Thursday, May 27, 2010

You Will Make Mistakes... And That's Okay. (It can even be a GOOD thing.)

You can't really erase things from your blog once they're posted.

So this week on my "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" Blog I made a mistake.

I shared about a story that had been in the news that I felt sure my readers would care about - 2 men who were arrested for falling in love with each other and were sentenced last week to 14 years hard labor.

And then the very first comment I got told me that I'd missed something HUGE to the story. That I'd fallen into the same mistake many others had made - that it wasn't 2 men, it was a man and a transgendered person who had fallen in love. Suddenly, after reading a great news analysis on a blog, and really reading closely the NY Times reporting, I understood that rather than this being a story about homophobia in Malawi, Africa - it was a story about transphobia in Malawi and here in our culture, too. Our Western media being too quick to accept the "two men" line provided by the authorities who wouldn't acknowledge the self-identified female gender of the transgendered prisoner.

I felt terrible. First, I'd presented the story inaccurately - and while I hadn't meant to, I had still made a mistake.

Second, I wondered what I should do. Should I retract my post and re-write it completely? Could I delete it and my mistake? (Although all the people who get my blog posts syndicated would see the original.) Could I just add to my original post and explain?

What I decided to do was something I hadn't had to do since I started blogging: I published a second post as a correction. (I also explained my mistake in an new addendum to my original post.)

I was nervous at how people would react. I had made a mistake. Would my readers be mad at me? Would they feel let down? I've published over 750 blog posts and have never been in this situation before. Would they continue to trust me moving forward?

Here's one comment after I published the correction that was representative:

Lee, I love that you took in feedback from your readers and corrected your mistake so quickly. That puts you way ahead of the New York Times and many other news sources! There is a lot of trans-phobia even in the gay community and I'm so glad that your blog is combating that. Thank you for reporting this awful story and reporting it accurately.

It turned out my readers weren't angry at me for making a mistake. On the contrary, they were happy to see me learning from the experience, and grateful that I "got it."

So it turned out that my mistake actually improved my relationship with my readers!

My lesson from this:

Don't freak out about being perfect. You're human, like me. Mistakes will happen. When they do, be honest about it.

And hopefully your readers will be cheering you on, too!

Namaste, and remember to keep it Zen,


Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Quick Blogging Tip - Schedule Blog Posts In Advance

Here's the automatic time and date the computer entered when I wrote this post:

...And Here's the NEW time and date for when I scheduled this post to publish.

One of the important things to consider is that while inspiration doesn't arrive in consistent bursts, it really helps a blog build a following if there is a consistent pattern of posting.

So, in general, it's better to have one post a week for four weeks than four posts one week and nothing for the next three weeks.

Life, though, can make keeping that kind of schedule a real challenge in the long run. And it is the consistency and quality of your blog posts will build your audience.

Enter a little technological trick:

Scheduling your blog posts to go up in advance.

I'm actually writing this post at 6:04AM Wednesday. It will go live tomorrow morning. But I have time now.

There have been times when I've scheduled posts a week in advance!

I blog here at The Zen of Blogging blog once a week, every Thursday.

And I blog over at I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read? Five days a week, Monday through Friday.

Scheduling lets me be consistent as a train schedule with my blog posts, yet flexible as an artist in the time I put into blogging.

In blogger (the host for my blogs) you click the little triangle "Post Options" under the composing window and adjust the "Post Date and Time" to whenever you want it to go live. Then, when you hit "Publish Post" it won't go live right away - it will wait and go live when you've scheduled it to.

Scheduling posts in advance is a great tool for any blogger, and can really take a lot of the stress out of blogging.

Namaste, and remember to keep it Zen,

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Are You Conflicted About Conflict In Your Blog Posts?

So I've been working with the fabulous Rita Crayon Huang, my friend and co-coordinator of the SCBWI Westside Writers Schmooze, on preparing this week's discussion on conflict and villains in writing for children and teens.

And not coincidentally, I spoke with my kid about the fairy tales she's studying in school, and we talked about how a story isn't much of a story unless there's a problem to overcome.

If the main character wants an ice cream, and goes and gets an ice cream, and it's delicious - well, that's a lovely afternoon, but it's not much of a story.

So in stories, we have challenges, and adversity, and obstacles our characters have to overcome to reach (and sometimes fail in reaching) their goal.

I've been thinking about how (and if) that applies to blogging. Should we blog as if there's no conflict regarding our subjects? Is it best to be all black or all white when talking about something we're passionate about?

Or can we be open to the greater shades of gray - can we recognize that there are pluses and minuses to everything, and use our blogs to engage our readers in a conversation?

I'm going to argue for the conversation. Standing up and doing a stump speech has it's moments, but there are times when an issue is murky, and yet you can have passionate feelings about parts of it.

A great example is the post I did over at "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" about the gay character Kurt in the hit TV show "Glee" playing at times into the stereotypes of a Gay Teen.

Even the title of the post, Why the Gay Teen on "Glee" Drives Me Nuts... And makes me want to sing at the same time showed my conflict, and yet - it is among the top 10 most commented upon posts ever on that blog. It engaged my readers in a dialog that they weren't finding anywhere else...

And because I was honest enough to share the complexities of how I saw it, I invited their participation.

As one commenter put it,

Can I just say that I love every single comment here? I've been dying for some real conversation about this show, but most people seem to come down as either totally hating it or totally loving it - I love that all of us here really like the show but understand it can have problematic elements :-D

And that kind of participation on your blog is exciting.

So don't be conflicted about including conflict in your posts.

After all, ice cream is more delicious if you've had to earn it.

Namaste, and Keep it Zen,

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Articulate Your Theme: A Play-Along-At-Home Zen Exercise

So two weeks ago we talked about how your blog posts can dance and be noticed if there's a common thread, or theme, that links them all together.

A great exercise (and one I assign to all my consulting clients) is to articulate your overall theme.

If you're a writer, what's the driving reason you write?

Recently in a Twitter conversation, Kathleen Duey, the National Book Award finalist author of Skin Hunger, said about her writing:

"I want to wake kids up to their power."

I thought that was profound, and so well distilled.

So think about it. If your passion is cooking, or comics, or hiking... What's the bottom line of why you're blogging?

If you had to distill it down to one sentence, what would that be?

In my home blog, "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" my theme is empowering GLBTQ teens and their allies. In this blog, The Zen Of Blogging, my theme is empowering bloggers. And in the books I write, there's the consistent theme of empowering kids and teens to be real and honest about who they are.

Empowerment is the theme that ties all my blogging and writing together. And I aim to express it in a fun, informative and entertaining way.

Now you don't necessarily have to state your theme explicitly in your work or even in your blog posts, but having that through-line with what you do and what you blog will create synergy and help you build a following.

So, I wanna know. What's your theme?

And once you've articulated it, consider how it can be the thread through all your blog posts. And hey, look at what threads can do when woven together:

Namaste, and keep it Zen,