Writing Blog Comments Worth Reading

Leaving comments on a blog post is often anonymous, so it’s tempting to be snarky, self-serving, or rude. “Rude” is what happens when you cross “cruel” with “can’t catch me.”  We often read blog posts we don’t agree with, so letting people know how we feel seems legitimate. And it can be. In today’s digital life, leaving a comment leaves a fingerprint, and it can help (or hurt) your own blog

Leaving a comment leaves a fingerprint of who you are.

stats. If you want to boost your own blog stats, leaving interesting, meaningful comments is to your own advantage. Light-hearted comments are also useful, as long as you remember that the internet is global and humor is not. Some hints to keep your comments make you click worthy (people read your comments and then look up your blog).

1. Follow the basic etiquette rule of saying something nice first, even if you want to correct or criticize. You don’t have to agree, but it’s easier to take someone seriously if they say something complimentary or kind first, they point to the differences. “What were you thinking?” doesn’t encourage continued reading as much as “Your perspective on global warming is interesting, even if I don’t agree.”

2. Don’t use labels or engage in name-calling. “This is about what I would expect from a blog called ‘Heartland Living’,” paints with broad strokes, and doesn’t speak well to your own reasoning ability.

3. Agree more often than disagree. Encourage more often than correct. There is no other reason to do this than to be nice. “Nice” is not popular to give right now, but it’s secretly what everyone wants to get. If you like the post, the photos, the concept, say so. If you don’t, you can also say so as long as you use “I statements”–being plain that this is your opinion and not a

Make people hope you are coming toward them, not glad you are leaving, with your comments.

universal truth. “I don’t agree that the sky is blue” is a kinder way to disagree than “the sky, as everyone in this world knows, is gray or white most of the time.” If you leave a lot of comments, do a quick scan. If most of your comments are negative, ask yourself why this is necessary in the way you show up in the world.

4. Use your comments to build relationships, not market your own site. When you leave a comment, you have the opportunity to leave your own blog or website so the blog owner can see it. That’s plenty. Leaving your site at the bottom of a thoughtful comment makes your site available to everyone who reads the blog, and is marginally acceptable. It depends on context, which is the next issue.

5. Add to the information. If you know a lot about the topic, it’s fine to add a link that isn’t your own. But don’t just dump links into comments. Tell people what they will find there and why you think it’s worth reading. Leaving a link without context will get your link sent to the spam file. Leaving context will help people make the decision to click on it or not. If you do leave a link, make sure it is to the exact page with more information (permalink), not the home page. And please make sure it is relevant, not just something you thought of when you read the post.

6. Leave your aches, pains, angst, suffering, anger, and neediness far, far away. Reading a post about someone’s dog does not entitle you to leave a comment about your dog phobia, your story about how your child was bitten by a dog, or your sad thoughts about how many thoughtless people ignore your dog allergies. Demanding comfort or sympathy from strangers because you are needy is a reason to call a therapist, not leave a blog comment.

7. Grammar mistakes and errors of fact go in an email, not a blog post. I actually like people telling me about typos, or errors in facts, but not everyone does. Blog writers should have an easy-to-find email, but if they don’t, and you can’t bear not to point out the mistake, make it general. “I’ve always had trouble with lie and lay–I would say, ‘lie down’ to my dog, not ‘lay down.’ Do you know the rule?” is nicer than “You made a common, but irritating error in lay/lie” Again, not saying anything is the best choice, but I know the pull to fix.

8. Humor is tricky. Not everyone laughs at the same thing. Case in point: The Three Stooges. Love ’em or shrug-em-off, there are strong opinions on either side.  Leaving a comment you think is funny may not bring universal agreement. Also, the internet is global, so watch idiomatic expressions. “I’m pulling your leg,” is plain to you, but not to others. In Russia, it’s “I’m putting noodles on your ears,” and in Germany it’s “I’m dragging you through the chocolate milk.”

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who read countless blog comments on her blog and others before writing this post. Please feel free to comment.

1,000 Posts, Still Writing

After four years of blogging, about half a million words, this is blog post 1,000. What do I say now? Thank you. To the people who subscribe, read, comment, and introduce themselves. To the people I have never met, but would like to have

Watch the lunar eclipse on December 20. It's magical. "December Eclipse" by Quinn McDonald, paper, acryclic paint, photograph on vellum. © 2010

coffee with. To the people I met online and who are now such an important part of my life. To the people who gave me ideas, and who wrote back when I gave them one and they wanted to show me how it turned out.

To artists who shared their work and told me to write a book. To clients who showed up, having read my blog. To students who asked me what I was teaching next and made me make myself invent it.

