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Creating Great Blogs: Ideas, Text, Links, Images & More
The word blog is short for web log, and it is an online journal of sorts. Anyone can publish a blog free on the Internet. Blogs can be scholarly in nature or more personal, especially for personal websites.
Why I Like Blogging
I love blogging, but it did not come easily to me at the beginning. I took a staff class on blogging just because it looked interesting, and I wanted to keep up with new trends in technology. Honestly, I did not think that I would blog; I simply wanted to learn more about blogging. Then, I spoke with a friend who said that you could blog about anything (anything related to information or literature, for a library blog). I actually told her that I could not think of anything; she must have thought that I had a very vacuous brain. I also like writing. I actually started writing my autobiography when I was in Ireland for three months without a job, and I got bored, somewhat prematurely, some might say. Sometimes, I think that what we tend to do when given large amounts of time and few external contraints reflects what we naturally want to do. Anyhow, I managed to think of a few things that I could say something about, including Children's Literary Salons. Blogging also gives me something to do at work when there is nothing to do, it is a very creative outlet, and it allows me a platform to communicate with and educate customers.
I am so glad that I live in this day and age where I can use this medium to express my ideas. I am not really wanting to go through the rigmarole of getting published in a journal, and I am not dedicated enough to go through the excruciatingly lengthy process of book publication. The Internet allows anyone to publish anything online free of charge. It is terrific.
How My Blogging Evolved
When I took my first blogging class, I did not even want to blog. I simply wanted to keep abreast of technological developments. I had no intention of blogging; I just wanted to learn more about it. I mean, it was a possibility. I was not completely against the idea of me possibly blogging in the future. However, it seemed like a lot of work, and I was not sure that I wanted to spend that much time writing, I did not know much about it, and I did not have many ideas for what I could blog about. All of that changed, needless to say.
At first, it was very hard to come up with ideas. The entire process seemed excruciating. Learning about Drupal was also challenging. Drupal can be temperamental. Sometimes you try to save, and it will not save, etc. It is tricky, but I think I am okay with learning about it, and dealing with its idiosyncracies. At first, I could not do much, but my abilities have evolved and strengthened as I have continued blogging. I could never blog about conferences before; now I am able to blog about sessions, and I listen more critically to the talk so that I can blog about the interesting parts and tune out the stuff that everyone says. It makes for a more relaxing (not hand-hurting), less frenetic note-taking session, and (I think) more interesting blogs. My methods evolve constantly as I learn more about the blogging process and venture into new areas for more interesting forays in the blogging world.
Before I could blog for the library, I was required to take a NYPL blogging class, which was not scheduled for a couple of months. Therefore, I started writing blogs and saving them as MS Word documents, working on the text, so that I would not lose my ideas. Also, I was a grand juror in the fall of 2011, so I was able to read a few books during the jury service that I ended up blogging about. I also blogged about my grand jury experience. I finally published my first blog in November of 2011.
Getting Ideas - What to Write About
I was told in my blogging class to not worry about what other people will find interesting. If I like it, someone out there will find it interesting. I have followed this advice, and I think that I have written some good posts. Anytime I am blasé about a particular topic, I try to avoid writing about it. When I am bored, that boredom will definitely be transmitted to my readers, and I do not want to write mediocre blog posts. I do not blog about every book I read or every program I attend. I only blog about the ones that I have something sufficient to say about and the ones that I like. I really admire bloggers who can give good literary critiques about elements of literature that they dislike; I am more apt to simply put the book down. However, I have been encouraged to say something about blatant inaccuracies that I see in books that I like, and I am grateful for that because it will only help the potential audiences of those works. It is also great to read good blogs to see what others are writing (eg, A Fuse #8 Production).
The Writing Process
I have developed a certain rhythm about the writing process of blogs, which I realized I was doing after I had been blogging for awhile. The three basic components of a blog are text, images, and links. (Videos can also be included, and sometimes this is a great idea if they are directly relevant to your blog. I personally do not prefer blog posts that are solely or mostly comprised of videos, but other people might differ on this point.)
Text is very important. Blog posts can vary in length. Some can be very short, and some will be longer. You could have a brief advertisement for an upcoming event, or it could be very lengthy. You could have a brief list of favorite autumn novels, or a longer list. How long a blog post will be depends on the amount of time the blogger has to devote to a blog and how much the blogger has to say about a particular subject. My booktalking blog posts tend to be shorter, and my posts about events like TeenLIVE events or Children's Literary Salons are always long and complicated. I always take notes while reading books that I will potentially blog about and while attending programs that I will blog about. Without those notes, I would be lost; there is no way that I could reconstruct the book or event by memory. Communicate your most important points and ideas through your text.
