Blogging as a Creative Writing Exercise

Not everyone who has a blog uses it to create high-brow literature, but bloggers do write to charm a unique audience, one that’s unique in that it can interact with them. As a writer, blogging helps me supplement my other writing projects. It helps me discover my own voice, explore my characters, and experiment with different styles.

Blogs can be literary forms, just as much as short stories and poems are literary forms. Not everyone who has a blog uses it to create high-brow literature, but bloggers do write to charm a unique audience, one that’s unique in that it can interact with them.

As a writer, blogging helps me supplement my other writing projects. It helps me discover my own voice, explore my characters, and experiment with different styles.

I’ve been struggling with a short story that I’m trying to revise. A friend who is helping me revise this story said that my first person narrator should speak more honestly, like I do in my Comma ‘n Sentence blog posts.

No matter how I restructure this story, the characters remain flat and lifeless. I get so caught up in the language that I forget my characters need to resemble people. I just can’t seem to get inside their heads.

On this blog, I write in my voice, and I try my best to penetrate the surface of whatever subject matter I am exploring. So how can I get the characters in my stories to speak in a similar, substantial voice?

Earlier this semester, I asked my students to complete a faux blogging exercise that required them to create a concept for a blog and write three blog posts in the voice of a fictional or celebrity character. My students wrote blog posts from the perspective of Spongebob Squarepants, Paris Hilton, and George W. Bush, among others.

My favorite posts explored an emotional side of the character that most people never see. For example, in one blog, “Katy Perry” wrote very detailed posts about the nail polish she is wearing. The posts were believable because Katy does like unique nail polish, but they were also creative because Katy doesn’t actually write about her nail polish. The student had to use her imagination to create the content. She was able to maintain Katy’s voice throughout the posts by mimicking what she does know about Katy’s persona and the way she speaks.

The blogging exercise was supposed to inspire my students to think about how they could write from the perspective of someone else. Now that I’m struggling with writing in another character’s voice, I should probably follow my own advice.

Blogging requires a certain candor and simplicity that I sometimes lose when I’m writing fiction because I’m so focused on language and structure. When I blog, my goal is for the writing to be as clear and direct as possible. I have no idea why I can’t carry that over to my fiction writing.

But I think a great exercise for me would be to write “blog posts” in the voice of the characters I just can’t seem to penetrate. I might be able to get to know them better and let them help me discover the emotions that I really need to write. If I can uncover their insights, musings, and thoughts, their stories should write itself. In this way, I will be able to build multi-layered fiction.

(Photo by Tony the Misfit)

Blogging and Creative Reinvention

When I feel stale, I like to reinvent myself, which is what I have done. As you can see, I’ve redesigned the layout. I’m also going to be covering more subject matter: writing, teaching, exploring current events and pop culture, living outside of New York City, and navigating friendships and dating in the Internet age.

About a year ago, I redesigned Comma ‘n Sentence and started to get serious about blogging about social media. During my year-long journey, I have trudged through the depths of social media, exploring how it affects our relationships and lives.

Now, to be honest, I’m kind of over social media – until something or someone new revolutionizes the current scene, I can no longer imagine myself getting excited about it. However, that doesn’t mean I want to stop blogging.

In the year and a half since I started this blog, a lot has happened to me: I finished my Master’s degree, I entered “the real world”, I moved out of my parents’ house, and I learned how to navigate a lot of “grown-up” issues like health insurance and making decisions about my career path.

When I feel stale, I like to reinvent myself, which is what I have done. As you can see, I’ve redesigned the layout. I’m also going to be covering more subject matter: writing, teaching, exploring current events and pop culture, living outside of New York City, and navigating friendships and dating in the Internet age.

I was recently offered an opportunity that may or may not be the key to helping me pursue my dream job: being a full-time creative writing professor. I hope to blog about teaching, new things that I read, the creative process, staying inspired, and being yourself in a society that expects you to be everything but yourself.

