Some of My Favorite Books Were Required Reading

Discussion Post

When we discuss required reading, the focus tends to be on the negative: students who are bored, resentful, or uninspired.  It is true that I have been assigned a fair amount of stories I cannot stand.  Ethan Frome comes to mind.  However, it is also true that I have been assigned books I would not have read myself–either because I was uninterested or intimidated–and that I unexpectedly ending up loving them.  Below is a(n incomplete) list of favorite books that I owe to my teachers who required me to read them.

Required Reading I Have Loved

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Lee’s book seems to be a staple in American classrooms.  I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t loved it.

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

This is one of those books that was, for me, transformational.  And I got to read it for class.

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

I was reading Shakespeare on my own, but I don’t know if I’d have ever gotten around to this one if it had not been assigned to me.  Now it is my favorite Shakespeare play.

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Contemporary fiction isn’t really my thing, so, even though I have read a fair amount of Morrison’s work, it always feels like something I ought to be doing not something I want to do.  But this one I actually enjoyed!

Beowulf by Anonymous

Monsters!  Battles!  Dragons!  This poem has it all!

The Maid’s Tragedy by Beaumont and Fletcher

Renaissance drama beyond Shakespeare is so good and also so ridiculous and overly dramatic that I cannot begin to express my appreciation.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Yes, I really got to read this for class!

Animal Farm by George Orwell

I know that only terrible things happen in this book, so I probably shouldn’t enjoy it.  And yet I do.

I Didn’t Like Them, But I Am Glad I Read Them

Some books I didn’t like, but I have discovered that reading them was actually beneficial to me in the long run.  Here I list some honorable mentions–stories I did not particularly love or connect with, but that I ended up needing to know about anyway.  Thanks, teachers!

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Surprisingly, I have had to explain Kate Chopin’s work and historical context to more than one person.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

This is one of those books people like to reference.  Now I can nod along knowingly.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I was bored and I hated it, but I realize it’s considered important and influential.  At least I know what everyone else is talking about.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Despite not particularly enjoying contemporary fiction, I have read enough of Morrison’s books that I can talk to avid readers about her work without feeling totally lost and ashamed.

What are some books that were assigned to you–and that you unexpectedly enjoyed?


The Canon: A Series of Happy Accidents?

Discussion Post

The canon.  That list of works so worthy that every person should read them in order to be called “cultured.”  Their greatness alone, we are assured, enabled them to rise above all the other books in history and continue on.  They have “passed the test of time.”  However, what this narrative leaves out is the simple fact that the canon has changed over time.  Books and authors that were once in are now out.  Books and authors that were out are now in.  And many times books and authors are only “in” at all because they had fortunate connections in the publishing world.

It’s not exactly hard to realize that much of what we label canonical is only there because of fortunate circumstances.  We cannot really say that any book “passed the test of time” because of an inherent quality because, much of the time, an author’s contemporaries did not appreciate his (and it’s usually his) work!  Presumably, much of what was good was lost and some of what was good we only have by chance.  Consider Beowulf.  It survives in a single manuscript.  Does that mean it was not great enough for more individuals to copy it down?  Or Cardenio.  You have probably never heard of it, but it is the title of a play we believe Shakespeare wrote.  (Theobald claims his Double Falsehood is based on a manuscript of Cardenio.)  Does this mean Cardenio was just too terrible for anyone to want to preserve?  Did it lack the inherent greatness of Shakespeare’s other works?  Or can it be that some authors and works get lucky and others don’t?

Oftentimes, books enter the canon simply because they have powerful advocates.  It may be hard for students to believe, but Beowulf, for instance, was not widely respected as a work of literature until about 1936.  That was when Tolkien published his lecture Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.  He argued that the work should be respected as a piece of literature and not merely a historical document revealing the culture of the people of the time.  He essentially single-handedly put the poem back on the canonical map.

And sometimes books enter or leave the canon because  literary tastes change.  Jane Tompkins’ “Masterpiece Theater: The Politics of Hawthorne’s Literary Reputation” challenges the idea that works become classics independent of their historical circumstances.  She examines how Hawthorne’s reputation changed over time and how he ultimately comes to take precedence over the female authors who were popular during his own day.  The traits critics find to praise in his works also changed, leading Tompkins to suggest that literary criticism often reflects the critics’ own culture and values.

