Blogging About Life: How to Properly Connect With Readers
There are two ways you can go about blogging about life.
You can write about your life. Or, you can write about the lives of other people.
There’s a right and wrong way to do both.
Well, they’re not right or wrong, but there are approaches for each style that tend to work and tend not to work.
Allow me to save you a bunch of time and keep you from having one of those ‘ blogging about life’ blogs that gets no traction because it’s boring and uninteresting to the reader.
A General Rule of Thumb For Blogging About Life
Before I dive into the specifics of blogging about life either about yourself or describing others, I want to make one thing clear.
When it comes to your writing, your main goal is to get your reader to feel something. In an age where your writing has to compete, not just with other writing, but all the technology we have available to us, it’s your job to do anything but be boring.
You have to develop the skill of being objective. You have to learn to step outside of yourself and avoid thinking your writing is good just because you wrote it.
It’s a trap I’ve seen aspiring writers fall into over and over and over again. They feel entitled to views and an audience because they worked hard on their post.
The readers always decide. If your writing falls flat with them, look in the mirror. I like to ask myself the same question when I’m done with a post:
Would I want to read this if I wasn’t me?
I’ll dive into the specifics of how to fix that if the answer is ‘no’ but it’s a test you should use for everything you create.
Let’s break down both ways to blog about life and learn ways to keep your readers hooked regardless of the style you choose.
How to Write About Yourself (the Right Way)
Writing about yourself is harder than writing about the lives of other people. Well, it’s not harder to write. People can easily ramble off random details of their life.
It’s harder to get people to read your stuff if you write about yourself.
It’s hard to write about yourself successfully because you probably think your life is more interesting than it actually is because it’s interesting to you.
If you want your personal stories to resonate with readers, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Your stories have to have a theme that readers can relate to. I use this example all the time, but Eat, Pray, Love isn’t about Elizabeth Gilbert, it’s about the urge to break out of a domesticated box and explore, find yourself, and go on an adventure.
- Your readers have to see themselves in your story. Tell stories about your life that are situations people have been in. There’s a subtle difference between telling a story about your life and writing what equates to a journal entry.
- Your attitude and intention really matter the most. I can sense when writing is just navel-gazing and when it isn’t. I can feel it and it comes across. If you write your stories for selfish reasons like ‘it’s just cathartic’ people will be able to tell.
Let’s break down some examples. Take some time to read through the articles and understand my analysis of them.
No, like, actually do it. So many aspiring writers ask me for advice, I give them work to do that will help them understand, they don’t do it, and then they wonder why they’re stuck.
If you’re not willing to do the work and be a student of the game, you’ll fail. If your attention span is too short to go through these examples and read the source material, I have to question how bad you want to be a writer.
Don’t let me down.
There are a lot of different ways you can go about blogging about life. These examples will give you an idea of how to successfully do it yourself.
On Dying, Mothers, and Fighting For Your Ideas by Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow taught me most of what I know about blogging. He’s an expert at blogging about life and reading this post will prove it.
Jon was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disorder called spinal muscular atrophy. The doctor gave him two years to live. His mom didn’t give up on John and did everything in her power to fight to keep him alive.
One of my favorite lines from the piece:
Over the next 16 years, I had pneumonia 16 times. But I never died. It sounds strange to say it, but my mother wouldn’t let it happen.
The post goes on to talk about how Jon fought for his spot in the world just like his mother fought for him. He’s now in his 30’s and owns a multi-million dollar blogging education company. In the end, he connects the story of fighting for his life with fighting for your ideas, your metaphorical children.
The One Small Thing My Wife Does That Gets Me Every Time (Love is Water) by Michael Thompson
Michael Thompson is one of my favorite fellow writers on Medium. He’s definitely a quality over quantity type of guy, which is why pretty much all of his posts are smashing hits.
The story opens with a line that everyone in the entire world can relate to:
It was the fourth week of quarantine when my wife began to cry.
You don’t even have to ask why she’s crying. You don’t know the details, but you get it. The story goes on to talk about her father, who was very active and loved doing outdoor activities. Turns out, one of his hiking buddies died of co-vid. The fifth family friend that had passed.
Amidst the sadness and stress of the pandemic, they both try to go about their days. Both are filled with thoughts about life, death, aging, all of it — things most of us reflected on during these crazy times as well.
