural order of things (of social media, of blogging). But this only makes it more important – not less – to strive for excellence, relevance and meaning.

2

You need to have an intention. ‘Developing a readership by attracting strangers and turning them into Fans and maybe True Fans’ is a very different kind of intention from ‘making money online’ or ‘putting up a blog so my agent/editor/writing instructor will get the f*ck off my back’.

I was talking with a young writer who wanted to start building her online platform and said she needed “to get on Tumblr.”

“Why Tumblr?” I said.

She kind of shrugged and said something about how Tumblr is hot and all the cool kids are doing it.

“And if all the cool kids were to jump off a bridge….”

I didn’t really say that, because that would be annoying. But I did mention how Tumblr is great for short posts with lots of visuals, is that what she wanted to do?

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. I told her to go online and explore different blogs and websites and see what she resonated with, what she could see herself doing in a way that would maintain her interest over a long period of time.

If you can form a very…clear…image in your head of what you want your online presence to ultimately look like, be like, feel like, then you have something specific to move toward.

You have a destination.

You have a journey.

3

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can find someone online who inspires you. When I became seriously interested in blogging, it was the writer-entrepreneurs who intrigued and excited me: Chris Guillebeau, Danielle LaPorte, Jonathan Fields, Joanna Penn. I also fell in love with Kelly Diels’ defiantly personal tone in a world of ‘authority blogging’ (which is also, interestingly enough, predominantly male).

You also don’t have to do what other people tell you to. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. Soak up all that online advice, keep what serves you and reject what doesn’t and then experiment, experiment, experiment. Ultimately what works best for you will be that thing, that ‘you-ness’, that might not work at all for anybody else and which nobody else would have known to teach you.

4

At some point you will revise your intention to focus less on yourself and more on your readers. You will realize that it’s about them. You will stop asking yourself, “How do I get more people to read me?” and start asking instead, “How do I create value for other people? How can I help? What can I give?” This is when your traffic will slowly but steadily grow.

But don’t get too hung up over the whole traffic thing. Blogging has a learning curve, and you need that time in the beginning when no one is reading you (except maybe your mom – hi Mom!) to figure out not only what the hell you’re doing, but where you want to take this.

What your purpose is. Your Big Meaning.

5

An effective social media presence does not require you to get down and dirty with the details of your life. (Here’s the amazing thing: we don’t care!)

You are not required to share what you had with breakfast, or what new exciting sexual positions you tried with your partner(s) while swinging from the chandelier the other night –

and even if you do want to share, the question is, are those personal details relevant in any way to whatever it is that you’re hoping to accomplish?

Which comes back to intention.

I believe that the most powerful blogs are fueled by an underlying mission that goes beyond ‘promote my stuff’ and it is this mission, this Big Meaning, that shapes your content and your direction and gives your blog an identity.

The standard advice in the blogging world is to find your niche: that particular subject in which you can establish expertise that will draw in new readers who want to know what you know. A niche can be a good place to start when you’re still learning who you are as a blogger; it’s easier to talk about your blog to people when you can tell them what kind of blog it is (“a creativity blog”); and one way to attract an audience is to answer their questions and solve their problems. But as a creative, you’re doing much more than selling solutions to problems – which is ultimately what niche blogging is about – you’re also engaging your people with the voice and worldview that shapes your creative work. In the end, you probably won’t want to be limited to ‘a niche’.

Superstar blogger Leo Babauta talks about this in a post encouraging you to bundle together several topics you are passionate about, so long as you can find an ‘angle’ on them that differentiates you from everybody else.

I think that angle should be your Big Meaning, your Ultimate Why – and by that, I mean the reason why you do that voodoo that you do. The big life question that you’re compelled to explore. The wound that you seek to heal. The quest, the mission, the journey you’re on that will ultimately make the world a better place – while inviting other people to be a part of it.

6

This goes beyond blogging – it goes right to your art, your life, your identity. It’s also not something you decide on so much as discover – your ‘why’ rises of its own accord, up from the core through all the layers of thinking and creating until you can finally feel what you’re all about.

And by feel, I mean exactly that – it’s a sensation, a resonance, a fullness. It lights you up. That’s because – as Simon Sinek puts it in his great book START WITH WHY – your ‘why’ taps directly into the part of your brain, the limbic part, that is nonverbal, emotional, and busily influencing all the decisions your neocortex thinks it makes through ‘logic’ alone.

