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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


Blogging therapy: Learn from my mistakes

Doing something kinda different this week for post number fifteen in our “taking the scary out of blogging” series. And yeah, if you want to play catch-up (no obligation, of course), links to the first fourteen are hidden way down at the bottom this time.

Anyway, instead of working on emotional stucknesses and what-iffery (no worries, we’ll be back to that next week), I wanted to touch on some practical bits.

But first I have to wax philosophical (and type a shockingly naughty word).

If you don’t blog, you have my permission to think about this stuff we’re going to be talking about in terms of general writing and useful communication skills. But it’s also even more than that.

Naomi said the other day that — excuse me, I’m quoting directly here:

“Marketing is the shit you do that makes people buy your shit.”

And that is why we are madly in love with Naomi. My I’m-a-yoga-teacher-with-a-duck version of that is:

‘Marketing’ is the art of helping your Right People find you and feel safe enough to receive from you, so you can live your crazy helper-mouse mission.

We can talk more some other time about “marketing” and why it (the word, the concept, the application) doesn’t always have to make us want to run and take a shower.

For now I just want to throw it out there that the way you write blog posts (or anything, for that matter) can make it easier for your Right People to say yes to you. And that is useful not just for you but for them.

Learning from my mistakes.

I’m going to give you a challenge and draw attention to something embarrassing I wrote just so you feel better about yourself because that’s how nice I am.

Let’s dive into the archives here, shall we?

In Blogging Therapy #13 when we talked about finding your voice, I made the following suggestion:

Go to the archives of a blogger you admire, go back to the very, very beginning and read the very, very first posts … What you’re doing is discovering (or reminding yourself) that even the best blogging voices are not born that way.

So then I had the brilliant idea that this would make a terrific homework-ey exercise dinksbumps* for everyone taking my Blogging Therapy course.


The assignment was this.

But imagine that you’re listening to this assignment being transmitted over a crackling radio connection and that it’s coming from someone who addresses you and your partners as “Angels” and also that there’s cool ’70s theme music:

Someone left me a comment this week on a very, very old post. It’s actually from before I started blogging. Because when I started the blog I put up a bunch of old noozletter articles so I wouldn’t feel lonely. And — every once in a while — someone discovers one of them.

Reading it again now made me realize that 1. wow, there’s some good stuff in here (yes, that surprised me!) and 2. there are a lot of ways I’d change it if I were writing it now.

Then it occurred to me that some of these “here’s what I’d do differently” bits would be useful for you guys.

So here’s your challenge:

Read the post:

And then … try and guess what changes I would make if I were writing it now

Obviously my writing voice has changed quite a bit since July 2007 … and there are aesthetic considerations as well. Give it your best shot!

Right. So I’m about to share the answers which means …

If you want to try and guess the answers yourself, you might want to not read below this little dotted line thingy until you’ve taken a swing at the homework.

Yes, that is what the dotted line thingy looks like. Wait, I’m putting another one in so you can’t say that you missed it. :)

Okay, heading into “answers” territory … spoiler alert activated.

Ready? A whole bunch of things to consider.

One of the women in the Blogging Therapy course wrote:

“It’s like looking for the find-a-words when you don’t have the list of words to work from. If this were a crossword puzzle book, I’d turn to the back page right now to find out the answers. Instead, I have to wait. Oh, darn!”

So yeah, it probably wasn’t a fair assignment. Also, I got carried away with the fun and fascinating the stuff we came up with in class, and totally forgot to share the answers. Oof.

Let’s take a look.

Thing 1: Shorter paragraphs.

By a lot. Space breaks are your friend.

The most important thing you can do in your blog is have insane amounts of space breaks. Because people skim and their eyes get tired and it can be hard reading blogs.

If you help them by creating more space they’re more likely to actually read it.

When in doubt, throw in more. If I were re-formatting that semi-embarrassing post, there would be at least twice as many breaks. Probably more.

Thing 2: Headers.

Best way to break up text and draw attention to things.

I’m also a fan of the blockquote tag as a way to say “Hey, I’m making a point”, so I’d probably also use some of that.

Like this.

Thing 3: Help people hear your voice.

You’ve probably noticed that I italicize quite a bit.

Partly it’s to break up the text again and give it a little life, but it’s also to help you hear what this is sounding like in my head.

Being a real, live human being like Betty Boop told you to is useful and important. So I’m always looking for things that will help me get the “me” across.