Likewise, some books find themselves in the canon simply because of historical quirks.  Take Shakespeare, now the quintessence of English culture.  His contemporaries viewed him primarily as a skilled poet.  Playwrights were not widely respected nor were they typically published.  But today we celebrate Shakespeare for his plays and barely read his poems like “Venus and Adonis.”  Shakespeare was simply fortunate that a collection of his plays were published by John Heminge and Henry Condell in 1623 (though not all his works were included in the First Folio).  After Shakespeare’s death, however, his reputation was mixed and he, like many others, simply disappeared when the theatres closed after the execution of Charles I.

Gary Taylor’s Reinventing Shakespeare provides a glimpse at Shakespeare’s transforming reputation.  The Restoration brought Shakespeare back, but he was considered old-fashioned and difficult to understand.  Plus, his seeming moral ambiguity offended some (though now we laud this trait) and his refusal to follow neoclassical principles offended a few others (though these days nobody cares).  The theatres performed Shakespeare mainly because no playwrights were readily available immediately after their reopening and because he was dead and therefore did not need to be paid.  However, they also transformed his works beyond recognition in many cases, adding and subtracting characters and subplots, and rewriting the words so they were “easier to understand.”  Today, we would be offended by this careless treatment of Shakespeare’s remarkable language.   But  Shakespeare was no means guaranteed to be resurrected for us to be able to critique and comment on.  It was a historical accident–Charles I’s death and his son’s return–that brought him back.

Still not convinced the canon is affected by material concerns, personal tastes, and accidents of history?  Consider that there is actually no one list of “the canon.”  There are names that we would somehow associate with the canon: Socrates, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, and Joyce, to name a few.  However, there are many variations of the canon just as we might find today many variations of “The Top 100 Books You Should Read,” as determined by various websites. Two of the more famous versions of the canon are the 1909 Harvard Classics and Harold Bloom’s 1994 The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages.  (Bloom notably included Woolf, one of the few female authors to make it in.)  But now pressure is on to add more authors, more females, more writers of color.  Or maybe to throw out the canon altogether.

So what is the canon?  Technically, it’s the body of works considered to have been influential in shaping Western culture.  However, as we have seen, some of these books disappear for years or decades (or centuries) only to be brought back to life.  Others quietly fade away.  So which ones are the most important?  And, perhaps more importantly, why are they important?  Is Shakespeare great because he is morally ambiguous or because he was a closet Catholic?  Is he great because of his complex language or in spite of it?  Is he great because he is “like no other” even though we know now he collaborated on a good deal of his plays (and most audience members are unlikely to know which parts he wrote and which he did not)?  This can all seem very confusing.  But it’s also the stuff that literary critics love to argue about, the stuff that somehow makes their jobs fun.


The Value of Reading Widely (Even If You’d Rather Not)

Discussion Post

Value of Reading Widely

Credit: Freddie Marriage – Unsplash

How do you know what you do not know?  A gap in your knowledge often means that you do not even have the questions to begin asking in order to fill that gap.  Imagine, for instance, that you have never read YA and that you, in fact, barely know what “YA” means except that “kids read it.”  But now you’ve been asked to write a paper on YA (topic of your choice), or you’ve simply found yourself at a party where everyone is talking about their favorite YA.  Where would you start?  You can’t discuss how Harry Potter changed the publishing industry, nor can you discuss the influence of Twilight on teenage girls or paranormal romance.   You can’t talk about how The Hunger Games has been used by social movements.  You’ve never heard of John Green, much less the authors who have only debuted in the last year or two.  How can you start to research YA if you don’t know that The Hunger Games ever happened, much less that it’s been influential in spheres other than the publishing world?  How can you talk about YA at a party if you’re still talking about The Hunger Games like it’s the YA book–even though it’s almost ten years old?