(As Simon puts it, we ‘like’ things out of our neocortex. We not only like them, we can explain why we like them. But we ‘love’ things out of our limbic system, which means we can never articulate exactly why we ‘love’ something or someone; the feeling lives in a place beyond language. We can use words to gesture toward it, but that’s it and that’s all. So if you can’t understand why your best friend is in love with that crazy dude, don’t worry, she can’t either.)

7

Are you obligated, as a creative, to do any of this? Of course not.

But this is what I believe: we live in a world that is now so interconnected that we can no longer afford to blindly buy into this ‘individualist’ ethos that would have each and every one of us standing alone, working and creating alone. As it turns out, that’s not how real creative insight actually happens.

Every creative has his or her natural audience – and by that I mean her right audience, who values her for what she is, who stimulates her and enables her to flourish. (Your wrong audience, on the other hand, could trap you, suffocate you, encourage you into all kinds of artistically compromising positions).

There is a point where your needs and desires intersect with your right audience’s needs and desires, so that you are your audience and your audience is you.

Which means, if you are a writer, you don’t have to wonder if you are writing for your audience or for yourself; you are writing for both.

Blogging becomes an extension of that.

You use your voice and your craft to serve your audience; and through serving them, you serve yourself. And it’s not just because your right audience will do the real work of promoting you to others through the all-powerful word-of-mouth; it’s because of how you learn and grow in this mysterious, rather magical space that you and your audience co-create online. And it’s the influence and creativity and levels of insight that you and your audience can unleash together that ripple out along all the lines that connect us and tilt us toward better – or worse.

8

The real power of social media is not about the (often misleading) number of fans and followers you can brag about, but the potential global impact that you as a cultural creative can have through your work and your platform and the ‘why’ that fuels both. (Sales of your work happen as a side benefit.)

It doesn’t happen overnight – it takes, literally, years – but there will be new voices rising with something real to say (and different platforms through which to say it).

You can settle for just trying to promote your work. Or you can turn into your corner and scoff about those talentless hacks who tweet what they had for breakfast and Lord knows what other nonsense (“don’t they have lives???”). Or you can maybe look above these tired, stale, outdated notions of what it means to market online to see something new emerging, something deep and long-lasting and powerful, and decide that you want to be a part of it.

There are no wrong answers, only personal preferences. Whatever yours are or may be, I wish you the best.

If you like this article – or this blog – please share. I’d appreciate it.

Dec 30, 2011
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19 comments · Add Yours

I’m so glad I found and bookmarked your site. There are times I get so caught up in blog traffic and reader response that I forget why I created my blog in the first place. It wasn’t to reach a thousand people or to garner a zillion comments, but to explore different ideas and concepts as they emerged from my subconscious. I’d like to say a great, big “THANK YOU”, Justine, for reminding me that cultivating my true voice is more important than having a highly populated reader base. The audience will grow as they realise the genius of one’s output, right? Right. You rock! :D

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Thanks for articulating something I also believe but have not even attempted to put into words – I suppose I thought my own actions would make this clear. But this is a great reminder to up my game and write about what matters!

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Hi Justine,
I think many people feel a need to be useful. This is what drives me anyway. I started blogging 3.5 years ago as a means to promote my first book – it didn’t work so well for that at the beginning! So I started to share what I learned so people could save time and money and energy. This has become a purpose I guess, but the reward is in being useful.
I always wanted to be a self-help writer, like Jack Canfield. That hasn’t quite manifested yet :) but I can help people through the blog. So even if a new blogger doesn’t really have a clue about their big purpose, they could perhaps start by being useful, and see where it ends up!

Happy new year to you! May 2012 be amazingly creative!

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@Otiti It’s so easy to get caught up in traffic, etc. — we’re so hungry for feedback, for reassurance that we’re not derailing ourselves, so I know what you mean. Every now and then I have to step back from this blog for a bit just to reconnect with my sense of purpose for it…And then, inevitably, it’s those posts I write from within that sense of purpose that garner the best response. And yeah, at least in my experience, traffic *grows*, so long as you make yourself *findable* and give people different portals through to your blog (through twitter or facebook or linkedin or youtube or whatever…). As my ex-husband liked to say, it’s not rocket science. :) But you gotta persevere, and be willing to do what most would-be bloggers won’t, which usually just comes down to time, effort, thought, and feeding your head with lots of great, interesting stuff….

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@Milo Thanks Milo!

