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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.

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?

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?

Do You Use People’s Names?

I was inspired by this post on the BlogJob forums. The question is, do we use our friends’ names when we blog about them? The responses are varied but they boil down to “We might if it was a significant (usually positive) event involving them but we also might change their names if we couldn’t get their permission to write about them.” I was curious to know if the answers would change at all if we were writing about people we didn’t know, such as anyone in the news or people we encountered on Facebook. While that is a question to bring to the forum at a later time, I have been thinking more about the ethics of using people’s names in writing.

It’s a conundrum, I can tell you that right now without doing any research. If your goal is to create a professional article you want to follow all the journalism/writing ethics about using people’s names in your writing. You would want to be sure that if you couldn’t get your subject’s permission, you would at least avoid making defaming claims about them. Maybe you would change their name or keep their part in your writing limited to only the most important scenes. Some writers of memoirs and other creative non-fiction say that it can be a hard decision to limit others’ roles in your story because then your story isn’t as true, but in the end they have chosen to do it for protecting the other people’s privacy. One suggestion that I liked from photographer and writer David Hood’s blog post “The Ethics of Writing Creative Nonfiction” is to use  “cue words” to show that you may not remember everything correctly so that if there is misrepresentation, you show that this is only your interpretation of events. This is excellent advice for writing in general, not only limited to scenes involving other people. Of course it’s important that if other people are mentioned in your writing you do your best to get their permission, but if you can’t then the next best step is to represent them fairly.

This advice is perfect for creative non-fiction, but what about writing about posts on social media? I admit that I’m shaky on it myself. I will post screencaps without blurring or editing out names and I will use the user’s name in my articles. I write it as such: “Jessica” the first time I reference them to show that this may not even be their real name. With the internet, you never know. I haven’t been able to find official ethics in blogging about social media and base my understanding on what I see others do. Some articles will edit the screencaps to protect the users’ privacy while others don’t bother. Usernames are directly mentioned in the article to give credit/”credit” to whoever said the important things that have inspired the article. Some articles will say “I’m using this person’s name but I will not accept my readers ganging up on this person so play nice.” I will continue to research this, but since writing about social media posts is relatively new, I doubt I’ll find anything official.

Readers, do you use people’s names in your articles? How do you tell your story while protecting their privacy?

Freelance Blogging Isn’t as Easy as it Sounds

This was in 2014 during my Sociological Theories class and it was the beginning of the semester so our instructor asked us to introduce ourselves to everyone. Besides telling everyone our name and class year, he asked us to share something interesting about ourselves. I said I did freelance blogging (on BlogJob, although I don’t believe I specified where). This guy asked “You make money blogging? Why do we even have to go to school then?”

I love telling this story and here I have a good reason to do so. If I had to chose one and only one thing I’ve learned about freelance blogging, it’s that it’s a job like anything else. While it’s a self-focused job that allows more creativity and self-expression, it isn’t easy like people think.

Even finding a headquarters for my blogs was a job. For some time I had been on BlogSpot, the Google blogging platform. It’s nice that it gave me a place to experiment with blogging when I was new to it, but BlogSpot doesn’t pay unless you use Google AdSense. Google AdSense earnings are based on the idea that Google will choose what words to put links on and then you get paid a small amount of money if someone buys the product advertised on said links. You, the blogger, don’t get control over what products are linked to. I was then on Daily Two Cents, a blog website that uses the WordPress format and pays you a litle bit of money for unique views on your blog posts. I have no beef with them, but I wanted the option to have niche-specific blogs. That is how I fell in love with BlogJob. To make a long story short, even finding a home takes time and effort.

Once you have a home for your blog posts, you have to start planning your diferent blogs. On BlogJob you can have as many blogs as you want, but you have to be able to maintain them. I have a few blogs that have been grossly neglected because I didn’t plan on how to maintain them as well as technological problems that make them less than ideal. I recommend creating new blogs if you can see yourself posting multiple articles on them every day. You don’t actually have to post multiple articles, but if you think you have enough to write on a regular basis then you’re probably able to maintain the blogs.