This is the situation that many of us tend to find ourselves in when asked to speak or write about topics with which we have barely a passing familiarity.  We might think of ourselves as “math people” or “English people” or “biology majors,” but suddenly we are supposed to analyze and comment on topics such as the effects of Twitter on how we communicate or the influence of Amazon on the U.S. economy or the ethics of AI.  If we are in a class, hopefully the instructor has chosen a reading that addresses at least several of the questions and issues that are currently being discussed by experts on that topic.  Still, we are, to put it bluntly, ignorant.  We don’t know what on earth we are talking about, much like someone who comes to a party and says, “Oh yeah!  Twilight!  That’s like the big thing right now, right?  It has sparkly werewolves!  Ridiculous, huh?”

There is, of course, no way to be prepared for every single paper or conversation.  But there is a way to try.  A way to arm ourselves with at least the fundamental background knowledge so that we can start asking the right questions to do our research.  We have to read widely. This may be scary or uncomfortable at first.  It may even be disagreeable.  And yet, reading widely is necessary.  Reading nonfiction, short stories, literary fiction, graphic novels, web comics, magazine articles, newspaper articles, medieval and Renaissance literature, picture books, YA, MG, Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison –that is the way to ensure that you can attempt to find your way through every conversation.  Faced with a question such as, “Discuss how this individual contributed to African-American literature” or “What is St. Augustine’s understanding of the way to achieve salvation?” you can begin to piece your way through.  Even if you cannot answer the question immediately, you will at least know the types of questions scholars and critics have been asking.  And those will guide your own research.

Over the years, I have had to guide writers through papers on topics that are far outside my realm of expertise. I have advised writers on how to discuss subjects that cover economics, philosophy, religious studies, astronomy, computer science, neuroscience, and biology.  I have advised students on how to add more nuance and complexity to papers that are on people I have never heard of and stories I have never read.  In almost all these cases, I have known more about the paper than the person writing it, even though they were the ones who had been assigned the readings in class or had been instructed to do the research.  Why?  Because I had read an article in The Atlantic a few years back or one in The New York Times.  I remembered when TIME and Newsweek had discussed similar issues.  I once read a nonfiction book that discussed, maybe not that exact company, but one with a similar strategy.  Or I had simply read stories that were by the same author or set in the same time period, as well as literary criticism on both.  I read widely, so I knew what types of questions the writer should be asking themselves in order to get going.

None of this is to say that I am a master of every subject, nor that I am more qualified to speak on subjects than the people who are actively engaged in the fields and disciplines relevant to those subjects.  I am not.  In fact, if I were to speak to an actual astronomer and not a self-identified “English person” struggling through an astronomy class, my own ignorance would become immediately clear.  My skills do not lie in comprehensive subject mastery but instead in the ability to make connections and ask questions.  That is what reading widely gifts–the starting point.  And that’s an incredibly valuable thing to have when you’re feeling confused and stressed and like you must be stupid because how is everyone else completing this assignment?

Many of us know exactly what we like when we read.  We stick to certain age groups or certain genres because we want to read for fun and for entertainment.  Reading a book about the Vietnam War or an article about how technology has changed speech patterns may seem boring if not outright painful.  Even switching from YA to MG might seem like a bad idea if we know we love YA but have felt like many of the MG we have read just weren’t that good.  Still, I would argue that there is value stepping outside our comfort zones.  We may have to search awhile to find a nonfiction author who writes lively and engaging prose, making history seem like a story.  Or an author who writes upper-MG that speaks to us  more than a lower-MG.  That’s okay.  The search is valuable, too.  It teaches us what might work for us and what might work for others.  And it introduces us to ideas that we may have never known were out there.

Life tends to throw curve balls.  We are asked to choose our majors and decide our destinies at the age of eighteen.  But most of us cannot really predict where we will be in the future.  Much like the famous story of Steve Jobs using a calligraphy class to make his fonts beautiful, our stories will be full of surprises and unexpected connections.  Why not help build those connections by reading widely?

