Snapshots: What Are You Reading?


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By Beaver Keeping a reading journal can be very satisfying. Not only do you get a feeling of accomplishment each time you add a new entry, but you’re creating a guide you can refer to whenever you need a reminder … Continue reading

Au Paris: From Blog to Book

Absolute Blank

By Mollie Savage (Bonnets)

Au Paris - Rachel SpencerThis is a story about serendipity. A young woman bored with work lands a dream job as a summer nanny in Paris, her previous employer allows her to blog about her adventure on its website, a book editor reads the blog, a little over a year later a book is published.

Au Paris is Rachel Spencer’s memoir about her whirlwind time as a Parisian nanny. In Rachel’s words, here is her story of blog to book.

“Why don’t you write for us?”

I had been working in the advertising department at the Houston Chronicle for about three years when I decided to resign from there to pursue graduate studies at the University of Arkansas, with a summer in Paris in between. It was May 2005 when I resigned. The day I told my manager my plans to leave, she told her boss, Stephen Weis, who is now the Executive VP/GM of

When I told Stephen I really wanted to write—and I had even thought of trying to get a travel column going through the Arkansas Traveler, my school paper—he suggested I write for the Chronicle instead. I remember his casual, can-do, energetic but laid-back expression when he said, “Why don’t you write for us?” as if writing for one of the nation’s largest newspapers was something anyone off the streets could just take a stab at.

I laughed a little but he assured me he was serious. He told me to contact Jeff Cohen, the executive editor, and tell him my plans. Mr. Cohen, as I called him, was kind and witty and rather prompt in his reply. He’s a jovial, flirt of a guy who wears bow ties regularly and in doing so, manages to look both debonair and astutely academic. He directed me to Scott Clark, the only VP of at that time, who was strictly editorial. Scott came from the print side where he was the Business Editor. I would have much rather exchanged ideas with Mr. Cohen.

Scott’s right-hand man and the technology columnist, Dwight Silverman, was in the early stages of developing blogs on There were just a handful then, all written by editors of the paper and maybe one or two in the archives from reporters who had gone to some offshore destinations.

Dwight and Scott were skeptics—and they had to be. But Dwight was thirsty for hot online content and, as much of a tech geek as he is, is a real romantic. I think he applauded my gumption to quit my job, flee the country temporarily, and return to my first love (writing). So I persuaded Dwight, and Dwight stroked and courted the idea to Scott. I don’t think I ever had a face-to-face conversation with Scott until after Dwight had already, unofficially, granted me permission to write a blog on

It took a series of “interview” posts and a series of critiques and second chances from Dwight, but eventually, they said yes. Scott was still skeptical whether there would be any reader relevancy, but they took the risk. The opportunity to even write for and hold my own blog—the first by someone other than editorial staff—was a huge dream come true for me.

“I think your blog is amazing…”

Au Paris (the blog) did well, and exceeded expectations. It often ranked number one above the other blogs and received daily comments from readers worldwide. I was on a combined high from writing, living in Paris and fulfilling dreams by the end of the summer.

Dwight took me to dinner when I returned to Houston; I was leaving for Arkansas the next week to settle in before grad school started. We sat at Maggiano’s Restaurant and talked about future plans. He asked me if I could do anything after the unexpected success with the blog, what would it be. I told him I wanted to write a book based on the blog and include all of the things I just couldn’t fit in while I was in Paris busy taking care of the kids.

Dwight looked doubtful, but encouraged me nonetheless. He told me to high tail it to New York City and just start voraciously reading anything and everything. I left dinner with stars in my eyes, no doubt. So much of what I’d always wanted had already happened and I felt satisfied and inspired.

The next day, I went to the Chronicle to say farewell to friends and to thank those who helped with the blog. As I was stepping on the elevator, my cell phone rang. It was Dwight. He wanted me to come back in his office.

When I rounded the corner to his office, his face looked aghast. I wondered if some reader had posted an inappropriate comment or something. But then, why would Dwight need to show me that to me?

He called me to his desk. “Look at the screen,” he said. “Read that.”

The screen was indeed displaying a comment from a reader, but it wasn’t an inappropriate one.

