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Writing in Shades of Gray: 63 Days and Counting

December 2, 2010

I am knee-deep in hyperlinking, social media madness and New York City trends – what could be better? 

Sixty-three days ago, I associated blogging or bloggers with people who journal online about their life experiences, passions and/or opinions.  Little did I know that Huffington Post, Mashable and TechCrunch, to name a few, could be categorized as blogs.  I simply viewed them as another source of news, only in a less stuffy, more “I’m on your page” type writing style, which I love.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and appreciate the WSJ and NYT, but sometimes it’s refreshing to read a story that makes me feel like I’m chatting with the author over coffee and bagels.  Consequently, this is, in part, why blogs are quickly becoming a reader’s choice for news, reviews and general information.

So, leading back to today’s topic:  63 days of blogging.  I’ve been asked to reflect on my blogging experience thus far: what’s been easy, challenging, surprising and fun.   So, rather than make it all about me, lets breakdown the questions and see how my experience can help you – whether you’re a novice, seasoned blogger, or loyal reader trying to understand this crazy blogosphere world we live in. 🙂

Challenges:

Initial Startup:  Just like with anything new, a blank slate is daunting.  Sure, I could whip up a template, name it Katie’s blog and write about anything, but where’s the fun in that for anyone, but me?  A personal blog is a reflection of you, what you stand for and how you want to be perceived.  As a professional looking for work, everything on the Web is fair game and a blog is a prime target on HR’s Internet road to “who is Katie Hutchinson?”  So, details count. 

Time:  Be prepared to invest time into a polished entry, which inevitably infringes on regular sleep time.

Mechanics:   In addition to finding your artistic expression and distinctive voice, just getting used to hyperlinking and adding pictures takes time and patience. 

Take-aways:

  • Formulate a distinctive niche, either with your title or subhead.  This will help guide your design, setup, layout, context and voice.  It also helps readers know what they can expect to read about.
  • Make sure the niche provides an opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics.  For example, you might choose Pizza, but by adding a subhead that includes “Pizza and All Things Italian” leaves room to develop the idea further. 
  • The best way to learn is by doing.  So, don’t wait to start posting until you have everything just right. 
  • Learn the mechanics in stages.  It can be overwhelming at first, so start by designing your template and posting, then add tags and categories and work your way into pictures, widgets and more.
  • Use your resources.  WordPress offers quick, easy “how to” videos, a support website and a “help” option or you can google your question – it worked for me!

Surprises:

During college and graduate school, students mostly write for an audience of one:  the professor.  This assignment integrates an entirely new dimension, because we’re not only writing for a grade, we’re writing for a larger audience.   

Something Bigger:  The scope of the online network is limitless.  It’s amazing the number of incredible writers, thinkers and motivators constantly pumping out information and crafting completely new and relevant viewpoints about current events, news and trends. 

People Do Read Blogs:  (and not just the  Huffington Post) It’s amazing how one comment or even one reader can make all the difference.  It’s fulfilling and encouraging to share your hard work with others and for them to acknowledge it and perhaps enjoy it or learn from it. 

Take-aways:

  • Enjoy other bloggers.  Take time to read what’s out there. It’s interesting and more importantly it’s helpful to see what readers like and don’t like. 
  • Get involved.  Part of blogging is commenting.  Just like you hope people will vote and comment on your entries, so do the majority of bloggers.  Don’t only post accolades, but add to the conversation; ask questions, post links, offer suggestions. 

Fun:

As a journalism major at Penn State, I’d write and write (usually an assigned topic and format) – but my favorite course (by far) was feature writing, which includes profiles, fly on the wall, behind the scenes and more.  Essentially, it let us write a “news worthy” story with a twist.  Feature stories rely on creativity and an out-of-the-box approach to stories.  Blogging lets me do this every week.  It gives writers the chance to be creative and innovative in a plaguing world of black and white.  These shades of gray inspire me and ultimately, make writing what it should be: entertaining for both the writer and reader.

Take-aways:

  • Enjoy what you’re writing about.  Or have an interest in learning more about it.

    Love is everywhere in New York! Thomas R. Stegelmann

  • Read your entry (out loud) to yourself.  Would you keep reading past the first paragraph? If the answer is no,  rewrite it.  Concentrate on writing something you would want to read or learn about.  The more fun you have writing and reading it, the more your readers will, too.
  • Don’t assume readers know what you’re talking about.  Write for a reader who knows nothing about the topic.  The first way to lose readers is to disengage them from the beginning by talking over their heads. 

And the final question:  Will I continue to blog?  Yes.

I hope to add a touch of gray to what generally can be a black and white workweek!

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