10 Things I Learned at BlogCamp

Being neither a Mum nor an American, I spent my first year of blogging watching enviously as other women trooped off to blogging conferences and the like, tweeted about it for weeks before and and then wrote great posts afterwards on what a fabulous time they’d had and how all the secrets of blogging had been unlocked for them in a single day.

And about how lovely the cake was.

There are a couple of events that are open to a wider audience this year, and the first was in Birmingham yesterday.

These are my 10 Things I Learned at BlogCamp.

 

1 – Be the most You that you can be. We need to have strong voices and develop our own style and tone, right down to key words and phrases.  Writing the way we speak is a great way to start.  The early part of blogging (when very few people are reading) is a great time to experiment with different styles.

Look at dooce.com and the Waterstones Oxford Street twitter feed for great examples.

2 – Have a view. Don’t do ‘opinion’ pieces that cover off all the sides of the argument; express personal thoughts and encourage people to debate with us. Much better to give that debate a strong starting point and let people react.

3 – Snarking about things that are really current, from current tabloid news and what brands like Starbucks or Sainsburys are doing this week, through to what’s happening on the tv screen right now, is a great way to engage with people and have fun.  Snarking about real people (even if they’re celebs) or about things you’re really bothered about, is where it’s more likely to get upsetting and difficult to take – so those of us who are on the delicate side need to steer away from that stuff.  And snarking isn’t the same as moaning.

4 – Creating e-courses about creativity and personal growth are lots of work to set up, but a great way to connect people (and a fairly strong source of income if done well as an offshoot of a successful blog).

5 – Great e-courses use a mix of video, written pieces, slideshows, community support and prompts / ‘homework’.  Leading real-life training sessions is a great way to develop some teaching skills.

See Camtasia software for recording the computer screen and talking through instructions at the same time.

6 – Google is totally fine with websites linking to each other; that’s how the web works. Google’s also fine with links being sold, but they must be set to ‘nofollow’. This is clear in Google’s terms and conditions, and it’s a big risk for anyone who wants google to recognise and rank their site. (Linking anywhere shares a bit of our Google pagerank with wherever we’re linking to.  Adding nofollow stops that happening).

7 – PRs building brand awareness are likely to be totally fine with nofollow.  SEO people are providing keywords and pages to link to; they’re less likely to want nofollow links (and there will always be new bloggers who are willing to give follow links in return for payment).

8 – Blogs need to be really simple for people to find, follow and share.  Marketing has to be part of what any blogger does, so going along to relevant events, promoting the blog wherever possible and making sure that it’s easy to navigate are important.  If we’re wanting contact from PR people, we need to make it simple for them to find our email and get in touch.

9 – Lots of us are quite sniffy about using press releases to inspire content because we don’t want to be doing that stuff for free.  To bloggers from journalism backgrounds in traditional media, it’s really normal to take content ideas from a range of sources – and press releases can be a great part of that.

10 – PR people have all sorts of spooky ways of analysing who’s being inflential online, what their followers are interested in and who’s talking about the things that relate to their product. They’re fine with being approached by bloggers (although not just for samples and free stuff), and are open to talking about new ways to present content about their products.

 

I have an eleventh point as well, which I guess would only apply to a few people. Mike was a BlogCamp participant too (he’s been doing a photo-blog this year, and he’s come away with loads of ideas). It was great to have someone to be with, but that was a bit too safe and I didn’t throw myself into mixing with other people. I’m kicking myself about that now, as I know that part of the point is to get involved in the community of bloggers. I think that’s what we call in youth work my “better for next time”.

The event was great. The points above were a struggle to cut down to 10.  I’m stupidly grateful for having had the chance to be among fellow bloggers for a day. Thanks to Sally and her team for putting it all together.

My Relationship with Words

Pen, Writing, Love of Words

Picture from Cute Little Factory

I’ve always loved words.

I was one of those children who read everything.

I’d read the words on the cereal boxes and whisper them so I could sense how they felt. Riboflavin. Thiamin. Magnesium.  I wondered a little about what they meant, and I loved the familiarity of seeing them every day.

I’d make little rhythms out of things written on the side of toys – “Safe, Non-Toxic, Colours Blend” on the edge of the play-dough tub became a little chant for me every time we played with it.

