After 25-plus years of taking myself a wee bit seriously as a writer and entrepreneur, I still squirm to sense just how much “I,” how much personal vulnerability works in my writing – whether it’s a poem, an essay, a book, or a blog article.
When you’re creating work that matters and trying to captivate the audiences whose lives you want to enrich, you don’t want “I” to botch your efforts and steal the show. Several years ago, I opened the lid on “I” in my early draft of the The Journey from the Center to the Page. My editor sent back a long letter with requested changes, among them: “Limit the personal references.” Ow.
So, I was pleased when I saw that one of my favorite bloggers on writing – Patrick Ross – was offering a course on “Writing Compelling Blog Posts.” Once a successful journalist, Patrick Ross left the comfort zone of a regular paying writing gig to school himself in writing creative nonfiction and fiction. In his forties, he entered Vermont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He is in the midst of what I call a midlife launch. In his midlife launch, he has pursued mastery on three fronts: 1) the mastery of creative nonfiction craft; 2) the mastery of blogging; 3) the mastery of online and offline enterprising.
He’s doing well. Write to Done has named Patrick’s blog The Artist’s Road a Top Blog for Writers in 2011 and 2012. For good reason. Patrick consistently offers substantial insights on craft and on the writing life from his own perspective and from that of the artists and writers he interviews.
And starting September 24, he’s offering this blog writing class Writing Compelling Blog Posts at the Hill Center in Washington, DC, partnered with the acclaimed The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. (Sorry: Registration is closed.) The guest post below illustrates Patrick’s great work – and offers you smart tips for working with the ninth letter, the capital letter of Identity.
Add to the conversation below. Personal stories welcome. 😉
The Power of “I” in Your Blog
By Patrick Ross
What is the most powerful word in any language? The first-person singular pronoun. In English its force is particularly stealthy, given we represent it with a single, rarely used vowel, “I.” As I teach in my class “Writing Compelling Blog Posts,” the power of this pronoun can be brought to any blog post, even when the actual pronoun never appears in the text.
The blogging spectrum is a wide one, from the corporation blog shilling its products to the teenage boy chronicling for his family his care of a foster Shih-Tzu. What all of these blogs have in common, however, is that they tell a story, and a story is best told by a strong narrator.
There are many lessons bloggers can borrow from personal essayists. A blog post–like a first-person exploration of the self and the larger world traditionally found in a personal essay—should create a connection with the reader. But a blog post–unlike some personal essays—also should have a specific accomplishment in mind. At the end of a good personal essay, we are often left with many questions to contemplate. At the end of a good blog post, we should have at least one answer to a proposed question.
Perhaps that answer is “Buy our product!” or “Vote for our candidate!” But the way to make that connection—to make the potential customer or voter act as you desire—is to introduce an element of the personal.
When I provide instruction to bloggers for corporations, trade associations, or politicians, they hear “personal” and they think “confessional.” This does not have to be the case. The brilliant personal essayist Phillip Lopate, in The Art of the Personal Essay, teaches us that if the narrator reveals any sort of potential vulnerability–even if the weakness is not significant–a sense of trust is created with the reader. The author can withhold a tremendous amount of far more sensitive information and the reader won’t notice its absence.
A highly successful technique for introducing the “personal” into a blog post is to abandon the omniscience that can so easily creep in. Confess up front that you do not have all of the answers, but are instead focused on finding a solution. Then state that you think you’ve made some progress, lay out your product or campaign position, and invite feedback. This technique 1) engenders you to the reader by a showing of imperfection; 2) triggers a key driver of any blog, conversation; and 3) overcomes the natural ego of any blog post, in which the blogger presumes others will want to seek out her opinion.
One trick to taking this approach is to write a first draft that is heavy on the first-person personal pronoun. Then rewrite the post to back out all of those appearances of “I.” The intimacy that came naturally when told from your point of view will remain, with the reader none the wiser on how it came to be in there.
So while blog posts differ from personal essays, the pioneering use of the first-person personal pronoun from Seneca (in Latin) to Montaigne (in French) are of great value to us online writers today, wherever we fall on the blog spectrum.
Where does your blog fall? To what extent do you exercise the power of “I” to engage your readers and advance your blog’s goals?
Patrick Ross is a professional writer and educator. The latest offering of his Writer’s Center workshop class “Writing Compelling Blog Posts” begins Monday, September 24th, 2012, at The Hill Center in Washington, D.C. His blog The Artist’s Road was named a Top Ten Blog for Writers for 2011-2012, and he is also an award-winning personal essayist who is pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives with his wife and two teenage children in northern Virginia, and enjoys antique maps, compelling biographies, and bacon.