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Presentation: Blog Your Passion

The following are the presentations notes for my workshop called “Blogging Your Passion” at Making it in Changing Times in 2015.

In 2010 I was in Chicago for SOBCon, the Successful Online Business Conference, and I had an amazing encounter with a woman on the crowded downtown streets:

…I was storming away from the last pharmacy towards the subway when I heard a woman ranting in the crowd ahead of me. She was carrying on with great lucidity about the lunacy of our government, calling upon the great names of commerce, security, and our welfare system sitting on high in the offices which dictate our lives. I have to admit I was impressed with her eloquence and agreed with her points, then the crowd ahead of me parted and I found the orator.

She was clean, fairly nicely dressed in casual clothes, dark colored tennis shoes on her feet next to a big overflowing shopping bag. Her dish water blond head was lifted high, hair dancing around her lined face as she threw her arms in the air with the fierce determination to punctuate her points – to a telephone pole.

It was a normal power pole found in the old parts of Chicago. Dark wood coated with centuries of creosote, wires running up its sides to connect with the real web that powers and connects our lives together. I wondered if she had some special powers to send her magnificent points through the wires, across the city to the power and communication centers, then branch out through other cities, across the country, up and down and across more poles, until it reached the offices of those who need to hear what she had to say. A part of me hoped they were listening.

Still, it isn’t every day you see someone conversing with such passion, determination, and classy style with a telephone pole. I was impressed.

Then I was terrified. This was me! This is what blogging feels like. It’s me talking to the telephone pole. I’m blathering on to the great virtual nothing, connected by wires both physical and virtual, hoping someone turns their head in my direction. Honestly, I might as well be talking to a telephone pole.

Every day I push out many articles and news bits on my passion, helping others to learn how to share their thoughts and feelings and skills with the masses, hoping to connect through the virtual power poles to their offices, homes, and mobile devices, to find some connection, to reach through the wires and say, “Hey, what I have to say matters. What I have to say counts. What I have to say is something…well, you might need to hear. I know it will help. I know it will make a difference. I know that you will learn and blog better…at least I think you will…” Really, why do I bother.

Frozen in place watching the woman continue her impassioned speech on the flaws in health care, social welfare, the inability to protect its citizens from the greed and control of corporations, the crowd swirling around me, feet cemented to the sidewalk, a rock in the river, my entire thinking process shifted off its axis.

She is the modern day Don Quixote, tilting at telephone poles. I’m the modern day version tilting at virtual telephone poles. Or am I? Seriously, I’m going to have to think about this some more, because somehow, this woman has changed how I think about what I do.

Do you feel like no one is listening? Do you feel like you are tilting at telephone poles?

As I prepared my presentation on “Blogging Your Passion” for Making it in Changing Times, a conference for authors in the modern age, this woman stool beside me in my mind. She represented all of my energy, passion, confidence, courage, fears, self-doubts, and the work I do every day, pushing out these posts into the ethereal world across one telephone pole after another.

Blogging is About Finding the Connections

Blogging and social media is not new. We’ve been doing it for centuries – millennia. Even before we found words, we found ways to convey messages to each other. From these grunts and finger pointing came stories of adventure, trouble, joy, and celebration, passing from person to person, often traveling thousands of miles, words shifting in the wind like the whisper game, turning a minor accomplishment into a hero’s tale. At least with blogging, we can usually trace a story back to its source and do some snoops fact checking.

The confusion in today’s virtual picket fence conversations is that some want to differentiate blogging from social media, continuing to relegate blogging with gossip. Social media is just another form of blogging, micro-blogging. If this is true, then what is blogging?

Since blogging became a concept, I and other thought leaders have asked ourselves what is the difference between a blog and a website. It boils down to this:

  • A website is a collection of web pages.
  • A blog is a website.
  • A blog is a website with content displayed in reverse chronological order.

That’s it. All the assumptions and conjecture people make about “bllloooooogs” have nothing to do with the real definition of the word. So what makes it distinct from the notion that a website is a bunch of static web pages reserved for businesses and a blog is personal or newsy?

We found that a blog is defined by what you put into it.

Liz Strauss came up with my favorite definition:

A unique and outstanding blog is one so compelling and remarkable that it sticks with you. Days later you still want to tell folks to experience it. A unique and outstanding blog has an amazing impact on a reader. It is unforgettable to both the adult and the kid in you.

In truth, compelling and remarkable content that sticks with you and is unforgettable to both the adult and the kid in you could be anything, but it must make that connection, the connection inside of you that triggers this experience.