Consider that your blog posts need promoting on socia media if you want to be a credible and somewhat-known freelance blogger. At one point BlogJob required a certain number of social media shares for each blog post. Even if your blogging platform doesn’t require sharing, it’s a good practice to get into. This means that you may need to register for accounts on additional social media websites and then learn how best to get seen on them. I admit to post promotion being my least favorite part, but it’s been paying off when new viewers leave comments and I get notifications for referring new visitors.

One thing about sharing your blog posts: Once they’re out in the world, you have to stand by what you write because sometimes you can face criticism. This may force you to write your blog posts more consciously, which will allow you to hold your own should you get into a debate with your readers but also takes up extra time. Professional blogging is considerably different from writing a status update on Facebook or Twitter. You may want to familiarize yourself on ethics of journalism and social interaction so that while you may be challenged for your views, you won’t engage in poor ethics and get in legal trouble. One of the more terrifying aspects of professional blogging is that you do have to exercise caution.

On the surface professional blogging does seem easier than applying for a traditional job, but make no mistake, it is still a job.

If You’ve Been Scared to Write Reviews…

If you’ve been scared to write reviews, you’re not alone.  I might puff out my chest and say “I don’t care what this creator or this company thinks, I am going to write this review anyway!” but the entire time my stomach is dancing and roiling in fear.  I have devoted entire blogs to reviews (or mainly reviews with snippets of interesting news as it comes available)/highly opinionated synopsi of products, mainly books and movies, and it never gets easier.  What if you write a review of a novel you just read and it was critical and not entirely glowing but based in fact and you are chased by the “Be nice!” crowd of authors?  What if the movie you started to review really didn’t work for you but you felt torn that you couldn’t handle giving a blatantly honest review and opening yourself up to heavy criticism but then the watered-down review didn’t go into enough detail to be helpful to potential viewers?  What if the latest toy (whether the traditional children’s toys or the grown-up gadgets) is getting praise by every reviewer but you?  I feel safe in stating that I’m not the only one who feels like this and would admit to it; other review bloggers have to feel the same kind of hesitation no matter how long they’ve been reviewing products.

You might be wondering how to handle your fear of writing a review.  Excellent question!  You can try different methods, including:

  • Before writing a review positive or negative, take a deep breath.  Getting centered and relaxed has nothing to do with the actual writing of the review, but trust me when I say that it puts us in a better place for when we settle in to write.  Of course we can write when we’re a bundle of nerves, but our writing is much stronger when we let go of those negative thoughts before putting our fingers to the keyboard.
  • As a “baby reviewer”-when you’re first starting out-you can keep the tone of any less-than-100%-positive review informational and non-emotional.  For example, instead of writing “This product sucks!” you might say “This product didn’t work like I expected.  Here’s why.”  Of course, you should avoid antagonistic phrases such as “This product sucks!” anyway, but the idea of keeping your review less personal remains.
  • Only write your reviews for products that you are well-familiar with.  You may still face criticism for being honest rather than praising (praiseful?), but your responses will be based on your experiences and you will be better able to hold your own should a debate arise.

The way that I handle my review-writing fears is to tell myself and my audience that I am writing the review for the  consumers, not the creators.  Everyone who makes a product is proud of it, I totally understand that. However, once the product is available to the public, there’s no guarantee that everyone will like it or it’ll work correctly.  An example:  When I was a little kid, I was often disappointed in my toys for not doing the things the packages advertised and I had to return them for false advertising.  Imagine a tiny eight year old going up to a customer returns employee and trying awkwardly to explain that this particular doll’s hair smelled “weird” (more technically, like it had been burned with a curling iron) or this other particular doll wouldn’t stand on its own.  It was embarrassing for everyone involved, to put it nicely.  During that time I wasn’t legally allowed to write reviews because of my age, which was unfortunate because consumers would benefit from hearing that the toys were “disappointing” straight from the source.  Whether you’re reviewing toys or various forms of entertainment media or whatever your review niche(s) are, think of your reviews in context of what would be most helpful for others to know so that they can decide whether the product(s) are worth their time and money.  I can’t stress this enough:  Reviews are for the consumers, not the creators.

