Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday-ish. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.
How do I get started in the online infertility community? I'm finding that my friends and family just don't seem to get what I'm going through no matter how hard they try and the local support group doesn't meet again until after the holidays. Reading your blog and others like it has really kept me afloat over the last few weeks. How do I make "blog friends" and give/receive support? Should I just start leaving comments and telling people how much better they've made me feel? I really don't know the first thing about blog etiquette and I don't want to offend anyone.
This is one of those answers that spans from "how do you get started" to "how do you build traffic"--and my thoughts reveal my own personal philosophy of blogging. Hit a different blog writer and you'll probably get a different path for building readership. The point is that there is no wrong way to blog...
Well...yes...actually there is. But we'll get to that in a moment.
Let's start at the beginning. It is entirely possible to participate in the community sans blog, but it makes it much easier to receive the support you wish to receive with one. You can set up a free blog through Blogger or Wordpress (these are the two most popular, though there are other sites you can use too). Think through your needs before you begin so you don't need to move your blog later from one site to another.
If you want ads you'll need to use Blogger (or self-host). If you want to password-protect certain entries, you'll need Wordpress. Blogger can make an entire blog invite-only and has many lovely gadgets. Wordpress has more flexibility with templates (which isn't an issue if you know HTML, but is an issue if you don't want the headache of designing your own site). Think through scenarios such as who you want reading your blog and who you don't want reading your blog. And then choose a platform that will support the blog you wish to have.
Now that you have a blog, you need to write in it. Some people recommend writing three or four entries before posting the first one and then releasing one at a time to give you a week or so to ease into writing a blog. Personally, I just started with the first post and when I had something to say again, I posted again. The reason for banking a few posts at first is that some people write their first post and then get this deer-in-headlights feeling and don't know what to say next. Having the posts banked gives you a little time to make sure that you have the desire to keep writing before you send that blog out there into the world.
Before we get to sending your blog into the world, let's talk about content. Blog gurus always talk about how you need to have great content. But what the hell does that mean? Yes, intellectually I knew that I needed a great set of short stories to get into my MFA program, but how could I judge if they were "great" or not. And if I didn't get in, did it mean that my stories weren't "great" or did it mean that there were too many people and too few slots? Was everyone who got in a great writer?
Like my MFA program, you're going to find a lot of great people who simply aren't read. And writers who have a huge readership even though they are boring beyond belief. You'll find people who write the most heartfelt post and receive one comment and others who write "do you like gum?" and receive 657 responses within the first ten minutes. Yes, great blog posts tend to attract readers, but there are also too many great posts out there without comments.
That's why I say feh to focusing on worrying about great content. You're too close to your own writing to judge "great" and sometimes the most mundane subject matter can become a great post. When I'm reading, I want to see things that speak to my heart. That connect with me on an emotional level or teach me something new or make me see the world in a different way. I really want to read a blog where the person writes as themselves and not as they think others want to read. One of my favourite blogs often posts menus for the week and arguments with her husband. And while that doesn't sound like the most fascinating subject matter, it is because you can tell instantly that she is simply laying down her life for the world to see. And that's what I look for in a blog: truth, emotion, view point.
So write what interests you. If others read it, fantastic. But it will never be a waste of time if it is a record of your world and contains subject matter that interests you. I always compare it to the dating scene. If you go do an activity that you enjoy and you meet someone there, all the better. But at least you have the activity in and of itself. For instance, I'm really not into bars and the nights I went out to meet people at a bar event felt like a huge waste. If I met someone, it was fine. But if I didn't meet anyone, I felt like I had wasted two hours of my life (and it was deceptive and people got a little confused on the first date when I mentioned that I didn't like bars and that's where they met me). On the other hand, I'm much more into cafes and reading. If I went to the cafe, at least I had a great cup of coffee even if I didn't meet anyone. This is how I feel about blog writing as well. Write what you like: the readership will follow.
