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Monday, November 10, 2008

Barren Advice: Seventeen

This is the seventeenth installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.

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.

Dear Mel:

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.

Lucie B.

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 ( 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: 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


BethH6703 said...


I noticed myself nodding in agreement, and jotting a few mental notes about things I need to do better.

Thank you for this!

G$ said...

This was a great post. You should click over to my blog to see what... I kid! I kid!

I know for me, blogging didn't start out as a place where I was looking for traffic. I was honestly just spewing stuff out of my head to the internetz so I could skip therapy. The traffic has just been an added bonus.

I prefer to keep a bit of anonymity so I can spew without worrying too much. Although, if anyone went looking for me it wouldn't be too hard to figure out.

Molly said...

I think joining message boards can sometimes be easier for joining an online community than the somewhat more solitary endeavor of starting a blog and responding to others' blogs. On boards like fertile thoughts or ivf connections you can easily find people who are starting out or who are veterans, who have your condition or who are going through your treatment. You can lurk and gain knowledge from reading other people's posts or you can jump right in and start giving and receiving support. I honestly don't think I would have survived my many treatments had it not been for the support I received on the boards.

Anonymous said...

Another comment that I would add is to put yourself out there. If you're going through something (good or bad) submit it to LFCA. If you have a question, submit it to LFCA. People will come and hold your hand, pat you on the back, and give you answers (even if they aren't the ones you wanted or expected). Another way is to write from the heart and wait for someone to take notice. You may even end up in the Round-Up. (And that, if I may be honest, is something I see as a high honor. When/If the day comes that I end up in the Round-Up, I may feel the need to formulate an acceptance speech.)

It's an amazing community to be a part of and it's hard to get started for a lot of reasons. For me, it was hard to join up because I didn't want to admit that I belonged here. (Am I being an ass to say that it felt a little like stepping through the doors of Hotel California?) For others, it may be a fear of others criticizing their lifestyle or writing or mama. Either way, my advice (however unsolicited) remains to just get yo' badass self out there and relish the friendship. Mel, through her hard work and long nights, has made it easy to be a part of this.

Wow. I rambled a lot. I'm terribly sorry. Great post, Mel. You really succeeded in getting my rusty wheels turning.

Vintage Mommy said...

My first blog had nothing to do with IF, adoption, etc. but I felt a need to write about that.

Even though it's been nine years since I went thru treatment (unsuccessfully) I still feel unbelievably lucky to have found this community, and I'm so glad I have a blog about my experiences.

So would definitely encourage Lucie B to give it a try; she won't regret it!!

kate said...

I think the only thing I might add is that one needs a healthy dose of patience when dealing with the blogging community. It just takes a while to find your place, to find your friends. You hit it on the head when you said that one needs to treat it like a conversation. While I love getting any comments, I definitely will follow up on someone who takes the time to say more than three words.

That said, I think common courtesy is that if someone takes the time to leave a comment on my blog for the first time, I then take the time to click over and at the very least thank them for their thoughts. BUT, if there is some sort of fundamental, irreconcilable difference, then of course, I might limit my response to just "thanks for stopping by my blog- I appreciate it" or some such other non-committal comment.

And, I also just want to second your advice about quality vs quantity. Again, I would one hundred times over rather have two well thought out comments than to have 20 one-liners. Then again, I'm a word person. Which leads to another thing, which is that if you don't enjoy writing, I would reconsider starting a blog. I recently found out that not all people edit (duh, I know, but it never occurred to me that one wouldn't carefully craft what one says...), and apparently the desire to be precise in language is the mark of someone who has a "linguistic" frame of mind. If you don't have a linguistic frame of mind in any way, then I imagine that you will eventually find yourself either bored with blogging, or angry that you aren't getting the type of responses you want or frustrated by the time it takes to write. Fundamentally, blogging seems to be a community for readers and writers, and if you don't enjoy reading other people's stuff or writing comments, then you'll eventually resent the crap out of the blog/community, right?

Of course, that said, jump out there anyway. The sense of support is mind-blowing. The friends I've made are priceless and in many ways are far, far better than my IRL friends.

One last thing and then I will end the hijacking. If you find that you and another blogger seem to agree on things, and that person leaves you a comment, don't be afraid to send a personal email back, if they've made their address available. Also, pay attention to the people who frequent their blog, and follow the commenter back to her or his blog. And if you see someone struggling for support of some kind, or if you have something in common and you just want to be nice, you can always ask for their snail mail address and send them a little something. I will never forget getting amazing bottles of wine from one blogger simply because we shared the same taste in white wines, nor will I forget the fun package that another blogger sent me before my surgery because she knew I was scared and would have a long boring recovery. Basically, stick with the "conversation" concept- give and take, speak and listen (and send and be sent to!), and you'll be on the right track.