Most of my text is not interpretative. I admire good literary critics so much, but my blogs about programs like TeenLIVE and Children's Literary Salons are simply my choice of what to include of the content of the interview or panel discussion that I find interesting and unique. Also, I include information that I believe other people who may not have had a chance to attend the program may find interesting and be glad that they had a chance to be exposed to. The fact that I include different information than any other blogger would makes my portrayal of the event my own.
The booktalking blog posts I write are more marketing pieces for the book that I will use myself with classes of students, or that others could use. However, it is very difficult to give a booktalk for a book that you have not written yourself, and it is almost impossible to give a booktalk of a book that you have not read. If the audience asks you questions about the book, you probably would not be able to answer them.
When I am writing about programs that I attend, I have learned through experience, to not include some things that are said in person (you are creating a written record of the event) and to rephrase other things to make the meaning clear. Some things which are said in person, with the visual and situational context, in addition to previous things that have been said, may make sense. However, sometimes, I make responses more explicit when I am recounting them to make sure that the meaning is clear. For example, at Kid Lit Con 2012, in our lovely historic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I was attending an event where people were saying that authors should never contact reviewers who review their books. Later, this was modified and it became clear that people were actually intending to communicate that it is perfectly acceptable for authors to thank reviewers for a positive review but completely inappropriate for them to contact reviewers to complain about a negative review. Reviewers are objective, and authors interfere with the reviewing process and freedom of speech if they are attempting to censor or intimidate reviewers into not saying anything critically negative about their works. Authors should be able to accept criticism. Anyhow, when I blog about the event, I will state that authors should not contact reviewers to complain about negative reviews. I would not want to give the audience of my blog the misperception that members of the panel I attended did not think that authors could contact reviewers to thank them for a review.
When I am writing about people (authors) or I include names of staff members, I prefer to send them my blog drafts prior to posting so that I accurately portray what they said and what happened at the event in a way that is appropriate to them. I also give the director of any special library that I blog about a draft of my post so that I can blog about their institution in a way that is acceptable to them. I cannot overstate how important it is to make sure that people you are blogging about and may have professional relationships with know what you are saying about them online and it is okay with them. This would obviously not apply to critical reviews. You always want to protect the professional relationships that you develop so that you can continue working with people and you maintain a good relationship with them.
Writing for Your Audience
Most of my blogs are for either staff or customers who may be curious about the literature, programs, and/or other things that I write about. I wrote a training document for outreach that would not be appropriate for the NYPL audience because it would not speak to the patrons of NYPL. I have heard bloggers say that they write differently when they are posting a blog review of a book than when they are getting paid to review a blog for a journal. Some authors of books say that they write for themselves and others say that they write for their audiences. My blog posts tend to vary; some I write for a particular person (e.g., the person who runs a particular program), some I write for potential readers or attenders of events, and some I mainly write for myself and/or family and friends (some of the autobiographical blog info) but everything I post on the NYPL web site is appropriate for staff and patrons.
Critiquing With Class
If you have a constructive criticism to make that is backed up by a logical argument or evidence, it is helpful to write about it, in most cases. However, stating negative things in excess or without much reason is not helpful online. You do not want to be posting things that are very negative or hurtful in an online environment. This is a published account of your work. Like with email, Facebook, and any web page that you may have online, potential employers, relatives and friends could find your work online. Better to be safe than sorry.
Text is the bread and butter of my posts, and I tend to have a lot of it. I love expressing my ideas in a written format, spiced with images, and peppered with links.
I usually find images the most fun to include. I like visual art, including photography, and I love searching our digital gallery for the most expressive images to include. Images can reflect the text of your blog, but it can also enhance the text and add new ideas to the text, or give it a different interpretation. The images should definitely be relevant to your blog, but they do not have to exactly reflect what is in your blog. I also like to use book covers or jackets to enhance the blogs, especially if the blogs are about authors. In those cases, I definitely want to mention the books in the text, but I also include images of the covers so that people will recognize those books more readily if they would like to check them out. Choose your images carefully to enhance and decorate your blog to the best of your ability.
Some blog posts are easily to find images for then others. For example, I posted about Mental Health Special Libraries & Museums. Can you see what I am talking about? I chose a cat family with the words "Happy Family" as a caption, a leaf (because oftentimes trees and nature are used to denote tranquility in advertisements for psychiatric facilities) and a drawing of a horse that was touching noses with a dog in friendship. That was definitely a challenge, and I am glad that all of my blogs are not that difficult to illustrate. You can choose images that are freely available for use on the Internet like flickr.com. Other blogs, such as my Children's Literary Salon, was beautiful decorated by images from the panelists web sites (I got their permission via email), and some of my blogs related to animals or dance are easy to find relevant images for. This blog is going to be difficult to illustrate because it is difficult to turn the concept of a blog into a visual image, and many of our digital gallery images are historical in nature.