(I know. I was a strange child).

I’d read roadsigns and make words from car number plates.

I’d get caught up in the romantic poetry of Rogers and Hammerstein’s showtunes, and I’d sing them over and over.

 

I have two early memories of writing.

One is sitting with my grandad as he taught me to write my name pretty much as I still write it today.

The other is a story I wrote when I was about 9. I remember very little of it, other than that I wrote it out longhand on sheets of lined paper. And that it had a rabbit in it, although I don’t think it was actually about the rabbit.  I remember a bit of a fuss about it being good, and I remember a bit of me wanting it to be my thing and not something that other people got excited about.

Writing was my place to disappear to.

 

I’ve written throughout my life, whether it’s been to remember an experience, or to express something and persuade others.  I’ve written privately in diaries and found having that space to write hugely therapeutic when things have been really tough. That kind of writing comes really easily to me because I don’t have to worry about anyone else viewing it and judging it.

When I write knowing that my words will be read by someone else, though, I feel that I have to be more careful. I want to craft things properly, and sometimes I know that I over-craft things so much that they become stilted.

 

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year now, and I’ve learned so much about writing.  I still feel that I’m at the beginning, though.

I guess that one year in marks a good time to set out some writing challenges for the next 12 months:

– Writing more regularly and focusing on practice rather than perfection.

– Following along with more challenges – including word limits – to help me focus on different aspects of writing.

– Attempting to pull a more natural voice through to my writing, so that I’m putting more of me into each post.

– Learning more about writing for speaking. I’ve just done my first prepared speech at Toastmasters, and I’ve really noticed how different my spoken voice is to my written one.  I’m guessing that writing for speaking will help with bringing a more natural style to all of my writing.

 

I want to continue to enjoy it too.  More than ever before, the writing I’ve done over the past year has given me huge enjoyment and a great sense of accomplishment. It’s helped me to express parts of me that I don’t normally share, and I’ve started to connect with other people who I admire hugely.  I’ve also had some lovely feedback and lots of encouragement.

I’m so very grateful for the privilege of an education that taught me to love words in so many ways.

 

I wrote this piece for the Dare to Share linkup about Relationships with Writing over at The Lightning and The Lightning Bug.

Cybher Intro (now for BlogCamp too)

You might have noticed the BlogCamp 2012 and I’m Going to Cyber buttons on my sidebar.

 

BlogCamp and Cybher are my first ever blogging events, and I’m really looking forward to both days.

 

We’ve been asked to put up an icebreaker for the meet and greet linkies. So here’s mine…

Name : Louise

Blog : thegirlbehind.com

Twitter : @girlbehind

Height : 5′ 6″ I think.

Hair : Long. Varies from mousey to blonde.

 

Five things you should know about me

1. I turned 40 last September. It’s really not as bad as I expected, and I now feel able to slip nicely into a fragrant, artistic – and perhaps slightly mad – middle age.

2. Sometimes, I think I’m the only blogger on the planet that doesn’t have an army of children. I keep saying it might happen one day, but I’m coming around to thinking I might have missed the boat.

3. I have very peculiar taste in music; my favourite boy band is the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

4. The night before Sarah Ferguson married Prince Andrew, my aunty taught me to do Fergie-style hair swept back from the sides and hairgripped at the back. I’ve worn it like that almost every day since, and it’s served me very well.

5. I’m really worried about meeting people at Cybher. And even more worried that I’ll not meet anyone because I’ll be hovering in a corner fretting about the fact that mingling with strangers isn’t really my strong point.

 

And here’s a picture of me. I don’t always have that strange faraway look in my eyes.  My other half was experimenting and he asked me to stare into the middle distance whilst thinking about an exotic place to travel to (we were on York station at the time).

I’d actually just bought a panini and was waiting for it to be warmed, so I was thinking about that.

Cybher Louise The Girl Behind

The linky for Cyber’s over here and the BlogCamp linky’s here so if you’re going, do add your own intro.

5 Tips for Bloggers

Picture from Cute Little Factory

I’m starting the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge over at the Sits Girls tomorrow (click the coloured bit for the link).  I’ve had a bit of a go at it before, and the book that it’s based on is superb.