I used to have it memorized verbatim, but the comment went something like this:

Hi, Rachel. My name is Danielle Chiotti. I’m an editor with Kensington Publishing in New York. I think your blog is amazing and I’d love to talk to you about book ideas. This is the only way I could find to contact you. Please feel free to contact me at…

Before I could say anything, Dwight read my mind and said out loud, “I didn’t write that!”

“Is this a joke?” I said, still stunned.

Dwight was just as stunned. Instinctively he began googling “Danielle Chiotti” and “Kensington Publishing New York.” We were both amazed to find real results. This was a real editor at a real publishing company and, we thought, we hoped, she really wanted to talk to me about a book deal.

Dwight, being the overprotective father-type by that stage of our mentor/student relationship, told me to let him handle the initial contact, and I was fine with that. I was too shocked to know what to say.

I had an official book deal.

In a matter of days after Dwight’s contact with Danielle, I was on the phone with her myself. I don’t remember much—it was one of those adrenaline-pumping moments when sheer elation blurs the memory. I do know that very quickly, I was agreeing to a 65,000-word non-fiction manuscript with a December 15, 2005 deadline. (It was early August.)

Dwight handled the agent part too and within a couple hours of his first email to an agent he knew, I was on the phone with the agent, giving him a fax number where he could send the author-agent agreement form.

I moved to Arkansas despite the new whirlwind turn-of-events, but I was quickly moving further from thoughts of sitting in a classroom. It was August ninth when I moved to Arkansas and I hadn’t registered for classes. I wasn’t going to grad school, but I hadn’t said it out loud yet.

On August 23rd, I received confirmation that I had an official book deal. In the days in between Danielle had pitched the idea and my platform to her boss and company. I had no other work but my blog, so I know she had to pull some strings and beg a lot of people to trust her. That same day, Danielle was named a Senior Editor of Citadel Press—the imprint on my book within Kensington Publishing—and my book, Au Paris, was her first under her new title.

The agent negotiated my contract, the advance, the royalty percentages, etc. I was in complete trust of a stranger because I had neither the knowledge nor the legal resources to find out on my own whether his negotiation was fair. (It was; it’s a first
book—you can’t complain!)

The whole process was an extremely personal, risky, emotional process for both Danielle and me. We had a very close working relationship and both learned a lot along the way. I missed the December 2005 manuscript deadline and several other deadlines after, but we still made the publication date. The book was released in December 2006.

What were the challenges of turning your blog into a book?

The contract for the book stated that all work must be previously unpublished material, based on the blog. There were a couple of occasions where I used sentences or perhaps even paragraphs from the blog simply because I had already written exactly what had happened, but the book is actually quite different. Not to mention that I think maybe one or two sentences total in the published edition of the book survived without any editing.

Two things made writing the book extremely difficult: one, chronology, and two, that I was living in Fort Smith, Arkansas at the time I was trying to mentally, physically, and emotionally place myself in Paris and then in several places throughout France.

The chronology part is difficult, I’ve heard, for any writer and requires quite a bit of training to master. My editor was constantly correcting my tense and reminding me that, for instance, if I arrived in Paris yesterday on a Saturday, today cannot be Monday morning with three family dinners under my belt. Things like this are very difficult for me to sort out and place correctly and accurately in the writing. This inhibited my writing more than I expected.

After you had the contract with Kensington, what was the editing process like?

Rough, but fantastic. I couldn’t have had a better editor. (Well, obviously. She is the reason I have a book published!) She was extremely patient, motivating, and honest with me. I could have stood for her to have been even more honest, as I was regularly begging for someone else besides myself to tell me how wretched my writing was. There was a lot of insanity while working on this project—besides the fact that I’d never attempted a book before, we were editing the manuscript as I was writing it. I now know that if I really want my style and voice to shine through, I need to have a finished manuscript before any editors snatch up my work. Of course, that is the normal process.

Danielle had to work very hard with me to extract action and sequence of events and plot from my overly descriptive, and often passive, writing. We referred to Stephen King’s On Writing to work through the passive voice mistakes, and I wished I could have read and studied that well before we began the book.

