How not to write a blog

I have been looking back at an anonymous blog I kept in 2013 and 2014. What I found there surprised me: posts I still felt good about and posts I wish I’d never written, followed by a whole lot of wondering what I thought I was doing as I stumbled about in blogging-land.  I hope I’ve I learned something from the exercise.

I’m trying to decide what to do with that old anonymous blog. Do I delete it, because I want to repurpose some of the material? Do I leave it up there on the “Interwebs,” on the off-chance that the few visitors it gets will find something useful? Throughout the process of writing that blog, I struggled with being anonymous.  What was supposed to be freeing and liberating ended up feeling stifling. How could I write if I couldn’t put my name on what I’d written? I wanted to put my name on the pages, to shout out, “this is where I’m at!” but I didn’t. I knew something wasn’t quite right, wasn’t quite there yet. This blog isn’t “there yet” either, goodness knows, but at least I have put my name on it.

What did I learn from this trip down memory lane? 

1. I’m still learning how to blog (which is a nicer way of saying “I’m not so good at this!”). I tried to pick a topic (in that case, the alternative academic job search), but I found it hard to stick to. The anonymous format made it difficult to write with real clarity or precision, and ultimately, it wasn’t a topic I could easily continue with long-term.

For this blog, I know I need more of a thematic, topical focus. Or at least, that’s what the blogging experts say, and yet, this blog hardly has a theme, other than the umbrella of the many activities in which I find myself engaged.  I’m still not sure how to handle that — posting one day about the French horn, one day about writing, one day about alternative academics — it won’t all necessarily hang together well, but that might just be the way things are.

2. Updates on “how things are going” or “what’s going on in my life right then” don’t always make for the most intriguing reading, even if at the time they seemed like they might be useful in terms of laying out a trajectory. In retrospect, they could best be useful when I followed through with what came next, but if what was next was messy, or private, or unrelated to the topic… it became harder to follow through.

3. On the one hand, well-organized posts with a point, or with a “how-to” emphasis seem better suited for blog posts.

4. On the other hand, posts that were ruminative reflections about my inner emotional state on the alternative-academic job search may have felt like honest expressions at the time, but they didn’t always work well as blog posts, (which is a nice way of saying that they flopped!)

Despite the flops, those ruminative posts are some of the ones I felt the most strongly about putting out into the world, and they are ones I’d like to see if I can repurpose elsewhere as personal essays.

5. Having visual content does help to break up the text, but I suck at visual content (I won’t even try to be nice about this with myself). I’m lost about current best practices for using images on blogs; don’t know how to find good ones, don’t want to use them if they seem like a stretch; don’t want to take the time (heck, I barely have the time!) to go and search for them. And yet my words alone felt dense, difficult to get into. I don’t know how to avoid that this time around, and I wonder what I can do differently.

6. Good post titles help, but I don’t think I’m very good at post titles, either, so I will need to work on that.

7. I’m realizing, also, that wanting to write essays and see them published is not the same thing as maintaining a blog. Blog posts, as near as I can tell, can cover a wider variety of style and format than personal essays, yet many of my posts on that blog veered towards the personal-essay-that-needs-some-work side of things.  That’s a distinction I’ll have to keep in mind, moving forward.

8. Tweeting and social media. I need to pay more attention to how these things get publicized on social media. “I have a new blog post!” is probably as catchy as “I’m inviting you to a meeting!” Another approach probably works better, and it’s not coming naturally to me.

9. Engagement. I’d love to hear from you! Have you successfully balanced a multi-topic blog, figured out titles, or visuals? What works and doesn’t work for you?

10. Will I be able to transform these “how not to maintain a blog” thoughts into better blogging? Perhaps. I hope so. With luck and effort. Let me know what you think!

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