Analyzing Books Does Not Have to Ruin The Fun

Discussion Post

Analyzing Books Discussion

Credit: Thought Catalog – Unsplash

I am sure we have all heard the complaints.  “Why do we have to dissect the books in class?  It ruins all the fun!” Or, “I do not like thinking about what I have read.  It’s supposed to be entertainment!”  Reading for pleasure is, of course, an admirable goal.  However, the embedded assumption in these statements is that thinking about a piece of literature critically must, by default, somehow destroy its essence and suck all the joy out of reading.  However, this is not a universal truth.  Rather, it is the opinion of some people.  I, for instance, find that engaging critically with a story typically makes me enjoy and appreciate it more,  not less.

Reading a book superficially can only give me so much.  I might close the pages feeling that the plot was fast-paced and exciting (or not), that the characters were likable (or not), and that the prose was beautiful (or not).  If I do not begin to think about what I have read, that’s it.  To me, this type of reading feels very passive and almost like it is not worth my time.  I spent a few hours with a book and I will never again return to consider that world.  What is the point?

This is not to say that I engage in rigorous literary analysis on every book I read.  That would be quite impossible.  It takes months, if not years, to research the historical context of a work, read the author’s other works, think about the work in relation to the author’s other stories as well as in relation to the other stories published at the time, etc.  I would also need to read the book several times with close attention to sentence structure, recurring words, images, and ideas, and so forth.  Professors barely have time do all this and it is their job!

However, I can and do think about the book beyond the thought, “I enjoyed it.”  I can think about the character development and whether it seemed natural and why or why not.  I can think about how the book was structured (its form, pacing, sentence structures, etc.) and think about how that affected my understanding of the story.  I can think about how the story conforms to generic conventions or breaks away from them, and what that might mean.  I can think about how the book is situated in its historical context and how it seems to be speaking back (or not) to other works I have read from that time.  I can think about language choice, about representation, about how audiences might be receiving the work.  To me, this is what really makes the book come alive.  It has all these hidden depths just waiting to be explored!  The enjoyment of the book thus lasts far beyond the few hours needed to read it.

Avid readers sometimes tend to assume that the sheer power of a story is enough to make everyone love it.  However, this is not necessarily true.  In his work, “Disliking Reading at an Early Age,” (which you can find in Falling into Theory), Gerald Graff, now an English professor, describes how his own life trajectory contradicts our assumptions about the nature of reading. He begins by describing how he could never relate or become invested in the books his father brought home for him, and  how he continued to find reading difficult and unlikable even through college–until he discovered literary criticism.  “It was through exposure to such critical reading and discussion over a period of time that I came to catch the literary bug, eventually choosing the vocation of teaching.  This was not the way it was supposed to happen,” he writes (44).  “The future teacher is initially inspired by some primary experience of a great book and only subsequently acquires the secondary, derivative skills of critical discussion….Any premature of excessive acquaintance with secondary critical discourse…is thought to be a corrupting danger, causing one to lose touch with the primary passion for literature” (44).  And yet, Graff could not enjoy a book on its surface level until he had found the words to talk about it on a deeper level.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reading.  Some may find literature classes and the analysis expected of them to be torturous.  Others may find that books only really come alive when they can start questioning the gender roles inscribed in their books or pondering how a certain word can change the entire meaning of a sentence.  It’s that type of diversity that can help make literature so very exciting.

Creating a Discussion Post Strategy (Bloggiesta Mini-Challenge)

Fall 2017 Mini Bloggiesta

In short, Bloggiesta is a blogging marathon revolving around ticking off those items on your to-do list and improving your blog while in the good company of other awesome bloggers doing the same thing. Our awesome mascot Pedro (Plan. Edit. Develop. Review. Organize) is ready to break out the nachos, enchiladas, drinks, mariachi music and whack a pinata or two! It’s nothing short of an awesome fiesta!

This fall’s mini Bloggiesta is officially Sept. 21-24, and I’m hosting a mini-challenge this time! Read on to challenge yourself to create a discussion post strategy.

Creating a Discussion Post Strategy


Discussion posts are becoming increasingly popular on blogs, with both readers and bloggers.  Are you making the most out of this interest?  If you want to start writing discussion posts, or just start featuring more of them, complete this mini challenge to get your discussion post strategy going!

