Today I read a post over at Robert Scoble’s blog called Things on my mind… which I found myself resonating with quite strongly. I want to share some ‘lessons’ that we can take from his situation at the end of this post – but a few other thoughts first:
In it he talks about his decision to take a break from blogging. His reasons for doing so seem to be a mixture of disillusionment at what he’s building (he talks of how his blog has become negative), a desire to create something of value (and realization that he isn’t in the mindspace to do this), hurt at untruths written about him and a disillusionment at the blogosphere.
I read Robert’s post and had two main reactions (conflicting ones):
On one hand I feel strongly for Robert. By no means have I ever been in the spotlight as a blogger to the degree that he is – but I think anyone who has been written about in a negative light has realized just how tiring it can be to go through the process of being critiqued or attacked, working out how/if to respond, feeling misunderstood and dealing with the emotions of that experience. Building a blog – particularly one that gets public attention – can be a rollercoaster of a ride with some very high highs and very low lows.
On the flip side I hear myself thinking the above thoughts and critique my own words by reminding myself that as bloggers we quite intentionally put ourselves ‘out there’ for public critique. While I doubt Robert ever realized that he’d become the internet celebrity that he’s become when he started blogging – he hasn’t been backward in the process and has allowed himself to be thrust into the spotlight that he’s in. While I don’t know his motivations for blogging, I guess they at least in part had something to do with building his own profile, authority and influence on the topics he writes about (similar motivations to all of us to some extent). I one needs to be careful in what we wish for as bloggers because with the positives come the negatives.
5 Lessons for Bloggers
I’m not really sure what to do with these two thoughts that I’m having about Robert’s situation (and that I’ve had about myself at times). I don’t have an ‘answer’ for Robert or any real wisdom to offer. But I guess there are some lessons to bloggers who have dreams of making it ‘big’ in the blogosphere. Let me attempt to pull together a few pieces of advice that come to mind for the rest of us watching on from the sidelines:
1. Blogging has rewards – but also Costs
While blogging can be a wonderful experience that brings many benefits and rewards – there are costs involved and they are things that need to be weighed up both before you start and along the journey. In a sense I guess this is what Robert is doing now.
2. Sometimes you need to take a step back from your blog to get perspective
I’ve found that every few months I need to step right away from my blog and take at least a few days completely off (if not a week or two). At the ends of these periods I find my blog (or at least the drafts of my posts) get negative, defensive and even a little snarky – these are the warning signs to me that I need to take some sort of a break. Listen to these changes in your own voice and respond accordingly.
3. Don’t react too quickly
One of the things that I’ve found when finding myself feeling down and depressed about my blogging is that sometimes it’s not as bad as I might feel in the heat of a moment. About 18 months ago I wrote a post quite like Roberts announcing that I was quitting blogging after a week where I’d been on the receiving end of some heavy critique (which resulted in a stalking experience). I was advised by two friends to save the post as a draft for 24 hours before publishing it and to ‘step away from the blog’ for a day (or more) before making any big decisions. I’m glad that I did and never published the post. While I don’t think I would have done too much damage if I’d published it and then retracted it later – I think that there’s no harm in delaying these sorts of decisions a day or two and bouncing them off friends.
4. We Set the Tone for Others to Follow
I’ve found that in 99% of cases that those who read and comment upon your blog will follow the tone that you yourself write your blog in.
I find that when I write in a positive and constructive way that the comments that I get on the post and the posts that others write about it generally are similarly positive and constructive. When I write a post that is angry, negative, blunt and/or attacking – the responses generally are similar – etc.
Of course there are exceptions to this – but I’m increasingly finding that the culture that a blogger builds on a blog by their own writing is a significant factor in how they will be received by others. I wrote about this a while back in a post about Lifehacker (which ironically had a great quote from Robert Scoble in it – perhaps it’d be a good place for Robert to start reflecting upon in his current dilemma).
5. Build Boundaries into Your Blogging
There are two types of boundaries that I would advise bloggers to consider in the early days of their blogging:
Work/Life Boundaries – Robert writes in his post that he hasn’t been the best parent or husband that he could be. When I read that I reacted strongly (I actually went and gave my wife a hug and played with my boy for half an hour). When blogging (or anything in life) begins to take your attention away from those around you who you hold most dearly then there is a need for serious review. I know the temptation of letting work/blogging take my focus away from family (I wrote about it in a recent interview on what I was learning about Parenting) – blogging can be quite addictive and when you do it full time from home the boundaries can become blurred. When you start getting asked to speak at conferences and traveling the blurring can become even greater.
Content Boundaries – The other type of boundary that I wrote about back in one of my very posts in 2004 is around what you will and won’t write about. This covers things like how much you’ll reveal about your family and personal life – but I think should also extend to thinking ahead of time what voice you’ll write in, how you’ll respond when others critique you and what topics you’ll write in.
One of the traps that I see some bloggers falling into is writing very impulsively. The result is that at times they’ll write out of anger, they’ll make poor judgement calls about how to respond to others and they can stray into areas that are off topic and not really adding value to their blog or their reader’s experience. It’s not easy in the heat of a moment when you feel misunderstood or attacked to respond well (I’ve rushed into these situations with the best of them) – but having some boundaries established in your mind before these situations arise can be helpful.
Thinking ahead of time about the blog you want to develop (not just the topics but the style and voice particularly) gives you a framework to review it by on a day by day basis. It won’t stop you getting distracted or off track but can help you identify when you are early on.