Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Whether you write about cakes or cars, funny stuff or politics, every blogger faces the same dilemma: finding the line between "charming personal anecdotes" and "TMI."
This is especially true when the bad things in life wallop us unexpectedly: an angry e-mail, a sudden financial crisis, a death in the family. Suddenly we're at a crossroads. To share, or not to share?
After all, odds are your readers are there because they like you, and probably wouldn't mind knowing you better. And, as writers, our knee-jerk reaction is to write. We use the written word not only to express ourselves, but also to slough off excess sorrow or anger. For us, nothing is more therapeutic than dashing off a post in the heat of the moment.
On the other hand, most of us aren't out here to blog about conflict and grief; we're here to blog about cakes, or geeky stuff, or finances, or what-have-you. For some of us, it's even our livelihood. And to put it bluntly, nobody likes a Debbie Downer.
So where's the line?
Over the years I've seen bloggers both rise and fall to the occasion of handling hard times. When it's handled well, I've had my respect and admiration for a writer increase tenfold. When it's handled poorly? I cringe and watch the melee from the sidelines, wishing someone had been there with a quick word of caution before "publish post" was clicked.
So, in the interests of seeing less crash-and-burn blogtastrophes, here are a few of my own words of caution, learned either first-hand by experience, or second-hand from the sidelines.
1) "Shut up and smile" is NOT the answer.
Look, we're writers, and we're human. Showing our readers that we face the same crappy stuff they do from time to time will not only foster better relationships with them, it's also the only honest, honorable thing to do. The key is simply choosing those times wisely, and sharing in a way both you and your readers will be comfortable with. So don't quash your feelings, use them wisely.
2) Write now, post later.
By all means, write that scathing rebuttal, or describe your day spent crying into a pint of ice cream - but when you're done writing, wait. Emotions are fickle things, particularly anger. Take a few hours to cool off and/or gain a little more perspective before committing to a published post. Remember: once on the Internet, always on the Internet.
Within days all of her sponsors had fled, along with even her most devoted followers and any chance of having her book published. The last I checked she now works two jobs to support her family, and no longer writes online at all.
Obviously that is an extreme case, but the moral is: don't do that.
3) Try to see things from your readers' point of view.
Our emotions color everything, and shrink the world until all we can focus on is our own immediate crisis. Sure, you may be wracked with grief, or reeling from anger, but odds are your readers are not. Throwing a big jumbled ball of negativity on them will be out of character at best, and a shocking turn-off at worst. If you don't feel objective enough on your own, enlist your spouse or a friend to pre-read.
Once you've waited a few hours or a few days, go back and adjust. Odds are you'll need to soften the language, since we tend to write in extremes when our emotions are in the driver's seat. Ask yourself, "What in this post could come back to bite me?" Are you portraying relatives or friends in a bad light? Are you starting a war you'll regret?
Then consider how you're portraying yourself. Do you sound catty? Vindictive? Whiny? Just looking for sympathy? In other words, will your readers still respect you in the morning?
With these questions in mind, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
5) A little humor goes a long way.
As a humor writer, I freely admit I'm biased here. However, nothing softens the sting of negativity like a little wry self-deprecation or irreverent one-liner. Yes, your readers are there because they like you, but like it or not, they're also there to be entertained. Don't reward their loyalty by dumping a bucket of ice-cold horror on them - give them some virtual breathing room by granting them permission to laugh.
Here's a positive case-in-point: I follow a few fashion bloggers, most of whom are just pretty faces in pretty clothing to me. However, when Keiko Lynn detailed the painful few days she spent nursing her terminally ill horse, suddenly she gained a new dimension in my eyes. Now, did I expect that kind of sadness on a fashion blog? Of course not. However, the human connection Keiko forged through that post made me a more devoted reader, and I respected her all the more for it.
I've been told my own memorial post about Sweet Baby James achieved something similar on Cake Wrecks. Was it shockingly out of place on a humor blog? Absolutely. However, with rewriting and a lot of thought and by ending with a smile, it let me share what my heart demanded while also sparking an avalanche of reader response (I still hear from readers about James), only one of which was critical.
Which bring me to: yes, it's a gamble. Yes, you risk exposing your weaknesses and open yourself up to criticism and ridicule.
But if it didn't carry that risk, would it really be worth writing?
Let me end by saying there are exceptions to nearly every "rule." Sometimes you can't wait. Sometimes you can't crack a joke. Sometimes you just have to express yourself in a raw, shocking, get-it-all-out-there-before-you-explode kind of way. However, even then, I truly believe keeping these tips in mind will help you express yourself in a way that both you and your readers won't have cause to regret.
So tell me, guys, what did I miss? How do you handle sharing the "bad stuff" online? Any additional words of advice?
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