Liz Strauss: The Secret of Being a Successful and Outstanding Writer

    Liz Strauss

    Liz Strauss

    WTD presents a conversation between Liz Strauss and Chief Editor Mary Jaksch. Liz is one of the heavy-weights of the blogosphere. Her Successful Blog is a magnet for a host of readers.

    Mary: Liz, you’ve been called “The most influential relational blogger on the Internet”. Your articles and your Ebook The Secret of Writing a Successful and Outstanding Blog (which I started reading at 1am and couldn’t put down) plonk building relationship with readers right into the centre of a blogger’s work.

    What’s your sense of how we grow as writers by fostering relationship with our readers?

    Liz: I have a blog post I wrote once called, I Thought I Was a Writer, Then an Audience Came It’s an amazing difference to receive immediate feedback from people who actually read our words for what we’re saying. How can we NOT grow when we realize that what we’ve said is as clear as we could make it, but inside our words sincere people have found their own message. It’s humbling and invirgorating to realize that we can learn from our thinking by sharing it with others. Readers give our words new meaning.

    Mary: Audience. Yes. On your blog you’ve certainly collected a huge and lively audience. Exploring your blog is a unique and slightly crazy experience. It’s like visiting an op-shop which sells flowing Ascot hats, an elephant or two, some doormice imported directly from Alice in Wonderland, as well as skateboards, diving bells, and treasure chests spilling their riches with total abandon.

    Is your blog a mirror of who you are as a person, Liz?

    Liz: What a wonderful description and what an interesting question . . . I think the blog reflects me in many ways, but it’s more than that. It’s like me in that I am possibly more curious than Alice. I like exploring. Still, it goes beyond me in that it reflects every person who’s spent time in the words and spaces. Each person who has dropped a thought, shared a feeling, told a story is part of that blog’s wonder and appeal. The blog is so much more than me.

    Mary: Talking of treasures, I love your suggestions about relating to readers – or to anyone else for that matter:

    • Build an experience for intelligent, passionate people — head and heart in a meaningful context.
    • Invest all you are — commend, commit, confide, consign, give, hand over, trust.
    • Hold up every person who wants to be part – bank on, believe in, count on, depend on, reckon on, rely on, have confidence, trust.
    • Make it easy to trust and talk — caretaking, watching, overseeing, be trustworthy.
    • Listen with an open mind, heart for the meaning they take, give, and find on their own.
    • In other words, trust. Trust in people who trust.

    As writers, how do we embark on the kind of passionate journey you share with your readers?

    Liz: Sit down with yourself and be real. Then share what you’re feeling — the topic doesn’t matter as long as it’s close to your heart, filled with your thoughts, and offers some one thing that people can use to find practical meaning.

    The rest is practice.

    Mary: Maybe practice and inspiration?

    I’ve been musing on your passionate relationship with your readers and have been spending time on your blog to see you in action. It’s impressive. As a new commenter I felt welcomed, accepted, and respected! But maybe there is another side to this. Just a few days ago I read an interesting article by James Chartrand, called Guest Posting: When Your Favorite Blogger Pulls Back.

    She shines a light on the downside of having a passionate relationship with readers. The love that readers feel for you, and the sense of ownership they have of your blog can flip into the opposite. Then you’re suddenly faced with feral readers! As James writes, possible flashpoints are if you feel overwhelmed and start allowing guest posts, or start to include ads on your previously ad-free site.

    Have you every experienced readers turning against you?

    Liz: I can’t imagine it. I suppose it happens, but it must be a different sort of relationship than those I have. Let’s look at this outside the context of a blog. If I got overwhelmed at work in an office setting would my department turn on me? Maybe yes, if I hadn’t built the trust that says that they should hang in there, but I believe most people are more generous than that. Any situation I imagine the answer comes out the same.

    Now when I apply that to my blog . . . it’s even easier to say with confidence because I’ve always held the door open for guest posts and folks to write as early as I could. It’s a community place. The blog is my address, but it’s not my stage. Never was. That’s why the header reads “Successful (and Outstanding) Blog(gers) It’s for all of us. The blog will outlive me. BTW when I did tell my readers that I was putting ads on my blog, they cheered me on.

    Mary: That’s fascinating. It seems that your readers are supportive, not obsessive. I’m intrigued by the fact that your message about blogging is so very different from the advice others give. Compare your last statement with the following by James Chartrand:

    Readers are cruel. They unsubscribe when they miss their Beloved Blogger. The rumbles ripple through the blogosphere and discontent grows. People complain…Readers aren’t very forgiving with a Beloved that replaces content with guest posters.

