Many of those 512 million+ bloggers are vying for your attention. Including me. You might have noticed an uptick in content like “How to be productive in quarantine,” or “5 ways to stay in shape in quarantine,” or “How to look sexy while wearing your mask.”
If you’re like me, you probably clicked, thinking, What the hey, they probably contain some helpful insight. But after setting up ambitious plans to write the next King Lear while simultaneously becoming a master chef and wellness guru, mayhaps you’ve arrived at, If one more blogger tells me to put on real pants, I am going to lose my ever living mind.
You might get the nagging suspicion that you’re somehow failing at this quarantine thing. If some blogger in Portland can do everything on her “how to” blog post while preparing locally sourced, nutritious meals every day and learning to paint pieces of fruit, what can’t you?
As one of those 512 million+ bloggers, I would like to give you a peek behind the curtain, and some tips on how to take what’s helpful and let the rest go.
Bloggers are human
Anybody with a little time and $12 to buy a domain can start a blog. That’s not to say that most are not well-meaning and credible, it’s just to put things into perspective. We may very well have valuable information to share that will be legitimately helpful. But, it’s important to keep in mind that bloggers are human.
None of us have lived through a global pandemic in the age of information. So even if we have general tips on working from home or being productive right now, there’s a lot we’re still figuring out as well. There has always been noise and competing advice, it’s just things are so nuts now it’s all getting ramped up to an eleven. Many of these bloggers could be thinking, THIS IS MY MOMENT, but what they also mean is, Dear God, please don’t leave me alone with my thoughts and fears.
It is possible for a blogger to share information that is both helpful and not helpful. It’s possible that, because you’re different people, their methods of coping will not line up with yours. That blogger may very well be doing all of the things they list on their how to, but I would hazard a guess that they are not. Any tips shared, even if they are from personal experience, paint a picture of what is ideal.
If you feel tempted to compare yourself to a blogger based on the image they project in a how-to, take a moment to notice that. Remind yourself that you have a choice in where you direct your thought patterns. If it helps, gently acknowledge that that blogger’s poop stinks just like yours. They may have more experience in a particular area, and some of the information might be helpful. Just because they’ve come up with an ideal way of living based on their experience and written about it on the interwebs does not mean they are actually doing all of those things perfectly all the time and all at once.
Give yourself the grace to try what might be helpful and leave the rest.
“How to” phrasing is what gets you in the door
A huge reason for writing “how to” blogs is a little thing called SEO. There are 512 million+ blogs out there. How do we get ours into the hands of the people we are writing for? Search Engine Optimization. Writing blogs with titles that are “searchable” makes it easier for the Googs to pull our blog up when you search for a specific question.
Think about how you look for information on the internet. You take your question and either type it exactly into the search engine, or you write in a few keywords to get you started. You aren’t necessarily looking for a literary blog exploring the nature of friendship. You’re typing “How to make friends in a new city” and clicking on the first or second thing that pops up.
Making that exact phrase the title of a blog on friendship is how I get you in the door. Once you’re in and if you find the piece useful, if you jive with my tone and style, if the content convinces you that you are the reader my blog was designed for, then you’re more inclined to click around and see what else I’ve got going on. Marketing says that you are looking at my website and asking “What’s in it for me?” I need to be able to answer that question on every page, and if you aren’t my person, then you’ll move on.
Another question I think about as a blogger is what will make my ideal reader stop scrolling on social media and click on a blog I’ve written. If you are a potential new reader, a title like “Friendship and Growth in New York” will likely blend into the noise of your feed. But a title that promises to solve a real life problem you have in 5 steps? That’s what you’ll actually click on. That’s what I click on, too.
When I first started learning about marketing, I thought it sounded manipulative. But the thing is, the blogger may truly have a solution to a real problem. But if they don’t do the work to write at least a handful of pieces that are “searchable,” you will never find them.
