how to blog like you mean to change the world

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We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.
— T.S. Eliot

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Transformation is a point in the journey, a shift in the paradigm, a change in the way you see yourself.

We construct ourselves according to the stories we tell ourselves ( and others) about our lives. What happens when you reinterpret those stories? Or help your reader do the same? When you discover a new belief about yourself, or jettison an old one that no longer serves you?

Blogging is a form of marketing – we are marketing our work, ourselves as creators – but true marketing (or unmarketing) isn’t just some shallow, slapped-on attempt at self-promotion. (This is otherwise known as bad marketing.) It’s about making an emotional connection with the people whom you are meant to serve: your audience.

So first you have to identify your audience. Then you have to figure out how and where to reach them – and make them come to you, which they will do, happily, if you give them a valid reason.

If you can teach, entertain, inspire. If you can create content that actually means something.

It comes down to the kinds of questions you ask.

Who do you want your readers to become?

How can you inspire and empower them to become that?

The ironic thing is that although a creative platform promotes yourself and your work, it’s not actually about either of those things.

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It’s about your reader.

You are not the hero of this story. The reader is.

You are, instead, the mentor figure, helping the reader become the person that he or she needs to be in order to get the thing for which he or she is striving.

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This is why, as a blogger, you need some authority on your side: the reader needs to find you credible in this role. You need to be farther along on the journey – or better yet, to embody it in some way. To be walking your talk. To be living out the very values you espouse in your blog. This grants you the charisma to move ahead of the pack, into a striking bit of territory unique to you.

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John Hagel makes the distinction between story and narrative.

1. Stories are finite: they have a beginning, a middle, and an end resolution.
2. Stories center on a protagonist. You are meant to identify with that character.

The inherent message is Listen.

1. Narratives are open-ended. They lack resolution. They are in the very process of unfolding.
2. They invite you to participate and help determine the outcome. It’s up to you to shape how this story will end.

The inherent message is Join.

“Narratives motivate actions,” Hagel notes. “In some cases, they motivate life and death choices…Every powerful movement that has impacted our world has been shaped and energized by a potent narrative.”

A narrative pulls the reader into the hero role, and you, as mentor, give her the tools, gifts and knowledge that enable her quest.

Hagel makes the point that narratives happen on personal, institutional and social levels. These narratives nestle inside each other like Russian dolls.

Think about Apple’s “Think Different” campaign. It unfolds inside a larger narrative that presents American society as an enemy, threatening to submerge you in an ocean of conformity. Apple urges you – the creative rebel hero — to resist, through reclaiming your true identity and battling the forces of sameness.

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They offer you the tools to do this (at a price).

They empower you to live out your own personal narrative of creative rebellion, to create new stories about you that identify you in this way.

I challenge you to identify the personal and social narratives that you are living out in your own life. What do they say about who you are, what you want, and how you view the world?

I challenge you to create a narrative for your blog – or your creative work in general – that puts your audience front and center.

You’re not simply addressing the reader as she is, but who she aspires to be .

Your blog becomes a way of calling out your reader’s higher self. click to tweet

In Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work THE DENIAL OF DEATH, he says the reason we respond so strongly to heroes is because we secretly yearn to be heroes ourselves.

We yearn for a heroic life. We know we’re meant for bigger things.

Find a way to connect your reader to the hero within her. Create in a way that serves her hero’s journey, and you’re not just painting a picture or starting a company or writing a novel or posting a blog.

You’re building out a new mythology.

You’re feeding a collective soul-hunger.

That’s the kind of thing that changes a life. Or a culture. Or a world.

Mar 27, 2013
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12 comments · Add Yours

Amen. And thank you.
I wonder: Which mentor archetype do you see yourself as (or aspire to be)?

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Just started a blog not too long ago based on these principles. On unfolding. Becoming. Standing on the precipice. It’s all a work in process, as life should be.

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Just brilliant, it is clear who you want your readers to be and I am always empowered by your words. I will definitely be thinking very hard about my own narrative. Thanks!

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I want to print this out and use it as wallpaper. Brilliant advice!

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Luke, I see myself as obsessive reader and seeker who shares what I learn…I write about mentor role here but I have also written about blogging as your own personal quest you invite others to join. I don’t think you can declare yourself mentor, you are what others say you are (and some people are quick to call me other things. :) all u can do is be sincere and put it out there and see who responds…. I believe you teach what you most need to learn…what about u? How do u see yourself?

