blackboardWho cares what I have to say?
How much of myself should I reveal in my writing?
Is this too personal?

This semester I’m again teaching the Foundations of Digital Communications Strategy and Social Media class at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto (yes, that’s a mouthful).

For their major assignment, students have to start a blog and publish 10 posts. In so doing they face a challenge encountered by virtually all new bloggers: finding their voice as they write. Many already produce content at work or in volunteer roles, usually news releases, reports, newsletter articles, and so on. Important stuff for sure, but often mundane.

On the other hand, as bloggers, they’re free to express themselves and reveal their true selves. This is a scary prospect for many budding bloggers. The worry that no one will read what they have to say, that people will disagree with their arguments, and that readers may learn too much about them as genuine people (vs. their “professional” selves.)

These are all legitimate concerns. But let me share with you what students have told me time and time again at the end of the course:

“I’m so glad you made us write these blogs.”
“I’ve discovered that I really do like to write! I never knew.”
“Now I remember what I love about writing. I’d forgotten, because it’s been so long since I’ve written something I wanted to write.”

Sometimes it’s hard to project yourself forward 12 weeks (the length of our course) as a student, or even several months or years ahead as a blogger. May I share some of the things I’ve learned after 13 years of blogging?

Find a topic you truly care about.
Don’t necessarily choose a “safe” topic. If you blog about something you’re passionate about, the words will flow and you’ll feel a connection with your readers.

Understand your strategy first.
If you truly understand why you’re blogging and what you are trying to achieve with your blog, you’ll be more at ease when coming up with topics, doing your research, and then sharing your blog posts.

Be yourself.
As the saying goes: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Only you can express yourself as you. Are you funny? Introverted? Sweet? Sarcastic? Politically incorrect? Whatever your personality, show it in your blog.

Write like you talk.
My friend Barb Sawyers has written a book called Write Like You Talk, Only Better. This is excellent advice for bloggers. Your blog frees you from the shackles of formal corporate or academic writing. This is not a term paper! Take a conversational tone in your blog and your readers will thank you for it.

Write quickly, edit slowly.
Don’t agonize over every word. You’ll never finish a paragraph if you edit yourself as you write. Anne Lamott, in her book about writing, Bird By Bird, admonishes us to “not be afraid of a sh*tty first draft.” So, write that first draft quickly. Then go back and polish your prose.

Have opinions. Take risks.
No one wants to read your wishy-washy blog that sounds like every other wishy-washy blog. Don’t worry that someone won’t like what you’ve written. If no one ever disagrees with you, you probably don’t have an opinion, right?

Know where your line is.
When writing about yourself in your blog – your life, your family, your relationships, your job, your hobbies – be sure you know where to draw the line. Some bloggers never name their children or show their faces; others blog passionately about parenting. If you’re not comfortable writing about your spouse, don’t. If you feel you shouldn’t tell us where you work, don’t. There’s no need to reveal if you’re single or married or straight or gay unless you want to. Only you know where your line is.

Read great blogs.
I’ve always believed that good writers read great writing. Take the time to study blogs in your field and outside of it.

What are your suggestions for finding your blogging voice?