Thing 4: Not boring people to death with the headline.

I’m no headline expert.

And, to be honest, those biggified blogger articles about “Ten ways to get people to read your headline” are usually so stilted and self-congratulatory that I can’t even get through them.

So don’t take advice from me on this.

I’ll just say that if I were rewriting that post, the first thing I’d change is the headline. It’s painfully dull. Plus sooooo not google-able.

Instead of “More ways to work on your patterns” (seriously, what was I thinking?), I’d probably do something to make it sound as though it weren’t written by a self-help robot.

Maybe “Change your patterns. But first, you have to catch the train.”

Or “How I got a clue (literally!) and stopped being late to work.”

I don’t know. Those aren’t good either. But I’d sure as hell come up with something better than “More ways to work on your patterns.”

Thing 5: Maybe a graphic.

I’m not (as you may have noticed) a follower of the popular “have a lot of bright pretty pictures” school of blogging.

It’s partly because of a severe handicap that results in me only being interested in words. And partly because I spend so much time writing these things that I really can’t be bothered to do anything else with them.

But I do order awesome custom graphics from my designer. You’ve seen them on the Item! posts and the Ask Havi posts and of course in the Friday Chicken.

It couldn’t hurt.

Thing 6: Not being a pain in the ass.

As Diana so perceptively pointed out in her response to my “homework”:

“Fewer imperative sentences.

I don’t know if you’ve changed your writing style because you are blogging or if you are mellowing with age, but I don’t think you would say “Get going!” now and certainly not with an exclamation point.”

Yes, I’m mellowing with age.

A phrase which — applied to me — hits me straight in the funny bone.

So probably not that. I think it’s more that I gradually realized that expertise alone just isn’t sexy.

When I read blogs where the writer wraps herself in this big cloak of “Hi, I’m an expert and I am so totally over having your problems”, I lose interest.

The blogs I love to read are written by people. Like Naomi. I’m much more inclined to take her advice because she doesn’t present herself as someone who knows everything.

Yeah. I definitely wouldn’t say “Get going!” now.

In fact, I take it back. You most certainly do not have to get going on anything.* That would be ridiculous.

*Unless of course you happen to feel like it for reasons of your own.

Thing 7: Where is Selma???

I know. Not everyone has a duck.

But the fact that I wrote an entire post and didn’t even mention my business partner who deserves sole credit for my fame and fortune and general well-being?

Weird, right?

Especially since she was absolutely with me on that walk to the train station. Gah. I don’t know.

I guess it took me a long time to realize that even though some people would (and do) think it’s really screwed up that I have a duck, the people that get it are so totally my Right People that it doesn’t even matter if everyone else thinks I’m not all there in the glove compartment.

That’s it. Enough with the expert-izing.

Hope there was Something Useful for you in here today. Next week back to more Blogging Therapy of the emotional stucknesses kind.

Tomorrow: pure, unadulterated goofiness.

Oh, and as promised, the links to the other Blogging Therapy posts in the series:

Part 1. What if people are mean to me?
Part 2. What if I throw a party and no one shows up?
Part 3. Why even bother when there are already other people doing it better?
Part 4. What do I saaaaaaaaaaaaaaay?
Part 5. Help! Perfectionism! Gaaaaak!
Part 6. But I’m not an EXPERT!
Part 7. Don’t make me be vulnerable!
Part 8. I just don’t have the time!
Part 9. What if someone READS what I wrote?
Part 10. But I’ll never be popular!
Part 11. De-shouldifying.
Part 12. A bunch of questions.
Part 13. Finding your voice.
Part 14. Worry. Worry. Worry.

Yes, that is a lot of Blogging Therapy. And no, you don’t have to read any of it if you don’t feel like it. See you tomorrow …

22 Responses to Blogging therapy: Learn from my mistakes

  1. Like, OMG. It’s midnight, over here in tomorrow-land Australia. I’m up late in that happy place of launch-mode: three days until my first e-course goes out.
    So anyway, what does a Goddess do at midnight when she wants to have a break from e-coursering magic and bliss and joy?
    She thinks “Hey! It might be time for Havi to publish one of her posts… and I might just be the first one to comment instead of being Other-Plane-of-Existance-Late-to-Every-Blog Susan. Except my name isn’t Susan. It’s Leonie.”

    THE END.

    I really like telling stories that don’t really have much of a moral. Or anything much really. Just telling a story… coz it’s a story.

    THE END.

    This could become like the Never Ending Story you know.

    Goddess Leonie I Creative Goddesss last blog post..Sacred Goddess: Grounding through Snow

  2. Fi Bowman
    Twitter: fibowman

    Oo, spooky synchronicity. Yesterday, after having found your blog and reading around in the archives, I thought a lot about why I liked it so much. A big part is obviously you and what you do (oh yes it is) but it’s also the way your personality comes across in your posts through the language and structures of you use.

    Being fairly new to blogging, I’ve been kind of hung up about my style of writing, which is heavily influenced by far too many academic essays and even more business writing. (Translation: dull.)

    Yesterday I tried to let my more normal self show more in my writing, treating it more like a conversation. It’s not there yet, but it’s better.

    And today, lo and behold! there’s a new post from you on this very subject.

    Like I said. Spooky.

  3. christy
    Twitter: twitchinggrey

    I was a good girl and did the actual exercise (for once). My guess was, “Why the heck wasn’t Selma with you to help you? After all, that’s what sidekick/business partners are for!”

    Glad to see that I was at least that much right.

    Also, I’d add that you’ve quit using complex sentence structures. Not that your sentences are now “See Dick” easy, but you’ve reduced the number of dependent and independent sub-clauses. But then I notice that stuff because I’m a geek that way.

    You’re very skim-able now. And it’s as much the sentence structure as it is the line breaks, imo.

    christys last blog post..How To Destroy a New Media Company in Three Easy Steps

  4. Joely Black says:

    I’ve picked up on the line breaks. Since I tend to write that kind of long, flowing prose, it actually helps me to adjust my style a little for the blog.

    I still get told off for writing posts that are “too long” though!

    Joely Blacks last blog post..This is me, not getting up at 5am

  5. Karen says:

    Gee, how do I do this?? Um, since the Havster isn’t taking questions anymore, I’m curious to know how bloggers stay organised or what software people use to keep blogging finds, posts, etc., organised. I hope it’s OK to ask that here. Thanks.

  6. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    *sings to self* line breaks! line breaks! line breaks!

    @Leonie – Sleep tight, my dear!

    @Fi – I LOVED your post. So important. And I instantly thought of a hundred people who need to read it. Will try and mention it in a post. Can you give me a direct link? I can’t seem to get one from your page.

    @Christy – Wow. I knew someone would!

    And yes, that is a great insight. You are absolutely right. I blame German for my tendency to build convoluted sentences. But blogging has taught me to at least try and be more clear. Nice noticing!

    @Joely – Right on. And yes, people tell me that too. It’s just that it takes me five times as long to write short.

    And anyway, the people who like reading long posts are happy to find us and curl up with a pot of tea and so on.

    I’m a fan of the “you write it until it’s done” school, but yes, not so popular.

    @Karen – I’m not sure I understood the question. Do you mean in terms of keeping on top of all the various posts you’re writing?

  7. This post was both practical and inspiring, in so many ways.

    Last week I received an email from someone who was inspired by a post I wrote a year and a half ago. I had to dig through my archives to refresh my memory. While the story is still one of my favorites, I was shocked by how visually dense the paragraphs were, and by the complete lack of anything visual to help propel the reader along. I immediately began breaking up long paragraphs, adding a header here and there, and making the occasional sentence bold.

    Then I worried about my other favorite old posts, and took a fair amount of time doing the same with them. Some of the longest original paragraphs became three or even four new paragraphs! (What was I thinking?!?)

    Granted, I was a very new blogger then, and I still consider myself quite green when it comes to understanding what readers expect and find acceptable when they visit a blog. It was exciting, though, to see how much I’ve learned, and then to read a post like yours that instantly inspires, instructs and affirms.

    Kristin T. (@kt_writes)s last blog post..Learning to call a mistake a mistake

  8. You shall not defy the ironclad “10 Ways To A Better Life Today” code of bloggery. Resistance is futile. But seriously, I don’t normally do the “list” thing either, and now I feel supported in that. Thanks.

  9. Fi (@fibowman)
    Twitter: fibowman

    Um, er, which post are we talking about, Havi? The one about using Morning Pages? That’s here: “http://www.aurora-textile-studio.com/creativity/82-using-the-artists-way-morning-pages”. (Hope that link works).

