How Personal Should You Get?


I’ve noticed that on BlogJob and other pay-per-post websites, many people choose a diary entry-syle niche.  Similar to a diary entry, these bloggers write about their day, their goals for the future, people they met, and whatever else comes to their mind that they can opine on.  These aren’t the award-winning, hard-hitting current event blogs that could one day influence change in the world, but they offer us readers the chance to live someone else’s life as long as we’re following their story. Because diary entry-style blogs are popular, one commonly-asked question among bloggers is “If I do this, how personal do I get?”  The easy answer is “As personal as you want” but once you start writing your own diary entry-style blog post you’ll likely realize it’s not as easy as that.  When does “personal” become too much information?

I was talking to my dad about this subject today.  He framed it in the context of “Someone from my generation…”, such as “Someone from my generation would say you need to be careful what you post online because it stays there forever.”  He’s not wrong; the internet has a long memory and screenshots make it even longer.  On the other hand, is long-lasting content always a negative? Someone from my dad’s generation may have written or created something that would add to future generations’ understanding of human creativity and current events of the time, but if it wasn’t published by a mainstream publishing company, displayed in a museum, or filmed/photographed extensively, we future generations may never know about it.  With today’s social media and blogging platforms (both paid and otherwise), we see snapshots of daily life all the time.  Sometimes breaking news comes first from Twitter and other social media.  Photo-sharing websites allow us to see immediate trending news, both good and bad.  Bloggers are increasingly gaining credibility as journalists when they cover hot topics in a shorter time span than the press.  My dad is concerned that all personal posts are negative and/or incriminating, but in fact you can learn so much about the world even if it’s told by a “present” non-journalist person.

This doesn’t fully answer the question “How personal should I get?”  Sometimes we write about topics that aren’t based on the news of the day and that are more a stream of consciousness than anything.  Our goal may not be to change the world; we just need to get something off our chests. Even so, the long memory of the internet means that whatever we post is there even when we’ve moved on.  Think about it this way:  If you are going to be immortal on the internet, can you stand by everything you’ve written?  Even if you are no longer in that place you were when you wrote that blog, could you say “Yes, that was my state of mind then” if you were asked about it?  Your answer will help you decide how personal you should get.



Writing a Statement of Complaint

As skilled writers, we have the power to influence the world around us.  I know that in my search for new blogs and blog posts to read, I’ll see people state that they are mediocre bloggers who just want an outlet to vent.  I believe that all of us who love words and creating articles are capable of turning a simple vent into a call for change.  Consider using your talents to write a statement of complaint to a company or organization if something related to them bothers you and you have solutions for how they can rectify it.  Check out a statement of complaint I made to my bus deport about an incident that occurred today between 2:30 and 3:00.

A middle-aged woman, maybe around 40 or 50, indirectly announced she was a resident of *a city in West Virginia* by a series of complaints she voiced to the driver while he was headed from the  Bus Depot to *a community of residents*.  She was complaining about the flow of *a large university in West Virginia* students crossing the street between the *student lounge* and the *other side of the street where all the academic buildings are* and she said “I don’t care they have to get to class, I have to get somewhere too. Run them over!” She also complained that *the large university* wants to bring in more students and that would make it even harder for the bus to get her home and it would mean even more people (likely students) would be asking the bus driver about which route(s) to take. Occasionally she’d mention how rude the students crossing the *large university* main campus were and how she thinks there’s no respect for residents.

As a resident who had also been a *large university* student, and knowing that there are *large university* students that ride the *color-coded route of bus*, I didn’t appreciate her own rudeness and how the bus driver didn’t tell her to cool it and show some respect. I was so upset I was tempted to say “Oh, be nice!” and/or tell her to shut her yap but I didn’t want to be just as disrespectful so I kept it to myself. In a case like this, I would’ve loved it if the bus driver told her she was being rude, potentially even to other passengers. I would’ve even been cool with it if the bus driver took a proactive approach and said “You have some valid complaints. Direct them to this department at *large university* so they know that residents want more student/community respect.” I don’t know if the woman would handle it well, but I believe the bus drivers should be better at discouraging such statements/threats while providing an outlet for disgruntled residents to voice their concerns.

Note that any of the *-enclosed words are substitute phrases for locations, and I chose this because the investigation into my complain is ongoing.  It’s a respect thing.

