In the quest for SEO dominance and high traffic (ostensibly) leading to the reader taking a desirable action, such as purchasing one’s online course or subscribing to an e-letter, online writers are encouraged to hack headlines according to templates and told to plant desirable keywords into opening paragraphs.
Listen to me read this piece below:
I’ve been avoiding the word “blog” and its various forms for a while now; first I called the online writing on my site Chronicles, then changed it back to Blog when my site was critiqued for its confusing navigation, and now have these pieces linked to as a Journal. I call this a Journal not so much because a journal is a free-form avenue of expression, though my writing here is often that to some degree, but also because a journal can also be the home of literature (i.e. a literary journal). A journal is something that permits, and often expects, experimentation.
On the other hand, blogging is something that, according to hundreds of self-proclaimed online experts, has definitive best practices. An example of this is the below diagram, which I’ve seen umpteen times on Pinterest.
A blog post, according to this diagram, is a plug-and-play endeavor. It’s a paint-by-numbers piece of writing that culminates in the goals according to your CTAs, or Calls to Action.
And yes — this diagram is from Social Triggers, which is a site not known for its subtlety. It’s the most extreme example of the sterility that I bump up against when I think about capital-B Blogging, though such sterility seeps into the best practices laid out across the universe of the Internet. In the quest for SEO dominance and high traffic (ostensibly) leading to the reader taking a desirable action, such as purchasing one’s online course or subscribing to an e-letter, online writers are encouraged to hack headlines according to templates and told to plant desirable keywords into opening paragraphs.
I assume that doing these things leads to tens of thousands of hits, if not millions, and perhaps Internet dominance will never be mine if I don’t do the same.
I choose not to believe this, as I choose not to believe plenty of things that I might be wrong about.
I choose not to believe that the oft-cited exhortation of BE HELPFUL means that everything I write must be a how-to, or a list of resources — that every story I tell must be an Aesop’s fable with a moral at the end, or else no one will ever take anything away from it. I choose not to believe it because I believe that readers are intelligent enough to be able to learn from stories without a spelled-out moral, and because often good stories, stories worth telling, are too complex to be summed up neatly.
I choose not to believe that offering services and products is inherently tied into the practice of constant and obvious marketing within what I write here, because I care about legacy and the practice of legacy-building in life and work. Such ideas are inclusive of amorphous notions such as compassion and resilience; I believe that storytelling about such things is not only important, but painful when shackled by convention. (For an excellent example of someone who writes beautifully and regularly online with a free hand, I recommend Roxane Gay, the bestselling author of Bad Feminist and An Untamed State, as well as Beth Kirby of the highly popular Local Milk, who has written here before.)
I believe that when I do have products to sell, or new services to offer, I will find a way to let you know about them that feels good and right to us both.
Let me assure you that, as with most things in life that involve beliefs and choices, this is about me. If you’re a writer who has found fulfillment with engaging in blogging’s best practices, I tip my hat to you. Please go right on ahead. And if you are like me, and are beginning to chafe against what’s said, modeled, and taught to be the way to exist online, I say, Godspeed, and tell your story.
I write more about this topic in “Blogging Is a Genre, & Don’t You Forget It”: “In the world of blogging, every story must be, if not straight-up advice, an Aesop’s fable with a clear moral. We’re even encouraged to put the moral in bold, if possible, because blogging is a genre, and genres have certain borders and shapes to them–if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be genres.”