[blogathon] What I’ve Learned From Blogging

This is the fourth post in my SSA blogathon, and another reader request. Don’t forget to donate!

I’ve been blogging in some form or another for ten years. Since I was 12. Did they even have blogs back then? Apparently!

But I only started this blog a little less than four years ago, and it took about a year or two for it to really start to pick up readers. I’ve always written primarily for myself–because it’s fun, because I wanted to work out my ideas–otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to keep it up for 7 or 8 years before starting to really get readers. But having an audience and interacting with it is a big part of what blogging’s all about, or else there would be a lot fewer blogs in the world.

That makes blogging very different from other kinds of writing, and even though I’ve been writing and one way or another since early childhood, blogging has taught me a few unique lessons.

1. Do it for yourself.

I mentioned this already, but I’ll expand on it. Blogging and writing in general can be very thankless things to do. While I get plenty of lovely comments and emails from people about how my blog has helped them and influenced their opinions, most people who read this blog and like it will not tell me so. And nor should they feel obligated to. But that means that in order for someone to keep up blogging and not get burned out, they have to do it primarily for themselves–because it’s good for them, because they love it. The feeling I get from finally working out in writing an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for hours or days doesn’t compare to anything else I’ve ever done.

But this is important because it applies to many things one does in life. I learned to love working out because I learned to do it for me, not for the approval of people who tell me I need to work out. I learned to love going to parties because I found a way to do it in a way that I actually enjoyed rather than doing it because it’s what college students “ought” to do (and I avoid the kinds of parties that I would not enjoy). And I predict that I’ll love my career not (just) because I want to “help people,” but because I enjoy the process of working through someone’s patterns of thinking with them.

Of course, sometimes you have to do things for other people and not for yourself. That’s a fact of life. But it’ll go better if you find a way to do it for yourself, too.

2. Your worth is not based on how many people agree with you.

Let me tell you this: no matter how confident you are, no matter how many compliments you’ve gotten, even the kindest and most polite criticism will sting. (And when it’s not polite at all, it stings even more.) I’ve come to realize that feeling stung by criticism is not a bad thing in and of itself; once the feeling passes, you can evaluate the criticism on its own merits and hopefully improve and clarify your own position.

But regardless of whether criticism is fair or not, it doesn’t have anything to do with one’s worth as a person. I could write something that every single person who reads it disagrees with and I’d still be a generally decent person who tries to be a good friend and partner and who tries to contribute to the causes and communities I care about. Even if I happen to write the stupidest fucking post that has ever graced this blog, those things are still true.

3. Don’t expect to make a huge difference immediately (or ever).

This also comes back to doing it for yourself. But I think that the more you expect your blogging/activism to Change All The Things!, the easier it’ll be for you to get burned out when you inevitably find that you’re not living up to your own expectations.

Blogging is even less likely to make Big Concrete Change than other forms of activism. If you participate in a march or rally, you’ll get a huge amount of visibility for your cause. If you lobby your congressperson, they may vote the way you wanted them to and help pass important legislation or block terrible legislation. If you participate in a boycott of a company, the company may cave and stop doing whatever shitty thing it was doing.

What does blogging do? Someone, somewhere out there, might read a post and feel like they’re not alone. They may write to you and tell you, but they may not. Someone, somewhere out there, might start questioning beliefs they’d previously held sacred. Someone, somewhere out there, might find a good new argument to use next time they have to debate with someone about religion or politics or social justice.

Sometimes blogging does make a huge visible difference. A good example is something Jessica Valenti discusses in her book The Purity Myth–in 2005, a Virginia lawmaker named John Cosgrove proposed a bill that would’ve made it illegal for a woman to fail to report a miscarriage to the police within 12 hours. But citing Internet backlash, he later withdrew the bill.

But I think that’s rare. Most of the time you will not see huge changes from your blogging, though you may occasionally see small ones. They still matter.

4. You get to decide how to blog. Not your commenters. You.

I have a pretty detailed and specific comment policy. Some of it’s the usual stuff, but some of it is pretty specific to my style of blogging and moderating. For instance, if you use a nasty tone, I get to respond to you with a nasty tone. If you disagree and don’t back up your disagreement with any evidence or reasoning, you’ll get deleted. If you’re a bigot, you get deleted. Plenty of people dislike my style of moderation, and I frankly don’t care.

I decided early on that what would be up for debate on this blog would be ideas, not how I choose to blog. Nobody gets to tell me they don’t like my tone. Nobody gets to tell me not to feed the trolls if that’s what I want to do. Nobody gets to tell me to write about something other than what I want to write about. Nobody gets to tell me that FREEZE PEEEEACH.

My blog, my rules!

5. People will assume that who you are when you’re blogging is Who You Are.

This is one I’ve had a lot of trouble with. To some extent, my blog is a good approximation of who I am and what I care about. But to some extent it’s not. My response to commenters prattling on about false rape accusations is not the same as my response to people in meatspace prattling on about false rape accusations. My argumentation online is not the same as my argumentation in meatspace. Having now met many bloggers I follow offline, I know I’m far from alone in this.