@Joanna Penn You’re absolutely right. Being useful is a great place to start, not the least because it necessitates a really important mindshift that I think most of us have to make at some point, looking at blogging as a way to serve + create value….When I started Livejournaling, I also did a crappy job of promoting my books! — since I discovered I really wanted to blog about other things and explore a different aspect of my writing voice….I always thought your purpose was admirably clearcut, to empower writers/creatives in a very confusing time…Actually your blog helped shape my blog, not only because I would go to your blog for information + education and looked to it as a type of model (I should have included your name in that little list of writer-blogger-entrepreneurs! silly me! shall fix!) but because it made me think about how I was going to differentiate myself, which helped me lean more and more into my own type of content. I think your blog is an incredible and useful resource and am grateful to have it!

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I’m not sure I’m feeling the same urge to useful as you and Joanna. I’m finally commenting after mostly lurking here because this post coincides with my year-end pondering over blogging. So far my pondering has only led me to ask: Why bother? After all, most of my favorite authors don’t blog, or if they do, I havent’ bothered to read them. And wading through the flood of crap due to the low barrier to entry does little to fire my passion. But you’ve got some whys I can connect with here, Justine. I love your right audience concept. I’m not entirely sure I’m in yours (although I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve read), or that I can inspire magic in mine (whoever they turn out to be), but I’m loving the ideas of jointly unleashing insight and of co-creation. I believe it’s possible.
God knows I’m not the type to tweet my breakfast, and I flatter myself to think I can, at a glance, sense anything fueled by an underlying mission to promote. I don’t want to do either, but I am starting to see a space beyond the two extremes. And knowing it doesn’t happen overnight is actually a comfort. Thanks for the inspiration. Happy New Year, Justine.

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Great article Justine. I’ve been lurking on your blog a while and I just can’t fathom how you can churn out great stuff like this (as always) and find the creative time to write…

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4 was / is a big one for me. i have a hard time getting over myself and going past that selfish ‘personal blogger’ stage. i KNOW i want something more, but what value could *I* give? And I don’t have that existential Purpose thing figured out yet… but I think I’m about to and I’m ready to dive in and make blogging my ‘life work’. that’s an awesome feeling, and now, for the transition…

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I struggle with the same thing, too, Janet.

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Your writing has me hooked. You’re distinct voice inspires to keep searching for my own! Thanks for your wonderful work.

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Thanks for this post! I’ve been attempting to blog for a couple of years now, but I feel like nothing is sticking. After reading your post, I feel like I just haven’t found my online voice and a set of topics that interest me enough to keep writing about. I’m trying again (I’ve seriously started way too many blogs), and I’m hopeful that I’m figuring it out.

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Thanks for the shout out and advice. You’ve given me a lot to think about and some great reference points. Starting a professional blog is daunting to say the least, but the excitement that comes with the unknown only drives me to work harder. Again, thanks for the encouragement.

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i’m gonna take comment # 13 it looks like, and not everything i say may sit well, so, i’ll take some of that “gods help her” and see if it applies to guys ;-)

first, thank you for one of the better, more clear, entertaining and educating articles i’ve come across about social media, and, it seems to me, having/finding purpose in one’s life

yes, i know, i must be socially-media challenged ;-)

second, my quibble, which won’t and hasn’t prevented me from sharing this top notch post :

i grew up hearing, and seeing, much of what the ladies were complaining about, in regard to being consciously or unconsciously, addressed as sorta-second class citizens

as a hispanic, growing up in 1950’s houston, i also had to karmic-fortune of experiencing similar attitudes towards myself, even being a guy ;-)

and i particularly took to heart, that important motivating center as you also say, that a universal address of “he” for the general population of people, left women out

and i’ve heard the arguments, that addressing the general public as “she” is some kind of re-dress, and disagree with that

this is a slippery slope that leads to all sorts of other correction-re-dressings, that can have terrible consequences, so i reject this as valid

i also, unavoidably, when i hear a general addressing, whether as “he” or “she” the same kind of counter-exclusion i’d hear when my white friends put down hispanics, and when my hispanic friends, and a family person here and there, put down whites

i’ve brought this up in a few sites here and there, and been attacked for it, had quotes of mother-goddesses to justify the “new” superiority, and reject that too

your post, in its clarity and expression, in the people you reference, tells me you do not exclude people, and do have genuine feelings of the connectedness of people

so i felt i could, as i rarely do, express this, about the he/she thing ;-)

i look fwd to your other work, and wish you all the best ;-)

adan

ps – wish i could remember how i found your site and this article, but to them, much thanks!

