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:
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.