Creating Your Discussion Post Strategy

1. Plan How Often You Want to Post Discussions

The first step of your discussion post strategy is determining how often you want to feature discussion posts on your blog. This will determine how many ideas you’re going to need and how quickly you need to write them. It’s also helpful to know this so you can plan ahead for any type of research you’ll need to do in order to write the posts.

Do you want to do discussions once a month? Every other week? Once a week? Come up with your frequency goal and also decide which days you are going to post. For example, do you want to post a discussion every Wednesday? Write this information down on the calendar/planner where you keep your blog schedule. (Or start a blogging calendar if you don’t already have one!)

2. Consider What You Like to See in Discussion Posts

Before you think about what types of discussion you want to write, it is helpful to determine what types of discussions you like reading. Types of discussions may include:

  • Discussions about personal experiences
  • Discussions about your blogging topic (ex. discussions about books or reading)
  • Discussions about blogging itself

You should also think about format:

  • Do you like long-form discussions?
  • Use of headers and subheaders?
  • Lists?

Here are some thoughts I have on how you can make a discussion post memorable.

3. Brainstorm Ideas

Next you need to begin to decide what it is you’re going to discuss. This is a simple brainstorming stage, so don’t get too stressed out. Jot down any ideas that come to you, and don’t worry too much about whether they’re “good” ideas. You just want thoughts down on paper. Don’t worry too much about organization or neatness either; just let the ideas flow.

I wrote a list a while ago featuring 30 discussion post prompts for book bloggers that can get you started. If you’re not a book blogger, you can try adapting some of the prompts for your own niche. (For example, instead of writing about a favorite book from your childhood, maybe you can write about a favorite family recipe if you are a book blogger, or a favorite childhood vacation if you are a travel blogger.)

I also wrote a post about fostering creativity and brainstorming in general, which you may find helpful as you start making your list of potential discussion topics.

4. Make a Concrete Discussion Schedule

Once you have some ideas for potential discussion posts, pick 3-5 of them that you think you definitely want to write and put them into your blogging calendar. Think about what order you want them in. Consider:

  • Do you want to separate ideas that are kind of similar by a couple weeks?
  • Do you want to do a discussion series and purposely place certain topics close to each other on the schedule?
  • Is there a specific event you want to time the discussion for? (Ex. a discussion about banned books around Banned Books Week)

*Note that being aware of events can also help you brainstorm posts. Maybe you want to write about libraries during library week, or about Shakespeare around his birthday, or about something Halloween-themed in October.

5. Draft One of the Posts

Since this is just a mini challenge for Bloggiesta, you don’t need to start writing the discussion posts right now. But you get virtual bonus points for drafting one and getting it scheduled on your blog!

6. Plan for Photos and Graphics

If you don’t yet feature many discussion posts on your blog, think about what graphics you want to include.  Do you want to make just one graphic that says something like “Discussion” that you can use on all future posts to save time?  Or do you want to create a specific graphic for each one?  Will you ever need specialized graphics like infographics, flow charts, etc.?  Are you going to take your own photography or use free resources online? Make notes of any graphic needs for each post from step 4.

7. Create a Promotion Plan

Don’t let all your hard work go to waste!  Write some notes on how you’re going to promote your discussions once you write and schedule them. For example:

  • What social media will you promote on?  How often?
  • Will you have a graphic to use on social media?
  • Is there a “discussion post link-up” hosted anywhere in your blogging niche you can participate in?
  • Do you belong to any Goodreads groups, Facebook groups, or other forums you can share the links?
  • Do you want to do a post informing your readers that you will be doing more discussion posts and telling them what days to check your blog for them?


Can We Have College-Aged Characters in YA Books? (Discussion)

Discussion Post

I’ve recently seen a few conversations happening around social media on the possibility of featuring college-aged characters in young adult books. While some readers are excited about the idea, others are not.  The two main objections I’ve seen are: 1) that’s what new adult is for and 2) we don’t want older characters stealing YA from teens.  Personally, I do see room in YA in college-aged characters, at least in the first-year/sophomore age range, and I actually think these would be of interest to teen readers, not a threat.