But some of our best learning always comes from experience and this blog’s almost a year old so I guess it’s a good time to put a few tips down for people who’ve started recently.

I’ve done a couple of similar things before, but I’m learning all the time.  And, on a similar note, I don’t claim to be perfect at keeping to any of these tips myself.

 

– Create an ‘About Me’ page that tells us something about you.  I love to know who I’m reading about.  I think that a good ‘About Me’ page gives us a bit of background, an introduction to the main characters and a few hints of what we can expect as readers.

– Make it as easy as possible to comment. Both Blogger and wordpress.com allow the blogger to set their commenting options. Assuming that comments are important to you, set it so that anyone can comment. Spam filters reject most of the dodgy stuff, or you can manually approve comments once they’re made if you want to be totally sure that nothing gets through.

– Get involved across different groups sites and communities, including with people outside your normal niche. There are lots of lovely prompt sites and linkups out there, and once you’ve written your post there’s usually a linky to share it on and bring some new readers to your blog. I also love having twitter and pinterest as additional strands for my blogging.

– Never go anywhere without something to write on and something to take photos with. Even if that’s the back of a couple of receipts and the phone on your camera. If your memory’s anything like mine, you’ll need to write things down as they come to you rather than waiting till you’re home.

– Don’t keep a blog if you don’t enjoy doing it, and don’t write any pieces that don’t interest you. One of my greatest surprises this year has been the whole theme of monetising, PR relationships and being given samples for review. I’ve really enjoyed the times that I’ve worked with brands this year, but I couldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it.

 

These tips were written for this week’s Listography over at Kate Takes 5; the theme was “Top 5 Tips for Bloggers”. Click on Kate’s link below to find the other contributions.

My Posts of the Year

It feels a bit self-indulgent to be picking out lots of my own pieces to mark the year, but doing just that is one of Mama Kat’s prompts for this week so I kind of had to join in.

I bought this domain name on New Years Eve last year, although I didn’ t make any use of it until a few months later. Starting to blog again was one of my big resolutions, and one of the very few that I’ve ever managed to stick with. I’m so grateful for all of the support that I’ve had this year – the online social communities are some of the warmest and most encouraging places I’ve hung around in.

Blogging’s also helped me to see my world differently. I look for humour and fun in things more than I used to, and I encounter so many other people doing the same. I think creativity’s there for all of us if we just open our eyes to it.

 

These are my picks of the posts that I’ve most enjoyed writing, and in some cases putting together pictures for. Some are just moments in my life, and others are reflections on the whole of it.

 

When I first started blogging here, it was kind of a little secret thing that I did on my own. Mike knew about it but didn’t really get involved.  The day that we made Sticky 5-Spice Gammon together was one of the first times that I’d enlisted him to help something for the blog.

We’ve had loads of fabulous days out this year; we’ve been to lots of new places in search of new experiences (and new photographs), and one of our favourite new finds was the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. This post was a bit of a whistle-stop tour after our first visit. We’ve learned now that it’s better to take it easy and meander around a small part of the park more slowly. There are still bits that we’ve not seen, and pieces change all the time.  There are some more posts and pictures of our visits here.

I don’t do a lot of sponsored posts, but when I was asked to do one about baking it was a perfect excuse to make some gingerbread men – Mike had been asking me to have a go for ages. They were great fun to make, but we definitely overdid it a bit – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many gingerbread men in one place.

 

I’ve always been a ponderous and nostalgic person, and blogging’s encouraged that side of me lots this year. It seems silly to call “Where I’m From” a meme because it was far more than that, but it had lots of us joining in and seems to be a pretty established writing exercise.  I love it – I loved writing mine, and I loved reading others from across the world and seeing how closely our memories connect to each other, wherever we are.

Nowhere’s encouraged my sentimental side more than in taking part in some of the weekly RememberRed prompts on Write on Edge, a gorgeous community of bloggers and writers.  When they asked us to write about a season of change in the first week of September, I wrote a piece about myself and my school friends turning 40 this year.

I loved writing about the Class of 1988 the most out of everything I’ve written this year, I think.

And it turned out that turning 40 wasn’t so bad after all.