My Top 10 Rules for Writing On The Internet
Okay, friends—I am not an expert at writing on the Internet, but I have been doing it for almost 10 years. Here are some guidelines I've put into place for myself, and if you're just starting out (creating a blog, submitting your work, etc.), you might want to pause and make some rules for yourself as well.
My Top 10 Rules for Writing on the Internet
1. Remember Who You Are – Page views do not define you. Blog comments do not define you. The opinions of random people on the Internet do not define you. Do not let the positive validation go to your head; do not let the negative comments get under your skin. If either of those things does happen, the good news is: your five minutes of fame will be over tomorrow. Remember who you are.
2. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys – This is an old Polish proverb, but a couple of years ago, I decided to make it my personal Comment Mantra. It basically means: not my problem. Those crazy commenters on Huffpo? Not my problem. Those lunatics on the Scary Mommy Facebook page screaming at each other in all caps? Not my problem. Not my circus, not my monkeys. (Worth mentioning: Coffee + Crumbs is my circus, and those are my monkeys. Luckily for me, the majority of our monkeys are super kind and gracious.)
3. Know Your Boundaries – You can only take a story so far with yourself as a single character. At some point, you’ll likely want to write about other people—your kids, your husband, your friends, etc. The line between writing about yourself and writing about other people is one to tread carefully. It’s important to consider the privacy, potential embarrassment, and feelings of others. When you start writing online, I recommend thinking through these boundaries and discussing them with your spouse and children (if they’re old enough) to agree on some ground rules. If you're going to write about another friend or family member and want to maintain a relationship with them, consider letting them read your work before you hit publish.
4. Understand That You Will, Eventually, Offend Someone – Sadly, we live in a time on the Internet where everyone is offended by everything. Some people love to twist and turn our words until they no longer resemble the message we started with. Some people love to assume the worst. Even when you try your hardest to strip your story of any judgments or stances or statements that could possibly be taken the wrong way, there is always a chance that one person will find one thing that is offensive to them. Do not let this hinder your writing; do not let this scare you. (Worth noting: If you are a people-pleaser, this might be harder for you.)
5. You Write The Words; God Does The Rest – Tap, tap. Is this thing on? Maybe you’ve just poured your heart and soul into a blog post and nobody left a comment. Maybe your Facebook link got four likes. Maybe you’re wondering if anyone is reading your words, maybe you’re wondering if your story matters at all. Friend, IT DOES. There are people all over the Internet looking for stories, looking for meaning, looking for someone to express the very thing that they themselves cannot express. Once I let go of worrying about HOW MANY people were reading my words, a beautiful thing happened: the right people started reading my words at the right time. I started hearing this often, “You wrote exactly what I needed to read today.” I believe that was all God. And I believe your story matters to Him.
6. Scarcity Is A Myth – Inevitably at some point along your writing journey, you will have this thought: There’s no more room for me. You will read a blog post that you yourself wanted to write, but someone else got to it first. You will feel like everything you want to say is old news, and you’ll be frustrated by your own lack of originality. It’s easy to look at someone else’s writing and think, “They already wrote about that topic, and said it better than I can.” But here’s the thing about writing: nobody can say anything better than you can because you have your own story to tell and your own lens through which you see the world. If you put 100 writers in a room and ask them to write about the sunset, no two stories would be the same. Who are you to rob the world of your own original sunset tale? There is more than enough room for you. There is more than enough room for all of us.
7. A Candle Loses Nothing By Lighting Another Candle – Writing begets writing, both individually and as a community. Think about it: every single day books are being published, blog posts are being written, writers are signing with literary agents, and words are making their way into the hands of readers. People are still reading every single day. This is great news for us writers! So when your friend lands a book deal, or has a blog post go viral, this is what you need to do: be happy for her. Be happy that writing exists, and that people still want to consume words. Be happy that people are visiting blogs! Be happy that people are buying books! Remember #6 – there is enough room for all of us. The success of other writers in no way takes away from your success. If anything, it should remind you that people are still reading and still writing and what a beautiful thing that is. Support your fellow writers—like their posts, leave comments, share their stuff on Facebook, do all the things for them that you want in return for yourself. Keep your candle lit, and light as many other candles as you can. You have nothing to lose, only a brighter room to gain.
8. Haters Gonna Hate – In the brilliant words of Miss Taylor Swift, it is important to remember that haters gonna hate. Some people on the Internet are just plain nasty. They sit around at home hiding behind the anonymity of their computer screens, slurring hateful remarks at strangers for pure entertainment. When I witness this in action (typically in the Facebook comment sections of popular pages I follow), it never ceases to shock me. I still remember the first time I learned there was an entire website dedicated to hating people on the Internet. If you ever happen to encounter this type of horrible nastiness online (and I pray you never do), I beg you to remember: it’s not you, it’s them. Haters gonna hate, but the best thing you can do is shake it off (thanks, T. Swift for inspiring this entire point!).
9. Know Your Audience – Let’s say you’re going out for a night on the town with your girlfriends: drinks, dancing, the whole shebang. The following night you’re visiting your grandmother at her retirement home. Do you wear the exact same outfit both nights? Probably not. The same is true of writing—you can (and usually should) tailor your outfit to the outing, and your story to the audience. Knowing your audience also helps you assign a safety level to that group of people. For instance, when I want to write something ultra-vulnerable, a piece that maybe I am scared to publish online—I put it on my personal blog. My personal blog is my most safe space; I trust the readers there more than anywhere else. I feel 95% safe writing on my personal blog. Coffee + Crumbs trails right behind it, probably at a solid 80%. Scary Mommy and Huffpo make me feel about 20% safe, which is why they only get a fraction of my most general/universal/I’m-fairly-confident-nobody-would-be-offended-by-this writing. And even then, sometimes that goes awry. See #4.
10. Have Fun And Make Friends – Over the past ten-ish years while I’ve been writing online, I’ve made a plethora of Internet Friends. Our friendships began online through blogging or Twitter or Huffington Post stalking (heeeey, N’tima). Shortly after I launched C+C, I received a guest submission from a girl named April that took my breath away. I fell in love with her writing, and knew I had to have her on the team. We exchanged phone numbers and started texting, which led to chatting on Voxer, which eventually led to a confession from her: she had been reading my personal blog for years. We were a match made in friendship heaven. And now we write together for Coffee + Crumbs and send each other gifts in the mail and two years ago I invited her to Palm Springs to celebrate my 30th birthday. She showed up to meet me for the very first time holding a cactus cake. I mean, c’mon. I have dozens of stories like that—people I met online who turned into very real friends. This is the best part about sharing your heart on the Internet: making human connections that lead to something greater than a one-time online conversation. There is so much potential on the Internet for friendship and community, starting right here in Exhale—get after it! Head over to the Facebook group and make some friends!