I hope you will continue to follow me in this journey, and I appreciate you for reading regularly. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment!

(Photo by Margarita Banting)

How Not to Run a Company Blog

A few months ago, I excitedly accepted an unpaid gig as a contributing blogger for a new company blog. A retail business trying to improve its online presence hoped that a few writers could bring perspective and increase exposure. However, I lost my enthusiasm after a few weeks when I realized that I was wasting my time.

A few months ago, I excitedly accepted an unpaid gig as a contributing blogger for a new company blog. A retail business trying to improve its online presence hoped that a few writers could bring perspective and increase exposure.

From a large applicant pool, the CEO chose a handful of bloggers with diverse backgrounds and the most online writing experience. In exchange, the bloggers were allowed to choose one piece of merchandise, free of charge, and we were able to promote our own work too.

Truly, I felt privileged, and I’m pretty sure I started with the most enthusiasm; I was definitely contributing more than the other bloggers. However, I lost my enthusiasm after a few weeks when I realized that I was wasting my time.

Here are five things you shouldn’t do if you expect unpaid contributors to write content for your company blog.

Don’t lack focus. The CEO encouraged us all to write about the topics that interested us most. I liked this direction in theory because it meant we would all be passionate about our subject matter. However, this company’s merchandise is for a very specific market, and the blog would have been more effective if the content targeted a specific consumer.

Don’t put too many people in charge. I was answering to at least three people. One deemed herself a “technologist” and e-mailed me with a request that I knew was wrong, from a technical standpoint. Another person was the WordPress developer in charge of making sure the content was loading correctly. And the third person was the CEO himself. Because I never actually met these people in person, the multiple contact points confused and overwhelmed me.

Don’t ignore the power of social media. They expected me to promote my posts via my Twitter and Facebook accounts, which I did, but they weren’t doing a great job leveraging their own social media accounts. I didn’t see them engaging with their followers, friends, and fans. And I was discouraged by the pathetic readership.

Don’t hire a programmer who doesn’t know how to use your blogging platform/CMS. The programmer was constantly asking me to adjust settings within my personal WordPress account when I knew for a fact that he could have been doing more with their backend. I noticed a lot of bugs, and I reported them, simply because I wanted the blog to look great! All my requests were ignored.

Don’t expect a group of people who work virtually to stay motivated as a team. I’m sure that all the other bloggers shared my motivation at the beginning. However, when you work virtually and never see your colleagues, it’s really hard to stay excited. The energy that radiates in a real-life team setting is contagious; it’s nearly impossible to approximate this energy online.

(Photo by miss karen)

Is It Just Me, or Is It a Bit Drafty in Here?

Wordpress, and most other blogging platforms, allow you to save drafts; this function is useful if you have an idea you want to save for later, or if you can’t finish writing a post in one sitting. You can save your draft and come back to it at any time, on any computer with Internet access.

WordPress, and most other blogging platforms, allow you to save drafts; this function is useful if you have an idea you want to save for later, or if you can’t finish writing a post in one sitting. You can save your draft and come back to it at any time, on any computer with Internet access.

As much as I love this feature, there is one catch: you really need to return to your drafts in a timely manner. Upon inspecting my own blog posts, I found about a dozen drafts that I hadn’t touched in about a year.

While neglected drafts might inspire some people to return to a subject, especially if these drafts represent forgotten ideas, I could hardly remember what I wanted to communicate with my old, half-written posts.

My ideas were too vague to piece together, and I ended up deleting all the drafts. One of the drafts, untitled and from June 2009, actually made me laugh: “the issue of time and time-sensitive material”.

Well, about a year ago, I must have been very concerned about time-sensitive material, but the post was obviously not a top priority, as I had completely forgotten about it.

You may disagree, but I believe that blogging requires the writer to churn out content quickly and frequently while still maintaining SOME standard for quality. Doing things quickly means that you invite risk. If you’re not the kind of person who likes to take risks, then blogging is probably not for you.

