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Be Careful What You Wish For – 5 Lessons to Learn from Robert Scoble

ScobleToday 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.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Joanna Young says:

    This is a very thoughtful response Darren. I like the way you’ve linked it back to your own experience and also tried to draw out more general lessons that we can all try and learn from.

    There aren’t easy answers here but I think at the end of the day we all need to be creating something of value through our blogging (and our writing) or we will at some time start to get sickened, lost and disillusioned.

    When that happens the best thing might be to take a break or step away – to give ourselves time and space to find the things that we do want to get involved with, that do add value, that do in some way express who we are and the legacy that we want to create.

    Joanna

  2. John says:

    Hi Darren,

    The decision to delay things when in negative frame of mind, in any profession, is a good habit and should be followed by all. Many bad decisions are taken when the negative vibrations are surrounding your brain.

    John

  3. Amazing Darren! You have precisely translated my feelings.

    We are bound to regret making any response/comment while in negative mood. Better wait for things to settle down before saying something silly.

  4. YouNeed2See says:

    These are fantastic tips. Since I’ve been blogging more recently I have been wondering if all the time and energy I’m putting into it will eventually pay off. I can only hope for now.

    I can understand not only the desire, but the need to take some time off. Doing ANYTHING on the computer all the time (as far as work goes) can get to you, but I believe especially blogging. There’s so much to put up with and to get done.

  5. This is all very true- good post!

  6. These are great tips Darren. It’s like anything else in life, too much of a good thing becomes bad. It’s all about perspective.

  7. Nathania says:

    I have been re-evaluating my blogs alot. But for a different reason. One of my hosting sites went down a week ago, and I’ve been without my two primary blogs.

    It’s been discouraging to realize that work might be lost and that in an instant, everything you’ve been working hard for – for months could be going down the drain or have to be rebuilt.

    It’s made me take a hard look at whether or not I should be doing this. Truthfully, I’ve been trying to make $ (either directly or indirectly) from the web, including blogs, but that was to develop streams of passive income so I could do other things, such as filmmaking.

    But perhaps, its time to do the things I want to do first. It’s not that I don’t enjoy blogging/new media/content creation/etc. At times, I’ve often thought it has replaced filmmaking as far as priorities.

    But as I watch my husband really gaining ground as an independent filmmaker. And having fun on his set away from my laptop (gasp!), plus my sites being down – major reconsiderations are going on.

  8. Brennan says:

    Darren,

    Excellent and insightful post. I’ve had that problem myself. I was blogging for a while, but it got to be too much. It started taking over the rest of my life. I took a few months off, got back to normal, and restarted.

    Best of luck to Robert.

  9. Truden says:

    I think that you should not give advise regarding this situation, Darren.

    Do you think that your advises would be helpful for Scoble if he new about it before his “blogging problem”.
    The advice would prevent him from going it to this problem, but it wouldn’t be in any way life benefiting advise.

    I’m glad for Scoble.

    I’m glad he wasn’t that conscious about the way he is involved with his blogging, because that would make him blind about the rest of his life.

    You’ll make a plan.
    You’ll follow it.
    You’ll have your time for your wife and your children(calculated and calendared), but the best hug for them is the one when you realize how far you were from them.
    That is the true hug.
    That is the hug which counts in your life and their life.

    You think that you are giving them enough time and you can teach the others how to do it?

    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).

    Why did you do that!?

    We must walk some of our steps without guidelines.
    Only when we are not guided we arrive to ourselves.

    All your writings are best in some ways.
    This one is the best to delete.
    [kidding] :D

    BTHW it is very good to write impulsively.
    One can feel it in “Living room”, where the last impulse was some two months ago. ;)

  10. Pat B. Doyle says:

    I especially agree with keeping the work/life boundary. For me, blogging is a business. Even though I do it at home, I try to keep it separate from my personal life. I don’t do much blogging on weekends, for example. If it takes over your life, you are doing too much.

