No, this is not Kristen having a breakdown. She’s on a boat having fun. This is Cait, talking about why I hate blogging as much as I hate downward-facing dog in yoga.
So, if I hate blogging, why do I do it? What’s more, why do I do it to Kristen’s exacting standards? Well, partly because I’m afraid of her. But, mostly, I blog because she is right about blogging in so many ways. It’s really not fair that she’s always right about this sort of stuff.
Yet, for something that seems so instinctive and intrinsically simple (“Writers write, ergo blogging”), why do we have so much trouble with it? Why does it spike my anxiety, trigger my perfectionist paranoia, and send me in the direction of scrubbing the toilet as a preferable way to spend my time?
I have spent a lot of time pondering this (probably time I should have spent drafting blogs). In fact, I have spent most of this week struggling with this post.
The first thing I had to do is come up with was a solid list of why I hate blogging (again, time that could have been spent writing). After thoroughly psyching myself out, I went back through all Kristen’s reasons that blogging makes sense (reinforcing the soul-eating guilt I feel at having wasted all that time not writing a post).
Finally, I remembered the corollary to Kristen’s blogging rule…but I’m gonna be mean and force you to read to the end to find out what that is. <insert moderately evil laugh here>
Blogging vs. just about anything else
I could do a whole post about all the reasons I hate blogging, but Kristen would probably jump off that cruise ship, swim all the way back up the Atlantic coast, dodge customs in Boston, and break down my door just to slap me upside the head about positivity. Because she loves me.
But, the truth is, I am more at home using negativity as a motivator and dwelling in the blessed realms of snark, cynicism, and dark things. That’s just the Slytherin in me, I guess. The challenge is finding a way to use my negativity about blogging to motivate myself in a positive way. And, I’m going to stop right there, because I’m starting to sound all self-helpy, and I can’t stand 99% of that ish.
So, let’s just dive into the top three reasons I hate blogging, shall we?
Supersizing the topic
I come from an academic background. In a parallel dimension, I am a professor of history, still using the Red Pen of Wrath…just on my students instead. Academic writing habits are hard to break when it comes to blogging, even though some do come in handy.
One of the cardinal sins of academic writing is tackling a topic that is too broad or too narrow for the projected length of the paper.
I mean, sure, we can describe the decline and fall of the Roman empire in a three page, double-spaced, 12pt font paper (I’m old school page-count and print-out, before word-counts and emailed/uploaded papers became the norm). But, those three pages are going to be uselessly generic, not contributing anything to increasing our understanding of Roman history or helping develop our ability to think and analyze critically.
On the other hand, focus on TOO granular a subject, and well…it ends up being more of an anecdote or footnote. Probably interesting, but again, unlikely to contribute anything to the greater understanding or improve our critical thinking skills.
Blogging is like that for me.
I want what I write to be informative, useful, and accessible. But, writing a blog on “How to write historical fiction” isn’t going to help anyone. Writing a blog on “Understanding currency, income, and prices in historical fiction” (shout if you want me to write something like that) is probably a lot more useful AND interesting AND better written.
I constantly feel like Goldilocks, trying to find the right-sized topic that will live up to my probably-obsessively-over-fastidious standards.
Yoast is killing our brain cells
You know that little thing called SEO? Yeah, worst thing that has ever happened to the written word. And, I’m saying that even in comparison to text-speak and adding words like ‘ginormous’ to the dictionary. If SEO is pure evil, then Yoast is its right hand.
Yoast is a website plugin that scores your posts and pages on readability and SEO strength. It’s unfortunate, but if we want our blog posts to have a chance at traction, we have to follow the rules it sets out. What are those rules?
First, we have to set a keyword. Fine. Like a gateway drug, that’s not so bad. But then, Yoast tells us how often we should be using that word (*side-eye at density score*), and where that word should come in titles and first paragraphs. If it stopped that, I’d grit my teeth and accept that algorithms are gonna do what algorithms are gonna do.
But then, Yoast starts picking at other things, like breaking up the text every 300 words with a sub-heading. Like making sure we don’t repeat the way we start a sentence. Like making sure less than 25% of our sentences have more than 20 words (and I know I purposely triggered the repetitive-sentence-start thing, but Yoast doesn’t really understand context or dramatic intent *flounces off*). Paragraphs can’t be too long, either – oops, gotta cut this one short!
Yoast is dumbing down blogging. By trying to make blogs easier to read, Yoast is encouraging a growing laziness in blog readers. What happens to a society when we can no longer focus past three sentences at a time in order to process a complex thought or multiple pieces of evidence to support an argument? I’ll tell you what happens: we get bad movie sequels, clickbait, and double-very-bad politics.