When you write your statement of complaint, I recommend doing it when you’re angry but not explosively so. Feeding off your anger can motivate you to write and once you have a complete first draft then you can take a breather and cool off a bit before editing it for submission to the company.  I also recommend that when you are in better control of your emotions, add a sentence or two explaining what outcome you want from your disappointing or enraging situation.  The assumption behind writing a statement of complaint is that there’s something you want improved or done away with.  Be sure that you thoroughly explain what that change is, because whoever reads your complaint only knows what you’ve told them.  This is why you need to be in control of your emotions; you create a stronger complaint and the company/organization is more likely to understand what you want and hopefully follows through on it.

I will let you know up front that your statement of complaint will likely be an unpaid project.  Of course you can get creative and, like what I did, post it to a pay-per-post or ad-supported blog platform to make some additional money.  I highly recommend adding content to your post, such as explaining why you chose to write your statement of complaint in a certain way and going in-depth on the events that sparked it (if your statement of complaint didn’t already describe it in detail.  Even if you don’t get rich from writing a statement of complaint, I highly recommend doing it for the most frustrating experiences you have.

Feeling Unread Again

I try to keep my gripes about blogging to my Blogging Blahs blog so that I can use Freelance Writing Whisperings for lively but semi-professional posts about blogging and other money-making opportunities.  Today I am making an exception, although not as much as you might think.  Part of blogging is dealing with the emotions associated with putting your story on the internet and when you put your heart into creating a meaningful narrative and then feeling like you’re not being heard/read.  I don’t believe we freelance bloggers describe it enough because when we do get around to writing “Being unread hurts” we preface it with “I don’t mean to sound whiny but…”

I am in a weird place blogging-wise because I enjoy it, I do, but sometimes when I’m unread I feel less inclined to stick with it.  On BlogJob, my blogging headquarters, I have been going on yet another hiatus from blogging.  The website was down for maintenance at least three days in a row and that certainly didn’t help, but even before then I was struggling to write.  If you already follow me, you know that I alternate among writing about quotes that I relate to or need to critique, book and movie reviews, and news of the day with lots of links (Linky Goodness as I have officially christened it).  I sometimes need to write about the “frivolous” so that I can prevent my blogs from being solely professional or pretentious.  All of my writing is “good” in some way; I don’t have plans to stop alternating my levels of seriousness.

My problem is that I don’t write about my day (unless it relates to something newsworthy).  I will not be telling you about my daily routine.  I will not be telling you that my cats are sticking their snoots in each other’s buttocks even though you would think they know each other by now.  I will not be telling you about the foods I’m debating about cooking (except in a brief status update).  I don’t think you care about any of that.  On BlogJob, the hot thing for my fellow users to write and read is blogs about someone’s daily routine.  Which is fine in its own right, don’t get me wrong, but it leaves those of us who write other content in a position of being unread.

Every new blogger is told “Find your niche!” so that they can attract readers who are interested in the same subject and maybe make blogger friends.  You know what we aren’t told?  Some niches are more popular than others and good luck being read if you choose an obscure niche!  Unfortunately, this is never mentioned because it’s assumed to be common sense.  Yeah?  If it’s common sense, why does it frustrate us freelance bloggers when we publish a timely, engaging article and…nothing comes of it?

Making Appropriate, Not Overboard Apologies

Sometimes we freelance writers/bloggers are going to make mistakes in our reporting. Be assured that it happens and it’s not the end of the world.  Even popular, reasonably credible newspapers have had to correct misinformation they gave.  Maybe you’re worried that as a type of journalist we share some responsibility for misinformation.  On one hand, if we aren’t 100% sure that the information we’re feeding from is correct and we don’t add a disclaimer in our own article that what we write is subject to change as more information becomes available, we are responsible for continuing to spread the misinformation.  On the other hand, just like the popular, reasonably credible newspapers, we can redeem ourselves by apologizing for the misinformation and providing the correct information.

In that case, how might we go about creating a quality apology note?  Take a look at an early apology I made.

A screencap from a post on my blog Blogging Blahs.

A screencap from a post on my blog Blogging Blahs.

The backstory:  I issued an apology about a post I made supporting the Paid To Click (PTC) website BuxBerry when it was in the early stages of going under.  I had no idea that the reason I was seeing so many advertisements on BuxBerry was that the administrators wanted to work all the ads they committed to showing out of the system so they could then shut down.  My mistake was not realizing that the never-ending supply of ads was to shut down the website rather than the administrators being generous with handing out new ads.

This apology isn’t as embarrassing as I thought it would be, but if you thought it was a bit overboard thrn you’re correct. It reads more like a “poor me poor me” confession than an apology.  There’s at least the clear sense that I would eventually issue an apology statement about misleading my readers, but this paragraph doesn’t say  “When I wrote the article promoting this PTC website, I thought the flood of ads was a way for users to stay loyal to the website.  I learned that this was the opposite, that BuxBerry was in the early stages of shutting down.  I apologize to anyone I may have mislead.”  If I wanted to use this blog post to sort through my thoughts, which is the purpose of Blogging Blahs, then what I should have done is keep this post but then include an official (and not personal) apology in the promotional article I wrote about BuxBerry.

