This month’s Guest Posts have taken us from one end of the spectrum to the other. We’ve seen bloggers who blog to prepare the world for their novel, to share the lessons they’ve learned as a caretaker, and to just get their work out to readers. We’ve learned about building platforms, carrying our Christianity out into the blogging world, and been reminded that writers need to write – get that faucet turned on. Today, we hear from a professional blogger: Josh Magill.
Josh manages and juggles the Magill Review. He let’s me throw articles at him once a month about writing. Josh has been my first experience working with deadlines, an editor, and having my articles included in a monthly rotation. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to writing for a paper or magazine. The experience has been great and Josh is super easy to please. I first met Josh through the monthly Atom and Eve article which takes a less holy and more sarcastic look at science. I then joined the Tim Higgelmottham story project. After getting positive feedback on an article I wrote about outlining, which Josh shared on the Magill Review, he invited me to do a monthly article for him. The rest is history. 🙂
Next Tuesday, I’ll feature my last Guest Blogger: Rob Akers.
And now, Josh Magill:
Writing Blogs Need a Point (They aren’t Journals)
I hate the word ‘blog.’
I shudder when I hear it—an ick that quakes my body from the inside, deep-down where my soul hides from the ugly parts of life—because the word takes me to a time I once thought I knew what I was doing on the internet. It takes me to a time when I thought I understood writing. I thought writing was about me.
Don’t misunderstand, writing is about the writer and their thoughts, but by the time it bumbles out into the world the writing becomes more about the reader and what they will feel as the words encroach upon their lives. In the movie Finding Forrester, there is a question posed which always helped me consider the reader when writing: “Why is it that the words that we write for ourselves are always so much better than the words that we write for others?”
It’s a great question and one I never understood until my first attempt at blogging back in 2002. I prefer to use the term ‘website’ because it seems so much more professional. Ironically, when writers treat their online writing locations as websites versus a blog, the reader sees a tremendous difference in the level of writing and respect for the reader. Both are much more positive and it is definitely much more tolerable to read because hopefully there is a point to the writing. When a writer wastes my time (the reader) by not having a point, they lose me. Though many will tell you they read to relax or get lost in another world, the fact is that most readers want to learn or feel something from what they read. They don’t want that final word to pass without feeling edified and enlightened, feeling as though they are changed in some way, feeling refreshed or exhausted.
Allow me explain. As a boy, I would tell funny anecdotes to family and friends. They were simple stories that often made my aunts and uncles laugh. I thought I was a good comedian, but it was the way I told the story—the inflection in my voice, the motions I made with my face, hands, and body. It was the pauses at the right times or the lift in my voice during the climax of the story. In truth, I was a storyteller, but it wasn’t about me. It was about them—the listeners. I watched their reactions as I spoke and tailored my delivery. If the reaction wasn’t enough or what I had hoped for, then I gave a little more of the story, the intimate or embarrassing parts. I found that is what the listener wanted—the “juicy” parts, the parts they could relate to but were too ashamed to share themselves.
When I starting writing essays in college, I shared the uncomfortable and painful episodes in my life, and people loved them. Readers guffawed and gasped at my life because they had been there, too. I took to the University newspaper as a columnist, sharing the strangeness of being a newlywed and an older college student, and in 2002 (while still in college) I launched my first blog. I must say that not only did it fail; it seemed to turn away some long-time friends because it came off know-it-all and preachy. I bashed the poor fans of the football team, the girl down at the convenience store, the unpatriotic and lazy students. It wasn’t long before life got in the way of my writing and I shut down the blog because it wasn’t successful (in my opinion).
So what made me start up The Magill Review (my website) in late 2012? It goes back to that question from Finding Forrester: Why is it that the words that we write for ourselves are always so much better than the words we write for others?
It’s because we care about ourselves, but do we care about our readers—their lives, their families, their marriages, their feelings? Simply … No! We write for ourselves and if the reader doesn’t get it or is bored with our daily “journal” entries on our blog, then it’s because they just don’t understand writing and writers, right? Wrong! Our job as writers is to help them understand by “showing, not telling,” by infusing the story with life.
Again, indulge me. I grew up in the Deep South, specifically the hills of North Georgia. This is a place where old-timers enjoy cornering a young person to tell them the real stories of the Civil War (what they call the War of Northern Aggression), stories that have interesting twists, stories that end differently than history books, but then you see the sly grin creep across the old-timers face like a well-worn wrinkle and you realize where fiction began and why so many great storytellers came from The South. You understand that trying to debate the authenticity of the tale will only allow the old man to embellish more, allowing him to drag you into a world where the South triumphs or an account of the medal bestowed upon his grandfather by General Robert E. Lee that you dare not dispute.
The understanding and the legend of southern heritage is theirs to keep, and anyone that tries to change that is a “damned Yankee” that has been indoctrinated with lies about history. Yet, one thing both Yankees and Southerners usually agree on is that a good story comes from the soul. To tell the real story, to entangle the reader in a world where they want to take another step forward, the writer must give of their soul. It cannot hide from the ugly incidents of life because in doing so it never learns and will lose out on the wonderful chapters and friends around them.
And so it was with my second attempt at a blog (blech, I mean website). If I was to make this not about me, but about the readers, then I could not make the site all my writing. It had to include more writers, some professional and polished, some new and learning. I invited others and they came. The Magill Review blossomed and continues to do so, and most of the writing is not mine. I did not allow rants (that is for Facebook) or humdrum writing about a writer’s day that did not have a point (again, for Facebook or your mother).
Instead, I worked with writers like Melissa Fry Beasley and Mike Linaweaver to post beautiful poems, or best-selling author Jennifer Youngblood to add a touch of The South with her “Confessions of a Southerner” column. Richard Eaker gave me the idea to start a collaborative story (100 words at a time) with 15 other writers, and it was his idea for the beginning that made the character Tim Higgelmottham come alive. I was lucky enough to have Rob Akers, Mark Rossi and Abby Jones all decide to write ongoing columns for the website, as well as others that write occasionally. And when I wrote the series I affectionately call “The Fat Chronicles,” my cousin Jacob Finch helped by sharing his successes and struggles during our Fluff to Buff Challenge.
All these writers are passionate and soulful. They share everything with the reader because they care about them. We want to write for the reader as if we are writing for ourselves, holding nothing back, sharing even the embarrassing and painful moments of our lives. Do this at your blog and it will be a success no matter how many visitors come each day.
This is a refreshing take on blogging. I think many valuable blogs are more journalistic, but if it’s out in public it needs to be professional. We often forget this with the growing ease of publishing ourselves. I also found Josh’s thoughts to be helpful because we live in a very ‘me’ centered society where we often hear only about how important we are as the writer. The writer must never forget the reader, ever. If you want to be read, you must remember to include the reader. They’re part of the story as well. I hope you enjoyed Josh’s thoughts on blogging…website-ing…hummmm. 🙂 Remember, keep it professional and tell a great story!
To read the previous guest posts follow the links: