Yesterday was a big day. I learnt how to Skype (I know way out of touch, even my Mum has been Skyping for years, but I’ve been busy alright).
I had to learn how to Skype because I won a half hour chat with Eden Riley in a competition on her blog Edenland.
Eden has just been named as Australia’s Top Blogger in a competition at The Sydney Writers Centre.
Blogging for five years (which probably equates to about 50 years in the normal world), Eden was blogging before it even really existed in Australia. Originally it was a way of documenting her journey with IVF and later her husband’s battle with cancer. In the beginning she was surrounded by US bloggers, because that’s where all the action was happening, but gradually blogging began to take off in Australia, and I think somewhat to her surprise Eden has found herself pushed to the front of the pack.
Our conversation covered a wide range of topics, monetising blogs, inclusion in the blogging world, authenticity and the art of writing to name a few. It wasn’t an interview, so I didn’t take notes but I wanted to share some of the highlights from our conversation.
What did I learn from Eden?
Silence the Voices In Your Head
In Eden’s blog she writes in a style often described as “raw” she is fearless in the topics she tackles writing about her past drug and alcohol addiction, being a mother and stepmother, a tough childhood. Eden stressed you need to turn off the critical voices in your head, the ones yelling “you can’t say that”, “that’s not right”, “what will people think”. Your blog must represent you, your voice and you can’t be sidetracked by second-guessing yourself or worrying about how other people will respond.
Saying more with less
Eden shared her writing process of revisiting a post before publishing, cutting, cutting, cutting, entire paragraphs removed and replaced with just a single word or sentence. This is a practice I must start to embrace, I am the world’s worst editor. I write fast and I publish. I think it probably stems from learning to write in frantic radio studios, where you get it down, get it to the announcer and it disappears into the ether. Slow down, consider, take out the unnecessary, create a more powerful piece.
Eden spoke of the importance of your content being relatable for people. You can share your struggles without detailing every moment but by sharing key factors which will resonate with your readers. You need to find the universal aspect of your experience and incorporate it into your writing. You need to be authentic in what you blog.
Making Money is Not Evil
OK there is a possibility Eden is just coming to terms with this one, having only started to monetise her blog recently. I wondered why she had taken so long to start the process. Eden says she was always uncomfortable with the idea, it felt like selling out. However, now she recognises that the time and effort she puts into her blog is worth something, she wants to be able to bring in an income to help make her family’s dreams come true. But she wants it to be a transparent process, she isn’t coy about sharing figures and personally, as a newbie blogger I find that approach extremely helpful. I actually want to know the top bloggers are making a decent income for the work they put in, otherwise what do those of us at the bottom of the food chain have to aspire to?
Find Blogging Buddies
Seek out bloggers at the same level as you, comment on their blogs, build relationships. It really helps to sustain you if there are at least a few friends stopping by with a comment or two on a regular basis.
The Aussie Blogosphere
Eden is keen for the Aussie blogging community to be an inclusive environment. Considering the question of whether it is a welcoming place I have to admit there have been times I’ve felt like a kid back in highschool. There’s all these cool chicks, who know what they are doing and everybody loves, they’ve all met each other at blogging conferences and become mates. There’s in jokes on Twitter and private conversations going back and forth. An introvert by nature (and frankly useless at Twitter) I have felt at times like a stalker watching all the fun but not allowed to play. I suspect just like highschool I will probably end up middle-of-the-road, not one of the “populars” but not a complete nerd either (well OK a bit nerdy but not like a complete geek or anything). However, that’s my issue bringing my own shyness and doubts to the situation.
The blogging world here in Australia is changing. We are starting to see some bloggers emerge as leaders, they are gaining publicity, getting sponsorship and an income. I suppose this can create some jealousy but in my opinion let them do the hard yakka, sorting out what 70,000, 150,000, 250,000 pages views a month are worth, negotiating with brands, figuring out how to keep your readers when you monetise. Makes it easier for those of us hoping to come up behind them. Frankly I’ve never been a trailblazer – you clear the path – I’ll watch your back!
I have found most of the experienced bloggers in Australia are very generous in sharing what they have learnt. We have Digital Parents a forum for blogging parents which offers loads of advice and support and our top bloggers participate and throw in opinions and advice on a regular basis. They often take part in Q&A sessions on Facebook. They write posts on their blog focused on particular aspects of blogging. This is really helpful – there’s no uni course for blogging – we are all learning as we go.
I hope this generosity continues and I don’t want us to get to the point where the jealous and mean-spirited stop our successful bloggers being willing to share. In America top bloggers need to be issued with flak jackets to deal with some of the criticism, there are entire websites set up focused on hating those who have made a name for themselves. I wandered into one of these sites recently and it was an ugly place.
Blogging vs Journalism vs Writing
There’s been lots of conversation recently about blogging vs journalism vs writing. I think all are different genres but no one form is lesser than the other. Eden recently travelled to Africa for World Vision and created a series of posts about the West African Food Crisis. Some were critical about Eden’s approach calling her “naïve” but she wrote an honest account of her experience in a heartfelt narrative with all the complications, queries, fears and innocence of a well-fed, white woman who knew her kids were safe and cared for back at home.
Although this was obviously sponsored by the charity and not a reporting situation, it did give me a sense of the different approach bloggers take when creating their posts. As a former radio producer if I was going to Africa I would have researched the hell out of the story, I would have wanted the facts and figures, I would have wanted the who, what, why, when, how. I would have been a bit player in the story, my personal feelings squashed to report on what was happening to the people I met. Eden got a plane and figured it out when she got there. Her emotions mixed with heart breaking stories of hunger and death and impossible choices, she openly admitted she was struggling to remember the facts and figures but the message came through very clearly. There are a lot of people dying because there is no food.
Eden’s posts remind me blogging is a very personal game, it means ditching some of the lessons learnt in Journalism classes and media work to write in much more intimate way.
Thank you Eden for sharing.
PS: But probably my biggest lesson of the day was computer cameras make me look REALLY UGLY.