  11. Well written post Darren – I only wish I could write as eloquently as you – I feel like my posts do not have a good flow, but perhaps I am my worst critic. I’m doing my best to take concepts from my industry and put them into analogies that make it easy to understand for people OUTSIDE the industry.

    But in any case, I digress. I suppose I am lucky(?) in that I haven’t revealed too much about what goes on in my life. But perhaps I need to in order to engage my readers more?

    I’ve also thought about becoming anonymous while I still can as I am a stockbroker and giving out some secrets about how the industry really works – I’m worried that my employer will not see that I am being candid and rather that I am deterring new business. My opinion is that some people need stockbrokers and some don’t…

    Any advice?

  12. Jason says:

    I appreciate the words of wisdom. I often think how I spend more time blogging than with my family. That’s one of the reasons I’m focusing on only a couple blogs for now on, instead of around 5, but I’m actually starting to find both of the focused blogs are becoming just as time-consuming.

    When you REALLY think about what goes into a blog,… well, if you did all at once it would probably make your head explode like in Scanners.

  13. V. Neely says:

    #4 is especially interesting to me– that your tone in the blog tends to set the tone of the people who leave comments. I think it makes sense, though. If I see someone who’s being sarcastic and mean, I tend to want to say something snarky right back. :) I guess we mirror others more than we realize.

  14. John Hewitt says:

    Thank you for your thoughts Darren. i constantly struggle with how much of myself to put into my blog. In real life I feel like I’m a pretty open person, but in my blog I tend to maintain a distance. I sometimes feel like I should share more, but reading Scoble’s post makes me feel as if the choice I have made is best for me.

  15. I also recall him being shaken earlier in the year by the horrible harassment and threats Kathy Sierra received. As a woman blogger Kathy’s decision to quit blogging resonated with me in the same way Scoble’s decision to quit seems to have resonated with Darren. It really made me rethink the way I would approach blogging.

  16. Darren Rowse says:

    Wheredoesallmymoneygo.com wrote:

    “I’ve also thought about becoming anonymous while I still can as I am a stockbroker and giving out some secrets about how the industry really works – I’m worried that my employer will not see that I am being candid and rather that I am deterring new business. My opinion is that some people need stockbrokers and some don’t… Any advice?”

    Anonymous blogging is something that I think has merit in some circumstances and is something I pondered a little while writing this post. On some levels it obviously has some advantages when it comes to boundaries – however the downside is that unless it is done very well it can lead to a more impersonal connection with readers (although I can think of examples where this is not true) and also might limit other opportunities (ie speaking engagements etc). It’s worth considering though.

  17. Brian Clark says:

    Great post Darren. I’ve been having a small crisis of my own lately, being a bit frustrated with blogging, and it can really cause you to go off track if you don’t catch the warning signs and take a step back.

    Usually this tells me it’s time for a vacation. I always seem to push things to the extreme before I finally just pack up and go away for a short while.

    I think I’m there. Thanks for letting me know. :)

  18. Carol Webb says:

    This is such a timely post for me, as I have just written what could be considered, a controversial post. I do believe what I have written, and have resolved to stand by my words, so thank you for your words of wisdom, if I receive negative feed-back I will take a deep breath before responding.

  19. Ryan Scott says:

    Has he been spending his days working from home, relatively alone?

    I don’t really know, but word of warning for all you knowledge workers – you gotta get out with people or you will slowly go insane. Get out and talk to people in person, live and direct. And get some exercise.

    A whole day alone with the internet, no matter how many people you communicate with online, makes you weird. It just does, and most of you know what I’m talking about. The rest haven’t given it enough thought.

    A really good idea is to blog from somewhere else, better separating work from home life. If you are home working, you can feel guilty for not paying attention to your family, even if its work time. Get out of the house! Even if its just to a coffee shop, so you can disconnect home and work, and when you come home, then you pay attention to the family.

  20. Hmm. I’m not there yet, but blogging is no easy walk in the park if you are serious

    I’m already experiencing some ups and downs in the first week. I need to push through and keep going strong.