    Are we looking at a gender issue here, Liz? Could it be that your focus on relating and talent of connecting is a woman’s strength?

    Liz: A gender issue? How the heck would I know? [grin] I grew up in an all boys neighborhood. I had a huge disconnected between my head and my heart for the longest part of my life. Everything I know is what I know works for me — one slightly bent member of the human species — and I learned most of it by doing things wrong and getting pulled up short for those experiences.

    It was my dad who taught me The Definition of Love. It was my mom who taught me about strength against adversity.

    Mary: Your story about how your father taught you about the definition of love at the bedside of your dying mother is very touching. What a marvellous lesson! Maybe that’s what’s so different about your blog. Love is at the centre: love of people, and love of writing.

    I seem to be developing a nasty habit of reading your book The Secret of Writing a Successful and Outstanding Blog in the small hours when even the cat is asleep. It’s one of those rare books where I can track a ‘before’ and ‘after’. Even just two sleepless nights with your book have changed my life – erm, I mean my blogging—forever.
    What’s changed through reading it? I feel a sudden rush of freedom that makes me want to blazon myself all over my writing – leaving no part of myself out!

    What is it about writing that drives you to do it, Liz?

    Liz: Nothing drives me to do it. I hear that questions as if you’re saying “What drives me to talk or what drives me to sing?”

    • I write because I can take ideas from my head and put them where I can see them.
    • I write because I hear the music of language playing and because I love to paint pictures with words.
    • I write because the universe can be expressed with breathtaking elegance and grace.
    • I write because some thoughts deserve precision in how they are expressed.
    • I write because I am a writer. It’s what I know.
    • Writing lets me reach out to people who aren’t here with me.

    Mary: That’s lovely, LIz! Your love of writing shows up in everything you write! Here’s a treasure I found in a section of your book about cultivating ‘voice’:
    Let me know your humanity. Show your sense of humor.
    Inspire me, respect me, make me think, and make me wonder.
    Don’t just be conversational, be the voice of a lifelong friend.

    To write with the ‘voice of a life-long friend’ – what an inspired challenge!

    Your love of writing is infectious. That’s what I find so exciting about your book The Secret of Writing a Successful and Outstanding Blog

    When you wrote your book, what is the most important thing you wanted your readers to REALLY get?

    Liz: When people use the word conversation to describe what’s happening on the Internet, most use the term loosely. I know I did.

    I’ve been observing, writing, and listening, answering every comment daily for over three years. I’ve talked to over 500 bloggers on the telephone about the experience, and it wasn’t until last December I came to realize that we really are conversing in text.

    In no other form of writing — not in school, not in business — do we get the same sort of feedback to the meaning of our message as we do when we talk via blog, microblog, or IM / text message. As in conversation, people sometimes take our meaning in new directions, let us know that they didn’t get what we said, add and change our ideas — in the same way we do when we converse in person.

    Blogging is a new genre that requires a new way of writing to open it up to the conversation. We have to put an idea out and be ready to let others take it, make it more, bend it shape, and carry us all in a new direction. It’s incredibly invigorating when we find folks who understand how to move ideas forward that way. It’s the equivalent of flow on the Internet.

    What did I want people to REALLY get?

    If you listen with mind and heart wide open, you’ll see how meaningful it is to add your voice to the conversation that’s changing the world.

    Mary: What a wonderful thought that we are all part of an ongoing conversation that spans the world! Thank your for this conversation, Liz. It’s certainly changed my view of writing. And I’m sure WTD readers will feel the same.

    About the author

      Mary Jaksch

      Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at WritetoDone.com and for her cutting-edge book, Youthful Aging Secrets. In her “spare” time, Mary is also the brains behind GoodlifeZEN.com, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

    • Hi Mary – I know what you mean. I know some folk who blog about work do that and I can understand why. But what about some of the others? It’s hard to trust what some of them have to say, when we don’t really know who they are.

    • Hi Cath!
      “Sit down by yourself and be real” – I too was struck by this piece of advice. It’s taken me a while to learn to include all of myself in my writing.

      What I definitely don’t like is when people cultivate an online ‘persona’. I’m always a bit suspicious of bloggers who hide behind a nom-de-plume. Who are these people really? Why don’t they give their real name?

    • Hi Liz and Mary – what a brilliant interview. I’m a huge fan of Liz’s blog – she always makes everyone feel welcome.

      I love how Liz says “sit down by yourself and be real”. Because that’s exactly what she does. When she speaks to folk on her blog, she just seems real and genuine – not hiding behind a persona like a lot of bloggers do. Not that there’s anything wrong with a persona, if that’s what they want. But it’s nice to feel that you’re having a conversation with a real person.

