Notes For the Writer Who… Wants To Grow Her Blog Readership: Part One
A lot of bloggers use their blogs as a journal. And it can be a good thing for you, personally, a kind of outlet, but if you seek to have a higher profile and to use that blog as a platform for a writing career, journaling is not going to get you there because it’s not universal enough. Your readership will always be small and never grow.
Writing What Grabs Readers Online: Truth
Readers love authenticity and honesty because in our day-to-day lives people so often push the uncomfortable stuff under the rug.
I had my blog, Just Effing, going for already many years when one day I got the phone call of nightmares. It was my mother giving me the news that my beloved older brother Pete had taken his life that day. I was thrown into deep shock. It was only days later, still in a deep fog of shock and grief when I thought, well, I can’t blog about screenwriting when I am in a black hole. But what was I to do??
My normally robust blog had gone silent. I thought – I don’t want to tell the world what happened, it’s not their business. Suicide – god – how awful and shocking and unrelated to screenwriting! What do I do?
After some soul searching, I decided to just write about it. I wrote a brief blog about the shock, the horror, the grief of suicide. It helped me deal with some of my feelings. I received a deluge of support from the post, and also emails from people literally all over the world, who had also gone through the same thing or who were worried about a loved one.
And then something else happened, that I would never have predicted – the blog post was read by a reader who also happened to have friends at the Huffington Post. She showed them the article and they loved it. They took me on as a blogger precisely because I had written about something unspeakable with utter honesty. That gave me an even wider audience with whom to share this terrible event and to ultimately provide some relief for so many – including myself.
I went on to write a book about my brother’s loss and it is now on several recommended reading lists for suicide prevention. The book has provided comfort to thousands.
Do the results of being brave enough to write about such a thing make what happened better? Never. There is no silver lining. I would trade it all back times a million to have my brother back. But I turned a personal tragedy into something that touched readers.
Journaling about what annoys you has a short life span. It’s only mildly entertaining and a lot of people write in this way. But it is forgettable writing. Not everybody has a story like mine – and I hope they don’t. But the point is that writing real, raw, emotional truth – on whatever topic – is what readers like to read. The Top Five Ways to do anything is predictable and boring as hell. That is not the writer you aspire to be. For those writers who pay the bills writing that kind of content – my hat is off – any writing that pays bills is nothing to scoff at. But truly meaningful writing takes courage.
Finding Your Niche
If you want to blog in a bigger, more meaningful way, you have to come up with a brand – who are you? What is your niche? What is unique about you and your life? What is your take on life? Once you identify that, couch every essay/blog entry you write in your niche. Say you were to blog about the marriage equality debate in the US right now. How does that relate to you and your particular niche? Where are you from? How did you grow up? What is your perspective both personally and more globally? What opinion or specific experience do you bring to bear on the subject?
Authentic and REAL is what readers crave. Don’t you? When I read stuff online that skates along the surface and is pat and pre-packaged, I get really bored really fast. Readers LOVE to read writing that is confessional and real, that takes risks. Because we all have things we think about or experience that we want to share. But most of us can’t write so we read what somebody else has to say on the topic and when we do that, we find comfort in the commonalities of the human experience.
Organize Your Writing Around YOUR Unique Perspective and Story
On the Huffington Post, I am the woman from Hollywood who has dealt with grief, who moved to the Middle East. So whenever I write anything for them, it’s about either recovering from grief, my life in Hollywood or my life now, in Israel – but it’s all from my unique perspective since that is a weird combination of things: grief, Hollywood, Middle East. But there’s so much that can flow from that. One of my most popular blogs on the Huffington Post was called Along Came Kelly and it’s a very funny, light piece about a young woman who crashed a social group and took it over. But it isn’t just that – it’s also grounded in the fact that I am Julie Gray who moved out of Hollywood to the Middle East. And in the Middle East, sex, sexuality and body image ideals are very different. So the Kelly piece manages to be funny but also to touch a nerve for women – you may be considered very beautiful someplace else. And it also has a fantasy element – what if you could move halfway across the world and reinvent yourself? Well, I did that.
So all of my Huffpo writing has that basic backbone to it. That’s my calling card and it is very unique.
What is your unique calling card? That is what we are after.
Lastly, organize every blog post like this:
1) This is the topic I am writing about today and here is how or why this idea came to me, struck me, crossed my path.
2) This is how I relate to this topic from my unique experience/brand, point of view.
3) This is more on this topic that is universal that you can relate to also.
4) Conclusion: this is what I conclude about this topic in a universal way for you, the reader, and I am also giving you my particular point of view, which is unique.
Each blog entry has a beginning (a set up) a middle (the meat of the blog post) and an end (the conclusion, the wrap up, the lesson and the point).
A good essay adheres to the same story telling techniques as fiction. So we could look at numbers one through four above and notice that number one is the beginning (set up) numbers 2 and 3 are the middle (the delving deeper, the details, the questions the topic raises for you) and number 4 is the end (the wrap up, the conclusion, the point).
The blog-o-sphere offers us an opportunity to discuss ideas more than ever in an endless space with endless possibilities. Most people use their blogs in only a couple of ways: to sell their product or to write about themselves in a way that is not really about sharing ideas that matter. If you can blog about something that manages to entertain, share about yourself but also put forth ideas that matter – well, that’s the brass ring. That should be a blogger’s goal: entertain, provoke dialogue, share universally as well as personally and leave something behind – a new idea, a new inspiration – that adds to a conversation that has legs, that leads to more.
Stay tuned for Better Blogging Part II, right here on Just Effing, tomorrow. I will get down to the nitty gritty with some very specific tasks to help your blog gain readership.
Treat yourself to Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas