Have you all read my latest post about lawyer moms and billable hours? No? Good. Because it’s awful. It’s definitely the worst writing I’ve posted on this blog, and probably right down there with some of the worst writing I’ve ever done, period. It’s not quite as bad as one of the essays I wrote for my college applications when I was a high school senior. But back then, I was 17. I am now 32, rely heavily on writing and communication skills generally in my career, and I have no excuse except that I was tired and trying to get a post out on time for the blog.
But see, it kills me, because I have been wanting to write that post about billable hours for a long time now. I had the idea germinating in my head for quite a while, and I couldn’t think of anything to write and was pressed for time (kind of like right now). So I decided to write it, even though I didn’t have the time and energy to write well and make the topic interesting to my intended audience.
Writing is very, very important to me, and I take it really seriously. You should too. Whenever you write something that is intended to be read by the public … whether it’s a blog post, an interoffice memorandum, or an email … you are branding yourself and telling the world something about who you are. I have known brilliant, talented people with loads of energy who can light up a room, but fall flat on their faces when it comes to communicating their thoughts in writing. Sometimes this is because they simply lack decent writing skills: not everyone has mastered the written word, and this is a shame because a simple spelling error — particularly a repeated one — will make you look completely stupid no matter how intelligent and successful you are. But more commonly, people fail at writing not because they lack an understanding of basic grammar and spelling, but because they fail to write in a way that engages their audience, either by teaching them something or making them interested in what it is that you have to say.
I am now a parenting blogger, and I have given a lot of thought lately to why I typically lost interest in most parenting blogs that I come across. Hence the inspiration for this post, and the apprehension I feel at wondering who among the blogger community will be the first to pick up the times that I myself have committed these blogging transgressions:
REASON YOUR PARENTING BLOG IS TERRIBLE #1: You pick a generic theme and cast too wide a net for your intended audience.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Create a blogging persona and target your posts to a specific readership.
How many times have you stumbled onto some blogger’s page linked from Babble or Yahoo and found this bio: “Hi! I’m Suzy! I live with my three AMAZING kids, my best friend and loving husband Paul, a schnauzer, and a Siamese cat, here in Boringtown, New York. We have some CRAZY ADVENTURES and this is my blog to tell you all about how much I love life and my kids!!!”
Listen Suzy, you don’t have CRAZY ADVENTURES if your blog posts regularly feature the contents of your kid’s diaper, trips to Mommy and Me classes, and how much you miss your kids while you’re at work. By CRAZY ADVENTURES, I was hoping for your stories about living in a refugee camp or negotiating a hostage situation – all while parenting your three AMAZING kids. I have the same CRAZY ADVENTURES everyday, so maybe you’re just blogging about everyday life. Which is fine – it’s just not all that interesting.
Let’s try again: “Hi, I’m Suzy, and I’m a mom of three amazing children who until recently was working at an up and coming accounting firm here in Hartford, CT. I thought life was tough enough juggling work and family, until the firm went under and I found myself eating humble pie, collecting unemployment benefits, and wondering if I would ever get my career back as I considered waiting tables just to make ends meet. My best friend and husband, Paul, are with me to help with this journey, along with an adorable schnauzer and a Siamese cat. These are my crazy adventures in the world of parenting as I simultaneously struggle to rebuild my career. Despite everything we’ve been through, I still love life … and especially my amazing family.”
Suzy isn’t traveling the world or doing anything particularly newsworthy, but she has now found a way to draw in readers by connecting with them on their level, while also making her blog less generic and more focused on a particular theme or topic. She has a story to tell. She can still complain about carseats and rushing off to work, but she’ll seem a lot more interesting overall while doing so.
REASON YOUR PARENTING BLOG IS TERRIBLE #2: You are too worried about offending people, so you avoid taking on controversial issues.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Link to other articles, invite guest posts, or just get over it and take a stand on something. Anything.
Parenting blogs by their very nature engender controversy, because there are so many differing approaches and opinions on parenting, and for some reason people (women in particular, it seems) love to debate these differences. So if your parenting blog does not invite comments from people who disagree with you on one issue or another, it’s probably because you don’t blog about those issues. And if you don’t blog about those issues, your blog is likely very boring.
Linking to other articles and asking “what do you think?” is one way to make your blog a bit more engaging without actually inviting criticism. The one caveat to this approach is that you cannot simply link to an article and say “what do you think?” You should provide some analysis, however measured and neutral, to provide a bit of background on the issue and show that you are at least somewhat familiar with the topic. If it doesn’t interest you, that will show through in your post.
A while back on this blog, I posted an article that many readers interpreted as a post about my feelings on breastfeeding versus formula feeding, when it was really framed in the context of friendships between mothers and a personal situation I found myself in. But I fully understood that people would read into it whatever they interpreted it as, and that most likely I’d spark a few comments about breastfeeding and its role in society. I also knew people would pick up on my own feelings on this issue and challenge me directly on it. This is healthy. This is what blogs are supposed to do.
You can also invite a guest to post on your blog, and let him or her take the heat in the comments. However, your readers will know you invited this person on your blog because you likely agree with that person’s views. Which is why I think, ultimately, the best solution to this problem is to overcome your fears of criticism and just say what it is you have to say. You may be right, you may be wrong, or it may be that the issue is too gray for that kind of hardline division. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you and your readers learn something from the experience. You may later change your mind based on comments you receive that share new information – this is not backpedaling; it’s learning and growing.