Paging Mr. Orwell, your 1984 is ready.
I resent being forced to ‘dumb down’ my writing just so a brainless algorithm has an easier time of it. I write for people, not Google. Oh, wait. I use Yoast, so I guess I’m writing for Google. But, consider this another major reason why I hate blogging.
This actually isn’t quite as related to what Kristen was talking about in this post. I’m talking about my inner intellectual demon that MUST BE RIGHT AT ALL TIMES. If a blog post is a form of educational argument, then dammit, I’m gonna WIN!
I’m not kidding. I approach each topic – especially anything that involves factual research – with a goal of creating an UNASSAILABLE argument. I want my post to be the Fort Knox of logic. My brain goes into hyper-passive-aggressive-nerd mode, playing Kasparov-esque chess with each point I write.
I don’t mind admitting when I don’t know something. But, I feel soul-crushing humiliation when someone points out a stupid mistake or an obvious (or not-so-obvious) flaw in my argument. Maybe…just maybe I’m over-reacting, and I should get some therapy about it. Or, maybe, that drive to be as certain and correct in opinion and facts is what helps make my writing and teaching reliable and useful.
Still, the fact that I’ve got some subconscious id and ego stuff going on with perfectionism makes blogging an emotionally and intellectually draining task.
Le sigh…why Kristen is right about blogging
There are a lot of reasons Kristen is right about blogging being the best, most effective way for writers to market themselves. She is also right about Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, but we’re just going to focus on blogging for the moment.
It all comes down to the three C’s: classic, cost-effective, and control. This is a trifecta that is pretty much the holy grail goal of all marketing. When I used to work in advertising, we wanted our ads to be memorable over the long-term, hit the target audience without breaking the bank, and look/feel/sound exactly as planned.
While the landscape might have changed from analog to digital, the principles and goals remain the same. Classic. Cost-effective. Control.
Classic: why blogging is the Talbots of author marketing
Warning: extended metaphor ahead. May cause eye strain from over-rolling of eyes.
Think of getting ready for a job interview. We have our resume, portfolio, references, and talking points at hand. The job description is a great match for our skills, and we know we’ll kick butt at it. We just have to wow them at the interview, so we inhale all the caffeine we can handle without inducing tachycardia, pop a couple of breath mints, and put on our interview suit.
The classic interview suit.
Maybe we stay simple and true with traditional accessories (pearls for ladies, cufflinks for gents). Or, maybe we add a dash of flair with a daringly patterned shirt or chunky piece of jewelry we picked up at a vintage sale. It’s a small piece of individualism, a little personal pleasure, and it only adds to the solid impression a classic suit makes.
A blog is like the classic interview suit. It never goes out of style. It is the best and strongest way we have of presenting our brand to readers. It’s the one wardrobe piece we never throw out because its quality was designed to endure. We can easily update and refresh the look with accessories, apps, widgets, and chunky vintage jewelry (um, yeah, getting all the metaphor stuff mixed up, I know).
Besides, if we want to be remembered as a writer, then the best and most enduring pitch we can make is…well… our writing.
Social media outlets like Snapchat, Instagram, What’s App, etc. are all well and good, but they are the Forever 21 funky accessory of marketing. They are fun, get attention, but may also tarnish and/or break fairly quickly. Can you say Vine? (So 2015!)
Just think about it…is anyone really ever going to go back through all our Snapchats, Tweets, or Instagram posts two years from now? But, as an admin on this site, I can tell you that there are blogs that Kristen has written that are four and five years old that are still top trackers and getting comments on a daily basis.
Now, that’s some classic-interview-suit power.
Cost-effective: how blogging can keep us from sin
Marketing is expensive. It costs us time and money – resources most of us are chronically short on. Marketing is also seductive. Nothing is as exciting as seeing swag with our name on it, or an ad for our book pop up on Facebook, or getting that shiny new book trailer. So, we try to find that balance between price and quality. Fun times.
And yes, if we set up our own domain and do stuff right with backup, security, and all that jazz, it will cost us a couple hundred dollars to get started. Depending on what plans we choose, there is also the yearly renewal fees. Still, that yearly cost pretty much comes down to the equivalent of three or four impulse purchases at Target. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to continue the clothing metaphor.)
The keys to leveraging a website (assuming we have decent content people want) are consistency and distribution. Consistency is a free feature that comes with wrangling our brains into some semblance of discipline. Distribution? Well, that’s what Jetpack is for. Again, it’s free.