The thumbnail image that represents your post is very important and care should be taken to use the best image at the very beginning of your post. Even if you are not a very visual person, and if you do not plan on including many images in your blog, it is important to have a thumbnail image that best represents your blog. This is what people will see in addition to the first few words of your post to determine if they want to read more. You need an engaging image to advertise your blog to the world. For example, I chose the image on the homepage of one of the panelists in a kid lit salon to be my thumbnail because it was such a vibrant illustration of a peacock, with permission. The colors and design were very eye-catching.
Getting Permission to Use Images
Sometimes you can ask people whom you are writing about if you could use images that are on their web sites to decorate your blog with. I have been amazed at how many people say yes. Thank them profusely for doing so. This really helps you out and makes a great blog with art from the people you are blogging about. In my experience, higher profile people generally will not give you such permission. They have more complicated lives, so I just take it in stride. In fact, I am considering not asking people who are obviously famous (on major TV shows, etc.) for permission anymore because I have never gotten a response from them. I am simply glad that I had a chance to meet them and write about them.
Links are what differentiates online work from other written work, and good links can really enhance the discovery process of related information for your readers. It is an awesome plus for online writing. You can read other blogs to get an idea of what words are linked. When I write blogs, I often link to locations (eg, different libraries), I link the author's name to his or her website, the title of the book to the title page of that book in our catalog, etc. It takes some experience, but you will get an idea of which items to link. If you have a list blog, there may be many links. If you have more of an explanatory blog or a literary critique, there may be fewer links. Link what is important. Do not drive yourself crazy trying to link every other word to a web page. I personally do not like reading blogs where there are several words in every sentence linked (I think this is an overlinked blog). However, you are writing a blog, so you should include at least a few links where people can find more information. Make sure you include useful resources in your links that your audience may not have otherwise known about.
I often include a list of relevant links at the end of the blog. For example, there could be related upcoming events, a link to a blog I like, links to the author's books, etc. This is a personal preference, and not everyone uses links in this way. As I have progressed as a blogger, I have become more selective about what I link.
I have developed a number of series in which I include many blogs with the same formate and style (eg, kid lit salon, booktalking, TeenLIVE events, professional associations, special libraries & museums, special libraries, etc.). In order to develop a series, you need to come up with a framework and an outline where you can simply plug in the information about different things for different posts in the series. Once you get the hang of the different elements in a particular series, you get used to the rhythm of the series, and blogs in that series are much easier to write. I think that series blogs are easier to write than stand-alone blogs because everything about a stand-alone blog is unique and different, and you are creating all of the elements of that blog specifically for that blog. However, it takes a lot of work and brainpower to get series blogs started.
Stand Alone Blogs
Some blog posts are unique in and of themselves (eg, my grand jury blog, etc.). I think that these kind of posts are more difficult to write than series because each of them has their own structure. Write your impressions about what you see; write about what is going on. It can also be helpful to free write and not censor yourself as you write to help you come up with ideas. Think about what you would like to communicate with the world about, and let blogs be your venue!
When to Post
Blogs can be posted seasonally if they have a theme. For example, I posted my blog about the novel Sniper in October near Halloween because it involves the killing of animals on a wildlife sanctuary. I will post a blog about the book Tessa Masterson Will Go to the Prom in the spring before prom season. When I decide which blogs to post, I look at them and think about when would be a good time to post. LGBT Special Libraries & Museums might get posted in June near LGBT Pride week, the Holiday blog I have will definitely get posted in November to let people know about our Friends Holiday Celebration at NYPL, etc.
I started blogging once a week because I started writing drafts months before I was posting. This allowed me to crystallize to some extent the process of writing text. I was able to learn about text first, then about links and images. It also gave me a chance to correct some errors. I wanted to start out strong, not making a lot of errors and then learn and have a huge difference between the quality of my first blog and the quality of my twentieth blog. I think this strategy helped me, and I am lucky in that my blogs are somewhat timeless. However, I hope that I am continually improving and that my blogs are getting better. (I just did not want the learning curve to be terribly obvious to readers; I wanted to get that over with before I started. Sometimes when I learn to change an element of a post to make it more effective, I will go through all of the similar blogs or blogs in that series and change them as well so that they can be uniform.) I usually do not post blogs that are advertisements for upcoming events (although I definitely have links at the end of my blogs for upcoming events.) For people who have deadlines for when they need to post their blogs, this strategy obviously would not work.
Presently, I post blogs twice a week because I am generating more ideas, and I have many blogs that are pretty much finished in my draft bin. I want to get them out there and keep writing more. I love the fact that blogs are somewhat tangible, and that I can show people what I have created. I teach classes and sometimes create displays that get changed. It's nice to be able to give people links to show them what I have accomplished.
