“So You Think You Can Blog?” Advice for New Bloggers


In September of 2015 one of my posts went viral. I had been blogging almost daily for four years and had built up a loyal and amazing group of readers. The law of averages could have predicted that given the sheer number of pieces I was writing, at some point one of them would get picked up. Of course it was the post that I spent fifteen minutes on instead of a week. The piece is Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis and to date it has been shared on Facebook 596 thousand times. (596,000) That being said my first piece of advice is Do not blog because you want to go viral. No. NO. NOO. That’s not why you blog. You pick a reason, and you stick with it. I wanted to repost this piece because in the last week I’ve spoken to at least 20 people who want to start a blog.

So this is for you who are beginning this journey.

It’s the new year and last night you had a blast of inspiration – as you were thinking about 2014, you suddenly realized you wanted to start a blog.

That’s what happened to me in 2011. And it’s one of the best activities I’ve ever started.

So there’s some things that I want to pass on to you who are beginning this journey in 2014.

  1. Keep it real. Be yourself – don’t try to blog about something you don’t know. Your blog will attract people who are interested in the subject, they’ll stay connected because they begin to like you, your style, your writing. Don’t try to be someone or something you’re not. Readers are smart – they’ll figure it out.
  2. Be fully present. In other words — Care about your readers. If readers come to your blog and take time to comment, reply to their comments. There are literally millions of things to read on the internet. They’ve chosen to read you. Be fully present and willing to respond to them. Read the comment well and think about how to respond. Don’t treat comments like discardable, inanimate objects when they come from real, animate people who took the time to put fingers to keyboard and type out words. That being said – watch out for spammers. If they have a dot com website and say inane things like “I have looked all over web and truly I found this site to be quite surprisingly wonderful how do you do it” then don’t approve their comment. They are spam.

Don’t treat comments like discardable, inanimate objects when they come from real, animate people who took the time to put fingers to keyboard and type out words,

3. Connecting happens when you least expect it. Rachel Pieh Jones said this recently “Some posts will resonate with people and some won’t. Sometimes it is surprising to me which way things go. I think a post will fall flat or almost don’t publish it ….and it goes nuts. I think a post is wicked good and it barely raises a flicker on the traffic stats. I’m still trying to figure out what it is that makes a post spread.” Sometimes what you spend the least amount of time on ends up making the biggest impact. There is a mystery to this. Don’t spend too much time analyzing. Just continue connecting and writing.

4. Freshly Pressed is wonderful….but even more wonderful is when the post that didn’t get Freshly Pressed gets some traffic. I was incredibly grateful to WordPress for highlighting 3 of my posts on Freshly Pressed. The two on Egypt were purely because Matt Mullenweg found them. I will always love Matt for this. That he found these posts was a gift and allowed my unknown blog to be seen by a record number of people. What I found however is that readers will arrive from Freshly Pressed, but only a fraction, say five to ten percent, will stay. You want the readers who will stay, the readers who will engage with the piece and each other. 

5. Don’t write controversy for the sake of controversy. It’s tempting to get on the social media circuit with what’s enjoying its fifteen minutes of fame, but there is no staying power in those posts. Once the controversy is over, no one cares about your post anymore. Besides that, there are hundreds of other articles written on the same subject and you are a new blogger so people won’t find your post. You want the post that can be resurrected two years later and still be shared. If you feel strongly about something like this or this, don’t hesitate to write about it, but don’t do it just to get views. It won’t last.

6. Blogging takes time. There are other people in my family that are far better writers than I am. The difference is that I do it. Every. Day. Every day I write an average of 500 words. I can’t tell you any secrets, any suggestions — it’s a bit like the Nike commercial: “Just do it”. Just write. Even if you post once a week, just write. And always, always do the spell and grammar check. All mistakes won’t be caught but a number will and for the rest you will have cousins and friends who take the time and mercy to gently let you know where you erred.

7. Keep posts relatively short. We’re in an age of short attention spans and vying websites. 700 words for a post is ideal. If it will be longer, just warn people to get a cup of tea and sit down. That way they’ll be ready and willing to sit down and spend a bit more time.

8. Keep a note-book on hand. Always. Small moleskin journals are perfect for this. Ideas for blogs will come when you least expect and you can’t always rely on your memory. The idea for this one came while I was sautéing onions to put in an egg dish on New Year’s Day. A note-book where you can write your ideas down is critical to keeping your blogging fresh and real.

