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12 Steps to Authentic Blogging: Advice from Blog Writers

What do people mean when they talk about authenticity in blogging?

As there’s so much that’s already been written on this subject I thought I’d do a round up of some of the best writing rather than attempting to add something new, so here goes:

#1. Respect your readers

Perhaps the cornerstone of blog writing. This particular reminder comes from one of my favourite blogging teachers, Liz Strauss

Be attentive to your readers’ needs for great content.
Be consistent and transparent. Be grown up with self-respect.
Be authentically you in service to them.

# 2. Connect with people

Another cornerstone. This one’s from Dawud Miracle. Remember you’re talking to, writing for, real people.

People want to do business with people - not with businesses. In other words, they want conversation and relationships.

#3. Open up the conversation

If people want conversation – and that’s not just the readers but the writers too – we need to change the way that we write to open up the possibility of comments and conversation.

Some of that is stylistic – but as Chris Garrett reminds us it stems from a genuine experience of and desire for conversations that develop on and around blogs

# 4. Be yourself in your comments

If blogging is a conversational medium then we need to pay attention to the conversations we join as well as the ones that we start.

Being yourself is an easy way to overcome any fears or anxieties about your comment being ‘worthy’ enough.

You don’t need to look smart or clever, just add the things that that resonate with you - which in my book means it’s okay to say you enjoyed something, even if you can’t always find the words to say why or add anything more (some of the most powerful writing can leave you that way), to ask a genuine question (often the fodder for a blogger’s future posts), to be friendly and let someone know you’re reading and listening.

It makes a difference, honestly.

By the way I have to say thanks to my readers here who have authentic comment writing off to a fine art. I know that many of the things you say, ask, offer, wonder and reflect are about you being you in that little comment box, and each one is treasured - by me, and I’m sure the other readers who stop by here.

# 5. Identify your signature

We’ve talked a fair bit about signature strengths this month, and I guess the blogger with the most recognisable signature is Lorelle on WordPress. Here she is talking about how she came by her own signature - plus some sound advice on how to identify your own.

My choice and style will not work for you. Your blog is about you, your interests, your needs, and your personality. It’s about the persona you create in your blog, and the signature must reflect who you are and what you blog as much as any other visual part of your blog.

# 6 Set your tone

Authentic writing doesn’t have to mean deep, personal letting-it-all-hang-out writing. It doesn’t mean expressing every opinion that’s ever occurred to you. You can be business like if you want - especially if you’re blogging for business. It’s your blog, your writing purpose, and you get to set the tone. I enjoyed the recent reminder from Brad Shorr on this point.

Communicating with civility is not being phony, it’s simply an acknowledgment that all people have value, no matter how misguided or unfamiliar their ideas or actions may be. Being polite is not the road to conformity, it’s the path to understanding.

# 7. Get into your rhythm

Knowing who you are as a blogger can help you get into your blogging rhythm - and over blogger’s blog. Glen Stansberry guest writing at Problogger suggests finding your blogging DNA in order to get into your blogging rhythm - although I think his point has a wider application too.

Trying to pose as a blogger that you’re not only spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E. It’s like fitting a square peg into a round hole

# 8. Know your values to draw your line

This is one that’s been on mind since the start of the month, prompted by some discussion at Copyblogger on where we draw the line on authenticity and transparency, and some challenging questions at Word Sell Inc on whether authenticity and sales copywriting mix.

Both pieces of writing reminded me that authenticity is not the same as conversational style. Writing in a conversational style can help us to sound more authentic, but as a learned writing skill it’s not the same as being authentic.

Brad Shorr reminded me of this point in the conversation that followed:

I do believe that people can be easily duped by conversational marketing. However, I don’t think it’s a new problem, just a more noticed one. Snake oil salesmen and direct mail advertisers have been using conversational techniques from the beginning - sometimes for good purposes, and sometimes not. The more sincere and personal the message seems, the more easily people are influenced. As writers, I think we need to be extra careful about how we apply conversational writing techniques.

But what yardsticks do we use in order to be more careful? Where should we draw the line on authenticity and transparency? Well if we accept the argument that authenticity doesn’t have to mean emotion, deep disclosure or writing from the heart the conclusion I’ve reached is that it does require you to be writing in line with your values.

# 9. Do it your way

Once you’ve done some of that signature identifying, blogging DNA analysis, and yardstick setting… well after that it’s time to have some fun. Robert Hruzek guest writing here this month gave us a great explanation of how he does it - and don’t forget to call into the Middle Zone for more of his storytelling in action

Anyway, I found that by simply writing with the same style and flow of language as I think… the words and stories come out onto the page screen with much more authenticity, more clarity, and… and let’s face it – a heckuva lot more fun.