He gets ready for bed. He’s thirsty and reaches for an empty glass on his nightstand, or so he thought. It’s already full. Amidst stressful and sad times, his wife made sure to make a little gesture that shows she has his back no matter what.
“Love is water”
Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants by James Chartrand
The title alone is intriguing, right?
You sorta have to read the post and figure out what’s going on.
James Chartrand runs Men With Pens, a writing education company. James made his way up the ranks as a profitable freelancer with one little tweak.
He stopped using his real name. James Chartrand is a woman. She wasn’t making much money as a freelance writer but noticed her male colleagues were making a lot more for the same quality work.
Again, I’m keen on pointing out blogging techniques that work well. Check out this introduction:
You know me as James Chartrand of Men with Pens, a regular Copyblogger contributor for just shy of two years.
And yet, I’m a woman.
This is not a joke or an angle or an analogy — I’m literally a woman.
This is my story.
With the deadly two-punch combo of the headline and introduction, you have to keep reading the damn post.
She switched her name to James and…voila.
She charged more for her services and no one balked. Negotiating suddenly became much easier. Her ratings and reputation shot through the roof. It’s a story about personal struggle, sexism, and having your back against the wall — all themes people can relate to or have experienced.
For women, it confirmed their life experiences. And, hopefully, it opened up the eyes of men. It definitely did for me.
How Minimalism Brought Me Freedom and Joy by James Altucher
James Altucher is a model example of how to write about yourself in a way that’s interesting to other people. Out thing that stands out about him is his brutal self-reflection and candor. He’s willing to share the worst moments of his life freely.
This one isn’t that harsh, but it’s one of my favorite posts he’s ever written. First, he connects his story with a popular topic. Minimalism is very trendy these days.
Throughout his post and all of his writing, he just talks about what works for him instead of just giving people advice. I’ve dubbed the technique he uses at the ‘story hook opener.’ You open with a story about yourself that’s interesting and end with the recommendations.
Again, since I’m trying to drill these techniques into your head, here’s the opening:
I have one bag of clothes, one backpack with a computer, iPad, and phone. I have zero other possessions.
Today I have no address […..]Am I minimalist? I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t like that word. I live the way I like to live no matter what label it has.
He goes on to answer questions people may have about minimalism and his lifestyle choices.
I love some of the lines he uses when answering the question “Does minimalism mean having few emotional attachments?”
- Love is minimalism. Desire, possession, and control are not minimalism.
- When I [gossip] I feel like I am carrying those people in my backpack. So the more I gossip, the heavier my baggage is.
- “Why did they do this?” or “Why is this happening to me?” won’t fit in my one bag.
What It’s Like to Be That Fat Person Sitting Next to You on the Plane
Again, look at the headline. Intrigue, empathy, and real raw emotion are packed into one line. I’ve never been obese. I won’t lie and act like I never discounted the opinions of fat people because I have.
Her stories, particularly this one, helped me question some of my assumptions and give me a much better understanding of what life is like for fat people. So those in her situation can literally relate to this exact situation and those who are on the other end of the story get a lens into what it’s like to be fat.
The story opens with her boss asking her to take a trip for work. She’s filled with anxiety:
I will have to get on a plane. And I am fat.
Before the flight lands, I begin thinking of the return flight. I try to be present with friends & family, try to prep for my work meeting. I use every tool I’ve got to manage my anxiety, my butterfly beating heart and shallow breath and tight shoulders. Despite that, I don’t sleep soundly for days.
Blogging About the Lives of Others
There are two different ways you can blog about life without writing your story. You can either write stories about other people or educate people with advice articles.
I won’t spend a ton of time talking about how to write stories about other people. A lot of the same rules apply. That being said, here are some different styles to think about and things I’ve seen work really well on blogging platforms like Medium:
- Historical tales or biographical accounts
- Case studies, e.g., how someone successfully started a company
- Cultural critiques
I’ve linked to a quality example of reach. Read those too. That is…if you’re serious about having a writing career.
For the rest of this post, I’m going to talk about blogging about life in the form of giving advice. It’s what I do. It’s usually what you have to do if you want to create a business from your writing.
It can be done. But you have to be able to give life advice that doesn’t suck.
