Saturday, June 27, 2009

Using a Blog to Reinvent Yourself

A career columnist for the Wall Street Journal asks: is blogging a good way to professionally reinvent yourself? Her answer: "I think blogging forces reinventers to clarify their ideas, build a body of knowledge in a new area and carefully consider their long-term career goals. It's also a valuable way to measure success." Not a bad way to go, we'd say. And god knows, with this economy, there are plenty of people trying to reinvent themselves. We'd love to hear your thoughts.


At 10:07 AM, Blogger Diane Vogel Ferri said...

I'd agree with the first two ideas. My blog makes me THINK and be a little more creative, but I do not know how it is advancing my writing. I think my readership is too small for that.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

My answer to that is encapsulated in another recent post: keep at it. Quality and persistence is always a winning combination, Diane. And lord knows, you've got the quality down cold.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger Kim said...

I sure hope it helps me reinvent myself!

I'm trying to concentrate more on writing in specific niche areas, as opposed to my prior scattershot approach of whatever was on my mind.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kim, thanks for stopping by. We love new commenters. And I'm digging that site you have under construction. It looks like the beginnings of something quite good. I hope you'll keep us posted on your progress in developing your niches. I'm a big believer in that. But I also hope you'll keep your blog just scattershot enough to let your readers know who you really are and thus bond them to you. There's always dynamic tension between those two goals, isn't there? We're curious what your main niche(s) might be.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Kim said...

Thank you so much John for your comment. I found your blog from a Linked group we both belong to. I hope to establish my niche in healthy eating and green homelife. But I have enough of a background in many areas that I can certainly write well about it for the experts who know their topic, but not how to express themselves well. I'll keep you posted. Your feedback is encouraging!

At 12:29 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kim, providing encouraging feedback to writers is one of our few skills around here, so we leverage it whenever & wherever possible. Glad you mentioned Linkedin, because while this blog is our favorite virtual method for connecting with good folks, Linkedin is a close second. I hope you'll drop me a line via email or an invitation via LI so that we can additionally connect that way. That goes for all the rest of you, too. If we're not already connected on Linkedin, let's remedy that sometime soon. Here's the link:

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I no longer worry about clarify my ideas, building a body knowledge—or even building a body of work. My problem has never been in those realms. It has always been in the realm of connecting to an audience. I have plenty of back-catalog. I make new things all the time. I've professionally reinvented myself at least three or four times.

Can a blog help with any of that? I agree that it's good for clarifying one's thinking, discovering and enhancing focus, and making the process itself more thoughtful. I agree that it's very beneficial.

But in terms of "measuring success"? I have serious doubts about blogs being useful for that. For one thing, define "success." Is success getting lots of new hits every week? Is it developing an ongoing dialogue (which you successfully do here)? Is success getting a book deal from some agent reading your blog and being able to market it? Is success commercially-defined, morally-defined, defined as personal satisfaction irrespective of financial return? Or some mix of all of the above?

Is measuring success on your blog defined as keeping a journal or log of your progress, of your successes and failures? Is "measuring" equated with journaling, or diary writing?

As long as " measuring" and "success" remain vague terms, vaguely-defined, they remain theoretical rather than generative of practical ends. And thus, they remain elusive, and build up expectations that will be frustrated.

It's like poetry: Never go into poetry if you expect to make a living at it. To make a living at poetry, you basically have to go through an MFA program somewhere, be lucky in your connections, and get a teaching job somewhere. Almost no poet makes a sustainable living purely from their poetry.

Blogs are exactly like that, in terms of luck, expectations, and having to have a day job.

So, I think blog-writing can be part of the process of self-discovery, or tracking progress, while one is reinventing oneself. Certainly some personal reiventions are interesting enough, and well-written enough, to be worth sharing, from which others might learn. (Most are probably not.)

But "measuring success" in any kind of tangible, practical way is probably something to which blogs are only suited to reflect upon, rather than to generate.