Readers, how do you feel about reviews (reading them or writing them)?  Do you prefer reviews that only discuss the positive aspects of a product or do you want an honest, informative review?  Are you scared or hesitant to write reviews?  How do you handle your fear of review-writing?

Do You Worry About Accidental Article Plagiarism?

Well, do you?  I remember in my various English classes from first grade to my undergraduate super-senior year of college being informed about, warned against, and finally threatened about the consequences of plagiarism.  We professional freelance writers know that plagiarism equals copying another person’s work without attributing it to them.  The definition of plagiarism varies from culture to culture, but I believe everyone can agree that it’s best to either create our own articles or cite the sources we use if for no other reason than providing our readers with additional resources.  In short, producing our original work and/or source citing are the ideal ways to go.  But what about accidental plagiarism?

Allow me to illustrate with examples from my own blogging adventures.  So one cool thing about BlogJob is that many of my writing friends have a blog to discuss freelance writing and news from the world of writing.  I have learned so much about writing from reading their blog posts and honestly they often serve as my inspiration.  That is where I worry about engaging in accidental plagiarism. Sometimes more than one person will cover the same topic.  It’s true that you can’t plagiarize an idea, but what happens if they wrote something, you were inspired by it, and along the journey of writing your blog post you said very similar things?  Is that accidental plagiarism?  Furthermore, what about using writing forum topics to generate full blog posts?  Sometimes a short forum post lends itself to a blog post that further explores the question.

The ins and outs of plagiarism are much more complicated than “Don’t copy someone’s work without giving credit for it.”  Appropriate source-citing methods depend on whether you are summarizing (using your own words but giving an overview of what the original author said), paraphrasing (using your own words but giving examples from what the original author said), or quoting (directly writing what the original author said in quotation marks with a full reference).  That, by the way, was my paraphrasing from OWL Purdue’s article “Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Quoting“.  While OWL Purdue is the ultimate English guide website in general and it suggests useful class projects on plagiarism, it is lacking in explaining how recently popular media such as blogs are affected by plagiarism. It doesn’t give information on how bloggers can be inspired by each other’s content and write on the same idea and whether that’s plagiarism or not.  While we could give our blogger friends a shout-out via providing a link to their post or forum topic when something they write prompts something we write, OWL Purdue doesn’t specifcally have information on how to do that type of source-citing.

I now turn the question of the moment-“Do you worry about accidental plagiarism?”-to you, readers.  How do you handle your concerns?  For example, do you write your content and reference the peope and posts that have inspired you?  If you aren’t concerned, why not?

One Blog or Many Blogs?

A user on BlogJob asked a very important question about blogging.  Their question was specifically about BlogJob, but is relevant to any writing platform that allows you to create as many blogs as you want.  “What is the benefit to keeping more than one blog?” the user asked.

I happen to run multiple blogs (at least five that are updated regularly) because I can.  This is not snark; I have at least five interests (niches) that I can write in at least once every week and additional blogs for subjects that interest me and will eventually come up.  In addition to keeping various subject-specific blogs, I like to keep some blogs more personal and some blogs more news/opinion based.  For example, Newsgirl Tells the World! and The Language Log allow me to give facts (supported by news articles) as well as opinions. These blogs have more linked content and images. Meanwhile, Lovely Lovely English is a more self-reflective blog where I talk about subjects that directly impact me. Having many blogs allows me to explore topics as needed while keeping them organized, which I consider a form of professionalism.  Another reason that I would advocate for keeping multiple blogs is that it allows us to move from one blog that was relevant during a certain time period but no longer represents us to a current blog while keeping the old blog for posterity.  Of course you can keep a single blog current through creating and emphasizing posts that update your readers on your views and values, but it’s much easier to have one blog for “the old you” and another blog for “the current you”.