9. Promote your blog to non-bloggers. While most people will tell you to connect with other bloggers — and that is great and sound advice — I would also encourage you to try to connect with non-bloggers. Other bloggers are working towards their own blogging goals and audience. The people who don’t blog? They will be a huge encouragement and impetus to write and write well. Use social media of all types to do this – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest — all of it. Sometimes you’ll connect with people who don’t have a blog but want to write. Encourage them to write by asking them to do guest posts.

10. Have fun with your blog. Above all, have fun. Enjoy learning to craft a post, to put words together, to learn how to respond to others. Don’t do it for the money you think you might make! Making money on a blog takes a long time and more than our allotted 15 minutes of fame. Along with that, you become a slave to the products that you write about. Do it for fun – do it to find your voice – do it to become a better writer – do it to connect – but don’t do it for money.

So you think you can blog? I know you can! And if you just started, leave a comment with a link to your new blog.

Note: WordPress always does some great posts at the beginning of the year encouraging new bloggers or those who want to revive and old blog. Take a look here and here. Rachel Pieh Jones wrote a great post with lessons learned from her last year of blogging. I’ve linked above but if you missed it go here. 

Pick up your copy of Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging today

This book is a set of essays on living between worlds. It is divided into 7 sections and each section is illustrated by my talented daughter – Annie Gardner. Home, Identity, Belonging, Airports, Grief & Loss, Culture Clash, and Goodbyes set the stage for the individual essays within each section.

Between Worlds is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

“Marlboro Man” and Other Names Bloggers Call Those They Love

In a year and a half of blogging I’ve realized something….I have broken an unspoken rule of the trade – I have not given those I love clever pseudonyms while writing about them!

The most famous one that comes to mind is Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman – the successful “High Heels to Tractor Wheels” woman who garnered a full feature story in the New Yorker, a book deal, and a spot on Food Network. She calls her husband “Marlboro Man”. Why? I guess he looks like one.

It was somewhat embarrassing to suddenly realize this. To try to correct this situation, I decided to take a look at the creative names other bloggers have chosen. The list is not exhaustive by any means but I’ve chosen some of my favorites.

There’s Renée at Lessons from Teachers and Twits with a son called Tech Support.I love this! It’s clear this child is a partner in her blogging world.

There’s MJ Monaghan who writes about MLB – My Lovely Bride (Presumably this is his wife!)

On to Stacy at Slowing the Racing Mind – she has a couple of names: The Huz (husband) The Girl, and The Boy. Simple but it works well.

Ironic mom has twins – twins that she calls Thing 1 and Thing 2, reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. Ironic Mom also has a famous sense of humour and a book deal (which is amazing and fun and cool all at the same time!)

On we go to Simple Life of a Country Man’s Wife – she keeps to the theme by calling her love “The Country Man”.

And Missindeedy? She has Sweetboy. Littlesundog who blogs at Day by Day the Farm Girl Way goes simple with the initials “FD” and Ann Voskamp, famous from her One Thousand Gifts has “The Farmer”.

These pseudonyms protect those we love; they allow bloggers to write personal content without bringing their families into a place that could be uncomfortable. It is also a clever way to personalize or ‘brand’ your blog,

But the idea brings up a deeper issue:what we choose to share and not share online through the medium of blogging. We know readers connect to personal content — blogging is about a relationship and relationships grow when we feel like we know someone, can relate with them in their conflicts, joys, laughter and tears. Blogging can be as complex as any other relationship. But our real-life flesh and blood is an even more important (and complex) relationship.

The idea that we would hurt someone who shares our dinner table and DNA is not fun and could have long-term ramifications.

In no way have I worked this through….I haven’t even thought up the pseudonyms yet and it’s a little late. But I am beginning the conversation.

What I would love to know is this:

Do you blog and if so what do you call those people in your life who you love, write about, and want to protect? If you don’t blog, what do you think of the names people give their “others”? For both bloggers and non-bloggers – what are, or should be, the rules of writing about those we love?

How To Write the Perfect Blog Post

For those of you who blog – this visual was a great way to learn more about formatting a blog post. It was developed by Derek Halpern from Social Triggers and he has given permission to share. I hope you enjoy! For those of you who don’t blog – I continue to be honored that you read Communicating Across Boundaries. I love it and I thank you. Have a great weekend!

Like this? Get more marketing tips from Social Triggers.

This was way too good not to share! For more information like this check out http://socialtriggers.com

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Blogging Wisdom

Sometimes truth slaps you in the face and you recognize it as truth, going away revived and restored instead of whimpering and whining. I went through a bit of a crisis recently and the quote below was used as a slap of truth. I adapted it from something else and made myself a sign, a sign to keep this truth alive.