(verification word: funde)

At 2:44 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

As usual--well, as always--you've thrown out a lot to think about. Just as I was going to engage with it, I glanced at the clock and decided not too engage now, lest I be late for my nephew's high school graduation party. But I'll be sure to return to this shortly, Art. Thanks as always for adding greatly to the depth of this conversation. I imagine you have as many fans here as the blog's author. You've developed it the right way (just like any writer should, I think)--slowly and patiently, based simply on interesting and well said observations and conversation. That's a gift you bestow on us all, for which I thank you.

And very cool to be connected on Linkedin now. I could have sworn I searched for your profile not long ago, with that very thing in mind. In any event, thanks for that invite, amigo.

At 2:48 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Correction: I meant to say at least as many fans!

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

When I started my blog I have been writing for 35 years but when the blog went live I became a writer. That aspect of my persona came to the fore and I have allowed it to dominate ever since. I suppose you could call it reinvention. It's as good a word as any.

At 2:16 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Now that's a helluva resonant thought around here, Jim. Like you, I was already a veteran writer when I began this blog six and a half years ago (I had just then hit 20 years as a professional writer). But also like you, I found this format to be transformational.

Interesting that you use the word "persona," because I think writerly personas do in fact readily come into play on a blog, as they don't necessarily in any other body of writing. Some of that I think has to do with the more confessional and conversational nature of this writing (at least for those who choose to be confessional, but it's hard to get around the conversational if you're responding to comments, as of course is a must for any good blog).

Whenever I speak to writers I inevitably mention blogs and blogging. And at the top of the list of benefits of having one, always, is a notion I call the ability to build a community around your work. That's all but impossible when, like many independent writers not employed by a single publication, your work is scattered in many places. The transformational nature of a good writer's blog, among other things, is the ability to pull all those threads together in one place.

And then the Internet's "long tail" allows those who have similar interests to slowly find, connect and have a conversation with you. That's the sublime magic of it all. In our specific case, a nomadic Wisconsin native (Art Durkee) brought you (a writer in Scotland) together with a writer in Ohio (me), for what I expect and hope will be a rich conversation taking place over many years (and of course a conversation that's open to so many others, should they choose to join). To me, there's just no other word for that: magic.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, to your earlier point, one of the ways I would define success as a writer has to do with enlarging one's audience, so a blog can certainly help there. While one may not be able to quantify that precisely (unlike most blog authors, I've never had statistics and have thus never been able to track audience precisely, but do have a general sense via emails and comments that readership has gradually increased over time), there certainly are ways of doing that.

I happen to be blessed to make a fulltime living as a writer, so there are all kind of other relatively easily quantifiable markers for success, everything from how much I'm able to earn and how many gigs I can get to how much effort it takes me to get in various doors. But of course everyone has different ideas of what success entails. Writers' spouses, for instance, tend to have a single yardstick. Any guesses what that might be?

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

John, your point about enlarging one's audience via a blog is, I quite agree, a good measure of success. In terms of writing, a blog is certainly a very good way to gain exposure, and a following. Your thoughts about building a community around one's work is I think a good marker for what makes a good blog. (Of course, there are several types of communities.) For me, achieving some level of dialogue and feedback is a measure of success that I can't quantify, exactly, but which I think is very high on the quality meter.

Yardstick guess regarding spouses, from someone who might well be clueless as he is unspoused: The obvious answer would be paying the bills. The next answer that comes to mind, however, would be: So, how often will you leave me alone to do my own thing? :)

At 1:41 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Getting a dialogue going with readers via comments is enormously stimulating to me, but it sure didn't happen quickly. I got few comments for the first 2-3 years I did this. Did you have a similar experience, Art?

At 1:44 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

LOL Other than a few loyal regulars, I still get almost no comments.

At 1:53 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Loyal regulars are of course the best kind. And quality sure beats quantity in this department. For my first 2-3 years I may have had loyal regular readers, but none of them were sounding off.

At 11:13 AM, Blogger bcwaller said...

