So I was making my usual rounds of blog reading yesterday and I saw that John Spencer had a post called “Advice for New Bloggers.” It’s a great post that has honest and practical advice that anyone who is starting out in the world of blogging really should read and follow. In fact, I found myself reading it for my own education (and, admittedly, so that I could reassure myself by reading each item and saying, “Oh yeah, I do that. I did that too.”) and also found myself sitting there and saying, “Why didn’t I do that?” In fact, I told John as much (and to his credit, he actually encouraged me to do this). I mean, I’ve been blogging for the better part of eleven years, so I have a little bit of experience and maybe I would have some good advice? Okay, it’s probably crap advice … and I seriously would advise you to go read John’s post because I’m going to do my best to not duplicate his advice (my intent is to add to it in a manner of speaking). And why 11 instead of 10? [Insert overused Spinal Tap joke here]
- Get yourself on a schedule. John’s first couple of pieces of advice are about figuring out what to write about and finding your voice. I’d like to add to that by saying that you should know when you’re going to write. When I started my other blog, Pop Culture Affidavit, I decided that I was going to go back to my college days of writing a column once a week in the student newspaper and made a commitment to write one post per week for the blog (in the case of PopAff, it’s a random or obscure piece of popular culture). It allowed me and still allows me to pace myself and not get burned out too quickly, which tends to happen with a lot of blogs. You get all psyched up and you pump out five or six blog posts in a week and by week two, you find yourself writing four, then three the next week, and then all of the sudden your blog is that blog that has a great title that someone else wants but can’t have and it’s even more irritating that you haven’t updated in a decade. If you commit to at least a minimum number of posts or even a maximum number of posts, you will start to ensure your own longevity.
- Don’t worry if you’re not current enough. Blogging about education can be like blogging about popular culture: more than likely, there is someone out there who is also covering it and covering it more quickly. And chances are, that person is getting paid to do said blogging, which makes it kind of hard to compete if you’re like me and hold down a steady day job and also have a family. So if you have a topic you want to discuss and it seems that every teacher blogger talked about this two weeks ago, go ahead and talk about it. It’s your space and your voice.
- That being said, keep on top of current events. I find that one of the best sources for post topics is The Washington Post. Granted, I live in Virginia and while I’m no longer “local” to the Post’s main readership, I did live in that area once and I still read it on a daily basis and still look at what they’re writing about education. Same can be said for The New York Times, since I’m a native New Yorker. Nothing helps you get a quick and easy blog post up than a response to something you read in the paper. You might actually get more out of it than you thought you would.
- Read. And read outside your “box.” One of the most important things I tell my students when they are writing is that all good writers read (and then I make them read things similar to what they’ll be writing). If you’re blogging, then you should be reading other people’s blogs. If you’re blogging about a topic as specific as education, you should be reading other people who blog about education. But make sure that you read beyond just that topic. I have learned so much about my job as a teacher from sources outside of those in education and read about a variety of topics on a regular basis that range from politics and business to comic books and stand-up comedy. It allows me to be a better writer as well as a better teacher of writing.
- Don’t feel like you always need to have the last word. You know that annoying person who, when you’re having a discussion that’s more like a debate or argument, never stop replying? You know, they just can’t leave well enough alone? Don’t be that person. Know when to walk away from a discussion and know that it’s okay for someone to have the last word and because they are having the last word, it doesn’t mean they “win” the argument.
- Don’t feed the trolls. Seriously. If someone is obviously trolling your blog (and I don’t mean spammers selling Viagara using broken English), just leave it be. Replying to their comments not only justifies their idiocy, but if you get a back-and-forth going with a troll, you are more than likely going to be dragged down to the troll’s level.
- Avoid Mad Libs. Just as annoying as the people who always have the last word are those people who are the blogging equivalent of a bad cable news pundit–all they ever seem to post are the same talking points. Not only that, they seem to love buzzwords and catch phrases so much that you’re pretty sure that they are using some sort of standard “Edublogger Mad Libs” form to write every one of their posts. Granted, we’re all guilty of doing this from time to time, but I will say that people who do this constantly are so annoying that I immediately tune them out. Sure, they might have a great point, but if I hear the phrase “Don’t be the sage on the stage, be the guide on the side” one more time, I’m going to throw something.
- Do not give yourself a superlative title, refer to yourself in the third person, or refer to yourself in the third person using that superlative title. Seriously. It’s not clever. It makes you look like a douche. Stop.
Don’t believe your own hype. This may be jealousy because I’ve never been nominated for anything (in fact, one of the posts that was the most popular on my old blog–”Stop Trying to Inspire Me”–was popular because someone tweeted it out to his followers and said,”Look at how disrespectful he is to students!”), and while I don’t really see anything wrong with you putting that little banner on the side saying that you’ve been nominated for an edublog award, there’s something really grating about your entire blog being decorated with “Look at everyone who likes me!” crap. If I am reading your blog it’s because I like it or I like you. You don’t need to repeatedly mention your top posts this week, month, and of all time; the Facebook group for your blog; all of your readers’ recent comments; what people are saying about you on Twitter; the awards you’ve been nominated for; the “top #” lists you’ve made; or how many visitors you’ve had. I know they’re widgets, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them.
- Don’t use clip art. I have nothing against cool-looking photos that you grabbed from the vast number of creative commons-licensed stuff that’s available on Flickr. But clip art and silly cartoons, especially those that feature an apple, ruler, chalkboard, textbooks, or comic sans? It looks like that shitty PowerPoint that the equally shitty speaker used on your last professional development day.
- Be patient. Way back when I went to college in the mid-1990s, I had a running joke in my weekly newspaper column where I would refer to my adoring fans (both of them). While I’m sure that more than two people read the column, I know what it’s like to write something and have it wallow in relative obscurity for years. Take this blog, for instance. Or my other blog. Or any of the blogs I wrote before these two (don’t go looking for them, btw … I tend to “cannibalize” my stuff, meaning that I take down the old stuff after putting up the new). Just write and if the people read, they read. If they don’t, they don’t. It may or may not eventually happen, but that’s okay because you should feel satisfied in getting your voice out there.