Additionally, my book was Danielle’s first project as a senior editor at Kensington, so we were both invested emotionally and personally throughout the writing and editing process. The success of the book was just as important to Danielle—if not more—as it was to me. Working with someone whose stakes were as high as my own was the foundation I needed to accomplish the often-intimidating challenge of writing my first book.

In brief, I wrote the first seven chapters of the book to meet my first deadline. I think I had about three months to do this. About three weeks went by before I received the first round of edits back. Almost every word on every page was red-lined, if that says anything about the editing process.

A few words from editor Danielle Chiotti:

Blogs are not often cohesive narratives. Rachel’s blog was not the bulk of the book. After I received a chapter from her, I would line edit and send it back to her. We talked over each revision.

What I liked about her blog was that it was not forced; it showed she was having fun, yet was a fish out of water. There was a realness that every woman could relate to.

Read Au Paris:
Au Paris Blog
Au Paris: True Tales of an American Nanny in Paris

Final Poll Results

The Risks and Rewards of Writing True Stories

Absolute Blank

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

So you’ve started a blog to document your university years. Or penned a personal essay about what it was like going through your parents’ divorce. Or maybe you’re really ambitious and you’re working on a memoir about your job as a celebrity dog-walker. Great! Creative non-fiction, writing that mingles factual events with fiction techniques, is hot these days.

Related Articles

But wait— before you hit that publish button or send off that query, are you ready for an audience?

Mari Adkins, a writer who keeps a personal blog as well as one devoted to her writing, expresses a sentiment common among personal bloggers, “I don’t blog for the audience; I blog for me. I blog (and I write) to keep the voices in my head at bay. The interaction with other people is nice, but I don’t need it. I just have to get things off my chest and out of my system.” She goes on to say that if people don’t like what they read they can always click that X in the upper right corner of the page.

In explaining her blogging motivations, Mari hits on a key truth. A side effect of blogging, even if you’re writing primarily for yourself, is that you do have an audience. An audience that is potentially as big as everyone who has access to the Internet. That’s a lot of people. But if the thought of billions of people checking out your blog makes you hyperventilate, relax. Your actual readership will probably be small.

Even so, it can have a huge impact on your life. It’s not the size of your readership that matters; it’s who those readers are. Blogging can be a tremendously positive experience, connecting you with others who share your interests, people whom you might never have met otherwise. “Keeping [my] blog was essential for my soul and my sanity through school, and had the added unintentional benefit of plugging me in to a network of brilliant people who helped me accomplish some of the most amazing things I’ve ever done,” says JCA, a recent law school graduate who blogged her entire law school experience from the LSAT to the California Bar Exam, at her blog, Sua Sponte.

Ana George, a scientist-by-day who writes under a pseudonym, says, “I actually have two blogs; one under this name and one in the name of someone who started out as a character and became an alter-ego. The character blog won for me the love of my life, rather to the surprise of both of us. The character blog sometimes includes incidents from my real life, and my partner is sometimes amused to find her words in the character’s partner’s mouth.”

As well, numerous bloggers have obtained book deals because of their blogs. Many writers find a blog a good way to nibble away at a manuscript a little at a time—and it has the side benefit of winning you fans before your book ever hits the shelves.

But if you’re writing things about people that you wouldn’t be comfortable having them see, things can get ugly. Heather Armstrong of Dooce lost her job because of what she’d written on her blog. Armstrong, who has been interviewed about a million times about “getting fired for her website,” has admitted that she was naïve and even stupid to post as freely as she did about both her family and her job. Like many bloggers, she didn’t think that anyone—or at least anyone she was writing about—would see her blog. What actually happened was that not only did her brother find Dooce, creating a family furor, but someone e-mailed copies of her posts to every vice-president at her company—and she was fired.

More Fired Bloggers

So while it’s true that you don’t have write for anyone but yourself, before you leap into the blogosphere, or the world of creative non-fiction in general, you should take the time to weigh the risks. Ask yourself:

  • Am I defaming anyone or disclosing information that should remain private? If you are, you could be sued.
  • Am I criticizing my employer, boss, or co-workers? If your employer becomes aware of your negative statements, you could be fired.
  • Have I said anything about my family and friends that I wouldn’t say to their faces? If you’re not prepared to lose them, think again.
  • Am I comfortable with anyone knowing this about me? If you’re not, consider an offline journal instead.