Blog On!

Every day, right after I click on the small, blue “Publish” button on my WordPress dashboard, I think “What have I done? How do I possibly think anyone would want to read this?” and the self-doubt continues. And then, as I push the thought aside, close the program and concentrate on the rest of the day, I forget until I get an amazing comment or email from one of you. And in those comments and emails is my answer. Because you inspire and encourage; challenge and argue; read and share….and so I know that it’s worth all the time, the energy, and the self-doubt.

So thank you! As my sister-in-law recently said to me “Blog on”… so I will. Have a great Saturday!

Blog on Marilyn! Blog on!

Are you tuning into this blog for the first time? Welcome and check out these posts that others have liked!

Click here to learn more about Communicating Across Boundaries

Versatile Blogging and HUGs

In the past couple weeks a couple of bloggers have nominated me for some blog awards. I am grateful for their affirmation and support. Amira who hails from the Maldives, a country I’ve long been fascinated with, and blogs at Mindblur nominated me for the Hope Unites Globally or HUG Award. Averil at The Cook, The Baker and The Clay Boy Maker nominated me for the Versatile blogger award.

In response I am to nominate others and tell some things about myself. Writing blog posts isn’t difficult but divulging a list of things seems like it will be thoroughly uninteresting. But here goes! If you’d like to hear the stories behind anything in the list please let me know in the comment section and expect a future blog post!

  1. I tasted my first strawberry in Afghanistan
  2. I will be 58 years old before I’ve spent as much time in the United States as I have overseas
  3. I have 5 kids born on 3 continents – 2 born at a hospital overlooking the Nile River.
  4. I love tea and scones, particularly if they are at a delightful tea shop in London
  5. My favorite possession is my passport and I wish to be buried with it.
  6. My faith is paramount to my existence – in it I live and breathe and have my being.
  7. My daughter-in-law was an extra in the movie Public Enemies.
  8. I will never vote along party lines in the United States, unwilling to be put into a political box I prefer to vote as an independent.
  9. If I write a book about parenting I will name it “My Son Mooned Karl Rove (and other parenting stories) and that, my friends, is the truth!
  10. Every day I get surprised that people read my blog, comment thoughtfully and send emails. It is a gift.

And the Nomination for the Hope Unites Globally Award is: The 365 From the Archive – http://mimokhairphotography.com/. Mimo is a thoughtful photographer from Lebanon with pictures that you want to sink into and thoughtful commentary on those pictures. Take a look at her work – you won’t be disappointed.

Nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award are:

  1. Slowing the Racing Mind – Stacy is my kindred spirit blogger. She blogs the way I do and in a single week will take you from a social commentary, to a spiritual passion, to a recipe or restaurant.
  2. Catholic Dialogue – Isabella blogs at Catholic Dialogue and though I am not Catholic, her wisdom and ability to articulate truth is a joy.
  3. Day by Day the Farm Girl Way – Little Sun Dog lives a vastly different life than I do in wide open spaces, adopting deer and reveling in the peace of a farm. Her photographs and descriptions of that life are lovely.
  4. Give Me Stories – Little Navy Fish is an undergraduate in the U.K. and gives me great book reviews with a fun dose of opinion.
  5. Little Explorer’s Blog – Little Explorer grew up between worlds, just as I did, and so it was a quick connection. She blogs about traveling, meeting people, and being curious about life in general.
  6. Sachikorose – Stephanie is like family. She is a Third Culture Kid, my sister-in-law’s niece and a global nomad.
  7. Cross Cultural Insights – Eleniloporto has lived all over the world and has a similar perspective. She blogs from a multicultural, global perspective.

The Book Giveaway!

If you’re just tuning in this week then you aren’t yet aware of the book giveaway in celebration of a year of blogging!

Here are the rules:

  1. Comment on this post giving the title of your favorite post, perhaps a reason why it’s a favorite and suggestions for future posts…..or
  2. Invite someone to read Communicating Across Boundaries who you think would enjoy the blog.  Make sure they comment and let me know that you recommended the blog. If you choose this way to participate,here are some of the choices that readers have picked as their favorite posts:

A New Kind of Mommy Blog  – picked by Christi-Lynn Martin

Hookah Hypocrisy – picked by Cary Schulte

The Benediction – Picked by Wilma Brown

Chocolate Jesus – picked by Petra Riggins

Angels from the Rooftop – picked by Tiffany Kim

I will put the names of those who take part into a hat and randomly select three. Those three people will have their choice of one of the books I love and have talked about on this blog.