    Sorry if it was difficult to get at – still working out the technical aspects of blogging with Joomla instead of WordPress (because of what we’re going to be doing later on with the site). Not to mention working on the whole blogging voice thing. And not being boring of course.

    Fi (@fibowman)s last blog post..In short: What is Lutradur?

  10. JoVE says:

    Very interesting. I’ve been working on draft posts for the new blog and just went and reformatted one using some of those tips. WOW. What a big difference. Now I just need to work out how to modify those style thingamies.

    JoVEs last blog post..Posture

  11. Scared of the white space. It makes my already epic posts seem that much longer. It’s a good point though. (sigh) If today’s post doesn’t scare them all off, then I don’t suppose a little extra length will. :)

    Diane Whiddon-Browns last blog post..My Rock, My Fear, and Teeth!

  12. deb says:

    I’m working on brevity. Can you believe that? With posts that people refer to as ‘articles’? I’m working on brevity. (ha!) OK. Maybe I’ll work on brevity tomorrow.

    As for graphics, I actually am a visual type person (what with also being a photographer and all) and I totally stopped doing the “find the perfect picture to go with the post” thing a while ago.

    I know, I know. It goes against conventional wisdom and all that. But really? It’s a time thing. I can literally spend a LOT more time searching for the perfect picture than actually writing. But I do need to get back to it and break it up a bit more. (That’s one reason I occasionally do my “POD: picture of the day”….just to break it up. I need to get back to breaking it up more but…..)

    So yeah. I’m a visual person and people will tell you that you have to have graphics. But then again….there are a lot of blogs out there that ‘do it wrong’ but that rock!

    All the best!

    debs last blog post..i wish i’d paid more attention in algebra (maybe not)

  13. Maartje
    Twitter: martieu

    Hi Havi and Selma!


    It’s me, the Dutch 1/23rd of your Shiva Nata starter kit sales.

    I said I’d leave a comment once my blog was up & running, and I think 3 posts maybe qualifies. So, here’s to that. :)

    I tried to learn from your ‘mistakes’ immediately, by adding oodles more whitespace than I usually do. Felt kinda spacey, though. I guess I’ve been indoctrinated by the whole ‘put-related-ideas-in-the-same-paragraph’-school of writing, and a little voice inside me is shouting ‘but if you add soooo many empty lines, how do you tell when you finish making one point and go on to the next?’

    Which, now I think of it, feels a little like hubris, since I’m not a pointy writer but a rambly one.

    Thanks for giving me the courage to go ahead and start a blog. And here’s to using my first posts (a year from now or so) to help other fledgeling bloggers by saying ‘See, I used to suck, and still I loved it.’

  14. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi


    @Maartje – that’s so brilliant! And so well put.

    Plus I couldn’t be happier that you’re “fixing” my mistakes on your blog right off the bat (and hopefully leaving a few for someone else to receive encouragement from in a year or so!)

    I’m also not a pointy writer, but I do use the black headers at the beginning of new ideas/concepts as a way to say “hey, I’m about to ramble in a slightly different direction now”.

    Excited for you!

    @Deb – agreed. “…there are a lot of blogs out there that ‘do it wrong’ but that rock!

    So so true.

    @Diane – your blog is one of my favorites. Anyone who gets scared off by your intelligent prose and hi-this-is-me-ness doesn’t deserve to be there to begin with.

    @JoVE – AWESOME. Love it.

    @Fi – Sorry for getting your posts all mixed up. Love them all. And don’t know anything about Joomla other than the fact that it exists. Good luck with that, my dear.

    @Chris – Oh, good. We can start a club of people who don’t do lists. Meh. Lists.

    @Kristin – Hi! What a neat experience. I mean, to realize how much you’ve learned and how your style has shifted.

    When I put up my old noozletters on the blog, I edited the hell out of them. Now I look back and I STILL think that “what was I thinking?” thing.

    It’s all progress. I’m sure I’ll reread this post in a year (or two weeks) and say the same thing. Sigh. :)

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  17. […] Blogging Therapy series by Havi Brooks (see bottom of the post for links to topics like mean comments, what if nobody reads my blog, etc.) […]

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  22. […] self-therapy, and (b) learn how to become an interesting, effective blogger.  Havi Brooks over at FluentSelf.com makes great mention of her 14-point blogging therapy tips on her blog –  worth a […]

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