Most bloggers are selective about what they share online. “I never blog about anything uberprivate,” Mari says. “Suffice it to say, my personal homelife isn’t up for public consumption.” Instead, she saves the private stuff for a hardbound journal. Shizgirl, who keeps a personal blog under a pseudonym, agrees: “I don’t talk about my personal life, because it’s nobody’s business. I don’t talk about my past, because it’s too weird and painful.”

Writing about your life can be a weird balancing act. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, writing about your own experiences necessitates writing about other people—people who may not like the way you portray them.

Augusten Burroughs, author of the memoir Running With Scissors, is currently being sued for defamation, invasion of privacy, emotional distress, and fraud by the family of the psychiatrist he lived with as a teenager. His memoir recounts the family’s bizarre antics, and, although he changed their names, his detailed descriptions leave no doubt of whom he wrote.

Defamation (known as “libel” when it’s in written form) is an untrue publication that injures a person’s reputation. “Publication” means communicating the defamatory words to at least one other person aside from the person being defamed. A “reasonable person” must believe that the statement refers to the person claiming defamation.

One way to avoid getting yourself in hot water is to make sure you present statements as your opinion, not as fact. This may come into play in Burroughs’s case, because memoirs are generally accepted to be one individual’s interpretation of his or her history.

A statement must be untrue to be defamatory, but just because something is true doesn’t mean that you can write about it with impunity. Assuming that Running With Scissors is factually correct, the family would not have a case for libel. It may, however, still have a case for invasion of privacy.

Four types of invasion of privacy are generally recognized. You can invade a person’s privacy by intruding into his/her solitude, by publicly disclosing private facts about him/her, by placing him/her in a false light in the public eye, or by appropriating his/her name or image for your commercial interest.

In Burroughs’s case, due to his detailed descriptions, apparently anyone familiar with the setting of the book can identify the family’s house. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that readers might start showing up on their doorstep. But more significantly, the family didn’t expect what they did behind closed doors to be shared with the world. While Burroughs has a right to write about his own life, that has to be weighed against other people’s rights to privacy.

But privacy is not just a legal issue, it’s an ethical one.

You may want to use nicknames, initials, or pseudonyms when blogging or writing creative non-fiction out of respect for others’ privacy, even if you’re not saying anything negative. Your friends and family members would probably prefer that your blog not show up as the #1 search result when their bosses Google them. For “friends in real life, I use their first initial only. This is something I discussed with them beforehand and they were adamant about remaining anonymous. I respect that wish,” Shizgirl says.

“I don’t include people’s names (or my own), either. The site I’m on has a custom of registering under handles and pseudonyms anyway, so referring to people by those makes sense. Or making up names for nonmembers,” says Ana.

Remember, though, that changing names won’t prevent people who know you from figuring out who you’re writing about. “I use one pseudonym on my personal blog,” Mari says, “and honestly, it’s the man’s first initial. I do it mostly for his own privacy—although for people who know us, they know who it is when I mention him, usually.”

And as the Burroughs case shows, changing names won’t prevent people from taking legal action if they take offense at what you wrote. And it won’t prevent you from being fired.

If your work-related blog is found, it doesn’t matter if you don’t identify yourself or your employer by name. Heather Armstrong didn’t. It doesn’t matter if your posts consist of harmless fluff a la Nadine Haobsh, who lost not one, but two jobs, when her blog, Jolie in NYC, was discovered in July. (Although, it’s worth noting that in the blogosphere, things have a strange way of turning around. Just this week Haobsh announced on her blog that she has a two-book contract. And she’s far from the first blogger to lose a job and gain a book deal.)

It doesn’t even matter if you work for the company that owns the blogging service you’re using. Mark Jen was fired by Google after he blogged about his first month on the job. Jen’s short-lived blog described orientation and the company cafeteria, not exactly topics that you’d list off the top of your head as “dangerous” ones.

What it comes down to is that your employers may simply be squeamish about the idea of their employees keeping a blog, no matter how innocuous the topics you’re writing about, or how positive you are about your workplace. As JCA says, “Employers are risk-averse… They don’t trust people who don’t keep quiet.”