Blogging will make you vulnerable, and you may regret things you write. But there’s a freedom to blogging too – it can allow you the ability to accept that you’re not perfect, that your opinions may change, and that you may not always know all the facts. The beauty of a blogger’s archive is the way it illustrates (hopefully) a person’s intellectual evolution.

Write about what’s current and relevant, in both your head and in society. Don’t wait too long to respond to your ideas because your response will lose its driving force.

(Photo by julio.garciah)

How Blog Posts Can Become Lessons

If you have a blog, do you think you could make a lesson plan from all the work you’ve done? Could your blog posts become instructive exercises? If you reorganized your posts by category or theme, for example, could they tell an overarching story? Could you possibly organize your blog posts like a textbook?

Blog content can take many forms, all of them relevant: creative writing, photographs, short articles, insightful quotes, self-absorbed diary entries, jokes, etc. Some people blog to share, others blog to show off, and a few people blog to learn new things by exploring their ideas through writing. I fall into the last category; on my blog, I stab at ideas that swim in my head.

When I started this blog, I wasn’t completely sure what it would become. Over the past year and a half, it has definitely evolved and grown into something that has given me room to explore and helped me cultivate relationships with other people who are curious about the same things that I am.

A few days ago, I visited my own archives with the hopes of trying to organize my content and twist it into something new. I’ve received so many wonderful comments from intelligent and insightful people, and I believe I had moments of great clarity in some of my posts. Many times, I have questioned the purpose of writing here, but I’m happy to say that blogging is worth the effort, especially when you realize how much raw material you’ve generated.

Think about it: when you begin anything new (an exercise program, learning a new language, pursuing a degree), you wonder how you’ll ever get through it. But you do it everyday, sometimes begrudgingly, and eventually you end up stronger, bi-lingual, or as the recipient of a new diploma. And you wonder where all the time went.

The writer Samuel Johnson once said, “Excellence in any department can be attained only by the labor of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price.”

When you become obsessed with a subject, when you want to learn more about something for your own sake, chances are that you will one day be knowledgeable enough to tell another person about it. I don’t know anything about finance or deep-sea fishing, but I’m pretty sure I can give someone an introduction to the blogosphere and/or creative writing.

I’ll save someone else the trouble of writing a blog that only I could write, and someone else will save me the trouble of doing lots and lots of research by writing an informative blog about, say, urban planning. And I will be very grateful that this person put so much work into sharing and exploring his or her passion.

If you have a blog, do you think you could make a lesson plan from all the work you’ve done? Could your blog posts become instructive exercises? If you reorganized your posts by category or theme, for example, could they tell an overarching story? Could you possibly organize your blog posts like a textbook? How much of that content would you throw away and how much of it is good enough to keep?

(Photo by AlphaTangoBravo / AdamBaker)

5 Ways that Writing for a Website Is Like Dating

If you want to keep a person interested, you should avoid doing certain things like belching loudly or talking excessively about an ex. Like dating, writing effectively for a corporate website or blog has its own rules and etiquette. Here are five ways that writing for a corporate website is like dating.

Brainstorming ideas for a web project the other day, I said to my coworkers, “Writing for a corporate website is like dating.”

They nodded in agreement. I could see years of frustrated dating experiences flash across their faces.

Whether you like it or not, dating has its own rules and etiquette. If you want to keep a person interested, you should avoid doing certain things like belching loudly or talking excessively about an ex.

Like dating, writing effectively for a corporate website or blog has its own rules and etiquette. Here are five ways that writing for a corporate website is like dating:

1. Don’t talk about yourself too much but reveal enough to portray an honest image. On a date, no one wants to listen to the other person talk endlessly about how great he or she is. It’s exhausting and, frankly, very boring. When someone visits your website, that person is not interested in plowing through the dense jungle or your content. In both dating and writing, reveal just enough (true) information to keep the person interested.