Different mistakes may require different apologies.  An apology about promoting a PTC website that is going under needs to state the corrected information (maybe with screencaps of official announcements if any exist) but that’s all you can do.  An apology about some news event taken from a newspaper or news aggregate needs to include the corrected information and links to additional correct information.  It doesn’t have to be as many links as a post called “Linky Goodness”, but let readers know where they can find more of the correct information.  An apology for information aboit products on sale would mention the correct products and how much they are.  The key is thst when you correct any misinformation, you do it in a way that gives readers what they need to know without blaming yourself.  I can’t stress it enough that mistakes do happen.

 

 

 

When a Good “Pffffft!” is in Order *Political*

In previous blog posts I have discussed comments that we (freelance writers/bloggers) like to give and receive and how to avoid becoming a “comment killer” on articles and social media.  These posts fall under the umbrella category of “Good Netiquette” and how to be a credible, respectable voice in interacting with fellow freelance writers/bloggers and social media users.  You may be wondering how to handle situations in which no matter how mature or on-point your responses to others are, you are dismissed and/or attacked.  This is going to be fun (not to mention that it’ll contain images and references related to politics and current events, so if you’re opposed to that then, well, you’re aware it’s coming)!

Have you ever been on a social network and saw comments as such?

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-14-55-2

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-14-55-3Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-14-55-4Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-15-43-1

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-16-00-1

The final comment is directly addressed to me.

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-14-55-1

When you are engaged in a heated hot topic conversation (which usually becomes an argument and then devolves into a flamewar), it’s challenging to hold your temper and not lash out.  Maybe you’re telling yourself “I’m going to handle this like the adult I am” over and over even as you’re smashing your fingers on the keyboard as you write a biting retort.  This is human nature.  Although “netiquette” is relatively new, humans have always struggled with controlling our responses to enraging situations.  While we could send our initial angry comment and feel good about it, here’s another suggestion.

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-39-52-1

And to see it in action:

Screenshot_2016-03-20-12-39-52-2Is it mature to respond with “Pffffft?”?  That’s going to be an eternal struggle.  You want to be the kind of commenter that is respected in the blogosphere and social media world and that requires offering well-written responses even under pressure.  “Pffffft!” isn’t well-written.  On the other hand, when you aren’t being heard because your fellow commenters aren’t interested in alternative perspectives and they only want to insult you, sometimes a good “Pffffft!” is in order.

Readers, have you ever given someone a “Pffffft!”?  How do you handle situations where you don’t know how to respond in a mature way?

 

My Life as a Comment Killer

If I had to think of the one thing that makes me unique as a writer/social media user, I would say that it’s being a comment killer.  No, I don’t mean that I am a moderator running around the internet censoring and deleting comments.  I simply mean that if I post a response to a fellow writer/social media user, nobody else comments after me. The thread of comments might be holding on with gasping breaths as a user and I battle it out, but nobody posts anything new.  It’s almost like I scare people off.

In the beginning it gave me a twisted sense of superiority.  I thought “Well hey, clearly nobody else has anything to say because they know it won’t add anything that I already said.”  This is not a thought process I advocate anymore, not for myself and not for anyone else.  The thing that makes leaving comments on articles or social media so thrilling is that you can prompt additional conversation and make new friends (or enemies; that comes with the territory as well).  People as a whole love feeling like they’ve been read and having something to respond to.  It’s so much better to have a conversation than to have a false sense of superiority.

“Okay Jessica, what should I do if I’m a comment killer?” you ask.  Excellent question!  While you can’t control others reading your responses and posting their own, you can create comments that encourage discussion.

  • Begin your comment by directly quoting something the writer or original poster said, such as: “In your blog you said…and I was wondering…” This takes more time than spouting off the first thing you think of, but it helps you because it creates a smart, thoughtful comment to show that you’re a serious poster and it helps the original poster and other commenters have a focus for responding.
  • Give the original writer or poster something to genuinely respond to even if you don’t do a full quote. Saying “I agree!” or “Die in a fire!” isn’t enough to get interaction.  Then again, “Die in a fire!” has been known to start flame wars (pun unntentional and appropriate)…
  • Stay on topic as much as possible.  In my experience, both as the reader and the guilty party, people are less likely to add something to your reply if they aren’t sure what to make of it.  Saying “I love my fluffy cat!” is perfect on media that addresses fluffy pets, but not on a post about news or politics.
  • “Talk” to many people.  While some writers and social media users just want to say their peace and dart out, there are others that want a real conversation.