Getting comments and having a readership IS part of blogs. If not, you would write your journal at home and keep it to yourself. It's hard to share your heart with the world and not receive feedback, a head nod, or comfort in return. Here are my thoughts on readership: it is better to have a few dedicated readers than a lot of drive-by readers. Drive-by readers are those who click over once and glance at your blog and click away. Social media sites and links from other blogs bring you a lot of drive-by traffic. Sometimes, if you have content that speaks to them, they stick around. But if not, they simply surf to the next blog out there.
The ones I read religiously are the ones who have built a relationship with me (or vice versa). I subscribe to them in Google Reader and even if I don't comment on every post, I read every post. The way we built that relationship is I commented on their blog or they commented on mine. Not just once, but many times to let the other person know that they're reading. Sometimes we email off-blog too and build the friendship that way. Sometimes we even meet face-to-face if we're going to be visiting each other's cities.
The point is that I treat the comment section as I would a cafe table. When I want to make a friend in the face-to-face world, I listen to what they're saying, ask questions, and make comments on their end of the conversation. I do the same with a blog with few exceptions. I read the post and comment on their thoughts. I ask a question sometimes. I give my opinion if they ask for it (and...um...I sometimes give my opinion when they don't ask for it). The point is that there is a wrong way to comment and it's to leave a note that is entirely about you in someone else's comment box.
What do I mean by this? Well, here's a sample conversation:
Anne: I had the worst day at work today.
Me: What happened?
Anne: I messed up and got yelled at and I felt like an idiot.
Me: That sucks! I'm so sorry.
Anne: It did. I ended up going out to dinner because I couldn't handle trying a new recipe after messing up everything at work.
Me: Oh--speaking of restaurants, did you see the new one that opened up by my house? We have to go there some time...
See, there's a flow. Anne says something and I react to it. And the whole conversation is not solely about Anne, but there is a time to change the topic and there is a time to stay on the same one and let the person finish the vent.
Most comments I see follow this type of give-and-take. The person will acknowledge what is written and give sympathy or congratulations. They may add to the story with something from their world or say what they would have done faced with the same situation. All that is fine. What I've also seen is people who leave a comment solely to draw attention to themselves and try to get the person to read their site. For example:
That's a great story! You should stop by my blog: http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com and see what I'm writing about if you get a chance.The difference with the comment above is that it's the equivalent to plopping down across from someone and cheerfully saying, "I really want friends but I don't want to BE a friend. I mean, I'll be there for you after you've already proven that you'll be there for me. But let's establish you supporting me and then we'll talk what I'll do for you."
Which is a little off-putting.
The reality is that there are plenty of blogs that I read and comment on and I don't think the person reads me. And that's okay. It's not always a two-way street. I'm going to keep reading them and supporting them even if I'm not getting that friendship back because I enjoy their blog and I learn from it and it expands my world. But the majority of the time, the way people build readership is to get out there and thoughtfully comment and usually people follow them back to their blog without needing to be led.
The other thing is to get involved in blog projects. There's NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month)--sign up and you'll meet other people who are trying it too. There was just the Blog Cross-Pollination Project and next week kicks off the 2008 list for the Creme de la Creme (this is a link to the 2007 one). Every month you can join IComLeavWe (International Comment Leaving Week). There are Perfect Moment Mondays. All sorts of blog projects that get you linked to and therefore read (remember that drive-by traffic? Some of it will stick around if you nurture it with content and returned comments).
Insofar as etiquette: the same rules that guide the face-to-face world also (should) guide the Internet. Anyone can comment on a blog--you don't need to wait to be invited--but keep the comments apropos of the post. Don't speak about another blogger or a person in your face-to-face world unless you're prepared to have them read it. Be kind. Think about what you would want to hear--no one likes to have their feelings negated--and it's always fine to click away without leaving a comment if you have nothing nice to say.
So get out there and write. But don't forget to read and comment. And know that it takes time to build readership and to gather that support. But it is well worth the wait and care you need to extend in order to receive it in return.
No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely.
Leave a comment in the reaction box below--only keep in mind that conflicting advice is embraced and rudeness is not. Want to ask your own question? Click here to see what you need to send in order to be included in a future Tuesday's installment of Barren Advice.