Every now and then, people message me on Twitter or Facebook and ask for advice, which strikes me as hilarious, because even though I’m a full-grown adult, I have no more answers to the mysteries of life now than I did when I was fresh out of school, wearing maroon lipstick with my Rachel haircut. But hey, if you’re gonna ask, I’ll make up some answers.
Anyway — I received a really nice note last week asking about how to go about starting up a blog, etc. Here it is:
My name is S—-, and I think you are awesome. I’ve followed you on social media ever since a mutual friend “introduced” me to you, which has been maybe 5 or 6 years now. Almost every post of yours makes me laugh and/or ponder, and I just LOVE seeing you pop up in my feed. [<– Ed. note: Obviously, this person has fabulous taste.]
I’m writing to ask for a few words of wisdom. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I think I’m pretty damn funny. Both of my children are in school now, and I’d like to start writing more and finding out who else is awesome (i.e. gets me) in my social media world and maybe beyond.
I guess my question to you is, if you had to go back to the start of when you were trying to be YOU, is there anything you would do differently? How do I tie the social platforms all together and keep my personal stuff separate and have some followers who are not just trying to sell skincare or essential oils? I’ve got a “handle” I can use, and I’ve set up a blog on WordPress with that name, and I also have an Instagram (if I can just remember the password to get back into it).
I know you are a super busy person and I really appreciate you taking the time to read this message. Thanks for reading my message and for any pearls of wisdom you may pass along. Keep doing what you’re doing because you’re funny and insightful as hell, and your light reaches a lot of places!
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OK, that’s just about the nicest letter I’ve ever received from a person I’ve never met. So I wrote back:
Hey, S! First off: THANK YOU for saying hi! I’m SO HAPPY for you! [fist pump] I am always glad when I hear someone has decided to start writing — whether you’re doing it publicly where people can see it or just for yourself in a secret notebook you keep under the seat of your car and pretend is a mileage log.
Well, I don’t know if I’d call it an “answer,” because I don’t know that I actually have the answers, but here is the best rule I can give you:
I *almost* replied with just that, but your letter was so nice, and I feel like I should try to come up with more. So, here are some opinions, based on experience.
1. DO WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT — and forget about building a following. (At least for now.) It’s kind of fun to begin with hardly any readers, because there’s no pressure. Whee! So start small. Tap-tap-tap on the microphone and do a soundcheck. And just think about one thing: A story you want to tell or a point you’d like to make or an idea you want to share or a joke or some pictures or a song or whatever. Write a post about that one thing.
2. DO WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT — even when it comes to social media. It sounds like you’re all set up to do some sharing on a few platforms; so when you’re ready, go for it. (Oh, you mentioned “keeping personal stuff separate.” If you want to keep your private accounts private, just set up separate pages/accounts for sharing your writing. Easy.) You also might consider reading and commenting on what other people post. Think about writing online like being a part of a big conversation. Just like in a real-live conversation, you might ask about or comment on things other people say that you find interesting. Engaging as a reader as well as a writer is one way to “meet” other people who are part of that big conversation and who might also want to read what you have to say. But you don’t have to. Really. If you’re more comfortable sharing posts just with your own friends and holding off on tweeting and such for now, rock on.
(From experience: If you do decide to use social media to share your posts, make your handles match across platforms. Like, if you’re “@catsdigmuffins” on Twitter, be “@catsdigmuffins” on everything else, too. I screwed that up in the beginning, and all my handles were different. They match up better now.)
3. DO WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT — and consider aiming for quality over quantity. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that you should post as often as possible — daily, even, or at least weekly — if you want to build a good following. Someone must have some math to back that up if people keep saying it, and I guess if building a following is the goal, then go for it maybe. But again: you don’t have to. (I don’t.) Why not post when you really have something to say or share, with whatever frequency that is, instead of just for the sake of posting something? I say, if everyone’s telling you that you HAVE TO post all the time because IT’S THE RULE, but you don’t feel like it, then FUCK THE RULES. (And if everyone else you ask says this is terrible advice, feel free to throw me under the bus and say you knew I was full of shit all along.)
4. DO WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT — with whatever level of creative discipline your brain enjoys. Are you more of a blurter? Or a thinker? Do you like to edit your words carefully before you share or just toss ’em up there and see what happens? It’s your blog, so do what makes you happy. Me, I’m an editor by nature (not to mention by profession). I’m not saying I don’t post something unless it’s perfect; I just mean that instead of sitting down and drafting something and hitting “publish” right away, I let it marinate a bit. Your style can still be loose and candid, even if your approach isn’t slapdash. As a reader, I appreciate it when a writer takes the time put some care into whatever I’m taking the time to read, you know?
5. DO WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT — and be true to your own voice. You nailed it when you said, “I’d like to start writing more and finding out who else is awesome (i.e. gets me) in my social media world and maybe beyond.” It’s great to write just for yourself, but you’re right — there are good reasons to write things for others, too. We want to find our people. We want to be heard and understood by someone who says, “Me, too,” or “Oh, really?” or even, “That’s insane, but tell me more.” We want to be witnessed. (I still love how Ted Hughes described that.) So don’t fret about being “as [clever / eloquent / crazy / whatever] as [whoever else].” If you do what YOU want to do with your words, the people who dig it will hang around and you’ll have more fun.
It’s your site. It’s your brand-new can of Play-Doh, and you can make it into a blue giraffe with six legs if you want, and NO ONE CAN STOP YOU. It doesn’t have to be like anything else. Give it a theme or let it wander all over the place. It’s yours. Just start.
Anyway — thanks again for reaching out, and I hope you have a great time.
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So, that was that. Another piece of advice I give a lot is: Always wear gloves when handling habanero peppers, or when you accidentally scratch an itch on your eye you’ll get a terrible rash on your eyelid. Don’t ask how I know.
(PS: If anyone else has advice for S, feel free to chime in. I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.)