This is a guest post by by Jennifer James, APR.
So remember these two things: you are talented and you are original. Be sure of that. I say this because self-trust is one of the very most important things in writing.
-- Brenda Ueland, If You Want To Write, 1938
We've all done it. Blogged the mind-boggling life experience. Tweeted the terrifically funny. Posted the undeniably profound. And, we've all had it happen: Absolutely Nothing.
Nobody re-tweets your remarkable one-liner. Nobody comments on the post you poured your tenderness and intellect into, and nobody, absolutely nobody, submits it to StumbleUpon.
I've been blogging since 1999. I began on the Open Diary, safeguarding my identity for eight years. I cherished my two loyal followers. Then in 2006, I went public with a new blog, and by 2008, I was blogging daily. Since that time, my blog has been featured in the National Associated Press, the Washington Post, Tulsa World, The Oklahoman and more. I most recently began providing a weekly radio commentary on KOSU, a National Public Radio station that broadcasts in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City. I feel grateful to have come so far, and yet I know I have at least that far to go to meet my goals.
I'm Rambling and Incoherent
Despite my success (albeit modest when compared to Dooce or The Pioneer Woman), I continue to deal with one of the greatest challengers any blogger will ever face and that is rejection. For example, recently, an acting professor at a local university posted on Facebook that my public radio commentaries were rambling and incoherent and an embarrassment to the station. Here is a screenshot of our exchange.
It would have been easy to crawl under a rock, but the truth is, I'm not a stranger to this kind of criticism. In 1992, while working in Air Force Public Affairs, I interviewed a 10-year-old whose parents had both served in the Gulf War. The little girl told me in the interview that every day when she got in the shower and the water poured over her she cried and worried that she would come home from school and find that her stepfather's car wasn't in the driveway. He, too, like her mother, would have gone off to war leaving her alone on a military base to fend for herself.
Accused of Lying
I was certain this feature story would win me accolades Air Force-wide, maybe even make it into Air Force Times. Instead, the girl's parents accused me of making the whole thing up. They complained to the installation commander, a two-star general, and the story was effectively killed. Luckily, I had one of those mini tape recorders and I always recorded every interview in order to get my quotes right, but, it still hurt to think someone would think I'd do that.
In 2006, after the birth of my son, I wrote an opinion editorial for our local paper. It was intended to be a light-hearted look at my own heartbreaking realities. For example, I wrote that I was so busy I cleaned the tub while I peed, and that I was so isolated as a working mom that my current best friend was the girl in the drive thru lane at the local Taco palace. I was stunned that anyone would find what I wrote the least bit offensive, but both working dads and stay-at-home moms had a field day. With me!
Public criticism had some unexpected gifts, though. It made me stronger and comments like the one from Mr. Fall only help make me better. So, I'm grateful for them, not bitter about them. It takes time to arrive at this station though. It doesn't happen overnight. As a graduate professor wrote on the top of my first short story, "The world needs to hear the things you have to say, the way you say them." It's the only paper from college I ever kept. Even at my lowest point, I continue to believe him.
The New Public Square
Today, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and even your own blog are the equivalent to the old public square where people once gathered for parades, carnivals, shopping and conversation. It's appropriate to use the town green as a place to market products; greet friends and even make new ones. But, returning here time and time again for validation is how social networks killed your blog. You used them to seek acceptance, approval and adoration. When it all left you wanting your motivation and creativity suffered.
While comments, re-tweets and thumbs up are all nice, they all too often become a temporary charge. They're like a fix that gives you a buzz, but they rarely, if ever, inspire new content. In fact, they just leave you hungering for more accolades. In order to succeed you must get off this train and stop this vicious cycle.
Refocusing On Content
Here are some tangible resources to help you refocus your efforts on content creation:
Manage Digital Distractions. Turn off email notifications while creating documents in Word, etc. You can't connect with your highest self, your muse or your critical thinking skills when you are getting popup and push notifications of comments, LinkedIn requests, Twitter updates, etc. These notifications create disarming distractions. Recognize that you may seek them out as a way to avoid creating content and even out of fear of success. Imagine that! Humans can be so complicated.
Get To Know Outlook. Speaking of electronic notifications, set a schedule for when you open and respond to email. Outlook has a lot of bells and whistles for helping you manage the communication stream. Learning can be key to staying organized and on task.
Set a Schedule. It's very easy to get sucked into the Internet. Set a schedule for social media and social networking. Create timeframes for when you will post content to Facebook and Twitter, etc. Buy a timer and set it when you jump onto Pinterest. When the buzzer goes off, you'll know it's time to get off and move on to other tasks. Also, check out various tools like Hootsuite to manage multiple social media accounts.
Unplug. Turn off your mobile devices while writing. The call, text and instagram photo can wait. Really.
Go Minimal. Use a plain text editor like notepad to draft your blog posts. After all, the ideas you put into words is what matters most. Go a step further and use a professional writing application like QuietWrite, PenZen or Byword. These tools provide online writing environments that are minimal and free of distractions. I know several writers who swear by these.
Hire Someone. If you have some money to invest, seek out independent PR practitioners and digital strategists to manage social media efforts. These professionals usually operate with very little overhead and can work wonders managing your social media and digital content needs.
Live An Interesting Life. When I'm not blogging, I'm a part-time director of a nonprofit and a part-time PR/digital strategist. I have worked from home for the last four years, and I know from personal experience it's very easy to live like a hermit. Again, set a schedule for exercise, coffee with friends, etc. Like one of my favorite writers said, writers live interesting lives. If you aren't living an interesting life, then take steps to reinvent yourself. Dive into a new medium like digital photography or chalk art. Do something that involves creating content in a different venue. Resist your usual haunts. Visit cultural enclaves in your city to gain new perspectives. I do this all the time and it works wonders for my creativity. Remember, people don't fall in love with movies as much as they fall in love with actors. The same is probably true of blogs and bloggers.
Never Surrender. While you may never become a famous blogger, you can still be successful and make a big difference within your cause, community or niche. Believe that you have information that people want and need, even if they don't pat you on the back, give you a thumbs up or share your content.
You are a secret
Waiting to Be Found Out
Soon Be What Everyone
Is Talking About...
Even if you never hear them, when you tell the truth and write from yourself, you are original. Your helpful spirit makes a difference. Writing to be read is brave. You are brave. Press on!