I've had many discussions with blog readers and blog writers about the purpose of blogging. I have often found myself drawn to blogs that have an end-point .... the chronicle of a trip to China to adopt a child, photos and stories from a travel quest. (I wish I'd been part of the audience for the blog that launched Julie and Julia. )
A writer friend said he couldn't get casual in his blogging, couldn't do just a short "gee whiz" item or an entry that pointed his readers to something else on the web that he'd found.
Non writer friends use their blogs more as personal family scrapbooks, and (imho) a substitute for authentic connection with their friends.
So maybe my comment comes to the question of what's a blog for? An incubator for a bigger project? To build community? To post without having to find a paper home for great work? To write something, anything every day and build that discipline? To build expertise in a niche subject? For me, I haven't yet found the answer.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Fair enough, Britta, and until you find that answer that resonates for you, I think it would be a mistake to begin a blog, because the world surely doesn't need another one that's launching for no apparent reason, or simply to follow a trend. Writers, like all those who create in any field, have to follow their gut, and do what feels right--for them. Life's too short to spend a moment on something you're doing for the wrong reasons.

Having said all that, having a blog (for me), has been a tremendous, game-changing transformational experience, on several levels. It's a great teaching and listening tool. As I said earlier, it helps me build a community around my work and (like Linkedin) to reconnect with folks I've known from various phases of life and a whole lot I wouldn't know without this venue.

It's also a tremendous tool for thought leadership in my industry, which you can't fake over a long period. You just have to produce, and keep producing. As my friends and fellow members of ASJA (the American Society of Journalists and Authors) would say, it's also an ideal "platform" from which to launch any number of possible future writerly projects, including books, classes, writing coaching, online tutorials, you name it. So for me, purely for me, it's a no-brainer. Thanks for adding your thoughts, Britta. I appreciate it.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Pat Washington said...

Re John to Kim, "But I also hope you'll keep your blog just scattershot enough to let your readers know who you really are and thus bond them to you. There's always dynamic tension between those two goals, isn't there?"

What you wrote above is what I'm trying to do. I told a friend of mine that I didn't want my blog to be just another "mommy blog," as the internet is awash with those. And she replied that my niche won't come to me -- that I'll only find it by writing. So I am. (I think...I hope...I will...) I'm back after a hiatus of getting caught up in necessary motherhood things.

In addition, I've been working on my photography. It's scattered about the web and I need to put it in one place and link it to my blog.

Please come have a look and throw ideas my way.

At 9:01 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Pat, your friend is so right. We only find our real subjects and thus our unique niches by writing over time. We have to be true to who we are as writers and what subjects uniquely appeal to us. Those then become the subjects in which we're expert, in which we have something special to add. Readers inevitable respond to all that. I will indeed return to follow your progress, and I hope others will too. Good luck, and thanks for adding your two cents here.

At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Sherri Henkin said...

John - thanks for initiating this discussion. I'm considering blogging as one way to ensure that I write on a regular basis and to overcome the fear of putting my work "out there." I especially enjoyed the exchange about niche v. scattershot - yes, it does seem to be a "dynamic tension between those two goals...". Where oh where is my niche? In development!

At 11:26 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Sherri, welcome to the discussion. So glad you decided to add your thoughts here. As I've been encouraging you privately, there is absolutely no reason I can think of for any writer not to have a blog. You've just identified two of the prime reasons why many should expand their work from print to the web. But of course there are others. The main thing to remember is that every writer needs to identify their own reasons, blog in their own style, about the subjects that resonate with them. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Just do it, as Nike would say.

I'm thrilled at the diversity of voices that have joined this thread, by the way. I happen to know all of you at least a little. But the beauty is in watching you all help each other think about these issues. There is nothing so wonderful as peer learning. And writing is really all about being a learning machine, isn't it?

Sherri, I hope you'll report back how your blogging class at the Cleveland Heights library went. I'm looking forward to learning if that's a worthwhile venue. If so, we'll of course let others know about it.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Kim (the same Kim from this discussion) has just debuted her new blog, link below. I hope you'll all head over there when you have a moment, and show her some love.