Here are the books you can choose from:

You have until Tuesday, December 20th to participate. I’ll send out a couple of reminders as a way to tell you how much I want you to take part!

It’s a Blog Party!

It’s a blog party and you’re invited!  I’m celebrating the birth of this blog and over 50,000 views in less than a year. I’m celebrating 312 posts, 2,289 comments, 65 categories, 674 tags, and 533 followers! Most of all I’m celebrating writing and communicating with people through the medium of a blog, and I’m celebrating you, the reader, for being willing to read, give feedback, email encouragement and be a part of this process.

In honor of the celebration (besides the mandatory Proseco that I am committed to) I am giving away three books. But to get these books I ask for something in return….

I am inviting you to do one of two things:

  1. Comment on this post giving the title of your favorite post, perhaps a reason why it’s a favorite and suggestions for future posts…..or
  2. Invite someone to read Communicating Across Boundaries who you think would enjoy the blog.  Make sure they comment and let me know that you recommended the blog. If you choose this way to participate, here are some of my favorite posts that you may want to recommend – A Sun Dial and a Swiss Watch – The Story of a Relationship; Learning to Speak Coffee; Meet me at Terminal E and Hookah Hypocrisy.

I will put the names of those who take part into a hat and randomly select three. Those three people will have their choice of one of the books I love and have talked about on this blog.

Here are the books you can choose from:

You have until Tuesday, December 20th to participate. I’ll send out a couple reminders as a way to tell you how much I want you to participate!

Please join in the fun. No one wants to party alone so if no one participates I will cry myself to sleep on my wee pillow!

(Notice that Digging to America and The Day the Chicken Cackled are missing from the photograph. They are on loan to friends!)

Blogging – Graffiti with Punctuation or Real Writing?

In the recently released movie “Contagion”, a researcher is being harassed by a blogger who wants a story. The researcher turns to the blogger and says “Alan, blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation!” And there the conversation ends.

It’s a fair point. To those who have had formal training (and informal struggle) with writing, taking courses and perfecting a craft, writing and then rewriting sentences, forming ideas and then tearing them apart, it is galling to have bloggers throw up a 500 word post with little thought.

But what if the blogger does think carefully about it? What if the blogger gets that idea, ponders it, forms a post, rethinks it, restructures, finds a picture, hears more information, adds another paragraph, and so on? Even if the blogger hasn’t had much formal training in writing, they are working hard at developing their craft – it’s just a different sort of craft. It’s a soundbite craft of sorts – give people a couple short paragraphs with hopes that they will think about it and go find out more.

So readers, what do you think? Is blogging real writing? Or is graffiti with punctuation an apt description? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. And I promise – your views are welcome, whether you like blogs or not!

Lastly – a Happy Saturday to you – may your weekend be a weekend of rest and peace.

Check out these photos taken by my daughter of graffiti near our house! Makes me want to blog :)

A New Kind of Mommy Blog

The Myth of Perfect Parenting....

There are some great mommy blogs out in the blogosphere. There is My Baby Experience blog – A mother of one shares baby advice; the How To Mommy – Making Mom’s Life Easier One Post at a Time; there is even Mommy Adventures – a mom with two kids with her latest feature “Hannah Sings the ABC’s.  They are creative, show amazing pictures of picture-perfect children, feature moms who cook, moms who sew, moms who relay clever anecdotes about said children, and moms who make money off these stories. I am not being totally facetious…some of these blogs are remarkable. They are also a means for women to stay at home, while successfully creating a blogging business that helps support their families, and that is no small feat.

But what we need in addition to these blogs is a new kind of mommy blog. Something in the genre of Erma Bombeck. The blog that tells it like it is when those amazing and beautiful toddlers begin to dress themselves, pick their own friends and noses, say things like “you’re ruining my life!” and break their mommies hearts. Erma Bombeck is the mommy that said: “Never lend your car to anyone to whom you have given birth.” and “When a child is locked in the bathroom with water running and he says he’s doing nothing but the dog is barking, call 911.” and “Being a child at home alone in the summer is a high-risk occupation. If you call your mother at work thirteen times an hour, she can hurt you.”

Once our kids get to a certain age, we are confronted with the fact that they aren’t perfect, nor are we, and it is a vulnerable position. We know in our heads that neither party ever was perfect, but the way we live belies that knowledge. When we get to those stages, the idea of publicly blogging some of our stories sends chills down my spine.