Even with graphics, there is a lot we can do with free ‘photo editor’ apps. Personally, I pay $10 a month for a subscription to a professional-level app, but that’s because I do a LOT more than just blog graphics. And, I only started that subscription last year. Before that, I made do with free for about four years.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some COSTLY mistakes. Like cringe-inducing-dear-God-if-You-loved-me-You-would-have-stopped-me-because-that-was-a-really-expensive-lesson mistakes. The only marketing tool I keep coming back to in the end is…you guessed it: my website (and occasionally Kristen’s because she forgets to lock the door).
Control: blogging vs. paranoia
Wanna hear a scary story? A romance author on Facebook builds an author page that gets 15,000 followers. She posts a picture for fun. The next time she logs into Facebook, her page is gone. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUN!
No, it wasn’t me. But, it has been many authors I’ve known. It’s a ‘cross-cultural’ phenomenon – there are versions in Instagramland, YouTubia, and Twitterburg.
Don’t laugh. It was actually a great site for finding pet info. The fact that it was MySpace for pets is a whole other level of psychosis. Still, I met other Basenji owners through their forums, and they have become some of my closest, dearest friends. Thank goodness we had all exchanged contact info and signed up for Facebook before Dogster announced they were shutting down.
Think of MySpace…and Tila Tequila. Her original claim to fame was getting to a million followers on MySpace without much else (i.e. talent, content, etc.) to back it up. So…how’s that workin’ for ya, Tila?
A website of our own never goes away. Our blog content is subject to our rules. Our website is our castle, and we can defend against trolls and hackers with laser precision. Oh, and we can also build community through interacting with commenters, adding chat and forums, etc.
Remember, the flip-side of paranoia is control-freak! 🙂
Wait…that didn’t come out right…
The thing we usually forget Kristen said about blogging
Here’s the promised payoff from my little intro tease. Yes, we need to blog…but we also have to find a way to ENJOY it.
Somehow, I tend to forget that.
I haven’t entirely solved my blogging problems, and that’s probably partly because I’m still figuring out how to TRULY enjoy it. There are moments when I giggle to myself as I write something that is (at least I think) funny. Picking out the memes to go in a blog…I love telling people that it is legit part of my job. I bask in the glow of the final product and clicking ‘Publish.’
But…there’s still the anxiety, the dread, the worry I’m not providing good enough content or that I’ve gotten something wrong. It doesn’t take much to spiral me into a perfect orgy of procrastination…er…research.
However, I am experimenting, trying to figure out what I can do to both get better ABOUT blogging regularly and ENJOY blogging regularly. I’ve found I really enjoy making videos, and I’m about to dip my toe into podcasting (which I think is really spoken-word blogging). While the file sizes mean I wont’ be ‘hosting’ the videos and podcasts on my website, I will be centralizing all the information about them there.
I also have been sharing my love of creating reading ‘syllabi.’ But, being a snotty little French historian, I have to call them something pretentious like a ‘Catalogue Raisonné.’ It turns out I have a lot of fun going through my personal library to pick and choose what I put into the list. It also became something I could turn into another page for my website.
(And by the way, while I do think you’d enjoy those pages, putting external links into a blog post is another Yoast requirement. *shakes tiny fist*)
All in all, I’m still on the journey, but I’m determined to get there. If you happen to be on the same road, maybe we can travel together?
Let me hear it!
Why do you love/hate blogging? What are your tips for becoming a happy, successful blogger? Share the love…or hate, LOL.
URBAN FANTASY: SALT CIRCLE NOT INCLUDED
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, October 19, 2018. 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. EST
Be honest. How many voodoo dolls have you mutilated in your quest to become the next Laurell K. Hamilton or Sherrilyn Kenyon?
- 0-9: You’re probably too virtuous to ever get published.
- 10-19: Equivalent of the New Year’s resolution of voodoo…fizzles in week 2.
- 20-29: You’ve won NaNoWriMo once or twice and wear lucky writing socks.
- 30+: Now, we’re talking.
In all seriousness, urban fantasy has emerged as one of the strongest and most competitive categories in publishing, building on the momentum of legends like Anne Rice and expanding to embrace all kinds of sub-genres such as YA, satire, and romance.
But for all its badass convention-breaking, urban fantasy also a genre boobytrapped with the worst pitfalls of all the genres it borrows from.
If we’re not overdoing the Mickey Spillane-esque hard-boiled grit, we’re confusing which supernatural creature has which power. Or, we’re creating characters that are so wrapped up in their love lives with <insert hot supernatural guys here>, they almost miss the climactic battle between good and evil happening a couple blocks over.
Fear not! Strap on your vampire-hunting gear, grab your wolfsbane gris-gris, and don’t forget to bring your sarcastic sidekick to this class where I will help you navigate the mean streets and treacherous back alleys of urban fantasy!
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
SEE YOU TONIGHT!!!