We call that connection the tripartite, the connection between the three distinct components of a human being: Mind, Body and Spirit.

Mind Connections Through Blogging

In blogging, to connect with a reader’s mind, you teach, share, ponder, and wonder.

By teaching, you offer your skills, experiences, and lessons learned with others to help them do better and learn from your mistakes. By sharing, you offer information that also connects with readers and encourages them to share.

When you ponder and share your thoughts, you connect with people on an intellectual level, getting them to think, to re-evaluate their positions and perspectives.

In 2007 I was honored with the Golden Thinking Blogger Award and I refused it.

That’s what I’m looking for in a thinking blogger. Someone totally committed to their belief. It’s more than that, too.

It’s passion.

It’s that fire in your belly, morally committed passion that leaps off the blog page.

You know it from the moment you land on the blog and read the first sentence. You know this person knows what they are talking about, how to talk about it, and that this is place to find the information you want. You know you’ve come to the right place.

There is no doubt. You know in an instant that this is someone who knows what they are blogging about.

That’s a thinking blogger.

The gave me the first ever Platinum Thinking Blogger Award for challenging their own award. That one I accepted.

When you wonder, asking the questions “what if,” “how does,” and “why,” you help others wonder with you, shake their imaginations up and hope that good things drop out of the cloud we tend to live in.

Body Connections Through Blogging

A blog is a virtual communication tool, so how does the physical body come into play to help you connect with readers?

Think of all the ways we touch each other with words in a single day. Hello, how are you, are you alright, how are you feeling…these may not be physical touches, mere platitudes of polite conversation, but they should be moments we do a self-assessment before responding. How am I? Am I okay? How am I feeling?

On my blog, Blog Your Passion, a reader once told me that reading my posts sometimes felt like a hug. “It made me feel good all over.”

Stimulate the senses when you write. As I wrote about the woman and the telephone pole, could you see her? Hear her voice? Knowing this was in Chicago, could you smell the streets of the city, gas fumes, creosote, cigarette smoke, beer, and garlic? Have you smelled downtown Chicago lately? Especially during meal times? Did you imagine a Chicago with hot streets and heavy humidity or a freezing cold Chicago famous for its biting winds? Find ways to engage your readers senses just as you would when writing a book.

Look for “feel goods” as you write, connections you can make with readers that make them feel good inside. Warm fuzzies.

Volunteer and give back. A form of feel good, when you volunteer your time and self through your blog, people feel like you are giving them that little extra something, a reward, a gift, a part of yourself. Go a step further and give back by participating in online discussions, forums, social media, and in the comment box. Make an appearance. Don’t just click “like.” That’s boring. Lazy. Take the extra second to leave a note on a blog to a post that says, “You’ve made a good point and you’ve changed my way of thinking…” and say something meaningful. It’s like saying “here” at the virtual role call. Be present.

Spirit Connections Through Blogging

Connect with the spirit by sharing yourself with your readers. You don’t have to reveal your private inner workings, but great things happen when you share enough of your personality and life story that makes connections with like minds.

Inspire and motivate your readers through simple or meaningful content. Don’t just share a recipe, let your readers know that they can do this themselves, that it is worth it to try, and the reward for the accomplishment is the best reward.

Seek commonality with your readers. I ask clients to describe their demographics. Many typically say “everyone.” That’s not true. Not everyone wants or needs what you are offering. Do you want to sell to 1000 people and have only one buyer, or sell to 10 and have 10 buy? Find your ten.

By letting readers know you, you will attract people with common interests and passions. Together, you can do more than alone, so reach out and build those relationships.

Fear is complicated when it comes to connections with the spirit. We all have our fears, as do our readers. When you share your fears, you will often find connections in the most amazing places, people who thought they were alone, the only ones who felt that way. We all feel that way one time or another, some for longer, others for a lifetime.

Fear prevents and motivates. I sometimes think that the development of the fear factor is what really drove us out of the swamps, driving evolution forward. We ran from and to everything.

During the Oscars of 2014, Robert De Niro was handed this beautiful speech on the prompters:

The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing: isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.

Welcome to the mind of a blogger.

Blogging Myths from Writers

I’ve done many workshops and trainings with authors and writers, published and yet to be published. These are the fears and myths I hear from them all.

I Just Want to Write

Guess what? Blogging is writing.

Blogging gives you a chance to practice your writing every day. More importantly, it pushes you to learn and work with your craft in a variety of ways, stretching your muscles. You can write in first, second, or third person, tell stories, journal, report, write press releases and marketing writing, write character development pieces and profiles, world-building, and work on community building. It is all writing.

