Following the rising Mainstream Media trend of pushing "blogs" out of the ghetto of cyberspace and into the ghetto of the Living section of print-based newspapers, The Kansas City Star has been publishing a "Mom 2 Mom" blog on the back page of the Monday FYI.
By Moms, For Moms
So says The Star. But also, apparently, for anyone who would prefer to read something else in the Monday FYI. Not being a mom, or a woman, or a parent, or even a bystander with an interest in the ramblings of those who are moms won't make the last page of the living section any less lame.
With that said, it's not impossible to write a blog, centered around the role of being a mom, that will be of interest to those who haven't experienced parenthood firsthand. The Star, however, defines "blog" as "public diary" and fails to realize that public diaries are almost never interesting. They want the hip trendiness that is attached to the word blog, but they also want the white-washed, saccharine atmosphere that sums up the content of most family-oriented, lifestyle-section columnists.
A recent Mom 2 Mom entry:
Loopa Bowl... (website here) They describe it as a gyro-bowl (weird word) and supposedly stuff never spills... if you look at the website demo it looks pretty cool. I think I might order one. There's been too many times where I find Little Einstein star-shaped cereal pieces on the floor board of my car or under the couch cushions. This thing looks like it has some bad-a#$ swivel action! SOURCE
Essentially, an advertisement made slightly edgy by the inclusion of a pseudo-swearword (bleeped out by The Star) -- edginess which will never make the leap from this online entry to the print edition. Yes, believe it or not, the content that appears on thousands of doorsteps in the KC Metro area is even more lame than the above example.
"Horror" stories pertaining to naughty children, attempts at humor -- all of it boring, uninspired, and without even a hint of controversy. Are moms really this dull? Doubtful. These are the same people who were posting drunken photos to their Facebook column before having kids. No, it's not fair to blame the moms; one suspects that even those moms who write for The Star would love to cut loose and discuss their sexual preferences or the desire to instill some nasty habits in their children -- just to see what happens, etc.
The real culprit is the mainstream media's bastardization of what a blog should entail, and how a blog should be written.
To counter that mentality, the following is a list of sure-fire ways to produce a compelling blog:
Don't be afraid to piss-off a segment of your audience.
In fact, if you're not pissing-off a percentage of your audience, you're probably boring most of your audience.
Someone should be outraged about what you have to say and if you're not getting any email about it, you're doing something wrong.
No discussion about "Mommy Blogs" is complete without a reference to Dooce, the personal blog of Heather Armstrong, and arguably the most successful example of the genre. (Expect more than one reference.)
Armstrong is an ex-Mormon living in Utah. She isn't shy when it comes to writing about sex and drinking despite the fact that her site is anchored by the learning curve inherent in raising her first child. (WIth an assist from her Husband.) Based on her lifestyle choices and an always acerbic wit, Armstrong receives a lot of "attention" from the Mormon community, little of it positive. Her forum is occasionally devoted to a public calling-out of her detractors -- part catharsis, part attempt to court further controversy.
Interestingness: Give it a shot.
It's been said that if you want to take more interesting pictures, you should become a more interesting person.
The same is true of blogging.
No one cares that Dr. Spock doesn't work when it comes to raising your kids, because it's Grade A, Andy Rooney-level drivel. It's also not interesting that you went organic for a week only to later decide you don't care enough to justify the extra expense.
Welcome to the world of "everyone feels that way".
Back to Heather Armstrong: Remember, she's an ex-Mormon, living in the Mormon capital of the world. She's open about having developed a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the birth of her daughter, and is also open about the associated complications concerning her marriage and her role as a mom. As if that weren't enough, the phrase "to be dooced" is synonymous with the increasing instances in which employees are fired for blogging about their job -- because Armstrong pioneered the movement.
It's not a good idea to develop a case of depression or to risk your livelihood in the name of readership, but it is a good idea to have a hook -- some sort of defining characteristic that makes your content worth coming back to.
Being a mom (or a dad, or a gardener, etc.) is not that hook.
Part of being a more interesting blogger involves the concept of controlled-openness: Your blog should be a public diary that reads, at times, like a private diary. Ultimately, if you're not a little bit nervous about publishing something you've just written, it's probably not very interesting.
When you were 16, your brother wasn't stealing your diary hoping to find something that you weren't trying to hide anyway, he wanted the juicy bits about what you want to do to the cute boy down the street, the story about how you snuck out after bedtime to hang out with your friends and smoke pot.
