Thursday, September 2, 2010

Open Up

Most intimate writing is safeguarded by the insulated pages of a closely guarded journal. A personal blog is essentially like a journal that the whole world could potentially read. Yikes. But a successful blog must have the nuggets of truth that are part of the unrefined and sometimes unflattering human experience. Readers crave something to relate to. It doesn't matter if you're blogging for a corporate giant like JetBlue (love their shtick) or keeping a running commentary of your life. There needs to be something human about the material.

Writers have a tendency to "live behind the pen," and prefer to tell a story about others. But a personal blog requires the writer to pull back the veil and expose a Self to world. And not a boring Self. We want to feel intimately connected with a writer who isn't afraid to take risks. It's the thought provoking risks that force the reader to think deeper about a topic and raise their blood pressure a little. Phillip Lopate humorously describes how the purpose of the personal essay is not to "win a writer points in heaven" but instead to "quicken the reader's pulse." (The Art of the Personal Essay)

Titillating your readers while not offending them to the point that they leave can be a tricky endeavor. There's no reset button in the blogosphere. Once the publish button is pushed, your ideas are out there. The good, the bad, the all gets published. There's no editorial staff required to post a blog. Luckily, the ability to quickly self-publish allows the blogger to broadcast a timely defense if pulses were ever quickened to the point of outrage. Penelope Trunk, a widely followed author and truth warrior extraordinaire, used her blog to defend a controversial post she ran on Twitter about having a miscarriage at work. A disturbingly light way to handle a topic, which rattled even her biggest fans. But because she was able to quickly post a well argued response, she was able to explain herself and put out the fire. This wouldn't have been possible only a decade ago. Of course, stirring up controversy with a Tweet wouldn't have been possible either.

Penelope's blog is the bravest and best use of this new medium. She's unashamed and willing to expose herself in order to further difficult conversations. We live in a modern world where there are an innumerable number of outlets vying for our attention, including the approximately 110 million different blogs. We can very easily become swept up in a world of "busyness" that the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard described as a "state of constant distraction that allows people to avoid difficult realities and maintain self-deceptions." The best personal blogs provide content in a manner that engages the reader and is easy to digest, even if the subject matter isn't.

There are plenty of safer personal blogs that specialize in every niche imaginable. In fact most blogs are about trivial matters like car repair, sports, cooking, etc. These can be equally successful, as long as the blog is able to give the reader something. Anyone need a tasty new recipe for gazpacho?

There are other types blogs for the less adventuresome. Corporate blogs are an important part of promoting a company's image. And advocacy blogs serve the important role of, well, advocating for a cause or message. These are useful, thank you, but I get the most out of reading about how someone else sees the world and themselves. I want an honest look into the mind and soul of a fellow human being.

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