Blogging requires discipline, setting goals, deadlines, and self-assignments.

Blogging gives you feedback and a chance to meet your critics.

Blogging gives you the opportunity to put a magnifying lens on a specific topic of interest that may or may not be in your book, a chance to dive into the history of a time and place, personalities and characters, explore religions, learn hobbies, study industries, and share these on your blog as background or research material.

Most importantly, blogging opens your mind to new ideas, new perspectives, and new ways to tell a story.

Blogging is a Time Sink/Waster

Did you know that Charles Darwin had more than two thousand regular correspondents in his lifetime? According to his biographer, he wrote at least 7,000 letters and received as many after publishing his famous book, “Origin of Species.”

Puts email into perspective a little, doesn’t it?

While it feels like blogging is a time waster, it is writing. It is communication.

A friend of mine has a friend that writes these beautiful email essays, fantastic pontifications on their shared industry and interests. This man is near poetic with his writing. It’s beautiful. My friend forwards them to me regularly with the same words each time: “He needs a blog.”

Darwin was confined to letter writing. Imagine what Darwin would do today if he had a blog?

You Mean I Have to Learn Something?

If you are choosing a career in writing, then learning is a way of life.

As a writer, I’ve studied a variety of classes, worked various jobs, interviewed experts and fanatics, read every book I can find on all types of subjects, stood outside buildings and wondered what it would be like to live there, walked on strange and foreign soils, and brushed my fingers over flowers of every shape, color, and fragrance. Exploring is in the job description of writing, as is learning.

Publishers want New, Inexperienced Authors

No they don’t.

I was lucky to sit at a table of all publishers and agents at last year’s Willamette Writer’s Conference during a dinner for speakers. I asked them how the industry was changing and evolving with the impact of blogging, web publishing, and digital publishing. The answers surprised me.

Publishers and agents used to work hand-in-hand with the authors, teaching them the ropes on the publishing industry, helping with editing, rewrites, research, and the process from the writer’s hands to the printed page with distribution, book tours, speaking engagements, reviewers, etc. In some cases, they became the agents babysitter, guiding them through the entire process. Today, they don’t have the time, money, energy, or staff to offer such luxuries.

They told me that they want writers familiar with self-marketing and social media. I was told point blank that they want authors with self-publishing experience, and an established audience and community. They want authors who know their craft, and know how to market it.

I asked them about the gifted writers, the big money-makers like J.K. Rowling and Gillian Flynn, the stand-outs. They were once inexperienced. “And rejected dozens of times before someone took them on.” Another agreed. “Those authors got smarter with each rejection.”

In an interview on the Huffington Post with Literary Agent Stephanie Rostan, Literary Agent (Levine Greenberg), the agent for Gillian Flynn of “Gone Girl” fame, was asked about the author’s small social media presence.

I also think it’s critical that no matter how active an author is online, the conversation about them and/or their book must be picked up and carried on by others for it to truly have an impact on sales. It can’t be ONLY about the author talking (blogging/tweeting).

Some of them do, and some of them don’t. But isn’t that how publishing is? Nothing works all the time, or for everyone. It’s important for authors to leave no stone unturned and consider how social media can work for them, but also important to consider the whole picture of getting the word out about their book and reaching readers. I’m sure there are examples of authors whose success is directly related to their social media strategy/efforts. But there are also authors whose success has come mostly without that. Without diving too deeply into it, I think there are different kinds of readers out there who use and don’t use social media in different ways — when there’s a match between the author’s efforts and the potential readers they are reaching, that can be magic. But when there isn’t, a lot of energy can go to waste.

…the best advice I can give is to write the best book you can, and reassess your social media involvement/strategy often.

If you are considering a career or even a hobby as an author, know your craft. An active blog may or may not be the answer, but it is a part of the strategy. Learn from the experts, those who have gone before you on the publishing path, learn the lingo, the methods that work, the mistakes people have made, and study their successes. And keep blogging, proving to the world that you exist and have the right stuff to make it.

Content with Intent

The blog does not stand alone. It’s about identity. It’s about sharing. It’s about helping people get to know you on the web. It’s about the connections.

I call it content with intent, creating online content with careful consideration of your goals and connecting the mind, body, and spirit with your readers and fans.

The secret sauce to all of this is:

If you want to get someone’s attention, show them something they’ve never seen before, or show them something in a way they’ve never seen before.

And rule number one: There are no rules. If you have the passion to be heard, we’ll forgive misspellings and grammar.

The following articles may help you learn more about blogging, web writing, social media, and making those connections.

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