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This chapter is from the book

Focus on the Content—What to Put in a Personal Blog

Because this is a personal blog, what kind of content you post is up to you. You might have posts, videos, podcasts, pictures, or whatever suits you at the moment—whatever tells your story. This is fantastic, really, because it gives you a tremendous depth and breadth of things you can have on your blog. This range of ideas is perfect for when you get hired for your first professional blogging gig or when your boss asks you to write, set up, or own the company’s blog.

What do you put on a personal blog? Well, the sky’s the limit. Throughout this chapter, I’ll cover the different ways you can fill your personal blog with content. Let’s start with the simplest; the basic blog post.

Writing

Chapter 3, “Creating Content for Your Blog,” discusses writing in a general way, but in a personal blog, giving readers a look into your life is what brings people back to read more posts. Some of my favorite blogs have been ones where the posts were about the lighter side of family life, or a person’s struggle with cancer, or a recovery from an accident. A very popular blog told the stories of a paramedic in London, UK. He related what life was like for him when saving lives, witnessing tragedy, and even the drudgery of his job. This was a great read.

What pulled it all together was the writing style or voice. Personal blogs are more informal. This isn’t where you’d expect a long treatise on the meaning of life; it’s where you might find the funniest street signs you see on your way to work. How about the guy you buy your paper from? There can be great stories there.

Don’t worry that your writing isn’t “good enough,” because it is good enough; just write your stories. No matter what your stories are, write them with passion and realism, and people will enjoy them.

Also in Chapter 3, I gave basic instructions on how to write posts on a WordPress-based blog. In this chapter I’ll add to those points as needed—primarily in the sections related to images and videos—but for the most part I’ll talk about “the other stuff” that makes a great personal blog.

Topics

One of the unfortunate examples of blogger stereotypes is the infamous “cat blog,” which refers to personal blogs that are just writing about and having lots of pictures of an owner’s cat (or dog). Okay, it’s true. Cat owners often do mention them from time to time, some people far too often.

You can gather a lot, though, from the way people write about their cats. They love their cats and want to share their cats’ lives with the world. The topic is close to them and, most of all, personal. It’s something with which other obsessive pet owners can identify. This is the key for your blog. You’re not writing for the people who have no interest in your passion, but rather those who share it. It doesn’t matter if the topic is cats, crocheting, or reflecting on the nature of humanity; topics for your personal blog are entirely of your own choosing.

With that said, let’s take a look at some popular categories of personal blogs.

Hobbies

We all have hobbies, even geeks like me. Often it’s a hobby that you’re really passionate about (such as woodworking, stamp collecting, fishing, wines, cooking, trains, or photography) that are often some of the best and most rewarding topics for personal blogs. Write your blog like you’d talk about it to another enthusiast. Share tips, tricks, pictures of your latest creation, and in-jokes that only a true aficionado would get.

On my personal blog (which does get professional often), I have talked about my passions for cooking and photography. I’ve shared recipe creations and photography tips/finds.

The comments I get on those posts are something that I truly look forward to. How often do you get to “geek out” on your hobby?

  • Write your blog like you’d talk about it to another enthusiast. Share tips, tricks, pictures of your latest creation, and in-jokes that only a true aficionado would get.

I know that often the other people in our lives get a wee bit tired of hearing about how you just found a great way to store all your sandpaper so you could find them and keep them sorted by grade, or about the awesome new pattern for knitted laptop covers you found. However, an audience of like-minded hobbyists never gets tired of those things. Whether it’s just one facet of your personal blog or the primary focus, talk about your hobbies. Make this your little corner of the world where you can wax poetic on good-fitting lens caps and not feel like it’s strange at all. (It isn’t strange, by the way. I hate poorly fitting lens caps!)

Life

Yes, “Life” is a broad category, I know, but life is like that, isn’t it? Whether you talk about love found or love lost, your partner, or your kids, sharing the stories of your life is something that can be very therapeutic. Savoring the victories and sharing the defeats is something everyone can relate to and enjoy reading. Not in a shallow, schadenfreude kind of way, mind you, but rather in that more positive and constructive way all individuals like to share their lives.

In my personal blog, for example, you can find entries about dealing with divorce and loss, mourning and marking the anniversaries of my father’s passing, and marking the rite of passage of my first “heart scare.” These are the real, gritty parts of life, which are the things that connect humans and people. Don’t shy away from them; embrace them. Yes, there is a limit to what you should share, and I’ll delve into that later in this chapter. There are some things that you might not feel comfortable sharing or that you feel comfortable sharing, but the other people in your life don’t. Respect that line and try to stay on the “good” side of it. Yes, you will slip now and then, but if your heart is in the right place, it might escape unscathed.