Most of my blogging friends limit the number of blogs they run, in some cases down to one personal blog and one news-related blog.  They might like the simplicity of having one blog to maintain or they start out with one blog for one niche and even as it expands they keep the one blog.  If it works for them, who am I to judge?

You may want to start with one blog because:

  • If you are not sure how much you want to blog, you may want to experiment with a single blog.
  • Until you know what niche(s) you want to cover, start with one simple niche.
  • If you think your blog will become a mix of topics but in one umbrella subject (Ex: current events) you can separate the various subjects by categories.  One blog can still be organized.

…But then you may want to develop niches and create many blogs because:

  • There are some subjects you want to regularly focus on.
  • You need the organization that multiple blogs provide.
  • You can leave blogs that are no longer relevant to you while maintaining the content for readers.
  • Setting up a new blog is fun.  While this has nothing to do with the professionalism aspects of blogging, it is a point worth considering.

If you’re still unsure of whether you want one blog or many blogs, ask yourself what purpose you want your blog(s) to serve.  The good thing about blogging is that you aren’t married to your first ideas of what your blog will be.  You can always change your mind as you get more into blogging.

Self-Censorship of Your Articles

When you settle in to write a new article, do you self-censor the subject matter or your opinions of the subject matter?  Of course there are restraints according to the rules of the website or publishing company, but I mean do you self-censor what you write about even if it doesn’t violate the publishing guidelines?  This topic is inspired by a BlogJob post from 2015 when a new user wanted to know what sort of topic restrictions the website has, and the best answer was that bloggers can write anything as long as it’s not offensive.  This is the perfect summary and a good rule of thumb for publishing on any medium, but I was left thinking “What does offensive really mean?”

  • One of my areas of interest (niche, in technical terms) is horror media.  If you follow my blogs The Creepy Reading Corner and The Creepy Viewing Corner or my status updates on the BlogJob group “We Love Horror Movies!” you know that I talk about the good and the bad as well as news in the world of horror.  My subject matter may be offensive to some people just because of negative stereotypes or (unfortunately) very real experiences with some type of horror media.  I may offend readers just by mentioning the names of books or movies that we have both/all seen, even if I don’t go into the gory details.
  • I cover the current US events in my blog Newsgirl Tells the World! and I don’t shy away from discussing politics.  I know that people who are on the opposing side of an issue can find it offensive to hear anything that disagrees with their view of events, regardless of how it is written. Admittedly more controversial, I post screencaps of Facebook conversations to show that they happened.  There are mixed views on whether we should blur or cross out the names of other people.  At the moment I choose not to because Facebook’s default profile settings and article commenting options are public and if people don’t set their posts to be seen only by those they choose, then there’s nothing that says they can’t be shared via screencap.  Some people find this offensive.
  • I often talk in my personal English blog Lovely Lovely English about trigger warnings and why I’m against them.  Some people find using their trigger warnings in the articles without giving a trigger warning is offensive.  Some people find it offensive that I am against trigger warnings.

Since you can’t prevent every reader from finding something offensive, you may need a different way to self-censor content.  My recommendation based on how I write is to check in with yourself about your article before you hit “submit” or print it out to send to a publisher.  If you are having second thoughts about your work, that is a good sign that something you wrote needs some edits. Note that sometimes your second thoughts are about editing for spelling and grammar; this doesn’t equal self-censorship.  Self-censoring would be if you change your arguments to be less polarizing or if you soften your stance at the end by writing “These are my views, but I welcome reader input.”

Readers, I’m curious to know if you self-censor your blog posts or articles.  How do you decide whether you self-censor or not?

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