I call the stories from those toddler years the “Let me go, let me jump, let me hit my lip” stories, they are cute stories without far-reaching consequences.  But when the stories become “Let me go, Let me drink, let me hurt myself” or “Let me go, let me drop out of college” or “Let me go, let me fail calculus” (and the list goes on) we are suddenly in this place of “Who is this person and what have they done with my child?” Not so easy to share those stories.

But those are the stories that need to be shared. Those are the stories that show that God is faithful and big and good and in control. Every time we are willing to open up about what’s really going on with our kids – their hearts, their jobs, their struggles, we find that we are not alone. We recognize that just as we were seemingly hopeless once ourselves, sleeping on couches with minimum wage jobs, making choices that were questionable and had far-reaching consequences, so go our kids. And God did not abandon us. And God will not abandon them.

About a year ago I read an article called the “Myth of the Perfect Parent”. While I usually scan cynically over parenting articles this one was different. From the first paragraph and the authors’ description of being “in the muddy trenches of parenthood” she had me.  One of the points made in the article was that the question “Am I parenting successfully?” needs to be changed to “Am I parenting faithfully?” She goes on to say “Faithfulness, after all, is God’s highest requirement for us”. Changing that one word changes the inner dialogue that often sends accusations, and ‘should haves’ reverberating through the brain like sounds in an echo chamber. The question is no longer about success, a culturally based fleeting variable, and becomes about our relationship with, and dependence on, God.

So about the new kind of mommy blog – maybe a blog is not where these conversations and stories belong. But they do belong with friends we know and trust.

Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures! psalm 19:90

Check out this article – The Myth of Perfect Parenting and weigh in on the conversation!

Stale Bread;Fresh Press

The comment said it all: “Loved your post and of course you made Freshly Pressed which gives you almost God like status in blog world!Keep it up…”  It was from a complete stranger who blogs at http://www.conalart.com/ and has a talent for beautiful abstract art. That short comment summed up the affirmation of yesterdays status of Freshly Pressed.

The bread in my house may be stale, my coffee table a clutter, I am behind on a major project at work but here I sit making sure I check in with my daily post in this new blog world of mine and enjoy my 15 minutes of being in this ‘almost God like status’ in my world of blogging.

As those who know me well are fully aware – this new world, opened up to me at this stage of my life, has been a great mixture of discipline, affirmation, and humility all wrapped up in a package that says “I blog”.

So this is short and sweet as it really does matter that I am behind in other things in life. But I look forward to continuing to post and, though I know most of those who read yesterday may not be back, there are others of you that keep on coming and commenting and you have no clue how much I love that!

Blog Talk

Monkeys Blogging
Image via Wikipedia

I’m new at blogging and am encouraged that people are actually reading the blog!  So for readers here’s what to expect from this novice –

  • I’ll be blogging every week day compiling reader responses into one blog post on some Saturdays.
  • Occasionally there will be a series because of my passion for a topic.  I’ll always link these together so when you decide to take a look you’ll be able to read the complete series.
  • I have realized how much bloggers want comments and feedback in the short time I’ve been at this – so thanks to those of you who have commented, those who haven’t please feel free to give your take and your ideas.  It gives me and other readers more to think about and lets me know where readers opinions and thoughts lie.
  • My posts will rarely be more than 500 words long to make them easily scanned.  The Pakistan Series was a different story – so much to communicate, and so much more I’d like to communicate.  Other  posts are, and will  be, shorter.
  • I welcome guest authors, so if you like to write, have cross-cultural experiences and communication stories or other thoughts you want to share but don’t want your own blog – have at it!   I want  your stories and will make sure they get on the blog. Make sure you include a brief bio with the piece and send to communicatingblog@gmail.com
  • Upcoming topics to look for:  Refugees, Invisible and Visible Immigrants, , more on Pakistan, Egypt, healthcare, Cross-cultural adjustment in all its various forms and more!
  • Remember if you subscribe – you can choose the way to receive these in your inbox – instantly, daily or weekly.

So thanks for reading – if you think there’s material on here that is worth sharing I’m honored!

Yes – I blog

A trip to Pakistan in October sparked my desire to write.  While writing has always been fun for me and I have learned how to write “killer” letters to school systems through the years, I have never placed serious attention on the art of writing.  This changed during my travels primarily because I wanted to communicate much of what I was feeling and experiencing.   This blog is my attempt at learning more about communicating through the written word.

A Rabbi in an essay on writing in Ode Magazine  said this:

Don’t write what you know. You can’t write what you don’t know. You have to write!

and so in response to the question “Do you blog?” I can now answer honestly “Yes – I blog!”