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How Do You Write Personal Blog Posts When You’re a Private Person?

Many of the greatest books ever written were not actually released as books. 

Readers did not line up at the Victorian-era equivalent of Barnes and Noble for the midnight launch of Great Expectations, Madame Bovary, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Anna Karenina.  These influential works were released as serials in newspapers or periodicals.  Separated into sections, they were revealed one bit at a time.  Readers eagerly awaited the next installment to see what happened to Pip or Emma Bovary.

Meanwhile the publishers happily sold more publications over the course of many months because people were engaged with the story.  The audience came back to read more.

A question landed in my inbox last week about personal posts and blogs:  “I’m a pretty private person and I want to keep my business very professional.  However, I’ve read a lot of advice stating that you must write personal blog posts to build relationships with clients and future clients.  I’m really, really uncomfortable with this.  What’s your reaction to this and what advice do you have for keeping things professional, but also being personable (and still maintaining your boundaries)?”

I’d encourage you to see your blog not as a place where you have to unveil your private thoughts for all to see, but rather as an old-fashioned serial. 

Release one teensy story at a time, introduce a few “characters,” and people will come back to read more about the ongoing adventure.  When you start to tell a story – any story – people naturally want to hear how things turn out.

Many popular photography blogs excel at this.  Not because the authors treat their blog like a tell-all reality TV show, but because we recognize and care about the “characters” in their stories.  Jasmine Star said once that she’s an extremely private person, and only reveals very small parts of herself online.  Yet she has placed “characters” (herself, her husband JD, Polo, her parents) on her blog and allowed us to hear short, interesting stories about them.  And so, we start to adore Polo and enjoy sharing a laugh about something funny that happened over a Thanksgiving dinner.  We start to care about them, and are interested in updates because we regularly get to share bits of emotion ‘behind the scenes’ with them.  Of course, there are other key ingredients that make her blog engaging and popular (humor, humility, talent, good writing, generosity in sharing information, etc), but part of its continual draw is that she’s slowly weaving a story.  And we want to know what happens.

When I use the word “characters,”  I don’t mean that the people are make-believe or false.

A character just has a few recognizable traits and a goal (large or small) – and this makes us want to hear what happens next.  We don’t necessarily need to know what the character ate for breakfast to be interested in them.  You, the author, get to control what information is shared.

When I say “stories” I don’t mean that it has to be one continuous story.  My personal posts are more like a series of anecdotes.  But because they generally center around a few of my traits (obsessed with libraries and bookstores, traveling, and throwing over-the-top dinner parties) and my goals (create beautiful images, get to know people and places better), the unrelated anecdotes are unified into one big unfolding story.  There’s more to me than being a bookworm who likes traveling and pretty place settings, but those are the features I choose to show online.

And let’s keep this in perspective – your blog posts shouldn’t be *all* about you.  Personal posts are a connection thread that run between sessions, sneak peeks, tips, events, and other information.  They lend a relatable, non-corporate voice to all that “stuff,” and help readers see the human face and goal behind all of it. 

Personal connections discourage senseless price-comparison shopping and people who “just need someone with a nice camera.”  You’re more likely to attract people who want YOU to create their images if they feel like they know and trust you.

It’s a good start to have an “about me” page on a website, but that is static information. 

Like a book, people read it once, and probably won’t come back.  And we want potential clients to come back.

Nothing creates an emotional connection faster than the sharing of emotion.  And it doesn’t have to be deep, serious, heavy emotion!  So sure, you can have a bio that says “My name is ___, I have a husband and two kids and a goldfish named Sparky.”  The bio alone makes you go “hmm, cool,” and move on.  But what if you paired that bio with a blog post about the time the kids decided to take Sparky up to the treehouse and you stopped them just in time before they sloshed all the water out of poor Sparky’s bowl?  The stories would make someone laugh, muse about the antics of children, recall their own childhood escapades.  This sharing and relating of emotions creates a connection through the screen. This is where relationships with potential clients are formed.

Your blog can be a written illustration of your bio.  Whatever the bio shares, make it come to life!

The only real “MUST” in business is taxes.  You can get away with doing or not doing all kinds of things.  