2. Choose your words carefully and use language responsibly. During a first date, the other person is probably listening very carefully to every word you say (I do). Pay close attention to the way you describe things; avoid using negative words, and you won’t seem like a negative person. On your website, you will also want to choose exactly the right words to best describe your product/service. When you only have a few words to describe yourself, you will want to choose those words wisely.

3. Stop trying so hard to impress and focus on finding the best fit. Sometimes, during a date, you may be so focused on trying to impress the other person that you lose sight of the point: to figure out whether or not you actually like that person. When you write, worry more about writing something that will attract the people you want to attract, instead of trying to impress everyone. You can’t win over everyone with your words.

4. Make sure your content looks presentable. For a date, you will want to present your best self. Take a shower, comb your hair, wear clean clothes, brush your teeth, apply some lipstick. When you write, your words should not only read well but look presentable too. Insert paragraph breaks where necessary. Make sure sentences look manageable and that they don’t overwhelm the reader.

5. Make sure you post the correct contact information. If you have a good date, you hope the person will call you or that the person gives you the correct phone number so that you can call them. When writing for a company website, make sure the site visitor knows exactly how to make the next move; no potential customer should be searching for the contact page or instructions to proceed.

(Photo by www.charlietphoto.com)

Private Blogs (Clap): They’re Helping You

Most people who have a blog update their blog because they want to share their thoughts with the world. Why would anyone want to create a blog that no one is going to read? Isn’t a lack of readership why most people give up blogging? And isn’t the promise of a readership why many people start?

Most people who have a blog update their blog because they want to share their thoughts with the world. Why would anyone want to create a blog that no one is going to read? Isn’t a lack of readership why most people give up blogging? And isn’t the promise of a readership why many people start?

If I told you that private blogs have a purpose, would you believe me? Did you know that, in WordPress, you can label a blog post private or public? You can also decide whether or not you want search engines to find your blog. You can even password protect your blog so that a few or no people have access to it.

I choose to share all my posts here because I would like feedback, and I would like to demonstrate that I think about and have an interest in things like creativity, writing, the Internet, and social media. But what if I don’t want to share? What if I want to blog/free-write but don’t feel like perfecting every post? What if I want to rid myself of the pressure?

I’ve been experimenting with private blogs to help me with my writing. Recently, I started a new blog to help me with a nonfiction writing project. I’ve actually been scared to write about the subject matter because I am so overwhelmed by everything I want to say. Starting a private blog about this subject allows me to explore the subject in small chunks, save drafts for myself, gather corresponding images, test creative ways to approach the subject, and feel motivated by the way my writing looks published.

Even though no one else can see my private blog, I like being able to view my posts with the layout that I have created. I can feel like I’m making progress and like I have some sort of order to my thoughts. I might make the blog public once I feel like I have a better handle on what I want to share, but, for now, I just add posts without any pressure. If I do decide to make it public, I will already have content to share with my new readers.

If you are an aspiring writer or have ideas that you want to explore, I highly suggest you start a private blog, especially if you don’t feel confident about sharing your work. Seeing the published product will provide you with some motivation and creative license. Writing isn’t always about the readers!

(Photo by ?????????)

5 Exceptionally Written Blogs

As an avid blogger with a creative writing background, I really appreciate other bloggers who take the extra time to write insightful, meaningful content. I do enjoy tumblr blogs, photo blogs, and funny blogs as much as the next person, but I have a special place in my heart for blogs with more words than pictures.

As an avid blogger with a creative writing background, I really appreciate other bloggers who take the extra time to write insightful, meaningful content. I do enjoy tumblr blogs, photo blogs, and funny blogs as much as the next person, but I have a special place in my heart for blogs with more words than pictures.