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Justine, that’s a great point about mentors being appointed as such by others. I was just curious how you thought of yourself in that regard. After reading THE STORY WARS by Jonah Sachs, a lot of loose ends in my own artistic narrative started coming together for me. So I’ve been thinking about a lot of the things you write about in this post.

I actually think you fit the description of a Muse very well. “You are humble, imaginative, creative, and optimistic. You want nothing more than to see others reach their full potential for self-expression.” You inspire and challenge.

Of course, I think you probably overlap with other types as well. Regardless, you have definitely achieved mentor status on this blog. I doubt anyone who visits here regularly would disagree. :)

How do I see myself? Admittedly, that’s a tough question. :P I think I aspire to be a Muse, but I may actually be on the path to becoming more of a Jester with the work I’m developing. So maybe a combination. How others see me now, I can only guess. But my wish is that my combination of sincerity and playfulness will one day have an impact that’s greater than me.

I like that idea of teaching what you most need to learn. That seems to be where I’m headed. Into the fire. Scary. I feel like Bilbo Baggins.

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Sound advice Justine! I just sold my first novel and began sharing the editing process on my blog yesterday – all in an effort to bring it home to my readers. Your advice was perfect timing! :) e

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As always, you hit the nail on the head – powerful message to all of us who are trying to reach and engage readers. For those who are interested in hearing my latest thoughts on the power of narrative over story, here’s a video of the talk that I gave last month at SXSW bit.ly/10dKI7U

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Your posts always manage to be what I’m needing at whatever point I’m at on my “quest.” So I would say you are walking the talk and inspiring others to join in. I’m in a bit of flounder mode right now, but you have given me some questions to work with to find the clarity in the clutter (great tools!). Thank you!

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As one obsessive reader and seeker to another.. I’ve been reading “Your Brain At Work” (I recommend it, one of the more practical popular neuroscience books I’ve come across) and it discusses two neuro-psychological states of being/experience, the “narrative circuit” and the “direct experience circuit”. I’m wondering if maybe your last two posts are somehow related to this contrast in our lives, and if your interpretation of your writing depends on how you are primarily experiencing your world at that moment: the narrative driven experience of writing and blogging -stories, heroes, mentors, quests- , compared to the previous post when to write itself, the experience of sensing, discovering, and expressing voice was the purpose.

Any idea how these two states change how we express ourselves? Maybe there is a serene balance between the two where they feed into each other, and maybe that is where our most profound insights and art come from. (Although it appears that the art of writing, on some level, must be a pure “narrative circuit” experience, compared to some arts which can probably transcend the two more seamlessly, any thoughts there..?)

Anyway, as for transformation, that book has probably had the most powerful impact on my life, practice of mindfulness, meditation, and simply understanding myself than any other I’ve probably ever read (until the next book I read I’m sure…) It could simply be continuous effort finally reaching a climax of understanding, so no guarantee it will mean anything to anyone else.. but we’re all using similar hardware so it helps to know what is going on in there.

For me, learning the underlying physical basis of how I interpret my world has been incredibly insightful, it seems to have filled in the hole that bothered me on an intellectual level with so many abstract practices. It’s very useful to recognize when I’m moving between these two different forms of experience, something that appeared uncontrollable and a passive response before. For instance, the emphasis on the advice of breathing deeply always alluded me, now I see that the advice could simply be, see, listen, feel, anything that activates your senses and switches your brain into the alternative circuit, essentially freeing your mind from the narrative loops we sometimes find ourselves trapped in.

A new set of tools, weapons, and assets to use on my quest.

I’m still trying to grasp the impact of seeing our lives as stories, narratives… and for me it helps to step back and recognize the alternative to all of that, we can be blank pages.. and that understanding is equally valid and important as the stories we craft.

It’s a pleasure to join in on your quest Justine, you’re an excellent mentor and guide.

Sorry for the long post.. I just get excited every now and then, and I suppose this is what I most need to learn myself right now.

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Yes for me too this was perfect timing as I’ve been wondering how to connect more to readers and other advice out there about ‘getting traffic’ makes me feel a bit dirty and as you said ‘some shallow, slapped-on attempt at self-promotion’. There seems to be a lot of bloggers just going around clicking like on hundreds of blogs to direct traffic to their own blog and it works (it got me) but then you feel a bit like you’ve been had. Or perhaps this is just how the blogging world works? If anyone has some comments on this (about getting more visitors or followers) I’d love to hear from you. Justine, thank you for rising above this and writing another inspirational article. I connect with so much you are saying here.

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I love “building out a new mythology”.

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