In fact, there’s nothing that says you even have to have a blog at all!  If you do have one, I’d encourage you to ask yourself:  What is its purpose?  The answer determines what you will want to write about.

One purpose of my photography blog is to communicate my style and what a photography experience with me will be like.  I can’t communicate that all in one novel-like lump.  If I did, no one would read it.  So I have to do it over time.  Which means I need people to keep coming back to the blog, faithfully.  Which means I need to create a relationship with them.  And sharing stories, joined together by a central character, happens to be an exceptionally easy way to create a relationship and get people to come back.

Sure, there are many ways to build relationships, but since I only have a few seconds from the time someone lands on my page before they decide if they’ll stay or leave, I might as well get them to stay using one of the oldest tricks in the publishing book:  Incrementally-released but immediately-engaging stories.

If it’s good enough for Dickens, it’s good enough for me.

If you’re not comfortable sharing something, don’t share it. 

There are lots of successful small businesses that keep things strictly professional.  If you want to follow suit, I suggest studying their blogs and see what they do to build relationships and keep people coming back.

No one can really tell you “blog about this, don’t blog about this.”  It depends entirely on your story and the “characters” in it.  Remember – all a compelling character needs is a few recognizable traits and a goal.  Everything else is gravy.  Use common sense (like avoiding being whiny and overly negative, which tends to be repetitive and therefore boring), but the details of your character(s) are entirely up to you.

I will say that, like all things, blogging personal stories gets easier with practice.  If you want to share something about yourself without revealing too much, try going on a walk with your camera and just describe in rich detail what you saw while taking photos.  Find an image from a vacation and describe what it’s like to visit that place.  (In a way, “road trips” are a character on my blog just as much as I am.)  These things will tell your audience something about yourself without you having to dish a lot of personal detail.

It should be easy to start by simply putting the reader in a different place and showing them what you see.

That’s what photography is about anyway, isn’t it?

Kristi - Up & Away Photography - I kid you not – I was over on your Facebook page, typing in a comment, at the EXACT MOMENT you posted that this blog post was now up. Here’s what I had typed in the “Share” box: “I know this is probably something you don’t want to answer on Facebook, but – what’s your opinion on personal posts on your photog blog?” HA! You know what they say about great minds…

Anyway. Awesome post. As usual – totally happy with my Psychology for Photographers experience. So much so that now I’ve started reading & following your photog business blog (yes, I’m a Google-Master). ;)
Kristi – Up & Away Photography recently posted..Valentine Mini-Sessions {Marietta, Kennesaw, Acworth, Woodstock, Roswell}My Profile

Aurora - Your comment about Jasmine Star saying she was a private person reminded me of when I was a professional actress…because many, many actors and actresses (including myself!) consider themselves to be very “private” people–and yet they have no qualms about sharing things about themselves that most people would consider intensely personal.

Why?

Because ACTING is extremely personal. The craft of acting invites the audience to be a voyeur on some of the most insanely personal moments in a character’s life–and for an actor to be good at his or her job, he/she must believe in, and capture that “personal-ness”, if I can coin a word. Yes–it’s pretend–but *at the moment that space is created*, it has to be *real*.

In other words, the best actors are used to being emotionally naked and raw in front strangers.

And yet they still consider themselves private!

How?

By redefining “private” and “personal” in their heads. Privacy becomes not who you know and what you do and how much money you make or what kind of car you drive, but who you ARE–which is something that no one other than the people who have deeply connected with you, emotionally, can ever truly know.

I can tell you anything about myself–about things I’ve done that I’m ashamed of, things I’m proud of, things I’m confused about, who’s in my life at any given moment–without compromising my strong need for privacy, because those don’t really have anything to do with who I really am–and only someone in my life, or who is extraordinarily perceptive–can know who I am, through a recitation of stories and facts–however humorous or silly or poignant they might be.

Keeping that in mind–and redefining what is and what is not “private” and “personal” in your life can make it easier to lower barriers with clients and “the public”.

As a photographer, I find that this ability to lower barriers only increases my ability to connect with clients, as most people will assume that you are taking scary risks, by sharing and being open–and that, in turn, increases your “trust factor” with them–and encourages them to show who they are in front of your camera.

