I was pretty dismissive of blogs as an art form until I became involved with Jewish Women of Words. I considered them puff pieces by bad writers who only wrote about themselves. Maybe I had read too many solipsistic Sunday magazine articles. But, one steamy New York summer morning, while sitting in a diner eavesdropping on a power couple interviewing potential nannies for their children, I read a couple of blogs on my smart phone so that I could continue to listen in. As the diner became their meeting room and my office, I drank cup after cup of brewed coffee, and took notes about the blogs that captured me as I flicked through my Facebook feed, eyes down but ears open. Sitting there, leaning on the laminex, I had an epiphany about the capacity of blogs to empower women.
Do you want to know the secrets to writing successful blog? In this post I’m going to riff about blogging to get you inspired and writing. I’m going to give you suggestions for writing an effective blog so that you will be encouraged to write. Then I’m going to urge you to provoke, craft, express and participate on Jewish Women of Words.
A blog is a not something green and slimy that you throw at your brother; it is a short and reflective piece of writing. It’s like a newspaper editorial or opinion piece published online. This is not an entirely new genre. Writers like Samuel Johnson and Fanny Burney published chatty articles in newspapers called the “The Rambler”, “The Parrot” and “The Tea Table” which were all the rage in London coffees shops in the Eighteenth Century. Writing witty pieces for popular consumption isn’t new, but the internet does change things up a bit.
Blogging is very much of the zeitgeist: on social media, disruptive, informal and democratic. Blogging can be a powerful tool to influence others, particularly when combined with the reach and impact of social media. The informal tone and short length means that blogs are easily produced between other responsibilities, such as driving a truckload of kids to training, finishing work to a deadline and eating peanut butter toast. Blogs are an effective way to experiment and find your voice because they are conversational in tone. 75% of recently surveyed bloggers list “creative expression” as the motivation and the outcome for their blogging. Many blogs were started by people with a hobby as a kind of record of their interest. They are often intended as a private journal, rather than a publication in the traditional sense, existing in a strange twilight space between public and private.
Disruption and Democracy on the WWW
The blog disrupts literary expectations because informal, quotidian, personal and subjective. They are not necessarily autobiographical, but they often begin with an anecdote and interrogate what is at stake in the domestic. They celebrate the minutiae of everyday experience, the intimate and emotional. Blogs are an easy way for women to begin writing on topics that concern them. They validate the ordinary in ways that disrupt common distinctions between public and private, worthy and marginal, serious and puff, male and female.
Online blog publishing is democratic form, easily accessible to readers and writers. There is no publisher, agent or editor between the blogger and her audience. The consequences of this democratisation, though, is that the internet offers more material and pieces need to work hard to compete. Writing needs to be effective and immediate. Social media and the internet have facilitated the development of shorter, efficient, visually interesting communications. The blog at its best appeals emotionally and intellectually to engage the time poor reader distracted by may other interesting things on offer to read.
Disruption and democracy are great advantages of the internet age, offering women the opportunities to change the agenda, challenge assumptions, access readership and support, redefine what is valued. In these very strange times, blogging offers opportunities to provoke, influence, resist, comfort and commune.
Here are a few key characteristics of effective blogs based on my random reading in that Amsterdam Avenue diner. Most start with a personal anecdote (see above). While there is a common formula, the most effective of those I read follow this structure and these key principles.
- Short (generally no more than 1000 words)
- Supported by facts or evidence
The compact form of a blog means that the writing needs to be efficient and the structure should be neat. This makes blogs a great genre for writers to hone their craft. The best require great skill and discipline. Think of it as a 3 Act Play: beginning; middle; end. Blogs usually take an initial observation or personal anecdote as an illustration of single strong idea (beginning). The best of them provide clear evidence , instructions, context or substance (middle). Effective blogs then generalise to make the subject relevant to a wider audience. In doing so, they inspire and influence the reader to action (end). Key structural elements of effective blogs include:
- Personal reflection or anecdote (see above)
- Supporting evidence (stats above)
- Generalisation to capture the audience (see below)
- Headings can be helpful (see above)
- Dot points are useful (!)
- Questions can be effective to prompt debate (see above)
- Humour or sentiment help (nah, sorry).
Jewish Women of Words
As blogging is the new black, Jewish Women of Words gives readers and writers an even easier way to publish and engage with others. JWOW is special because it is what is called an aggregate site: it publishes a collection of authors’ work, rather than the more usual single author blogs. It’s a democratic platform easily accessible to authors with diverse experiences and resources. Writers don’t need to set up a personal blog internet site, but rather can just submit a blog to JWOW to participate in this most exciting opportunity.
There have now been many effective blogs on diverse topics posted on Jewish Women of Word. Topics range from caring for our community’s aging population, global politics, Jewish identity, to Dalit Kaplan’s recent moving series on surviving the still birth of her child. It is an inclusive space that supports Jewish women of all practices and beliefs to explore the complexities of their identity, dilemmas of everyday life, and challenges of the world today.
JWOW is not just a platform for women’s writing and reading but a community. Dalit described it as her “virtual shul” when she expressed gratitude for the support she received in response to her article, published just eight days after the death of her baby. Other writers, too, have felt supported, heard and encouraged by its readers. JWOW’s project, power, and platform is to build capacity and community. Try writing a blog today.
And by the way, I’ve never been to New York.