To Blog About Work—Or Not

One thing to keep in mind is that even writing about subjects unrelated to work carries with it some risk. While it’s unlikely that you would be fired for blogging about your hobbies, if you’re a regular employee, hired “at will,” and not subject to tenure, or a union or other contract that specifies under what conditions you can be let go, know that you can be fired for pretty much any reason (aside from those protected by anti-discrimination laws), regardless of how trivial, or for no reason at all, i.e. “without cause.”

However, if you think you’ve been wrongly dismissed—let’s say you’ve been fired because you wrote about going to a Star Trek convention and your boss thinks Star Trek is silly and the fact you dress up as Spock on the weekends makes the company look ridiculous—you may want to consult an employment lawyer. If a court finds you were fired without cause, you won’t necessarily get your job back, but you could get severance pay in lieu of notice.

If you know—or suspect—that your employers (or anyone else) would be unhappy if they found your blog, anonymity may be the way to go.

Shizgirl says, “I do post about my job and at times (ok, most of the time) I’m not very complimentary. However, I have never named the company I work for, nor used any co-worker or supervisor names. The company does not know about my blog and I’d like to keep it that way.” When asked what her bosses’ reactions would be if they read her blog, she says, “Not good.”

Being truly anonymous requires more than simply using a nickname; you need to start fresh with a new identity that’s not linked to anything else you do online or off. Additionally, if you wish to remain anonymous, you can’t give away any identifying details that will connect your blog to your offline life. This is easier said than done, and if followed to the extreme can render moot the point of posting.

If you have your own web site, you can register the domain privately, so no one can see your WHOIS records. If the main purpose of your blog is communicating with friends and family—and you really want to tell those work stories!—password-protecting your blog may be the way to go. If you don’t have your own site, LiveJournal offers the option of designating posts as “friends only.”

There are further, more technical, steps you can take to hide your identity, such as using anonymizing technologies that hide the IP address you’re posting from (see the links below), but it’s questionable whether it’s worth it to go to such an extent unless you have something more significant to share than a few stories poking fun at your boss.

Anonymous Blogging

In some cases, the risks outweigh the rewards of blogging.

JCA, who started clerking at the beginning of September, has ceased blogging at least until she’s finished her clerkship. When her judge offered her the job, he had a single reservation: her website. “Such blatant open-air publicity gave the court heartburn.” It turned out he meant an older website, not her law school blog, but she didn’t doubt “that he would wish Sua Sponte to trail off equally gently into the ethers.”

She’s philosophical about the constraints on her public voice. “I went to law school to be a lawyer, and I don’t want to put that investment at risk, if this is in fact what I’m facing.” She’d love to try to publish Sua Sponte in book form, but is concerned about the potential impact on her legal career.

But not every employer is anti-blog. Some don’t care, and others even encourage blogging. Occasionally, people get hired to blog.

Blogging is Good

Whether writing about your life is an acceptable risk for you really depends on your own situation and goals. Many bloggers wouldn’t give their blogs up for anything. “Would I cease blogging if someone asked me? Nope. They can have my blog when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers,” Mari says.

But whatever your situation, it’s not a bad idea to view your blog—even your personal blog—as an extension of your resume, in the sense that all your published writing should reflect an image of yourself that you would be happy to have anyone see.

Final Poll Results

Begin the Blogging

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

I received my first diary the Christmas I turned nine years old. My entries read: “today I played at Bonnie’s house” or “I saw a real turtle in my yard.” I commemorated world events with phrases like “Space Shuttle” clicked out on a piece of plastic label maker tape.

My second diary was a blank book, a graduation gift when I was 17. Like a lot of folks, I usually only wrote in it when I was angry. When I looked back over it, the more interesting entries were nearly illegible. I filled it during college, during particularly anger-inducing relationship, and began a second blank-book style diary. Once the relationship ended, so did the diary.

I got a new blank book in 1996 and returned to the old “write when angry” style. After a couple of nasty entries I would be embarrassed to reread, I abandoned the diary. At the time, writing was my job. After working on newspaper pieces all day, the last thing I wanted to do with my time off was writing.