When I started to compile this list, I realized how few blogs have exquisite content. Most blog posts are dashed off in a hurry, and the writing can seem careless or superficial. However, I managed to weed through all the crap. Of all the blogs I regularly read, here are five with truly exceptional writing:

Tweetage Wasteland: Dave Pell is an angel investor and the founder of Addict-o-matic. His blog is “An addicted insider’s account of what’s happening to our real lives and relationships in the era of the realtime, social web”, and his posts are some of the most thoughtful, insightful, real, and personal blog posts that I’ve read anywhere on the web. You don’t need to be tech-savvy to relate to Dave’s observations on the role that television plays in the household or the ways that social media can shape our prejudices. Posts are long, but they are absolutely worthwhile.

The Girl Can’t Help It: Jen Burger is the best friend you need to have. Luckily, we can all benefit from the sincere blogs posts she shares online. When it comes to friendships and relationships, she tells it like it is, and she’s got an attitude that you can’t help but admire. Jen is not afraid to share personal anecdotes to help you understand what you deserve when it comes to love. However, what I love the most is the fact that I can expect a sassy music video at the end of every post.

The Hyperlocalist: Jennifer Deseo‘s The Hyperlocalist is the most detailed and revealing blog about hyperlocal journalism on the web, period. Don’t think hyperlocal journalism can be interesting and/or fun? Trust me: this woman has a sense of humor! As former editor-in-chief of the Silver Spring Penguin, Jennifer has been there, done that, as they say. In addition, she knows people in the entrepreneurial journalism sphere and shares her knowledge in a style that’s both accessible and easy to read.

Go Fug Yourself: Hardly a day passes when I don’t find myself laughing out loud at something the Fuggirls have written. Heather and Jessica never cease to amaze with their wit and creativity. Though the posts are short, the sentences are packed with awesome similes, cultural references, and jarring insights about a rather superficial subject: celebrity fashion. My favorite posts include fake conversations between celebrities, often awkwardly posed in the main photo.

Shmitten Kitten: Shmitten Kitten is “a blog about dating for people who would probably never read a blog about dating”, and the posts include some of the most hilarious, truthful things I’ve read on the Internet. Post categories include “Things in His House that Make Me Sad”, “Bonerkiller”, “Things I’m Terrible at”, and “Boxerdropper”. Dating can be an awkward and daunting experience, and this blog captures the best of the most real human moments.

I’m always looking for new blogs to read – feel free to add your favorites in the comments below!

(Photo by {AndreaRenee})

Do You Swear to Blog the Whole Truth?

Blogging is like writing important fiction; posts should reveal the truth about the human condition, they should be sincere, and they should bring people closer together so that they feel less alone. If you’re not striving to do these things with your blog, then you should reconsider your purpose and potential as a blogger.

Like most young women my age, I grew up with and worshiped glossy beauty and fashion magazines like Seventeen, Teen, and Teen People. I started reading Jane when I realized that the other magazines were full of crap. Now, I hardly ever read fashion magazines; sometimes, I read Lucky with the full awareness that the editors promote a fantasy lifestyle.

My favorite commentator on all things fashion magazine is Wendy Felton, the blogger responsible for Glossed Over, which she founded in 2005. Years ago, she was “an editor at a small, now-defunct magazine” but is now more interested in publishing her personal reactions to content for women.

Why? In reference to magazines, she writes, “I’m disappointed by them.”

Sure, women will continue to read crappy magazines, despite people like Wendy, feminists, and the “death” of publishing. However, I do believe that outspoken female bloggers have helped a lot of women realize that the “truths” projected by women’s magazines before the widespread use of the Internet are actually very false.

As a confused adolescent, I wanted to believe that wearing a certain color would get my crush to notice me or that braiding my hair a certain way would secure a seat with the cool girls at lunch. Why weren’t these superficial fixes working? Why wasn’t I happy?

Now, bloggers have a chance to respond to what grates them, to write something contrary and bold. Wendy did it. And now Jamie Keiles, an 18-year-old high school senior from Pennsylvania, is doing it too.