When I share a piece of information, it’s because I think it adds value to my readers’ lives. It’s not so much about getting a bunch of random people to look at my blog, it’s about giving the right reader a real solution to a real problem. It’s about serving a specific person by giving them something that I’ve learned or a method I’ve come up with in exchange for their time or money. The “how to” blog is a way to connect that information with the people who are searching for it.
I can’t say that all bloggers write from that exact perspective, but that’s the one I use.
You don’t have to do everything
I remember the moment this idea connected with my reality. It was something that my therapist said after I returned from a writer’s conference in a state of paralyzing anxiety. As with many conferences, they take several months’ worth of information, cram it into 2 days, and send you on your merry way.
The thought that constantly bounced around my panicked brain from sun up to sun down at that conference? I can’t do this.
I took the frantic thought and laid it before my therapist. And, in true Dr. Therapist fashion, he helped me distill it down to the base assumption, revealing that assumption to be founded on faulty information.
The main speakers had each been writers for 1-2 decades, and were sharing all of the best practices they’d accumulated in that time. I received that information with the belief that they were suggesting that I should be able to implement all of their advice immediately and perfectly. And, since I had the information, if I missed anything or messed up, it was my fault and I was a failure for not being able to keep track of all the bits of advice they offered. Even if I were to choose one of the 87 next steps, I felt that there was a “right” one, I just didn’t have quite enough information to know which it was.
My conditioning and disposition assumed that all of it was on me and that I absolutely had to do everything they said perfectly and immediately. I did not account for the fact that we are different humans, that they have decades in the industry on me, and that they did, in fact, have help.
Human beings are limited. We cannot and should not do everything, particularly when it comes to taking advice from another limited human being. When you read a how-to blog, remember that the method that the blogger is describing took time to develop. They took small steps in their everyday lives until those things became habitual.
Start where it’s helpful and build from there.
There might be a better way to process feelings and information
Instead of googling every question that comes to mind, mayhaps start with reflection. If we’re searching for “How to stay sane in quarantine,” what are we really looking for? “How to” blogs are really great for giving us practical steps to implement. But they’re also great for giving us behaviors to mimic that distract us from the deeper problem. When we type that question into Google, or click on the social media post the blogger made, what are we expecting? No matter how good the advice is, the blogger might not be able to address any underlying motivations we’re bringing into the piece.
Notice the impulse that drives you to click on that article. Is it discomfort with boredom or stillness? Is it an attempt to avoid the overwhelming uncertainty we are all collectively experiencing? The answers to these questions are not good or bad, they’re just information that can help with the choices you make. There’s a place for distraction, but layering activity on top of feelings we don’t want to feel does not make them go away.
If you notice yourself obsessively Googling or scrolling through social media, that might be an invitation to take those feelings to God in prayer, and then to talk them through with a trusted friend or counselor.
Focus on “what is” over “what should be”
Ahh the tantalizing “should.” Seems like it would be a great motivator, all those things you should do and should care about. Turns out it only adds pressure that keeps us spinning our wheels. The only thing “should” ever creates is guilt, and that is the way to burn out, shame, and frustration. There is, of course, nothing wrong with having a goal or an ideal to work towards. But “should” is different.
A few months after I started seeing my current therapist, I finally got real about experiencing feelings like anger, sadness, and emotional pain. They had, of course, always been there. But I didn’t feel I had a right to them, so I ignored and minimized and guilted--all an enormous feat of mental gymnastics to avoid how deeply they ran. Once I got honest with him (and myself), that impulse was still there. I would say things like “I shouldn’t be angry,” or “it’s not a big deal, I don’t know why I’m sad.”
His near constant refrain in those days was this: “We can’t get to where you want to go if we’re starting at where you think you should be. We have to start where you actually are.”
If you’re scared, name it. If you’re angry, say it out loud. If you’re sad, write it down. Covering the feelings up is not the answer. We have to move through them. Best to do this with God and then with a trusted friend or counselor.
When you’re reading one of these “how to” blogs, and you notice yourself starting to get that squirmy feeling, take a beat. What are you assuming about the piece? The writer? Yourself? The situation you’re in?
Start where you are. Start with what is helpful. And leave the rest for another day… or never.