In November of 2001, I somehow found Blogger and I created a weblog. It’s the longest-running life chronicle I’ve maintained and it has kept me writing consistently through creative highs and lows.

Many of us have heard the advice “Write every day.” For me, it’s a fairly unreasonable request. Having a weblog has made the goal of daily writing more attainable. I may not do creative writing as often as I’d like, but I am writing something at least once a week, regardless of whether my Muse has paid a visit. If you are looking for a way to jump-start the quantity of your writing, a place to document the trials of the writing life or if you need a place to vent your frustration about the price of gas, it’s possible that it’s time to create a weblog.

Background Image: Jhayne/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Where to write

There are several places to create a weblog. For ease of use, begin with a free, easy-to-use system like Blogger, Diaryland or LiveJournal. Google has a directory of free blog hosts.

These sites give you a free URL, like “” If you like, you can publish your weblog via FTP (File Transfer Protocol) at your own URL.

With some hosts, you can create more than one weblog per username. We’ll talk more later on the different kinds of blogs you might like to maintain.

If you have more html experience, you may be interested in blog software like Movable Type or Greymatter. It’s not necessary to use software to create a blog. You could set up a page at your own URL or at a free web-hosting site (like Geocities) and just type up your entries as you would any other webpage content.

What to write

There are over 13 million weblogs in existence. What do these people have to say?

  • Weblog as a list of links. You could use your weblog to link to news stories, personal websites, e-zines you discover, anything you’d like to share or track. Many of the earliest weblogs followed this format.

    Examples: DayPop’s Top 40 Links, Robot Wisdom Weblog, Slashdot

  • Weblog as index page. Some sites use a weblog as their index page, keeping visitors updated on additions and changes to the site and allowing for site navigation from the weblog.

    Example: Fiona Horne

  • Weblog as journal. Most weblogs seem to be about the daily life of the blogger (the writer of the weblog). As a writer, you can turn the most mundane trip to the Piggly Wiggly into an amusing adventure. If, like me, you feel you may use your weblog as a soapbox or a place to vent frustration, writing in a journal style is probably the best choice. With a journal, you are your entries. In other words, the audience feels close to the blogger and a journal allows for more intimate writing than an op/ed style.

    Examples: So Anyway…, erin-go-blog!, LocoBellaTuna

  • Weblog as op/ed. If you like political debate or have ever dreamed of having a daily op/ed column all your own, why depend on a newspaper to give you one? Create a column and be your own editor. There’s no limit on your content and, unlike a journal, the blog is about your opinions, not about you. An op/ed style blog allows more distance and privacy between blogger and audience than a journal.

    Examples: InstaPundit, James Landrith – Taking the Gloves Off, GoDubya, Kick The Leftist (more political weblogs are listed at Political Blog Directory)

  • Weblog as writing tool. You could use a weblog to do creative writing. Write a little of your story as an entry. Don’t be a slave to linear storytelling. If you’re in the mood to write a certain type of scene that doesn’t belong at this point in the story, go ahead. It is easy to lift out and rearrange blocks of blog entries when editing your piece. You could also use a weblog to create characters. Just make sure that it is clear that you are writing as a character if you have a public weblog. If your faithful readers find out it’s “not really you,” there could be a backlash.

    Examples: ana’s Diaries, What’s in Ravyn’s hair?

These are just a few ideas for weblog content. As a creative person, you will probably be inspired to use your weblog in a unique way – like a photo weblog (example: You could get your feet wet through a “slam” style weblog, one with multiple participants who each add content (example: Bloghouse, A Mixed Blog, Crescat Sententia).

From the start

It’s a good idea to take a few precautions as you begin blogging. Here are a few that others and I take with our weblogs:

  • Use a pseudonym and give pseudonyms to others. Certainly you don’t need to give a fake name to the President but you might want to give one to your boss. There have been cases of people being fired over weblog content. You also don’t want your sister, friend or neighbor to read an entry out of context from a day you were angry and have them take it all wrong.
  • Think about whom you share your blog with. If you want to be able to vent about the aforementioned sister, friend or neighbor, don’t give them your blog URL and don’t give them a way to find it (ex: by posting your blog at your website). LiveJournal, for example, lets users lock individual posts. This allows you to adjust the level of privacy from entry to entry. If you just have to blog about the barbecue sauce incident at Aunt Midge’s house, just lock the entry and she’ll never know.