But people don’t always know or consider this, so I think people often assume I’m really snarky and argumentative in meatspace, too. I’m actually not. I much prefer listening to talking, and in fact, I read a lot more than I write. I read dozens of articles a day and dozens of books a year. What I write is a fraction of what I think about as I read all these things.

Sometimes this means I make an effort to be extra friendly, smiley, and easy-going in public. But I think the most important thing for me is to remember that my personality, like everyone else’s, has multiple facets, and that I make good decisions about which sides to deploy in given situations.

Actually, I have a lot more to say about things I’ve learned from blogging, so I’ll probably have to write a follow-up post since this one’s super-long. Stay tuned!

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Like My Blog? Think It Needs More You In It?

(In that case, it sounds like you might want to contribute a guest post!)

Part of my mission with Brute Reason is to encourage conversation about things that are often left unsaid, and that doesn’t mean I have to be the only one talking. I’ve already had two fantastic guest posts this week, and I want to open that opportunity up to everyone who lurks on reads this blog.

The rules are pretty simple:

  • It must be thoughtful and intelligent. Well-written is a plus, but if you’re not a strong writer and still have something to say, I can help you develop your post.
  • It can be about basically anything. This blog has an emphasis on psychology, culture, politics, and social justice, but anything goes.
  • Pseudonyms are okay. It’d be cool if you can use your real name, but if not, I understand.
  • Crossposting at other blogs is obviously also okay.
  • Try to keep it under 1,500 words. If it’s longer than that, we could consider splitting it up into two or more posts. Or I might just ignore this rule.
  • Nonfiction only, please. Unless it carries a strong message that pertains to politics, social issues, etc., in which case I might ignore this rule too.
  • No racism, sexism, or any other of those bad -isms. I realize this is completely a judgment call on my part, but hey, it’s my blog.
  • You don’t have to agree with me. In fact, my first guest post directly contradicted one of my own opinions! I’ll publish guest posts that I disagree with, as long as they handle the disagreement respectfully and intelligently. The only exception is in the previous bullet point.

Although any subject is fair game, here are a few that I’m especially interested in because I lack the experience and/or knowledge to write about them myself:

  • Race and LGBT issues
  • Mental illness other than depression
  • Science, especially the latest research/controversies in climate change, nutrition, and other politically relevant issues like that
  • Food policy
  • Non-Western perspectives
  • Economics and business ethics

Sound like something you want to do? Email me your piece or idea at miriam[at]brutereason.net.

I hope to hear from some of you soon!

*update* For heaven’s sake, I will not publish any guest posts from content farms. Please stop trying. Here’s a hint: if your blog name is something like Best Online Colleges 4 U, I’m not interested.

Also! I forgot to mention this before. Please send along a brief bio with your guest post.

New Comment Policy

From now on, I will delete any negative, anonymous comments from this blog. This is because I firmly believe that if you have a constructive comment to make about something I wrote, you should be able to put your real name on it (or a screen name you use elsewhere online). If you find yourself writing a negative comment that you’d rather keep anonymous from me, this is probably because what you’re saying isn’t helpful or constructive.

If you don’t feel comfortable having others read your comment with your name attached to it, you are free to email it to me at miriam[at]brutereason.net or contact me through Facebook.

If you don’t actually know me personally but found this blog through the internet somehow, I would prefer that you link to your blog or other sort of site. Although, if I think your comment is really interesting and/or constructive, I might leave it up anyways.

Regardless, if I decide to delete an anonymous comment, I will leave a note referring to this comment policy and inviting you to repost your comment with some sort of identification attached. If you don’t want to, that’s fine.

Ultimately, this is an issue of accountability. I criticize a lot of people and institutions on this blog, but I use my real name because I prefer to take ownership of my opinions. If you can’t do the same, then, with all due respect, keep your opinions to yourself. I never expect more of others than I would expect from myself, so I think I’m being fair in this regard.

In other words, no more of this “an acquaintance” or “someone you know” crap. If you know me and disagree with me, own up to it.

Thanks for reading.

Update: Here’s the rest of the comment policy!

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Kids These Days

I am going to do something I rarely do–label something with an “ism.”

A post on CNN’s health blog, The Chart, points out that oral sex can increase cancer risk–valuable information, to be sure. But for some unknown reason, the blog frames the information like this:

Here’s a crucial message for teens: Oral sex carries many of the same risks as vaginal sex, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of oral cancers in America in people under age 50.

“Adolescents don’t think oral sex is something to worry about,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. “They view it as a way to have intimacy without having ‘sex.’”

Actually, the author of this blog and the professor quoted in it might be surprised to know that adults also occasionally engage in oral sex, so this might be a “crucial message” for them as well as for teens. In fact, sometimes these adults even view it as a way to have intimacy without having ‘sex’!

But of course, there’s no need to miss another valuable opportunity to insert a “kids these days” reference into a completely unrelated topic. Which is, yes, ageism.

On another note, since when does a random doctor or professor get to unilaterally define “sex”? Just because oral sex undoubtedly carries risks doesn’t make it equivalent to, say, vaginal or anal sex. Different people ascribe different significance (or lack thereof) to different sexual behaviors. To many people, oral sex is not as “serious” or meaningful as penetrative sex. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be aware of its risks, but it does mean that no higher authority can or should try to define “sex” for everybody.