On The HerStories Project blog today, Stephanie and I are delighted to feature a friendship essay by writer, blogger, and social media extraordinaire Nina Badzin. Check out her essay, “The Case for a Friendship Break.” I’m sure many of us can relate to her experience of needing a little time and breathing room in a friendship.
I don’t know Nina Badzin at all in “real life.” But based on her generosity, warmth, and powers of connection, I’m sure she is a terrific friend. For me, I count Nina as one of several “blogging mentors” that I’ve accumulated in the past months since I started a blog.
What is a “blog mentor”? Again, it may not be someone you know in real life. In fact, this blogger may not know that you exist at all.
When I was a teacher, I had a few education mentors who guided me in the art, craft and skills of teaching: classroom management, professional development, relationships with parents. They served as emotional and professional support, and I also frequently went to their classrooms to watch them in action. For a beginning teacher, there is nothing more valuable than watching a master. Excellent teachers make it look so easy, and good mentors break it down for beginners to decode the mystery of how good teachers do their job. In academia, I’ve also sought out scholar-mentors, several researchers and teachers whose interests align with mine and whose writing and scholarly styles I admire.
When I was a first-year teacher, I was a disaster. I was so bad. Just terrible. I had a degree from a great college, impeccable academic credentials, graduate school fellowships, writing experience…. I had read stacks of books about teaching pedagogy. How hard could it be? It wasn’t until I had a few experienced teachers take me under their wings that I started to figure out what I was doing, and I became a good teacher. I found my own style, my own personality as a teacher, adopting tips, advice, and habits from experienced colleagues.
Unfortunately, I approached the start of my blog the same way that I began my teaching career: I read books about blogging. I researched it, way too generically. But in reality I had no idea what my voice as a blogger would be. Why was I doing this really? It didn’t take me long to figure out that the reality of good blogging — just like good teaching — is way harder than it looks. I thought that if I were a decent writer who had a few interesting things to say and researched my topics exhaustively, that would be enough.
Of course, it wasn’t. And I searched for blog mentors, other blogs whose formats, designs, writing, interaction style with their audiences, and just general style and content I found appealing. I “stalked” a bunch of blogs and then got serious. What was the right combination of blogging traits that I needed to find a style all my own?
And here were the results, my blog mentors:
1. Nina Badzin: for advice about Twitter, for blogging tips. She helped me to see that many of my first instincts about Twitter were right; there was no use in pretending to be someone that I am not. And she has a wide range of interests — publishing, book reviewing, parenting, Jewish life, culture — and she inspired me to write about what I know about and truly love.
2. Julie DeNeen: for blog design and community. Julie’s group (the Bloppy Bloggers) have been an unbelievable source of support. It’s a Facebook group where bloggers talk about their blog issues, ask questions, support each other, and read each other’s work. I’ve met so many fantastic bloggers there, including my HerStories collaborator, Stephanie Sprenger. And without Julie, I would have no blog. I would still be flipping frantically through my WordPress guide pages, probably in tears, hopeless, my blog destroyed from my ignorant tinkering.
3. Science of Mom: for blog content, style, and approach to parenting topics. Alice Callahan of the Science of Mom is a writer and former research scientist. When I first read her blog, I literally gasped. This was so much like I wanted to be as a blogger and writer. Her parenting blog has heart and is a pleasure to read, but she doesn’t shy away from the complexity of issues and research facing parents. And on a personal level, Alice is immensely generous, helping me with one of my first guest posts on her site and serving as a sounding board for many of my ideas and questions.
4. PhD in Parenting: for her mix of feminism, parenting, and political advocacy. Annie is a pro. She tackles tough, controversial issues, but is fair-minded and is a receptive listener to her readers. From her and other feminist bloggers, such as Mamafesto and Blue Milk, I learned that you don’t have to check your feminism at the door when you become a “mommy blogger” (whatever that is or whatever that means).
There are a few others who have proven indispensable, such as Joanne Bamberger of The Broad Side and Suzanne Barston of Fearless Formula Feeder. Both of them have also been generous with their time, platform, and advice. Alison Lee of Writing, Wishing, as well as her own consulting company, Little Love Media Company, has incredible insights into the world of blogging. Alison is a social media dynamo with a work ethic that cannot be matched who has given me endless tips on blog strategy.
My advice to new bloggers? Ditch the guidebooks and find a set of bloggers that compliment each other and help you to find your own path. You have a voice that is distinctly your own. Don’t imitate your mentors but connect with them and learn from their strengths.