So here’s to invention and re-invention. And to my martial arts teacher, who, years ago, was impatient with my Western ways. When I asked him how long it would take to earn a black belt, he said, “At least four years.”
I was shocked. “Four years! Why, I’ll be 37 then!”
He looked at me blankly. “You will be 37 anyway, ” he said. And he was right.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. Her book, Raw Art Journaling, will be published by North Light books in 2011.

Blog Stats: Addiction or Useful Information?

OK, I’ll admit it. I check my blog stats compulsively and too often. It took me a week of being out of town to realize just how often I checked. And how little difference it made.

You can check your blog six times a day, but it won’t make a difference. The numbers are just a report. And then it hit me–it’s an empty activity that makes us feel informed, up-to-date, and important. Just like checking emails and phone messages. Until you act on them, it doesn’t make a bit of difference.mountain graph

WordPress gives you daily, weekly and monthly stats. Of course I checked all of them. Here’s the interesting fact: while I was chewing my nails over the rise and fall of daily numbers, the monthly numbers are on a steady rise.

And the follow-up question: what could I do with the time I saved if I didn’t check the stats? Here is my comparative list:

—read 150 more pages of a mystery novel, or

—read a whole issue of Art Calendar or Cloth, Paper, Scissors, two magazines that are connected to my art, or

—write down several ideas in my journal and develop one of them, or

—write another chapter for the book

The point is that compulsive number checking doesn’t help me be a better artist/writer. The others do. Time better spent. Notice the difference between writing a blog and simply compulsively checking the stats. Writing helps me be a better writer. Checking stats does not make me a statiscian. Lesson learned.

Image: http://www.theoildrum.com

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. Oh, and a blogger who is trying to make better use of her time than compulsively checking blog stats. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Blogs: 8 Ways to Keep Writing Good Stuff

Writing for a blog isn’t hard. Ahhh, writing good articles for a blog is hard. And so is writing good stuff consistently. I’ve read a lot of blogs (and so have you) that start out wonderfully–interesting articles every day. Then it slips to three times a week, then once a week, or once a month, and one time when you open the blog, it’s about what the blogger had for breakfast, then lunch. . .and a sad decline continues.

After I wrote the blog on how to start up, it seemed fair to add one on how to continue. Not everyone is a writer, and not everyone wants a daily writing practice.

1. Pick something you know a lot about. Like to cook? You can go on forever with recipes, cooking tips, cookbook reviews. Car engines, animals, anything you know about can form the foundation of your blog. Check out WordPress (or anyone else’s) “Right Now in Tags” for ideas that people like. In WordPress, the bigger the type, the more people click on the category.

2. Write down your ideas. This sounds really simplistic, but it’s not. You have a great idea, and your attention shifts, and the idea vanishes. The shortest pencil beats the longest memory. A pen, pencil, and an index card, or small spiral notebook will help you remember the idea. So will a small device to record your thoughts. There are expensive pen/recorder combinations, and cheaper ones. Write down the idea when you have it, with enough detail to be able to complete the blog. Write down all the ideas, you don’t have to use them till you need them, and some day you’ll be happy you have a book of ideas.

3. Books, music on the theme. Even if you are a recognized experts, others have great ideas. Feel free to review books, movies, music and collect links to share. People love to explore, and you can help them expand their knowledge by giving them shortcuts to more information.

4. Create a tutorial. People like to participate. Whether you know how to knit, rebuild a car engine, or know a better way to wax skis, have someone take pictures of you doing it and describe it. A tutorial blog is a wonderful thing to people who want to learn by doing. One caution: if you are not an expert at writing instructions, have someone read your blog and follow the steps to make sure it’s clear.

5. Illustrate your idea or story. Pictures and illustrations help others understand how you did something. They also help you keep your writing short. If you are afraid of sitting down and writing 500 words, use pictures or drawings and you will fill your blog with fewer words and great ideas.  Don’t be afraid of sharing the commonplace and ordinary. I once saw pictures of ironing a shirt, and discovered it was easier than what I’d been doing.

6. Interview a friend. Tired of writing on your topic? Interview another expert and use that as a blog. A different voice is always a nice break, and more information is interesting.

7. Have a guest write for you. I’ve found great articles by others and, after asking permission, posted a summary on my blog and linked to the whole article.  Everyone’s happy–you don’t have to reinvent every idea, someone else gets linked to a topic, readers love finding out that you have answers. Ask the person whose blog you are going to summarize. Their work is under copyright, so you can’t “borrow,” take, steal, or quote extensively without permission.

8. Create a list of links. This is quite useful to others. You can spend some time poking around the web, and then run a collection of links on the topic of your choice.  You surf so your readers don’t have to.  You’ll be surprised at what there are a zillion links on. Here’s a page of links to different kinds of pencils. Who knew?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Writing a Blog: 10 Tips to Get Started

When I talk about blogs at a business audience, I get flinty-eyed looks and shrugs. When I add that I think in five years there won’t be any websites as we know them, the world will have converted to blogs, I start to get questions.