In her first post for The Seventeen Magazine Project, she explains her premise: from May 21st – June 21st, she will live according to the tips found in the June/July issue of Seventeen Magazine and those posted on Seventeen.com. She will use the blog as an outlet to provide commentary and insight.

Bloggers, free of editorial guidelines and lucky enough to be able to say whatever they want to say, really have one responsibility, as I see it: to tell an authentic, true story.

When the Federal Trade Commission announced in October that bloggers would be required to disclose endorsements and connections with advertisers, this just affirmed that people reading blogs want and expect transparency. Magazine editors do not have to disclose which items (pretty much everything) have been sent to them by PR teams.

For this reason, blogging is very human act. For me, blogging is like writing important fiction; posts should reveal the truth about the human condition, they should be sincere, and they should bring people closer together so that they feel less alone.

If you’re not striving to do these things with your blog, then you should reconsider your purpose and potential as a blogger. Blogging is a big responsibility!

(Photo: Blog Horoscope)

No One Would Read James Joyce’s Blog

One reason people have so much trouble paying attention to digitized content is because it’s updated so frequently. Writers and content are so numerous that readers don’t become married to any one writer or publication; they don’t develop trust and the confidence that what they will read will change them or help them learn something new.

After years of staring at Ulysses on my bookshelf, I finally decided to start reading the epic 800-something-page novel by James Joyce. Reading this book is an investment, especially since rumor has it that it’s a “difficult” work, one that doesn’t always make sense and is too language obsessed.

However, I really enjoyed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I like a challenge, and I’ve heard that the personal rewards of completing this book are really worth the effort. With that in mind, I pick up the book and say, “I trust you, Mr. Joyce.” And I also trust all the smart, creative people who have loved the book before me.

Otherwise, would I read this book? Even consider reading this book? Probably not.

On Tuesday, I published a post (“Attention Spam“) in which I claimed that writers, not the Internet, are the reason that readers have trouble focusing on digital content. After I committed to reading Ulysses, I realized how very true this is.

When Ulysses was first published in the United States, censorship issues caused quite a stir. The 1933 court case, “United States v. One Book Called Ulysses” drew a lot of attention to the book and the issue of free expression. Ulysses was not to be published in the US for more than a decade, but that only sparked readers’ interest. Travelers were smuggling copies of the book from France.

This was exciting. This made people want to read Ulysses. Would Joyce’s writing be tolerated if someone published it for the first time today? Published online? In blog format?

Joyce, at that point a controversial, lauded, and respected writer, had the luxury of not needing to cater too much to the reader. He could be an artist and experiment with language and form. Joyce knew that his audience trusted he would take them somewhere new, even if that destination was not initially clear to them. I’m sure the length and difficult level of his novels were the last things on readers’ minds.

One reason people have so much trouble paying attention to digitized content is because it’s updated so frequently. Writers and content are so numerous that readers don’t become married to any one writer or publication; they don’t develop trust and the confidence that what they will read will change them or help them learn something new. They don’t push themselves to a challenge that might be rewarding. Sadly, there may be no room for “challenging” or experimental writing on the Internet.

Nicholas Carr’s new book, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains“, is receiving a lot of attention and acclaim. Personally, I think Nicholas Carr’s writing is difficult and bore-inducing. How can Carr convince us, in an unfocused book, that we have no attention span?

Reviewer Darcy writes: “This incohesive book must have been written for the attention deficit victims of web browsing that Carr continuously talks about, because its limited information content should have taken the more appropriate form as two or three succinct blog posts.”

As long as we use the Internet as a publishing platform, writers need to recognize that they need to be as concise, specific, and reader-catering as possible. More writers are writing – and that can be a good thing! But writers shouldn’t expect to be worshiped like a Joyce or find patience among readers wanting the clearest, most concise writing possible.

(Photo by maxf)