    • Hi Rose!
      My post title is a play on the title of Liz’ book “The Secret of Writing an Outstanding and Successful Blog”. I do think her book is outstanding and successful!

      In general, I read books on blogging because I want to be informed. But Liz’ book did much more: it enchanted and inspired me as well. That has given me a new slant on how I can be a better non-fiction writer.

      As to writing about fathers – I think that’s very difficult because emotion gets in the way. I tried to turn my father’s fantastic life-story into a novel. What a disaster that was! Luckily I realised it after the first three chapters.

    • Rose says:

      I know and agree that Liz Strauss is (or can be) an excellent blogger, marketer and socal media maven. However, the title of this article is “sucessful and outstanding writer.” In an article titled thus, you’ve linked to a particularly moving piece of writing, which, on an emotional scale, is good, but is not “outstanding writing.” I amr eferring to the Father/Love story.

      Within the first paragraph, the first two sentences, the writing is overdone and effusive. The descriptions (eg barrel chest) are trite and used too many times for such a short piece. The grammar gets in the way of the message in many, many places.

      This is a beautiful story, probably written off the cuff, and therefore not meant to be literature, but should not be considered “outstanding writing.” I think the point of Liz’s blog there is “wandering” writing (think Virginia Woolf stream of conciousness, but without three ditors and a publisher cleaning it up, lol) and so, again, not the best of examples for the title of this post.

    • Hi Metroknow!
      Keep on coming back to WTD for more ‘enlightening’ moments 🙂

    • Hi Patricia!
      It’s great that your words are coming out. I think all of us writers have to contend with the voices from the past telling us to be quiet, not make a fuss, to keep our voice down, and not to make waves. Good on you for shaking all of that off!

    • Metroknow says:

      I think I must be trapped in one some alternate blog reality.

      I actively read blogs daily, maybe hourly, and this is the first I’ve encountered Liz’s site, and I’m already hooked. Looks like I have yet more reading to do.

      Thanks, Mary, for turning the light on.

    • Patricia says:

      Hello Mary and Maybe Liz and to all the others who have made comments.
      I truly enjoyed reading this interview and will now write a few words and then explore Liz’s blog too. A new discovery. I liked this interview because of the words “service” and “love” and it truly seemed real.
      Years ago a Native American woman at a conference I attended came up to me and said you are such a healer people need to know what you are thinking.
      A psychic at a street fair stood up and held my hands one day and said you are just pure kindness and you need to talk to people.
      But the rest of the world voices kept saying you have nothing to say that is worthy, You need to be quiet. Don’t Embarrass me! I can’t hear what you are saying. You are confusing. I don’t understand you.
      I have found in the last three months that the words inside are just pouring out and I am so grateful when someone writes a comment or asks a question; it just pours out again in 1000 word feedback with out breath or pause.
      I have filled notebook after notebook with my life and it is so nice to share it here now and the responses are blessings and prayers answered – how can I not do my best effort?
      Thank you for more lessons of learning today…I believe I will just get it right one of these words.

    • Hi Mary,
      The part you mention is the “in service to” part. Do what you love in service to the people who love what you do. Steve has it covered.with one sentence. I can’t improve on how he says it.

      I write my heart out to the highest standards always with a care for my readers — the same way I live my life always with a thoughts for the folks I love.

    • I’m confused, Liz

      Aren’t there two balls we need to keep an eye on: what we enjoy writing about AND what our readers are interested in?

      For example, my blog at Goodlifezen.com is focused on personal growth and spirituality. There heaps of articles I would enjoy writing that wouldn’t fit that particular focus at all.

      Here at WritedoDone the focus is on writing. Again, I can’t just indulge and write what I want. I need to keep in mind the needs of my readers.

      If I just write with my readers in view and lose sight of what I love writing about – it can stunt my creativity.

      If I just write what I love to write about without considering others – I can lose contact with my readers.

      What to do?

    • I have learned so much from Liz when it comes to understanding what blogging is all about, where it can go, and how to connect with readers genuinely. Thanks to you both for the even greater insights with this interview!

      Liz, I liked your comment: “I figured that I would only write for the folks who value the writing I do.”

    • @ Liz – Whew, you had me worried!

      @ Mary – I have to say, our moment was when we *stopped* writing for readers and wrote for ourselves first. The posts became much richer and more comfortable overall. It made new readers and commentators that much more appreciated to know they enjoy our work because it’s genuine. It’s a good feeling.