At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Jane Levesque said...

For me, the decision to blog was mainly to ensure that I wrote often. I missed that while I was editing other people's copy for the last 10 years.

Writing and editing are slightly different disciplines. Editing made me an AP Stylebook devotee and a punctuation fanatic unable to read menus without proofreading them. Writing is more of a free flow of ideas cleaned up after the flow is done.

I also like the idea that I can write about anything I want. I don't want to limit myself.

I guess I am reinventing myself through my blog, because it's reopening the thought channels that hadn't been used in a while.

It is rewarding to get feedback from people, but you usually only get it when writing personal commentary. I was amazed at how I could write news articles and not hear a peep, but when I wrote a personal column for the newspaper, I got a substantial number of comments. People really like to feel they know you personally. It's hard to convey too much of your personality in a news article.

At 5:00 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Great stuff, Jane, which I'll respond to at greater length after my imminent root canal!

At 10:46 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Blogging also reveals writers' processes, not just the end-products. It can be like a workshop environment, in which feedback is used for critique and revision. It can also be a form of broadcasting and/or publishing, in which feedback is generally ignored because only "finished' pieces are posted. One can edit one's own entries, fix typos, change a phrase, etc. So when is a piece finished? (When it's abandoned, as Paul Eluard once said about poetry?)

What's interesting, at times, is watching a writer in process. You get to see some intermediate steps, not just the finished product. You get to see a writer return to, and thereby define, a major theme of theirs, in different entries, returning again and again to their theme, coming at it from different angles, looking for different angles, etc. One can learn from observing others' processes, if one pays attention.

Re-invention is a form of revision or redaction, isn't it. Re-invention of self is a form of redaction: oneself becomes something re-formed, re-composed, in a new configuration, to move forward as a whole new person. There are lots of people who only play at this, because deep down they're terrified of change. The interpretation of the Death card in the Tarot is actually "Change": changing can feel like a greater or lesser death, and we cling to the hells we know rather than go discover the possible heavens in others places—because the Unknown is more terrifying than the known, even if we don't like the known. So, Death is Change, really. Lots of folks won't face that. But if re-inventing the self is a process, writing through the process on a blog is a public way of getting through the process. It's not only that one can find support and feedback, it's that one learns self-confidence (one hopes) in the same way that one learns to not be afraid of the audience when learning to do public speaking. At some point it's no longer so terrifying. At that point, you can look at yourself and say, Hey, I've already changed.

I find it goes in cycles and waves. Sometimes I don't write anything for a few days; sometimes I write more than one thing a day. Since I do a lot of non-writing on my blog, too, i.e. photography and other media, there are days I don't have anything to say. Then a poem or an essay will emerge at white heat, making some place for itself, emerging fully-formed, and parking itself on the blog, to cool off gradually. I may not do something every day on the blog, but I do DO something every day. Not all of it is public, and not all of it is posted on the blog—which I do tend to reserve for more "finished" work, even if it's spontaneous work. I do not belong to the camp of writers that believe, almost as a matter of faith, that one MUST revise. Rather, I think experience teaches what to revise and what to leave alone. There are writers I think who trap themselves by believing they MUST revise; and so they do, even if a piece doesn't need it. This can kill a piece, if overdone.

A lot of people find it hard to believe just which of my pieces are first drafts. Anything I've written at white heat is almost always a first draft—and often needs very little in order to achieve a "finished" polish.

At 10:53 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Jane's point about getting responses to personal commentaries more than some other kinds of pieces is a very good point.

For myself, I find I get the most responses to a piece that's philosophical, analytical, or critical in nature. Sometimes I get no comments at all for my "creative" pieces, i.e. poems and photos. Actually, the photos usually more responses than the poems. (Ironic.) To get a response usually means you have to elicit one: not necessarily by directly asking for a response, but sometimes by the "burr under the saddle" principle: they itch until they scratch their itch, by replying. Sometimes it's done by stating provocative opinions. Sometimes it's done by evoking some larger, less personal, more transpersonal connection to a greater level of beauty. Sometimes it's just by opening one's mouth and not knowing what will happen next. Most of the time the things I think people are really going to respond to, they don't; and several pieces that I thought were throwaway others think are brilliant.