Here are some simple tips to help you write a good blog.

1. Use a blog host; it’s easier than to build a blog into your website. A blog host is a company like Blogger, Typepad, or WordPress that lets you create a blog separately from your website. (I’ve listed three. There are many more.) You concentrate on the writing, the blog host concentrates on the formatting, publication and getting you read through RSS feeds.

2. Make it easy for your readers. Choose a blog host that’s easy for you to work with so you can make it easy for your readers to find topics they want to read about. I like WordPress, although I started with Typepad. Some charge, some are free. “Free” is not why I moved to WordPress. I like the choices I get with WordPress. I could help my readers find what they wanted. In addition to a search engine (for topics or words), searching by the ‘most popular posts’ and ‘most recent posts’ as well as by date makes it easy for readers to find what they are interested in. And of course, there are tags and tategories.

3. Have a goal for your blog. Do you want to drive traffic to your website? Vent your spleen? Write on a focused topic? Develop a daily writing, video or photo practice? Having a clear goal helps you know what to post and what to put in a “save for later” file.

4. Post regularly. Your blog has a built-in ping. That means every time you post, it notifies the search engines. The more you post, the more your site gets updated on search engines. A good rule of thumb is to post three times a week.

5. Use images. People like to see an image when they get to a post. A post that is long and dense makes readers skim and miss your meaning. Images provide emotional connection and impact on a blog. Most blogs make posting images from your digital camera or scans very easy.

6. Name your images. When you give your images a title (there is a place for one on WordPress when you upload the image) your title is available for searching, too. Skipping the title, using a number or just calling it “image,” “chart,” or “graph,” doesn’t get searched for as often.

7. Get to the point. Blog rants of 10,000 words aren’t as powerful as 200-300 well-chosen words. Sure, you can write long blog posts, but keep track and see what your readers prefer.

8. Your blog is not private. Even if you password protect it, it will leak into some search engine. If you want to write down your secret, dark, unuttered thoughts, use pencil and paper and lock them in a safe. What goes on your blog may wind up in your employee folder. Don’t want it there? Don’t run it.

9. Say what you mean. Or not. Once you start a blog and it goes out over feeds, your opinion is there for all to see. Sometimes that’s fine. But consider the future: would you want a potential employer to know all this about you? A potential friend? Your mom? Your date (before s/he falls madly in love with you?) If you are going to strip naked (figuratively or literally) in front of the world, you might want to use a pen name. Yes, you are entitled to your opinions. I’m a big believer in the First Amendment. But your potential boss, lover, date, or mother-in-law is also trolling your opinons. There are consequences. It’s good to remember that before you write.

10. Don’t get even. Recently broke up? Angry at your roommate? Don’t dump it all out on your blog. It might feel good for a few minutes or a whole day, but then there is the cleanup. It’s hard to pull back opinions. You might get back together, and then you’ll have ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy. And a big, loud, angry rant about someone’s faults often says more about you, your tolerance, your inability to deal well with your anger and your issues than about the person you are writing about.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, blogger and certified creativity coach. She runs training programs and seminars in writing, presentation skills and journaling. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

I surf so you don’t have to. . .

There are now 100 million websites, and almost as many blogs. You can’t see them all, and shouldn’t try. Most are not worth exhaling over. But there are some that you shouldn’t miss, either.

I’ve scoured Blog-dom so you don’t have to. Site not to miss:

Paul Lagasse’s interesting, fast read, “Thoreau and the Economics of Adjectives and Adverbs.” You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate it. If you are a writer, it’s a must-read. Link: http://www.avwrites.com/wordpress/?p=20rollabind journal

Paul and I share a love of rollabind disks–the circles that hold together journals while allowing for pages to be removed, replaced and repositioned. You can see my journal here (yes, that’s a real library pocket, I amassed a boxful from a bookseller) and Paul’s idea for storing the disks easily in Rollabind disk dispenser. It is a thing of beauty.

If you are a map lover, or a Jack Kerouac fan, check out Kerouac’s trip across the US on this map blog. There are many different maps on different subjects.

There is an architect who takes some incredible building and nature photographs. His blog, Bldg Blog is about environmental and urban building issues, but the photos are worth the trip.

Want to build your own website (or customize your blog?) but don’t know HTML? Don’t fret, Create It 101 will give you a fast, understandable crash course in HTML.

Photoshop(TM) can be used to create your own rubber-stamp images, or you can buy a CD of them to use yourself. Same for fabrics and paper images. Cre8it! has an occasional newsletter, too.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist. See her work at QuinnCreative.com