    • Greg L. says:

      That was an excellent interview, Mary. I enjoyed getting to know Liz a little bit through your interaction with her.

    • No James, you didn’t say or imply you were a celebrity — nor for a minute did I think you were rising above anyone here. You’re right with us in this conversation. Sorry if I made you feed otherwise, didn’t intend any such thing. You’re way more than that.

      No, Mary, the number of readers doesn’t matter. It’s the way we value our words and our spaces AND it’s the readers who hear the value we put there. Imagine if you had only one reader, but it was . . . Mark Twain, Lousia May, . . . God . . . your mother, your lover . . . it’s not the number. It’s the mind and the heart of the reader who comes.

      Value them one by one.

    • HI Blog2Life!

      You must be a beautiful knight in armor, galloping towards this maiden in distress…!

      You can reach me like this maryjaksch[at]gmail[dot]com

    • Blog2Life says:

      If you could email me the “html” version of your post.. I’m sure I could take a look at where the error is?

      Also I need to email you.. is there any contact info?

    • Hi LIz!

      Maybe the confidence to just write for the ones who like our writing comes with more readers?

      I now have the attitude that I write for those that like it.

      But when I first started and was excited to have–Wow! TEN subscribers!! –I didn’t want to lose a single one, so I tried to write something that would please them 🙂

      BTW: Here’s something I changed immediately after reading your blog:

      It made such an impression on me when you answered a comment of mine with “Hi Mary!” that I immediately changed to answering all commenters with ‘Hi….!” instead of using “@….”. It’s so much more personal. And it creates connection.

    • @ Liz – I don’t think I said I felt like a celebrity… ?

    • Hi Blog2LIfe!

      Yes…I had a bad feeling when I saw the homepage. I just did something similar with my interview with Steve Pavlina and had to pay quite a lot of money to have it fixed 🙁

      Some of us simply have a special talent for messing up code.

      If I know what I’ve done, I’d fix it…but what oh what did I do ? [wail]

    • Hi Glen,
      thanks for the stumble!

    • Hi James!
      I’m always cautious about fans. I think of adoration as a golden thread intertwined with a black thread. In my experience it can flip and suddenly the black side shows: the admiring person has turned into your best enemy.

      Having said that, Liz doesn’t allow that adulation. She makes people feel that they are co-creators, and not ‘Liz fans’.

    • Hi James,
      I don’t feel like a celebrity, do you?

      After years sitting in a rooms full of publishing folks going over what I wrote — all of whom had opinions about what they liked, few of whom had experience with the written word — I figured that I would only write for the folks who value the writing I do. It works better that way. As Steve Farber says, “Do what you love in service to those who love what you do.”

    • Blog2Life says:

      Your latest post seems to be breaking your index page 🙁

      The blow your own trumpet index showed fine if I remember correctly and your paged 2 shows fine too indicating an error possibly in your post?

    • writer dad says:

      I’ve only been dancing around the blogosphere for a few weeks, but Liz has, without a doubt, one of the most welcoming communities I’ve encountered.

    • Great interview Guys, I’m a great fan of Liz’s

      Stumbled!

      Cheers,
      Glen

    • It’s very interesting to read Liz’s perspective on being a celebrity blogger. Very different indeed from what I see happening on most larger blogs, and also different from our own experience as we reach larger popularity ourselves.

      I still maintain that most readers are fickle. It’s impossible to please everyone all the time, and surely Liz’s challenges are no different. What is also the same as larger bloggers is the confidence Liz exudes – bigger bloggers need that confidence, definitely.

      Good on you, Liz!

      (Now gender equality… *there’s* a topic to talk about! Future post?)

    • Hi Liz,
      Lovely to see you appear in the comments! I too loved doing the interview. Especially since we did it one interchange at a time and I never knew exactly where we were going to head next. Fun!

      My writing style and the way I see my work as a blogger has definitely changed through my contact with you. I hope all WTD readers will feel similarly inspired after reading this interview.

    • Wow! Mary, and the other great part is that we can come back here to revisit it.

      Thank you so much. Every minute was my pleasure.

    • I really like the way Liz describes the relational aspect of blogging as being like a conversation, Mary.

      This is a powerful metaphor and one which really changes how a writer views their audience- as equals in the two way process of creativity.

      Liz’s priority in developing a dynamic blog community is one that every blogger- experienced or novice- would find greatly valuable to adopt.

      I have heard so much positive feedback about Liz’s ebook, that I am now hot footing it over to download it!

      Thank you, Liz, for being such an inspiration.


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