lessons from blogging nina badzinWhen I bought the URL address ninabadzin.com on November 18th, 2010, I considered the blog a fun hobby to keep my brain ticking. The physical work of caring for three kids kept me plenty busy, but not in an intellectual way. (I had my fourth child during year two of the blog, which made for some fun posts about baby names by the way.)

I’d always wanted to be a novelist, and I had some short stories published before starting the blog, but it didn’t take long for me to discover that the essay format and the general style of blogging fit my voice more naturally than fiction. One of my favorite posts, “I’m Not an Aspiring Novelist,” discusses my realization that at some point I had stopped blogging as a platform to sell a novel one day. I don’t have a novel in me, but the routine of writing posts week after week (this one marks my 175th) has given me plenty to say about a variety of topics.

As Tracy Kidder and Ricard Todd say about essays in Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction:

You ask the reader to take you seriously, to honor your conviction even if your ideas provoke more than they persuade. You want engagement  at least as much as you want belief. You welcome the silent dialogue with the reader, even if the reader is disputing with you. After all, you are often in dispute with yourself: beliefs are reached in the course of writing, and essays trace the course.

I have found those words so true to my experience. It’s through the process of getting my ideas down on paper (on screen, really) that I play with my observations about parenthood, marriage, writing, friendship, Judaism, books and more. There are always people who disagree with the questions I raise, but I consider that part of my “job” as well. I’m not claiming to know the answers. Sometimes I arrive at one conclusion one year (for myself and my family) and come to another the next year. I like to pose questions and consider the possibilities. If those questions make people uncomfortable, well . . . that’s really what I want to discuss for the rest of this post.

Despite all that I’ve learned in the past three years about writing, the publishing business, and the intricacies of social media, what I want to share today are five life lessons I’ve gleaned from this blogging experience. These are lessons I learned from having a blog, but they apply to everyone–blogger/writer or not.

#1. YOU CANNOT PLEASE EVERYONE ALL OF THE TIME.

I have received some contradictory criticism about my blog. Some samples: You don’t write about the kids enough. You write about the kids too much. You write about weight and food issues too much. You don’t say enough about how you lost weight. You take yourself too seriously. Your posts are too light and fluffy. You’re too judgmental. You need to do a better job of coming down on one side of an issue, of saying what you believe. Let’s say it together, friends: “You cannot please everyone all of the time.” Do not bother trying. You will go mad.

#2. DO NOT JUMP AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY.

Time is so precious. I’ve learned to worry more about wasting time than wasting opportunities. More opportunities will come. (They really will.) Time will not.

#3. KNOW YOUR WORTH.

Turning my blog into some paid writing positions has been so satisfying that I can’t find adequate words to describe how it makes me feel. I’m not covering the mortgage with these paychecks, but receiving them has brought a certain joy to my life that was missing before.

#4. YOU CANNOT CONTROL HOW PEOPLE PERCEIVE YOU.  ALSO . . . LET IT GO.

This one is the toughest for me, as it speaks to three of my most challenging personality traits:

  • I’m a total control freak.
  • I worry what people think about me, and I want people to like me.
  • I mistakenly think that if I just explain myself enough, then people who are upset with me will understand and not be upset anymore.

As I said earlier, I like to raise questions. I find it interesting, for example, to explore why we (members of society) do some of the things we do. Why do we give out parting gifts at the end of a $300, two-hour outing at Pump it Up? Why do we let Target convince us that we need dreidel-themed dish towels to make Hanukkah sufficiently special? I’m not claiming to have the answers; I’m raising questions and pondering these answers for myself. I never insist that I’m “right” since most of the issues I contemplate fall in the gray area of life where no right and wrong answers exist. Give out party favors. Don’t give out party favors. Deck out the house for Hanukkah. Or don’t. DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. Neither is right nor wrong. And it’s not my job in these essays to present all sides of any particular situation. I’m not a reporter or a journalist researching how families approach these choices. My work is not intended to demonstrate a perfectly balanced point of view. To me, that is a fairly obvious fact about the kind of writing I do. Nevertheless, instead of simply disagreeing with me, people have felt “offended” by me raising these questions in the first place.

But see how I’m getting myself all worked up just thinking about how people can cross the line from disagreeing with me to feeling offended? And that’s what has been so hard for me to learn. I cannot control this particular part of the writing process–the part where people think about what I wrote and think worse of me for it. I welcome dissent. Dissent is the miracle grow of blog traffic. (Did you know that?) But when a reader feels personally offended, I become desperate to explain myself. I have responded in comments (and emails) pointing to the exact words in my article that said, using last week’s (and last paragraph’s) example, “I’m not saying it’s wrong to decorate for Hanukkah.” It doesn’t matter. I will get more comments that say, “I can’t believe you’re being so judgmental about decorating for Hanukkah.” It’s a challenge for me, but I’m learning to LET IT GO, to remember that I cannot control the message people receive. Sometimes people see and hear what they want to see and hear, and there is nothing I can do to convince them otherwise. As a close friend advised me last week, I have to learn to leave those feelings with them. If they are “offended” that is for them to explore and understand. I cannot insert myself anymore. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go.

#5. DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN! 

THANKS FOR READING!

Nina 🙂

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Nina Badzin is a freelance writer, an advice columnist at The HerStories Project, a book reviewer at greatnewbooks.org, and a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.