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Thanks Adan. I’m very much against any group declaring ‘superiority’ over another group — that way lies evil — and that was never what my use of the female pronoun has been about. I’ve been focused on speaking from and to the female perspective, which I think is still — still! in 2012! — under-represented and undervalued in pretty much any area that falls outside the pink ghetto of women’s fiction, mommybloggers, the home/style/living sections, chick flicks, you know what I mean. The ongoing story of this culture is still told from a male point of view (albeit certainly not *every* male point of view) which is why it didn’t really occur to me that men could feel excluded. Good lesson here that I will carry forward.

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@justine thank you justine, that is very gracious of you, i really appreciate it

and you’re absolutely right, under-represented and under-valued, in general, still holds pretty true; it’s a process ;-) and it’s happening

your words and work is so universally appealing, and based on the guys i know ( a lot of seniors ;-) ) when a lady “speaks to other ladies” the hearing that’s not deaf yet, well, it goes out ;-) and they need the info like you have in this article

best wishes, i’ve shared this article to my fb page, and am preparing to digg and stumbleupon it ;-) take care

adan

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thanks. and yes, when a woman speaks to other women, men will trivialize it as gossip and “go deaf”, as you said, whether it’s women gathering in the kitchen or high-powered female executives gathering at a TEDxwomen conference (few men were in the audience). because male values + interests are always superior to so-called female values + interests, so what could women possibly have to say? whereas women are conditioned from girlhood to be the ones who listen, support, and let men do the talking (if I had a dime for every dinner party I’ve been at where the men do most of the talking…and who talks? is a sign of who has power). it’s always kind of amazed me, growing up, at just how UNinterested many men are (in my experience) when it comes to understanding a woman’s point of view (at least in ways that don’t benefit them directly) — since I myself always found men fascinating and wanted to know + understand them. I am inclusive, but I am also a woman speaking to other women, smart creative visionary women, and if some male readers choose to “go deaf” to me because of that — their loss. I am not pandering to that. And I don’t need to. appreciate your comments, wish you the best.

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Dearest Justine,
I feel you are so on target for opening yourself to whatever your creative process is! Your words carry tons of power and influence. I’m not a young person searching for her creative process; I’m 62 years young and have found my own personal style which vascillates with my mood and positive messages resonating in my brain which causes neurophysiologic changes. These changes are directly related to the brain body connection. If you have studied the brain there are actually three brains within our brain. One deals with the body and one is the logic and the other is merely our reptilian brain. Near the amyigdala (sp?) is a Y and this Y has three sections-two connect two of our brains and the tail of the Y connects our brain to our body. This a powerful visual especially those fortunate enough to see the human brain. It proves our brains are connected to our bodies which means by replacing all those negative old tapes often learned and internalized as a child and brought forward into adulthood effects our self esteem, worth, happiness, etc. You cannot wish bad things away we need only replace postive affirmations for the negative and with practice you believe the positive which in turn effects your neurophysiologic response to the positive which equals to a healthy way of life…..we are what we think! I worked the Artists Journal before I entered a therapy based on these theories using dialetical behavioral changes and behavior modification. As a therapist I didn’t believe in this method of change, but it works faster in most people with depression, bi-polar disorder (the most treatable diagnosis we have are extremely successful based on healthy thoughts and a healthy lifrestyle! The second go ’round with The Artists Journal my responses have been a 180 which in turn released my creativity! I am blessed. I’m grateful for sites like this one where everyone is encouraged to change. You rock Justine!

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Yes! What a great post. I found your blog over at Alexis the traveling writer’s blog and I have to say, I’m obsessed with this being a “creative badass” thing you’ve got going on.

This letter was fantastic and I’m sending it to my friend who is about to start her blogging journey. #2 really resonated with me. Even though I’ve been on wordpress for a couple of years, I’ve sometimes wondered if I should’ve gone with Tumblr, with no reason other than my friends are on it. I know I’m not switching and it’s not the proper format for my personal writing journey but it’s always good to keep that question in your mind… Is this choice going to support what I want to do?

Thx Justine!

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Discovered your blog today, thanks to the delightful Susannah Conway. And how I needed this…a deep, sincere thank you. You’ve picked up another reader :)

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