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Writing Lessons from a Neo-Blogger

Posted on Wed, Oct 2 2013 9:00 am by Gail Milstein


I started a Wordpress blog on the first day of my daughter’s senior year of high school this year. It’s called expecting to fly; emptying the nest: the mother of intention and I’ve unexpectedly loved doing it. I committed to posting every school day, and for as much work as it is to construct a relatively crafted post each weekday, at least I feel some command of my subject. I’m writing about motherhood and, more specifically, the experience of emptying my nest. Mothering is something I’ve been working at for over 24 years. Topics related to my subject present themselves to me like ribbon-bearing bluebirds presented material to the mice as they worked to fashion a dress for Cinderella. 

So the first lesson I’ve learned from blogging is—as with all good writing—pick a topic about which you are passionate and knowledgable. Choose a topic that is multi-faceted, in order to allow yourself enough latitude to blog regularly, but one that provides thematic integrity.

Prior to my own impulsive decision to become a blogger, I didn’t pay much attention to blogs or blogging. I had two main objectives in starting this blog: one was to hold myself publicly accountable for writing everyday as a way of limbering up for my daily thesis writing, and the other was to chronicle my way through this transitional year in my life. And this year is transitional in two main ways: one, like I just said, is that I am writing my thesis to complete my MFA in Creative Nonfiction, and the other is that this is my last year with a child living at home. Blogging seemed to answer my needs both to warm-up for writing everyday, and to chronicle this pivotal year in my life.

The blog-writing tips I’ve come up with, as I enter my second month at it, fall under two main headings:

Blogging is Public

  • I’ve publicly declared that I would post each weekday, so I feel a sense of public accountability to my “followers” as well as to myself to honor my commitment. 
  • Since my blog is linked to Facebook, I often get comments on posts. Feedback is an invaluable motivator and helps me gauge of the effects my posts have on readers.
  • Catchy openings are key. So are titles. The title and the first sentence of each post pop up in the Wordpressbox that’s linked to Facebook. If I don’t grab my readers’ attention immediately, I may lose them. I also try to tie my endings back to the beginnings, so I don’t lead my readers down a path that leaves them wondering how or why they got there.
  • I want to move my readers to feel something, but not to feel manipulated. I also want to maintain some dignity in my writing, even though I’m often writing myself naked onto the page. I inject a heavy subject with enough humor to lighten it, and to reveal enough without overexposing myself or my family. Such is the balancing act of Creative Nonfiction.
  • Serial blogging offers the potential for freshness and spontaneity, but as writing professionals, we need to be mindful of the fact that what goes into cyberspace stays in cyberspace! We need to use good judgment, discretion and spell check. If in doubt, leave it out.
  • Mention other writers and bloggers in your posts. This is considered good blogging etiquette and should contribute to positive blogging karma.

Blogging is Writing Bootcamp

  • Nothing puts the pressure on a writer like a daily deadline! I am mindful to identify a manageable aspect of my subject, stay on-topic, and present my points directly, succinctly and in some, logical order. I think about Anne Lamott’s advice in Bird by Bird, about “short assignments”, and writing about “as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame.” Choosing one facet of my subject sharpens my focus.
  • Trust your writerly voice; it will surprise you (and remember the words of Robert Frost, “...no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”)
  • Blogging allows for editing, but not revising. I construct each blog, give it my all (Annie Dillard’s advice, “give it, give it all, give it now”), shape it to the best of my ability in the moment, make sure it contains Carol Bly’s “image, anecdote, idea” and Natalie Goldberg’s specific, telling detail and strive to “show don’t tell”. Then I start all over the next day.
  • Give the gift of information to readers. I research various aspects of my topics to inform, educate or just provide outside interest to my audience. In this way, I aim to move from my particulars to the universal.
  • Draw in scenes complete with dialogue in order to bring other character and voices into the work. Both I and my readers would get pretty tired of the sound of my voice alone. 

Above all, be sure you have your own, personal reasons for blogging so you don’t feel bad when your family and friends show no interest in following you. The number of blogs is now in the multi-millions, with posts in the billions. That’s a lot of competition for readers’ attentional bandwidth! Come up with some solid reasons that will sustain you when you can hear the echo of your own voice reverberating in the vast expanse of the blogosphere!


Gail Milstein is teaching “Spooky Stories, Creepy Creations: A Loft/MCBA Combo Class” this fall at the Loft. She is completing her MFA at Hamline University, where she has studied all three genres of creative writing. She has also been a student at the Loft and the University of Minnesota. Her work has been published in Bemidji State University’s Dust & Fire, and she served on the 2012 Editorial Board of Hamline’s nationally-renown literary journal, Water~Stone Review. She taught a kids’ journal-writing workshop at the Loft, taught creative writing in a homeschool program, and (on the other end of the age spectrum) worked for years with groups of senior citizens helping them write their life stories, through her own business, Get Lit! She has three wonderfully creative kids of her own, and worked throughout their growing-up years in the Wayzata schools, teaching Partners in Art, initiating the school’s first book club (Bibliomaniacs) and assisting in literature classes at the high school level.