Building a Following
I have a mailing list for all of my blogs (mostly family and friends). I have sent a link of one of my blogs to other people, and they have the option of subscribing to my RSS (real simple syndication) feed, which is a simplified text version of my blog. I also have a separate children's literary salon mailing list (which includes authors I have met at the kid lit salons and staff involved with that program). I sometimes tell people who might be interested to read my blogs about them, and I sometimes send them a link to either the most recent one or one that suits their interests. They can then click on Read all Posts by Miranda J. McDermott at the bottom of the blog if they would like to read more.
Comments - Responding to Them
You do not have to respond to every comment about a blog that comes your way, but it is good to respond to comments with appreciation or more information. People love to know that they were able to have some interaction with you and that you read their comment. You can also learn a lot from the commentors' thoughts and ideas. They may even include links in their comments!
Some bloggers keep drafts of blog posts, or have many posts in various states and save them to work on or publish later. I sometimes write a rough draft of posts on a book or event and then let it and my mind rest until I have the energy to add links and images. I get a little bit burned out from the mental effort of writing a lot, and I have to wait until I am recharged enough to give sufficient thought to the process.
When I Write
I take notes during events I attend or books I read and I prefer to blog about them soon after the event or the book is finished so that it is fresh in my mind. Also, since I absolutely need the notes to write terrific blogs, I am paranoid about losing my written notes. However, sometimes a couple of days will elapse before I can start writing.
Protecting Your Work
I usually email myself the blog after I have an almost finished draft because I am paranoid about Drupal malfunctioning, and me being left without my written work. I also save the work in Drupal at least every ten minutes. Luckily, there is a revision history in Drupal, and you can push a magic button called Revert to Earlier Revision to erase any changes that you have made. You may be using a system other than Drupal, and you will have to learn about the system you are using and its idiosyncracies.
Perfecting Your Work
I have seen blogs posted with typos in the title and numerous typos in the text. Please use spellcheck. Please reread your work multiple times to ensure that you are expressing what you want to express, and that the wording sounds correct, and the sequence of ideas is the way that you want it. I have learned with experience that sometimes what is in my head and what I want to express is not what I write. I sometimes have to force myself to read the exact words on the page that I have written to make sure that the words that I wrote expressed what I wanted to express. If possible, of course, it is always a great idea to have a fresh pair of someone else's eyes review your work. Some misspelled words will not be caught by spellcheck, and it is sometimes difficult to see what you have written and evaluate it objectively.
What Makes a Good Blog
The tone and emotion of the voice of the blog is very important. Many blogs have a personal voice that is quite conversational. In fact, just like good political speeches, it is good to give every audience member the feeling that you are personally speaking to them. What people are looking for when they read a blog is different than what they look for in a newspaper, a novel, or a journal article. Blogs are more informal and conversational in nature. One of the blogs I love, A Fuse #8 Production, is both very personable and friendly, but it also includes a lot of very intriguing literary criticism. This blog, written by Betsy Bird, was nominated for the Edublog of the Year award in 2011.
Personal Information in Blogs?
You want to be careful about this. I include some information about myself in order to make the blog personable, but I also omit some place names and people's names to maintain my own and other people's privacy. Like an email and other items on the Internet, blogs are there for many people to see, including all of your relatives, friends, coworkers, and prospective employers. Some of my blogs are more scholarly (if you can call them that) in nature than others. Some are more based in research and others are more like commentary on a particular book, with long digressions about my personal experience that is related to the topic of the blog. Including some information about your life can make the blog seem more personable; however, it depends on the intended audience for the blog, the purpose of the blog, and the blogger's personal comfort level. More scholarly blogs would probably not benefit from too much personal information, and if the blogger is not comfortable talking on a more personal level, that is fine, as well.
Some people like my blogs, and I have had more than one friend ask me how I blog. I am afraid that I have been unable to come up with a suitable answer until this point.
All of the above information are just suggestions and ideas for blogging. Blogs are a varied lot, and what pleases some people may displease others. Content, including images, text and links, is very open to what the creator of the blog decides to do with it. It is important to create something unique, and put your personal spin on your work to make it your own.
These are Your Blogs
The blog posts that you write are yours. Have fun with them and be creative! You can make them look the way you want, you can express yourself and communicate with the world through this wonderful media that we have available to us. Write them step-by-step, as you feel comfortable, and the process will get easier with time, and you will probably develop more ideas as you progress in your work. Happy blogging!
- We've Got Blog: How Weblogs Are Changing Our Culture, 2002. ed John Rodzvilla.
- Create your own free blog through Google!
- Blogging and Computer Classes at NYPL
- Kidlitsophere Central: The Society of Bloggers in Children's and Young Adult Literature
- Kid Lit Con
- A Fuse #8 Production
- "This Blog's For You" School Library Journal article Nov 2009 by Elizabeth Bird
- Books about Blogs