Your audience today is no different than your brother when you were 16.
Lie a little.
If you don't like the word lie, "embellish" also works. Either way, the point is to make your life seem more interesting than it actually is.
David Sedaris is a popular author who has published several memoirs about his experiences growing into adulthood, and beyond. He gets a free pass on interestingness because 1) he's gay and 2) his sister, Amy Sedaris, is a well-known actress and comedienne. Story ideas probably come easier to David Sedaris than they will to your average blogger, but we can't all be pretty, and witty, and gay.
Despite Sedaris' obvious leg up, he's stated in the past that he doesn't write about his life exactly as his life unfolded. Why? Only Sedaris knows for sure, but even a gay man with a famous sister knows that a well-told story is almost always better than a true story.
This is why gossip is better once you've heard it via the fourth or fifth person to relate the story. Filtered gossip means that the boring parts have been dropped whereas the interesting parts have been embellished.
When it comes to your blog, it's only important that what you post is believable enough to be possible, but embellished enough to be interesting.
Armstrong will often relate off-the-cuff conversations between herself and her husband, conversations that usually come across as ultra-witty. You may find yourself wishing you were able to talk just like that with your significant other, but there's a reason why it's difficult to imagine those words coming out of the mouths of real people, during a real conversation.
In reality, a very similar conversation probably occurred between Armstrong and her husband. At the time, it probably seemed very funny. When written down, it probably seemed somewhat less funny, less spontaneous. This is where embellishing becomes acceptable, and necessary.
As a blogger, you control the timing of what you purportedly "say" in real life, because you can edit that real life conversation into your published persona -- not necessarily 100% you, but "you" nonetheless.
You can do this, and you should do this.
Part and parcel of the embellishing process is honing your craft as a writer. Armstrong doesn't get a free pass because of her PTSD or her (self-admitted) inability to take a consistent shit. She's developed a style of writing that fits her persona (crafts her persona?) and she writes really well in that mode.
First things first: Throw out that MLA handbook. You're not writing a thesis, you're blogging about your personal life. This is a "get out of jail free card" when it comes to breaking the rules of grammatical correctness.
For example: You can, within reason, explore punctuation as a representation of your personality.
No. Fucking. Kidding. (Don't do that, though. Everyone is doing that.)
Needless to say, you are not Jane Austen and no one expects you to write as though you teach English at the college level.
Your audience does expect (and its hypothetical existence depends upon) your ability to write well enough that your stylistic nuances don't overpower your topics. As any graphic designer can tell you: Quality is invisible, and should be taken for granted. This is just as true when it comes to writing.
If your stylistic flourishes aren't transparent, they're probably in the way.
Don't be random.
If your niche can't be summed up in two or three words, you should probably revisit your raison d'être.
Once again: Being a mom is not a niche.
You want to be known as the mom who tends to write about "a" and "b". The important thing is to be known as. Finding that niche allows you to focus your audience (and your writing) so that they have something comfortable to come back to. It also allows for a simple description of your work.
No one is going to be talked into reading the blog of someone who writes about what it's like raising a kid while having to juggle shopping, housework and a job.
Someone might read about a mom who is training to compete in the Tour De France, and who throws in bits about how that is affecting her ability to raise a kid. If it affects your sex life, so much the better.
Heather Armstrong is a mom, yes. No one cares, or no one would care if that's all there was to Heather Armstrong. She's also supporting her family with the money earned via her blog, and that creates a compelling struggle.
Once you've found that niche, you can deftly mix things up by throwing in an entry or two between "theme" entries to round out your personality.
Every single piece of advice so far is accompanied by an invisible line. Walk the line -- step over it on occasion -- but avoid a permanent residence on the far side. Embellish enough, but don't earn a reputation as a liar. Be interesting, but not at the expense of being a likable person. Establish your niche, but don't let it run your life.
Boring ----- | ----- Asshole
Bad <--- Good ---> Bad
As per the first instruction -- you want some people think you're an asshole, sometimes. You don't want all people to think of you as an asshole, all of the time.
The world already has one Ann Coulter.
The above advice can be applied to any person interested in blogging about any subject. Mommy Blogs -- as they appear in The Star -- just happen to have provided the inspiration for this article, because they suck.