I’m learning these things as I make mistakes and then work to correct them. Does anyone else who considers themselves a comment killer have any tips or tricks that I missed?

Comments You Like to Give and Receive

Part of freelance writing is making friends with other freelance writers.  People may claim that writing is a solitary act (which it is in the context that it’s you and only you creating your article…Unless you and a group of writers do a joint post) but once you have your article(s) written, the next step is interacting.  You can learn so much from following your favorite writers’ blogs and social media accounts, both about them and about the business of freelance writing.  One of the best ways I’ve learned to make friends on BlogJob is through regularly commenting on blog posts of interesting writers but any writing website or social media account works for leaving comments.

An important question that comes up about leaving comments is, “What kind of comments should I leave?”

When you may have interaction with the writer, should the comments you leave be nothing but praise for the article and/or the writer?  Some writers (freelancers of course, but also published authors) only want to see nice comments.  Sometimes this translates to “You write something that isn’t 100% glowing and I’ll sic my guard dog fans on you!” It’s a scary possibility that product reviewers and fellow writers with friendly suggestions face.  On the flipside, if you are commenting on an article and have suggestions or questions, you have the perfect platform to ask the writer directly.

Another question you might have is how long and how specific your comments should be. I like to address something the writer said that stuck out to me. Sometimes my comments to them are longer because I have many thoughts I want to share and I feel like they might appreciate seeing an engaged audience. While I try not to leave comments longer than the author’s article because that might cause them to lose interest, I try to leave a substantial comment.

I have mixed views on short comments that are equivalent to “You wrote something!” and that don’t address anything I wrote.  It’s always nice to get compliments, but I like the comments that are complimentary and interactive.  That might be why I like to leave substantial comments.  A good suggestion for new comment writers is to think about what they read in the article and what they thought of it, and then write a comment expressing that.

Readers, how do you interact with writers (any writer, not restricted to freelance writers)?  How do you choose what kind of comments to leave?

Whine, Whine, Whine: Yes or No?

If I didn’t create at least one blog for whining, I would be a downright unpleasant person.  You might call me an oversensitive entity in that I easily feel emotions and have a burning need to express said emotions or else I can’t move on with my life.  When I can’t express my pent-up emotions to a human in a face-to-face conversation, I turn to my dedicated gripe blog.  It is amazing how physically freeing it is to write down everything in my mind (even if it’s not the quality blogging I usually pride myself on).  In some cases I have felt a literal weight off my body and in other cases I feel my body cool down once my emotions (usually “ragey”) are out in the world.  If you’ve never experienced it yourself, the best way to describe it is that it just feels good.  That said, I have been wondering if having a blog devoted to gripes (or, as I said in my title, for whine, whine, whining) is appropriate for a self-proclaimed professional freelance blogger.

The additional positives to keeping a dedicated blog (or two, three, four…) are:

  • As bloggers are still humans and need a place to blow off steam, the gripes blog is a good outlet.  If we’re going to be updating our blogs anyway, it’s so convenient to switch from a more hard-hitting blog to our personal blog.
  • Writing a gripe blog post is another style of writing.
  • The gripes blog shows a more “real” side of the blogger.  We get to be more open in how we write our blog post because gripes don’t have to be perfect or polished.

All these qualities are legitimate.  If I had to pick one positive that can persuade a skeptical reader to be in favor of keeping a dedicated grips blog, it would be that the gripe blog post is another style of writing.  I’m sure we were taught in various English classes that when we write, we need to tailor it (our writing style) to our audience.  The gripe blog post is a more casual style and our audience is the general public.  More people can relate to a gripe post than a niche-based post, so as the blogger we get to practice our more casual, conversational style.

That said, there are compelling reasons that we professional bloggers should carefully consider if having a gripes blog is a good idea.

  • Some readers may not care to sort through blogs to find or avoid the dedicated gripes blog.  If we are consistent in the blogs we maintain, our readers will trust reading new blogs by us.  It can throw them if we are known for niche-based blogs and then suddenly we start a gripes blog.
  • Some people really don’t like reading gripes.  We run the risk of alienating potential readers.
  • Some people like reading gripes as long as they aren’t personal gripes.  News aggregates run into this when some of the content is one person’s experience and opinions about something.  Readers will comment “Why is this even published?  Nobody cares what some random woman (usually, although men are not immune) thinks!”