    Not that I have a choice though. I quit my job :o.

  21. Brad V. says:

    Interesting post and definitely food for thought!

    My blog hasn’t gotten a large enough readership yet so I have to worry about the negative attacks. People generally agree/like the things I write about – of course I’m not writing very politically-charged posts or anything, so that helps.

    A lot has to do with the subject of your blog. Obviously if you want to start a political blog, then you’d better have a thick skin, ’cause you’re gonna get attacked.

    The best thing to do is just take it all in stride!

  22. Thank you Darren,

    Reading your post is like talking with you face to face, what do you think, how do you feel, what lessons you learn and what you want to share with your readers.

    The lessons are all very true and I guess in blogging/work/life we all face ups and downs and choices. And, the more sensitive we are, the confused we can be at times (and the more we learn if can stay on the positive side).

    Thanks really, for the sharing.

  23. Great stuff, thanks for the advice!

    Anyway, the problem is that blogging isn’t work for me. It’s something else. It’s a mixture of work and life and sometimes it gets all out of whack.

    It’s been good for me to just back off and take a break from trying to keep up on TechMeme and Google Reader and all the comments and the “assholesphere” that some parts of blogging has become.

    Anyway, thanks, really appreciate it.

  24. Robert and Darren,

    I wanted to say thank you for the insightful posts. After reading through both Robert’s original entry this morning and Darren’s reaction to it today, I came to the conclusion that some of my own writings on my blog were not up to par with my vision of running a blog with an air of professionalism, and I shared my course correction with my readers this evening.

    If you’d like to read my entry, please do so here: http://www.ajaxninja.com/?p=95

    Otherwise, thanks for the inspiration, and keep on blogging.

    -Aaronontheweb of AjaxNinja

  25. MoMo says:

    Truden wrote: “We must walk some of our steps without guidelines.
    Only when we are not guided we arrive to ourselves.”

    Sometimes when we walk along alone, thinking the answers are all “inside ourselves” and refusing to take guidance that is offered all around us, we become lost, ignorant and arrogant people.

    Darren was made aware by Scobie’s experience and so adjusted his own actions. Nothing wrong with that. I think the problem is more that there are so many people wrapped up in thinking they don’t *need* guidance from others, that no experience is as valuable as their own. That’s where the trouble exists.

  26. Brian Heys says:

    This is one of the most important posts I’ve read for a while, not just here, but anywhere.

    Points 1 and 5 are particularly profound.

    Thanks, Darren. It’s good to see you read Scobleizer, too!

  27. Hi.. :)

    You said: “he talks of how his blog has become negative”

    That’s where I’ve been at about mine lately.. Seriously..

    The advocates I run with are very proactive in their approach to everything.. Noticed it when I encountered a few from elsewhere who “griped” near endlessly the whole time I was near.. Twasn’t no fun to [endure], and I try to keep the experience in mind when I type myself.. Notice I said “try”.. :grin:

    Read your (latest) great post, but wasn’t going to respond because nothing seemed quite “right”.. Then these thoughts slipped in while I was distracted on another site elsewhere..

    1) My own distance from what I keep trying to get rolling comes in large part due literally to the state of the World and how it is treating itself right now.. Frozen in amazement that Humanity would consciously treat itself this way would describe my current state of Mind.. Cannot possibly be the only blogger out there thusly disillusioned (and distracted) by the same..

    2) Maybe somehow this posting shtuff occasionally gets a little like consumerism.. We don’t often tell those whose businesses we patronize how great we think they are, but we sure do let ‘em have it when they’ve distressed us..

    When it comes to blogging, maybe when we get busy with Life, it just gets a littler easier, ok, *really easy* to let the happy bloggable thoughts slide by the wayside in the interest of preserving precious Time.. Ah, but the gripes we do follow through on because we’re subconsciously hoping our meanderments catalyze the Change needed to counter whatever injustice just grabbed our fingertips by their tiny little heartstrings..

    Cyber hugs.. :)