One note that I reiterate later is that when you publish something online, it’s there forever. Delete isn’t really delete, because the content is cached and stored all over the Internet. As my friend and journalist for the Vancouver Sun Gillian Shaw says, “Don’t put something online that you don’t want to see printed on the front page of the paper.”

Just “Stuff”

There is a lot of space between life and hobbies, so I’ve called that space “stuff.” It’s not the most eloquent descriptor, but it works. This category includes movies, music, books, and day-to-day issues that are general chit-chat. For like-minded people, it’s always good to read about what someone thinks about a movie or book. Where else can you post those silly pictures you find online or those bad jokes that proliferate on the Internet like rabbits?

Privacy

When you choose to blog, you are choosing to live a portion of your life in the public eye.

Sure, most of the things you write are innocuous, but sometimes they aren’t. Again, that’s fine because you’re choosing to reveal those things about yourself. What about the other people in your life? Yes, there’s the rub. Although deciding your own level of privacy online, and that “line” will float and change over time, is relatively easy, you have to also consider other people and how they might or might not be included in your writing.

  • “Don’t put something online that you don’t want to see printed on the front page of the paper.”—Gillian Shaw, Vancouver Sun

Relationships

Because this is a personal blog, delving into the world of relationships seems like a natural topic area. Many of the women I know write about their (mis) adventures in dating, being married, or being a parent. Interestingly, not as many men write about the same things, with the exception of parenting. In any case, my friends who write about their relationships do so either with the full knowledge of their partners or write so their partners (or dates) remain anonymous. For married couples who both blog, there is an even more interesting dynamic, but again, there are agreed-upon rules. Don’t be surprised that the first question you’re asked when you announce, “Honey, I’m starting a blog!” is “What are you going to write about?” which isn’t really about your topic per se as much it is asking, “Are you going to be blogging about me/us/the kids?” This is the moment to have the ground rules established.

  • When you write about your partner, show him or her the post before you post it. If your partner wants something gone, make it gone.

Even if you’re going to be blogging about your pets, model trains, or knitting patterns, because blogs become a personal outlet, the other people in your life creep into your writing. Figure out early on how comfortable your partner is with being included in your writing. When you write about your partner, show him or her the post before you post it. If your partner wants something gone, make it gone. Even if you’re just referring to him or her as “my dear hubs” or “my darling wife” or “the love of my life,” give your snookie-poo a chance to say no. As time goes on, the rules and lines might change. This is a natural evolution, so don’t push it at the beginning. Respect the boundaries that have been established, and if later on you want to push them, ask first.

Children

Where kids are concerned, it’s a horse of a different color. The world today is not like the world I grew up in—not at all. My personal line is that pictures of my children online are private to friends and family only. I don’t use their full names, and I avoid discussion that makes them personally identifiable online. Other friends of mine have pictures of their children online and use their names. The line you draw is up to you and your partner. Where children are concerned, you’re not just talking about personal privacy but their personal safety. When your children are old enough, they can participate to a degree in the discussion. My daughter has veto rights on pictures that I put up even for friends and family to see. In the end, you are going to have to make your own decision. Honestly, don’t take it lightly.

Comments

Chapter 4, “Building a Community Around Your Blog,” explores more about comments in detail, mostly in terms of how they relate to building a community. For a personal blog, commentary is continuing the discussion or the story. As I said in Chapter 4, although individuals might leave comments that are inappropriate or abusive, the best way to engage them is to not engage them at all. Sadly, these sorts of comments are one of the dark sides of the Internet. I’ve known bloggers who have had serious run-ins with people who crossed the line, but these have been the glaring exceptions and not the rule. I have found comfort, solace, support, congratulations, and good laughs from the comments left on my blogs over the years. Rarely have I ever had a comment that strayed into the realm of troll, and when they did, the comments were so asinine that I let them stand as a testament to their own stupidity.

Although I started this section with the caveat of the bad things that commenters can bring, let me close with the good. I have found that when I have written deeply personal posts, ones that talk about life struggles or successes, the comments have always been the best parts of the posts. They have not only shown me the depth and warmth of the human spirit, but also that as a writer that I moved people. When the story I tell elicits the emotions in my readers that I felt while writing it, then “I done good.” People relate to and comment on things like struggles with grief and loss but also successes. I’ve written about missing my father, but also how he is still my greatest inspiration (this book is dedicated to him). When I’ve written about topics that everyone can relate to, I get the best and most heart-warming comments. Enjoy your comments. They might very well be the best part of the blog.

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