Unlike Jane's experience, however, I often feel that the pieces that are very close to my heart, that feel very personal to me, just get ignored, while the ones that I don't feel much connection to, that I didn't sweat blood over to say what I wanted to say, those get lots more comments. As though the impersonal was less threatening, less revealing, less . . . personal.

It's unpredictable and often surprising.

At 11:04 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

As always, Art's got so much great stuff to say that it makes my head spin. I'll no doubt have some additional reactions tomorrow. I quite agree, though, that one can never really guess what will draw a response. It does seem that the things you really spend time on go uncommented upon, while things you toss off (like this entry, for instance) can get all kinds of comments. That's just one of many nice surprises about all this.

Jane is like so many professional writers who are fairly startled at the outset by the notion of having no editor. It is an exercise in radical freedom for those who are used to being poked, prodded and lorded over by editors. But they inevitably find it's not just good for the intellectual circulatory system, but good for their writing too. It certainly makes it a voyage full of surprising twists and turns.

What I love most about all this is the community of practice that forms around good blogs. The peer learning that comes from that is priceless. On a practical level, it's also wonderful in that I don't have to pull all the weight. I can post something, and then sit back and enjoy all the great insight supplied by the master writers such as Art, Diane, Miles, Mike, TJ and a few of the other regulars, with new voices popping up frequently as well. It's just one big damn miracle.

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Dave Crain said...

Maybe I'm in a philosophical mood this morning, and I don't want to split too fine a hair here, but I think there is a difference between the process of reinventing ourselves and the tools we use.

Reinventing ourselves needs to be a deeply transformational experience, and in my mind is much more than just changing our viewpoint on a few key issues. As such, there are potentially any number of emotional, intellectual and spiritual moltings that need to take place to truly enable a transformation.

Once that transformation is complete, or potentially even more interesting WHILE that transformation is taking place, I think blogs can function as an excellent medium to broadcast your transformation and solicit feedback.

So I'm not sure if I spoke to the intent or the spirit of the original question John, but consider this my two cents for this morning.

At 11:10 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Dave, you spoke to both, better than we could have ever hoped. Wonderful stuff, and much food for thought. I expect others will have reactions, and I also hope they'll follow the link to sample your always-interesting blog. Thanks so much for stopping by.

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Franpro said...

Hi John,

Can a city have a blog?

Joel Libava

At 1:10 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Great question, Joel. What do you think? And what do others think? I think so. And for the best example of that, I would probably point here:

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Meg E. Cox said...

A timely topic for me, John. Finally a friend has gotten me over the technical hurdles to set my blog up the way I want it, and now it's up to me to get moving with the content.

The blog will be related to a book I edited, but I need it to be broader than that while still connected to the book's theme. So one feature of my blog-as-planned will be a collection of personal stories of refugees who have resettled in the U.S. Another theme will be strategies for multilingual churches.

I could see either of these two collections developing into a book. Or maybe neither will. I could see offering content from the multilingual-churches collection for publication in magazines produced by various religious denominations.

The blog will be a strange hybrid of my own and others' writing; of personal reflections and practical information. I have no idea how it will all work--especially because I haven't had time yet to get started on it! I'm more than a little overwhelmed by the plan I've set out for myself.


At 8:05 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Glad to hear it, Meg. I'll look forward to reading it when you've begun. And I wouldn't worry about how it will work. The answers will come not in the planning, but in the doing. Have fun with it, and readers will too.

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Re-reading this thread got me thinking again about Transformations.

It's all your fault! :)

At 3:35 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, I'm beyond pleased to be even a small part of the process leading up to anything as interesting as this. I hope others will click through and read your thoughts.


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