I think that photographers who are willing redefine their comfort zone and feed this craving for intimacy with their clients, by connecting, in what is an increasingly disconnected world, are in a position to capture images with a greater emotional resonance, than those who keep it “strictly business”–and have an advantage in the way the field of portrait photography is being redefined right now.

GREAT post on the baby steps that can be taken to begin building that intimacy!!! :)

Melanie (@photobymelanie) - What if there’s a huge gap between what we think and the way we are able to write it?

You see, in person, I’m known to be quite a good story teller + anecdote reciter but when it comes to writing it sort of falls flat.

I’d love to hear what you think about that!
Melanie (@photobymelanie) recently posted..Lifestyle Portraits FAQ – Montreal Lifestyle PhotographerMy Profile

Jenika - Amazing insight, Aurora – thank you for sharing.

Jenika - Aww yeah, I knew you were coming and wrote this post superfast. ;-)

Jenika - Aha, well, writing is a separate issue altogether! I journaled daily for over nine years so writing stories is no longer an issue. You have to practice writing and blogging just as much as anything else! One quick tip – engage all the reader’s senses – tell them how things looked, felt, tasted, etc. Visual description goes far. More books than you can count on the subject of writing – pick up some Natalie Goldberg and/or Julia Cameron!

Kate Cuenoud - Thanks for answering my question so eloquently, Jerika! I know blogging will be a *process* of letting people in for me and I appreciate your guidance and support. <3 Kate.

Jenika - My pleasure, Kate, thanks for asking a great question. I hope this helps. :-) You’ll rock it!

Kate Cuenoud - ACK! Jenika – my apologies!

denise karis - ohhhhhh Im such a bad writer. My story would be “My son was so cute today! he did this and this and this. Isn’t that cute?” the end. I need to pick up a book on creative writing cause it just doesn’t happen for me. :) thanks for posting!! This one is a hard one!

Anastasia - I have just started a new blog (and a whole new site) and I do struggle with the concept of putting “me” out there as I am a very private person too. What a blessing it was to stumble across your blog! I know that opening up will definitely help me with my shyness which I have suffered from my whole life, and it is my chance the let people in too. Thank you for the most amazing and structured advice. x

Beryl - Thank you so much for this post Jenika – wise words indeed. My blog by nature requires some intense vulnerability on my part and the internal dialogue and struggle in being ‘ok’ with that took years to foster. But ultimately my position of sharing may be of a help to other women and so I decided that putting some of my more private thoughts out there was best. I love your analogy to having a cast of characters and allowing your readers to learn about them over time. That is going to help immensely as I work on new content and figure out how to share my own cast of characters with my readers. You just never know when one of your characters or a personal story you share will strike a chord with a reader or a potential client and help them or light them up in some way.
Beryl recently posted..your camera is not a handicapMy Profile

Lynn Clark - Melanie, I’m a professional writer and often ghost write for people. The secret to my success is to have people talk out loud into a recording device on the topic, transcribe it, then edit for grammar and flow (since many people like me tend to talk in circles).

In order for your story to be genuine it should sound exactly like you. If you’re an excellent oral storyteller, all you have to do is write it as you’d tell it out loud. While people definitely will judge you for typos and spelling errors, they will love it when your writing voice matches the one they get when they talk with you on the phone and work with you.

Do not be afraid to write as you speak–just published a slightly polished version of yourself. Me, I delete all the “like, you knows” and “ums.”
Lynn Clark recently posted..Las Vegas means desert boudoirMy Profile

How to Tweet For Your Small Business - […] a friend and photo blogger, recently emailed me a great blog post titled: How Do You Write Personal Blog Posts When You’re a Private Person? My first instinct was to forward the email. Since I am consciously trying to replace my […]

Olivier D - We are hard wired for relationships, beyond what we show there needs to be a real human behind. Apparently the most read page of photography websites are about me pages. Since the internetz is a scary place and data is for ever (for now at least) we have to be careful of the amount of personal information we reveal. But great post that a lot of us can relate to.

Ayla Anderson - I have decided to write my own blog and before starting stumbled upon this post. Beautifully written and really encouraging. Thank you :)

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