It can be a steep hurdle to climb. You’ll likely run into some of these problems.
Problems You’ll Run Into Giving Life Advice
- Your instincts might lead you to think “Who the hell are you to give advice? You don’t have your shit together enough to tell other people to do.
- You might run into impostor syndrome if you feel you don’t have the right credentials
- It’s very easy to write from a pedestal and come across as judgemental if you’re not careful
- Every piece of advice under the sun has already been given. None of your ideas will be original
- Most people in the blogging space sound exactly the same. Unless you create a signature style, you’ll fade into the abyss of mediocre writers
- Every field is saturated. No one needs another self-help blogger, fitness blogger, or dating advice blogger
How do you overcome all of these hurdles?
Here’s my thought process and how I did it.
Find Your Signature Style
This takes some time. You have to write a lot to find your voice. But, over time, you’ll develop an intuitive sense of different little themes and techniques.
A good question you can ask yourself:
What can you do in the space that most other writers aren’t doing?
I noticed a lot of other self-help writers would pull punches. I could tell they had a deeper truth they wanted to talk about, but they wouldn’t say it. They let politically correct culture box them in. I don’t.
I also juxtaposed my style against a lot of writing I felt used kid gloves when talking to their readers. I went the opposite direction and focused on being as brutally honest as possible, exposing all the cold harsh realities of the world.
A lot of self-help writers are pretentious stiff productivity robots. I sprinkle in sarcasm, dark humor, and even the occasional F-bomb.
As far as the style itself goes, I went for a tight and punchy vibe. I like my words to pop like the sound of a drum. Play around with different styles and think about ways to make yourself stand out.
Create a Deep Understanding of Your Reader
I dedicated an entire section of my blogging course to audience research for a reason. The more you know about your readers upfront the easier it is to blog about life in a way that resonates with them.
The two main variables to focus on are their:
- Fears and frustrations
- Hopes and aspirations
For their fears and frustrations, I like to twist the knife and agitate their problems, then provide my work as a solution. Most writers know to do this, but they don’t get deep and specific enough.
Instead of saying something like “You’re afraid to quit your job and start a business” you can say “You’re afraid that if you start that business and fail, you’ll realize your parents were right when they said, or implied, you were the type of person who always starts but never finishes anything.”
For their hopes and aspirations, paint the picture for them. I like to use the word ‘imagine’ a lot because it puts them in the future mentally.
Again, I try to be specific. So instead of saying something like “Imagine what it would be like to write full-time” I might say something like “Imagine what it would feel like to finally have the book you’ve dreamt of writing about in your hands — sitting there smelling the fresh and familiar smell of a new book combined with the deep satisfaction that it’s yours.
Knock Yourself off the Pedastal
Here’s the easiest way to answer the question “Who the hell are you to give advice?” both for yourself and the readers. Avoid writing from your ivory tower like you’re perfect. Don’t be the type of person who just spits out advice without any context.
I can’t tell you exactly how to do this, but here are the things I’ve done:
- Context: I try to account for people’s circumstances and understand nothing I say is a one size fits all solution
- Examples: I often make sure to give examples from my personal life that show how I’ve personally implemented the advice instead of just telling people what to do
- Suggestions: Instead of saying you must live a certain way, I make suggestions and highly educated guesses. When I’m really not sure if a strategy will work out, I’ll just say that. There are general patterns to what works and I talk about those patterns instead of just saying ‘follow my bulletproof 10 steps to success.’
- I Talk Shit: Sometimes I crack inappropriate jokes, curse, or throw in shades of humor just so readers know I’m not some A.I. robot spitting out self-help advice
- I Remain a Student: Most of the advice I give either comes from something I’ve overcome or am currently working on. In a lot of ways, I’m writing to myself and we’re both learning together. I never pretend to know it all because I don’t.
Now You’re Ready to Blog About Life
Blogging about life is fun because life is interesting.
Even the most mundane lives have crazy moments. We all share a similar set of emotions. As a writer, it’s your job to tap into those emotions and highlight the moments that make life interesting.
An audience-driven approach works best, even if you’re writing about yourself. Your writing is about them, not you, even if you’re writing about yourself.
If you can remember that, you have a shot at making this blogging thing work.