College-Aged Characters Don’t Really Fit in New Adult

Ok, technically, college-aged characters do belong in new adult books.  Characters around their early twenties who are just branching out into adulthood is the actually the defining idea of a new adult book category.  However, the reality is that new adult just hasn’t taken off as a concept in the publishing world the way some readers have hoped.  I don’t have official statistics here, but I have seen a number of literary agents tweeting that there is very little demand from editors to publish new adult books, and they’re not seeking to acquire clients or novels in the genre.

New adult has really struggled to break out of its stereotype of being comprised primarily of erotica, and it also hasn’t taken off as a category in stores.  (For example, I can’t walk into Barnes & Noble and check out the New Adult section because there isn’t one.)  Readers who are interested in college-aged characters in books that aren’t focused on romance/sex simply aren’t going to be able to find them in anything labelled “new adult.”

Featuring College-Aged Characters Doesn’t Have to “Steal” YA from High Schoolers

To address further concerns, I think it only practical that featuring some slightly older characters in YA books (say 18-20 years old) doesn’t have to shift the focus from younger teens.  I’ve had the experience in writing several discussion posts of commenters seeming to believe that when I say something like “Hey, why isn’t menstruation mentioned more in YA novels” I’m really saying something like “Menstruation should be in every single YA novel ever, and it should be a primary focus of the book.” I’m not.  I promise.  I’m simply suggesting that maybe the topic could be mentioned in a few more books than it is now.  The same applies here.

Readers who are asking that college students be featured in YA novels are not demanding that every YA novel be about a college student–just that some are.  In fact, there are already some older protagonists in YA.  Where She Went by Gayle Forman, for instance, features two protagonists who have graduated from high school.  One is college studying music.  One is going the less traditional route of trying to launch a music career.  Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series also features an older protagonist (though readers have questioned the YA status based on the amount of explicit sex scenes; I haven’t personally seen anyone object to Feyre’s age as the issue with categorization).

Sprinkling a few novels with slightly older protagonists isn’t going to amount to a wild take-over of the YA category.  These types of characters are already popping up occasionally, and barely anyone has noticed.

In Fact, High Schoolers May Want to Read about College-Aged Characters

There’s a belief among some publishing professionals that “children like reading about characters who are slightly older than they are.”  Typically these people are talking about the middle grade or lower YA character and suggesting that, say, ten-year-olds like reading about twelve-year-olds and eighth graders like reading about ninth and tenth graders.  It’s a belief that some readers, at least some of the time, like looking slightly ahead and imagining what life could be like for them in a couple of years.  There’s no reason the same can’t apply to older teens.

I could easily believe that, for instance, eleventh and twelfth grade readers could be interested in reading about characters in their first or even second year of college (or characters who are around 19 but not attending college).  Similarly, I can believe that there are plenty of YA readers in college who would love to read about these types of characters.  After all, once doesn’t graduate high school, or turn twenty, and wipe off one’s hands and say, “Well, I guess I’m not officially a high schooler/teen anymore.  I’m done reading YA!”  There has certainly been concern in the YA community about keeping the book category focused on actual young adults, but my impression has been that people are concerned that older adults are being catered to, not that anyone seriously begrudges a college first-year for being a YA fan.  I think there could be a real market in the older teen audience for books about college-characters, not that this is something that thirty-year-olds are demanding.

What do you think? Is there room for a few more college-aged characters in young adult books?


How to Reclaim Your Social Media and Your Sanity

Discussion PostFor many of us, social media may have started out as a fun way to talk about our interests, meet new people, and have conversations about the books and fandoms that we love.  However, it sometimes seems impossible not to also be lured in by the promise of more views, more interactions, and more likes.  A “like” on our posts means that people like us, right?  They think we’re funny or clever or interesting.  Those “likes” can make us feel like our worth as people or bloggers is tied up into our numbers.

Of course, this is not a healthy way to live and many of us have mourned the loss of the way we used to read, the excitement we used to feel when we held a new book in our hands.  Now we always have to be thinking about how fast to read to keep up with our schedule, what to say about it that will be interesting, how to photograph it so we look professional.  All this can be exhausting!  And the fun can go out of reading and blogging.