# 10. Add some bling to your writing

I was surprised to find myself writing this one - but if we’re talking about writing with confidence why not add some bling? Because what we’re talking about is:

finding your voice, speaking from the heart, writing the way that you want, not caring what anybody else thinks, switching off that internal editor.

# 11. Be yourself, not an expert

Blogging is a most democratic medium. You don’t have to be an expert. You just have to be yourself. This is good for making connections - because people respond to the humanity in our voice. Here’s Adam Kayce, the Monk at Work, reminding us (in his comment box):

We’ve all got gems to share. And, it’s often easier to hear them from a voice we don’t perceive as perfect, “holier-than-thou”, or preachy.

And it’s also good for us as writers - giving us some of that much needed permission to be and write ourselves.

Which takes me neatly on to my last point.

# 12. Have the confidence to be you

I’m returning to the words of Liz Strauss here, for the reminder that we can apply the lessons learned from authentic blogging for a more authentic form of living in the real world. Many of us are uncomfortable with tooting our own horn, or blowing our own trumpet. It’s not the way that we were brought up. But learning how to write as ourselves, with respect for others, as part of a conversation - well that can do wonders for letting go of those hang ups and finding the freedom to write - to be - ourselves.

Once we get the hang of it, authenticity and transparency free us to be honest without self-consciousness… Authenticity and transparency by definition require self-awareness and a loss of false modesty.

We all blog in different ways - that’s part of the fun, and part of the point. Every voice is different so the way we do it, write it, express it - well that’s going to be different too. But there are some yardsticks you can use to test and develop your own authentic voice, and I hope you’ve enjoyed some of the examples here that I’ve pulled out of the blogosphere.

The last word though goes to a writer and teacher who was showing the way long before blogging was invented - but whose advice remains pertinent today:

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

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  1. Rosa Say | Managing with Aloha says:

    What a great round-up this is Joanna. I was stopping by for a quick visit, but I shall have to return for some of the links you share. At first read, Brad’s quote truly jumps out for me: “Being polite is not the road to conformity, it’s the path to understanding.” - a gem I shall remember and share Brad!

    You have been a magnificent hostess and teacher for us this month Joanna, mahalo.

  2. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Thank you Rosa. I’m sure a lot of the ideas and concepts in the posts I’m linking to will be familiar to you - but I suppose there are always new twists, like Brad’s recent piece which I’m sure you’ll enjoy.


  3. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Joanna, your 12 steps really help explain how to write authentically … reading this, it strikes me that authentic writing is not winging it, shooting from the hip. It takes a lot of thought and preparation. I’m glad you mentioned that point about comments. Quality commenting does take time, but it furthers the conversation like nothing else. Thanks for including some of my stuff in your post. Glad it helped spark an idea or two for Rosa!

  4. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Brad, I’m glad you found it useful. A lot of these questions had been rattling round my mind since you first posed that question about authenticity and sales copy!

    I know what you mean about not shooting from the hip - taking time to think through what you’re saying, testing it against your bigger purpose, leaving things to mull and stew, paying due attention to editing… but it’s a balance thing, ‘cos to hear the sound of our own voice, well I think that requires us sometimes to stop thinking and preparing, to get out of our own way and trust that we have the right words to be who we are. Maybe it’s a question of putting the thought into the purpose and focus (and the reading and the linking and networking) rather than the actual words…

    On the comments point, you’re right it does take time and it’s also the key to quality conversation. I don’t know about you but I also feel I’ve got to know people better through the comments and conversation in the comment box than I have from reading their blogs. You get a different sort of insight into behaviour and motivation from the way people do (and don’t) comment than the way that they blog.

    I’ve also come across some powerful, authentic pieces of writing-as-comments both here and elsewhere - words that are lost to those that don’t dip down from the feeds and explore the comment boxes.

    I sometimes wonder if people are a little less inhibited when they’re talking away from the glare of a post - because sometimes I feel I get a much more privileged sense of connection with someone’s ‘true’ self in the conversations and connections that follow.


  5. Robert Hruzek says:

    Thanks, Joanna for using MZM as an example (although I bear virtually no resemblance to Frank Sinatra)!

    Hmmm… that quote of mine probably explains why two brain scientists (the good Doctors Ellen & Robyn) drop by the Zone so much. They are obviously doing a study of the insane! :-D

  6. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Joanna, I agree with you about commenting vs. writing posts. For me, leaving a comment feels like writing a letter or (almost) having a phone conversation. It’s hard for me to have that frame of mind when doing a post.

  7. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Hi Robert, well one thing’s for sure, you’re always guaranteed to make us smile - and tease us gently out of our comfort zones :-)


  8. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Hi Brad, that’s interesting. I know what you mean, but I’m wondering what would happen if you could get into that frame of mind for writing a post… or if you would even want to.

    Is it something that would add to the writing do you think, or detract from the frame that you already have that allows you to express ideas, words, concepts, humour within the context of this thing we call a blog post?