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NBI: Advice from an Old Bull

May 25, 2012


Dear Readers,

I’ve been waiting and watching for this month to see what I could perhaps contribute to this already overflowing (in a good way) project that Syp began.  I’ve been struggling, because the fact of the matter is that really I do what I do because it’s what I learned (mostly from Larisa, to be honest) when I first started.  The overwhelming volume of material generated by Syp’s great idea has made it hard to speak, rather than, say, stand open-mouthed, looking up at what the community has created in this month’s time, like staring up at Everest from its base.  It was an excellent idea, Syp, and I’ll start with a well-deserved round of applause for you, though since I technically have hooves, don’t get startled if it sounds like a stampede.

So waiting may have been a poor choice, because if I had a small list of ideas before, it’s only gotten smaller as I’ve seen others write on what I thought made me unique (sniff, sniff).  Still, even after a month, I’ve got few things I want to add, a few tidbits of advice worth ignoring since it’s likely if you’re looking for advice it’s only because you hope to confirm what you wanted to do in the first place.  In the end, though, what I have looks as much like an ethical code as it does advice for bloggers.

1.  Practice moderation

You’ll get nasty comments from time to time.  You’ll have really strong opinions that you want to share.  You’ll get mad sometimes, too.  Don’t let it affect your blog.  I consider myself to be a pretty tolerant character in our little sphere.  I know there’s friendly cliques out there (and some less friendly ones, too), but that doesn’t matter, here.  I try to make my blog a safe space where anyone can share their opinions and know, whether or not I agree with them, that they were treated with respect and actually listened to.

It’s harder sometimes than it may seem.  The more controversial issues you write about, the more jerks will show up.  When you get linked by a huge blog (like WoW Insider), you’ll have a lot of people unfamiliar with you show up and just say whatever’s the first thing on their mind.  It can hurt, and it can be very irritating, but the best thing to do is just thank them, acknowledge their opinion, and move on.  The American Library Association says it well: “Tolerance is meaningless without tolerance for the intolerable.” It’s not easy, but it makes you a respected figure.

2.  Love those who love you

I’ve seen a lot of people who’ve said not to worry about your stats.  I agree with that; don’t worry about them, but they’re an invaluable metric to see who’s showing interest in your writing.  The incoming links are blogs that have said something about you or linked you.  To be clear: you’re not obligated to link them back, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t go over to their blogs, read their posts, and comment on them.  That’s how you build a network of people you can trust online.  That’s how you can show them thanks without just saying “thanks for linking me.”  Add to their conversations, contribute to their ideas, and give them your digital time in the same way they did for you.

There’s a second part to that, too.  Until you’re so big that you simply cannot handle it, respond thoughtfully to every comment you get.  Take the time to read the ideas people have about your writing and, as importantly, respond by adding to what they say, telling a story that their comment made you think of, or thanking them for thinking of your topic in a way you hadn’t.  Letting your readers know that you value their limited time and that they contribute as much to the conversations on your blog as you do makes them feel welcome and helps add to that “safe space” we talked about above.

3.  Leave places better for your having been there (thanks to the Girl Scouts on that one)

Whether it’s on your own blogs or others, don’t make it your habit to tear down others’ ideas.  That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree, but work hard to improve the conversation, not destroy it.  Find what points you do agree with – and it’s likely that there IS some overlap in most differing opinions – and build on it rather than contradicting it.  Sure, you may have to disprove a point from time to time, but don’t dismiss it in the process; let the commentator (or other blogger if you’re commenting on their site) know that you understand where they’re coming from, but you disagree on this small point, and here’s why.  By taking the time to find common ground and to build on each others’ ideas rather than razing them and salting the Earth, you’re making more and more friends and bringing attention to yourself, which can translate to getting more supporters out there in the Internet jungle.  It takes time, but it’s worth it.

Along that same note, look for ways to connect others’ blogs together.  Don’t link your own posts in comments on another site; try to link someone else’s.  By connecting others with yourself in the middle, you strengthen that network I mentioned before.  It benefits all of us to get to know one another, even when we disagree.  The very essence of the NBI was to connect a lot of disparate bloggers who may or may not even know of one another’s existence into a single network of advice and encouragement.  It was truly an ingenious idea.  I don’t expect myself or any of you to come up with such an idea in your first posts, but be thinking: how can I better the community?  How can I make connections between people and blogs?  Where do two people have a lot in common but clearly don’t know one another?  That’s the bread and butter of the real world and the digital one.  Spread some on your own blog bread (Mmmmmm… blog bread with butter).

4.  Set your own priorities based on your own motivations

Every blogger will tell you what’s important and what’s not.  I’ve seen people saying to ignore viewing numbers.  I’ve seen others saying to pay attention to them.  I’ve heard people saying to listen to your readers’ feedback and give them more of what they want.  I’ve seen others saying to write for yourself.

There is no right formula, or everyone who practiced it would be equally successful.  Really reflect on your motivations, and then nurture them.  If you don’t, you won’t have the will to go on when thing slow down, and they will slow down.  However, if you really know what motivates you, you can focus on those things during the dry times, when you’re struggling to write, and you can use them to keep you going.  Failing to show up on your own blog murders it, so make sure you know why you go and what can keep you going.

Well, dear readers, that’s what I have.  It’s not much and it’s mostly repetitive, I’m sure, but it’s something.  Thanks again, Syp, for setting this in motion, and thanks to all the NBI bloggers, new and old, who helped make it happen.

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and sage, but more like the herb than a wise one)

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