So how can we try to find some of our old enthusiasm for books and talking about books?  Below I offer some suggestions.

Think about your original goals for joining social media

When we joined Twitter or created a Facebook page for our blogs, we probably didn’t initially think that all our Tweets had to get so many reTweets for us to be successful.  We probably did not set goals for how many “likes” each post needed.  Instead, we probably hoped to chat about books with other book lovers and to drive some traffic to our blogs so we could keep the conversations going.  Try to adopt a new attitude towards social media.  If it’s doing what you  hoped–letting you connect with other bloggers and getting some people to click on your blog links–then does it really matter if you don’t have as many followers as someone else?

Think About Why You’re Posting Content

Some days I think of something that I think would make a great meme or a funny Tweet. I lament the fact that I don’t have anything to do with my ideas since I don’t really deal with our social media.  Then I stop myself.  Exactly why do I need to share this  joke in 140 characters or fewer with a bunch of people on the Internet?  Well, the answer is, I don’t.  Except that I want the Internet to see how clever and funny I am.  And, honestly, that’s not a good enough reason for me to put something online.  I don’t need the Internet to validate me.  If I put something online, I want it to be because I believe other people might find it interesting or helpful or enjoyable.  I want it to be because I am making connections with other people and sparking conversations.  I don’t want it to all be about me.

Limit Your Posts and Your Interactions When Necessary

When I take photos of my friends and I hanging out, I go old school.  I email them the photos.  Maybe if I am feeling extra generous, I’ll get some copies printed out for them (That’s still a thing, right?).  Why?  Because I can’t always think of a good reason everyone I am connected to on social media might want to see me having brunch or playing mini golf with people they’ve never met.  The experience didn’t include them and I sometimes realize that the only reason I want to post these pictures is so that I can reassure all my acquaintances that I’m cool and have friends and I do stuff besides read.

Limiting my social media posts, however, allows me to make deeper connections with people.  The friends I email with photos can email back with inside jokes or additions to the conversations we had.  That wouldn’t happen on Facebook.  They would just “like” my photos and maybe leave a “Good to see you!” comment if I’m lucky.  Plus, I know that getting a surprise email or packet of photos really makes someone’s day.  They feel special.  I reached out to them in particular, not the Internet at large.

When using social media for blogging, we can also assess whether what we’re sharing is really useful to our audiences or if it would be better suited to a DM or a blog post or a comment on a blog.  We can find ways to reach out to people, make them feel special, and and create deeper conversations.  Everyone wins when we create interactions that go beyond “likes.”

Leave the Technology at Home

If you’re driving yourself crazy checking your stats and your latest updates, feeling like you need to be on top of everything, you might want to try just stopping.  It will allow you to enjoy other things in life more and you can return to your social media and your blogging feeling refreshed and having gained ideas, experiences, and insights that you might otherwise have missed.  But your writing will be richer for them.

When I am at not at home, I don’t take my devices with me.  I don’t surf the Internet at work or on break.  I leave my cell phone in a place where I can’t take it out to look at it.  And, honestly, it feels great.  I don’t have the disappointment of constantly realizing no one’s answered my messages.  I don’t waste my time mindlessly scrolling through feeds.  Instead, I feel powerful.  I have the ability to ignore my devices and I have great conversations and great interactions with people because I’m not distracted.  There are few things that feel worse than talking to someone who keeps texting someone else–like they’d rather be with that person instead of with you.

Do What You Enjoy

In the end, blogging is supposed to be a hobby we do because it makes us happy.  All the followers in the world aren’t going to make up for the fact that we feel miserable because we’re always trying to keep up with someone else or for the fact that we’re doing things because we think we “have to” and not because we want to.  If you like paranormal romances, read them.  If you want to update your feeds with the news that you read Christian fiction, do it.  If you realize you can’t keep posting several times a week or several times a day, stop.  You can’t know what anyone else’s life looks like.  They may  not be reading 300 books a year because they’re “better” than you.  It may just be that they don’t have kids or don’t have a job like you do.  Blogging isn’t a competition.  It’s a conversation.   One we’re all meant to enjoy.