I like keeping one dedicated gripes blog in addition to a personal quotes and responses blog and I would recommend all professional bloggers do the same.  What are your thoughts on this?

How Often Should You Post Content?

Yesterday a friend on BogJob sent me a message via status update thanking me for maintaining the BlogJob group “Writing World”.  They explained that many group creators don’t maintain the activity on their groups so it’s nice to have a more active group.  I would be lying if I said this didn’t boost my ego.  More importantly, this message got me thinking about how often to post content.  While this message referred specifically to posting status updates to BlogJob groups, I am expanding it to be any professional writing.

The obvious answer is “Post whenever.  It’s your writing” but it’s not as simple as that when you are writing as a serious career.  Your audience wants content and not creating anything for them runs the risk of them moving on to more consistent writers.  Note that blogging can be more susceptible to this because the post is instant gratification while writing for a magazine (whether online or in glossy print) has understandable gaps between writing the article and seeing it published.  In any case, professional writers have content commitments that casual writers are less likely to face.

I always check in with myself before writing an article concerning the time crunch.  If I’m writing about Kindle Daily Deals or other offers that have a limited time frame, for example, I have to publish my article on the day I see the deals and it helps considerably to get the post published by early afternoon.  While I can skip days entirely if there are no interesting deals, this kind of post needs to be written more often than not because I consider it a regular feature.

Are your articles focused on deals?  This means you’ll want to post regularly to keep your readers in the loop.

“That doesn’t help me if I write about news and politics” you might say.  That’s a good point.  While there’s also timing involved in writing about an event as it’s still hot, the news media tends to cover breaking stories as new information becomes available.  If your writing is current event based but you don’t even jump on the story until there’s more information, you can still write an article as an overview of events up to what you know.  As for how often to post about the news, it really varies on why you cover it. If you’re writing in short blurb style to cover the daily news, you’re committing to writing daily posts.  If you choose the most interesting-to-you stories to go in-depth on, you can choose what news and what days to report.

No matter what you write about, a good rule of thumb is to imagine yourself as the audience.  How often do you want to see content from the writer?  If you aren’t receiving regular posts, would you continue following the writer’s work or would you move on to a more regular writer?  Your readers may be more understanding of gaps of time between articles, but using yourself as the guide is still a good way to figure out a good publishing system.

Creating Lists That Interest Your Readers

Quick, tell me what’s wrong with this list:

Tricolor Cats

  • Calico
  • Chocolate tortoiseshell
  • Spicy tortoiseshell
  • Hot tortoiseshell
  • Tortoiseshell-calico (tortico)
  • Tortoiseshell-tabby (torbie)

If you said “It’s not meaningful” or a variation of that, you nailed it.  Even I, the creator of this list, can’t tell you why it was worth writing because honestly it’s just a collection of words.  Creating lists is a more casual, fun form of writing, but there are still tips and tricks for adding interest for your readers.

First and most important, consider the purpose of creating the list.  In addition to making money, it needs to add something to humanity’s knowledge.  Even lists on comedy websites like Cracked have a reason for existing, usually because the writing style entertains readers while the content educates them. The sample list of tricolor cats would exist because I’m a huge fan of these beautiful fur colors and want to share what they are and why I think they’re so beautiful, so essentially for education, information,and persuasion.

It’s not enough for us writers to know the purpose of our list; We have to clearly express it to our audience as well. Before we launch into our list, we should provide an explanation of what we expect our readers to take from the list. For example:

Tricolor Cats

These beautiful fur colors are often misunderstood by everyone, even self-proclaimed cat lovers.  The following list will detail what the various tricolor cats look like and what makes them special to their fans.

When we start writing our list, it’s fine to create an outline (“skeleton” as I would call it) so that it serves as a guide for what we’ll write about.  We should expand on our list later, giving details that are relevant to the purpose of our list.  This is when our list becomes meaningful because now readers can look at it and say “Okay, I see what they mean.”  Using my example, the list itself might look like this:

  • Calico-These cats are mostly white with distinctive patches of auburn (red) or gold and black fur.  They have been studied by scientists who think there is a link between calico obesity and human obesity.
  • Chocolate tortoiseshell-These cats are mostly black or very dark brown with brindled fur of auburn (red) or gold and cream fur.  Fans of the chocolate tortoiseshell call them “quirky” and say they are full of “tortitude”.

There are mixed thoughts on whether the list should have a closing paragraph or not.  I recommend closing with a few sentences or questions for the readers, but this is optional.  Just be sure to end on a strong note.

Readers I now turn to your knowledge of lists.  Is there anything I missed?  What adds interest to a list in your mind?  Do you prefer reading lists or traditional articles?

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