And if you're like me and you find that you can't help but share the things you love (and you can spare the cash), you can always have a giveaway. People love to enter for free stuff, and I've read some great blogs that I otherwise would have missed had these people not commented on a giveaway. So you can, apparently, buy your friends, too.

Ahem. Blog-jacking is over. I wish Lucie the best of luck making her way in this community. It is so worth it.

Lori said...

One thing I didn't "get" when I started is that it's very hard to be a long-term blogger if you're a one-note johnny.

In other words, I started writing about adoption, but that well ran dry quickly. I really wanted to write and be part of a community.

So I had to revamp -- I've even seen a few people change their blog titles -- when I realized I was going to be here for awhile.

Bottom line advice: don't fence yourself in.


Io said...

Hehehe...Kate up there leaves the most quality and quantity comments!
I think you really hit everything I would say. It does take time to make blog friends, so it's not as instant as the "friends" on boards, but I think it's more often real, deep friendships.
Oh, and having a link to your blog in a Stirrup Queens post will definitely up your traffic!

Jen said...

My suggestion is to find some blogs that are similar to your blog (check out Mel's list) and read them. I usually read a couple of posts at least before leaving a comment, so that I don't accidentally say something awful. And when you find blogs you like, comment away! I used to read everyone who commented on my site and comment back, but I've slacked a little on that lately (and feel horrible about it). But my regular commenters and I tend to have a very equal give and take relationship. Actually, my husband (who doesn't read my blog or anyone else's) knows most of their names and asks me about them.

And like Mel said, join stuff. A lot of my best blogging friends and I got together through things like NaBloPoMo (and Blog365) and Cross Pollination.

Oh, one more suggestion is to read the comments on your favorite blogs and go to the commenter's site. I've definitely found some of my favorites there.

luna said...

don't be shy, and be genuine.

excellent advice, lolly, as usual.

Bea said...

Great answer!


Cassandra said...

Hooray for the return of Barren Advice! I've missed it.

Anyway, one thing that Mel didn't mention because it would be too self-congratulatory (and therefore I will happily be the one to say it) is that it's a lot easier to develop a readership in the ALI community than for most other blogging topics, specifically because of the many initiatives from Stirrup Queens as well as a couple of other blogs.

Something else Mel didn't mention is that some IF blogs really focus on the day to day happenings, some take a big picture approach (which is what I try to do), and probably most are somewhere in between. Personally I don't tend to read the day to day blogs that report on each day of a cycle with little or no elaboration or reflection, but the different kinds of blogs may be equally helpful for the writers. To me, though, reading about minutae isn't usually interesting before I've developed a "personal" relationship in terms of understanding who the blogger really is and her perspective on the world.

Finally, Mel didn't mention Show and Tell, which I enjoy a lot. I used to read Mel's blog before I started my own, and Show and Tell never interested me, but now that I'm a part of it, I am a devout reader and semi-devout poster.

Also, Lucie, you may have gotten a few new readers thanks to your Barren Advice question! :)

elizabeth said...

good advice, Mel. I found that the more I engaged with other bloggers (by reading along and commenting) the more they engaged with me. Like any RL friendship. I did find that sometimes if I tried too hard with the "active listening" (you know, "sounds like you're feeling...") I sometimes missed the mark and I think at least once pissed somebody off b/c I misread what they were trying to say. Now I don't try so hard to play therapist. A simple "I feel you" or "I'm so sorry" or "(((hugs)))" can go a long way towards helping someone feel less alone.
Also participating in the LUSHARY is a great way to connect with other bloggers!

bunny said...

Thanks so much for this advice. i'm new to the whole blogging world, but have been reading yours for quite some time. I did start to feel badly about my "lurker" status. You've got to pay to play!

Piccinigirl said...

THis is a great post and one I should take heed of. You layed out the best way to write and read for all of us.
Thank you!!!

WiseGuy said...

Hmm...a good question and a well-articulated response. Like you said you did, even I just started by posting from the first go and then placing everything on an as-and-when basis. I started by one blog and then branched into writing four different blogs. It has given me the flexibility of specializing each blog and improving my power of expression. It is only this year that I carved out a new infertility blog. And I am able to chrnoicle my journey at one place. Also, when I was routed to your blog through Google, it opened up a new avenue for me. Rather than being a driftwood, I was able to anchor myself and see the struggles of others in the same arena. It was comforting and encouraging at the same go. I also found that even if there are cultural differences, there is so much emotion in common!

DrSpouse said...

I too started with a non-IF blog (which is still active) and I moved on to IF message boards; I did find them too full of babydust but they were helpful for my specific situation.

I don't have that many readers but I do have a loyal few and that means a lot to me.