Not every weblog needs to be public. It is perfectly reasonable to keep your entire blog to yourself, like a locked diary. If you change from a public to a private diary, you may have to change your URL since readers may continue to visit your weblog, regardless of its private status.

“Private” can mean a few different things, blogwise. If you don’t want your blog listed by search engines, they can add a no robots metatag: <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,nofollow,noarchive”>. It’s not foolproof but it will keep you from being the top Google search for “Karen from Winnipeg’s Personal Private Weblog.”


There are plenty of ways to individualize your weblog.

  • Commenting. Free comment systems like BlogBack and backBlog are available across the web. If you are using a blog service, these commenting systems can insert their coding into your blog’s template. Again, you don’t need to be computer savvy to blog. There is a separate comment box for each blog entry and you can see the number of comments on each entry alongside the entry itself. Blogger has added a commenting system in their latest overhaul.
  • Tagboard. Tagboards are another way to let people comment on your weblog. Compared to other comment systems, it has more of a chat feel. Comments on tagboards are often related to one another instead of to the blog entries. Tagboards are popular with high school age bloggers who use their weblogs to keep in touch with friends.
  • Memes. Pronounced “meems,” these are bundles of questions, like the FUM at Toasted Cheese, that act as writing prompts for bloggers. There are themed memes, daily memes, introspective memes, silly memes… memes to match any style of blog you write. Beware using too many memes; if your blog is all meme answers and no real content, readers can get bored and you lose valuable creative writing time. Get started at The Memes List.
  • Quizzes. Once in a while it’s fun to take on online quiz and post the answer in your blog. These are quizzes like “Which Hobbit are you?” or “If you were a form of cheese, what would you be?” Most of these quizzes may be found at Quizilla.
  • Links and rings. Reading blogs can be as much fun as writing them. When you find a blog you like to read, share the URL with your readers. Bloggers like to reciprocate links and you may find a new audience as well. Joining webrings can increase your readership and introduce you to related blogs. Some rings are content-specific while others are rings of redheads, Buddhists or chocoholics. Blogrolling is an easy way to set up a list of links. You add, edit and delete sites at your discretion. Your Blogroll can be listed on your blog’s page or you can use it as personal list on your computer to keep up with blog reading.
  • Template. Most free blog services provide templates, which dictate the look of your blog. You can add photos, change colors, create a logo or whatever you want to make your blog reflect the style and content of your entries.
  • Personal Information. Introduce yourself to readers with an “about me” page or a “Top 100,” which is a list of 100 odd, interesting or otherwise individual facts about yourself. If you prefer privacy, a cool tagline can suffice. The five taglines nominated for a 2004 Bloggie were: “Fabulous since 1973, blogging since 2003, drinking since noon”
    Mighty Girl: “Famous among dozens”
    The Art of Rhysisms: “Stealing traffic cones from the Information Superhighway since 2002”
    C:\PIRILLO.EXE: “Getting screwed while everybody else is getting laid”
    Sabrina Faire: “All the fun of a saucy wench, none of the overpriced beer”

What, me write?

If you prefer writing on a computer to writing longhand, blogging is probably a good way for you to exercise your writing muscles. Blogging provides a quick, easy way to dash off a few thoughts while you’re surfing the web.

As a writer, you already have an advantage over many bloggers. You can string words together in the best possible way and you understand the importance of a polished piece of writing. Your blog will have a level of readability that many weblogs don’t have. It gives you an audience (possibly even fans). Famous and quasi-famous bloggers include writers like Dave Barry, Neil Gaiman, Peter David, Stuart McLean and William Gibson.

Nobody would have cared one bit about the brief notations or pages of angry rambling in my old paper journals. By keeping a public weblog, I’ve been able not only to share my ups and downs with my readers (some friends, some strangers) but I’ve also been able to maintain a level of writing exercise through moving, having a baby and other distractions that would have shut my writing process down in some way.

By keeping a weblog, even if you only drop in once a week to share a link, you can increase your sense of accomplishment. It always feels good to be able to say, “I wrote something today.”

Final Poll Results