REASON YOUR PARENTING BLOG IS TERRIBLE #3: You took on an issue, but no one seems to be commenting anyway.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: You need to be more specific, put a new spin on the topic, or just communicate better.
Hey guys, do you think it’s better to work or to stay home? I think it’s better to work because I need the money and it’s good because my kids see mommy working. Women can do it too! But SAHM’s are cool too, right? What do you think?
Awful. If you’re going to push a hotbutton issue, make it HOT. This is why I hate my billable hours post … it’s a generic problem that lawyers have, and while I put a mommy spin on it, I didn’t take the topic and flesh it out enough to make it engaging and interesting to lawyers specifically and mommies generally.
The SAHM v. Working Mom debate is so tired, yet well-written posts on this topic get hit after hit after hit. Why? First of all, it’s a topic that still interests us, as much as we hate to admit it, and so Google will find these posts when our minds wander back to the topic because of a comment your friend said or a study you heard about on the radio. There are lots of fresh, personal, raw blog posts on this topic, that either put a new spin on the idea or present it with a personal story that invites readers to revisit the topic. For example, here’s a link to an article citing a study that apparently says that working moms are happier than SAHM’s, unless they try to be supermoms both at home and at work. I just found that right now while Googling it. I have never written a post on this topic, and I don’t know what the study actually says. It doesn’t really matter. Just find something interesting and make your blog about that.
REASON YOUR PARENTING BLOG IS TERRIBLE #4: You use your blog to bitch about your ex-husband or child custody issues.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Weave vignettes about your personal life into your blog in a tasteful way that readers can relate to.
It never fails to amaze me that moms will share details about their painful divorce that are not just personal (which I have no problem with, as this makes a blog interesting), but may actually constitute a waiver of the neat little rule that makes all their communications with their attorney PRIVILEGED. Oh my God, please do not tell us that your lawyer said we’re gonna get the bastard at our custody hearing next week, because we know he left the kids with his psycho crack addict girlfriend while he went to drink beer and smoke a joint at a party next door. Not only do I not want to read this, but your lawyer doesn’t want to either … not in a public forum! Also, you are just begging for DCF to show up at your door. Trashing your ex doesn’t have the effect of making you look better, in comparison — especially when your dirt shows up on his blog. Just stop. Please.
There is one exception to this rule, and that is that you can get very, very personal if you fully consider and accept the consequences, don’t reveal anything that could hurt your legal case (talk to your attorney), AND, last but not least, if you use the personal stories to tie into your overall blog theme and connect with your audience. The best example I can think of is Penelope Trunk, who is not a parenting blogger but a career advice blogger. She has told her readers about her painful divorce, postpartum depression, and other personal family issues while remaining tasteful, keeping readers engaged, and always tying back to her career advice theme.
A related blogging style is one that doesn’t involve sensitive legal or personal information, but is a passive-aggressive way to vent your frustration at a friend or family member you’re mad at. For God’s sake, if something is bothering you, why not address it with that person directly instead of blogging about it and hoping they will read it (or being delusional in thinking they won’t)? Yes, I know this is hard. But if you care about your friendship, you will do this. A blog is not a way to hide your true feelings and intentions from the world, but, ironically, many bloggers seem to use this public forum as an attempt to do just that.
REASON YOUR PARENTING BLOG IS TERRIBLE #5: You have nothing interesting to say about parenting. Or, you just want your blog to be a diary of your everyday thoughts, or for sharing things with your friends or family.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT: Write a NON-parenting blog. Or make your blog private, or send your friends and family personal emails instead.
This is sort of two in one, but I think the two problems are related. Some of you think, great, I am a mom now, I can blog about MOM things and everyone will think it’s great! I’ve always wanted a blog! But the reality is, you don’t want to take on hot-button issues, you’re not hoping to get picked up by Babble or Yahoo, and you just want to record your everyday loving interactions with your little one and share them with the grandparents and your BFFs. I think this is great. But then, why are you marketing your blog to the world by putting yourself out there as a “mom blogger”? Blogging is marketing, as I said above. It’s personal branding. If someone Googles your name to find your contact info. at work, even if it’s unrelated to your blog, your blog will still come up and your potential client or whoever will now be reading about the contents of your kid’s diaper and your thoughts about CIO. In my world, that is a-ok, and I welcome my current and potential clients to learn just who I am and what I do based not only on my firm’s website, but on this blog. If that’s not ok with you, or not something you’ve considered, why not have a personal (locked to the public) blog instead, or just commit to regular emails to people who care about you and your everyday life?
The other alternative is to blog about something else … a favorite hobby, a political interest, a recording artist, whatever … and work your cute parenting stories in whenever relevant and appropriate. People will still find your blog and identify you with your writing, but you can demonstrate your passion for something you love, while also showing how excited you are to be a mom now.
Look, blogging is your space, your voice. I get that. But if you care about your writing and personal branding as much as I do, you will probably agree with most of the above. It’s also likely you’ve noticed these issues in the parenting blogs you’ve read at some point. If I’m going to be a mom blogger, I’m going to do it right.
(Oops, broke a rule … this post has nothing in particular to do with being a Connecticut Working Mom … and I am once again blogging while sleep-deprived and too exhausted to put in 100% … somehow I think I’ll be able to get away with it though.)