Did you ever write a deeply personal letter, one that revealed your insecurities, your desires, your triumphs and paper-thin humanity? Knowing the whole time you’d never send it, but wondering what might happen if, one day, you just let that sucker loose?
Well, there seems to be a new generation of bloggers who are doing just that, but instead of mailing it to one person…
They’re laying bare their lives to the world!
“We park the car and walk into the building of the couples’ therapist. I remember one couples therapist telling us that we are in good shape because we drove there together. Today I know that we would have driven in separate cars if we had two cars.
I delegated finding a therapist to my husband. After all, my first book just came out and I blog almost every day. I am busy. I know my penchant for delegating is part of the problem, but I thought this would be one last hurrah.
We get to the office. The sign on the door says “Divorce Law Offices” and there is a list of people with Esq’s at the end.”
That post generated 178 comments as of this writing and powerful, emotionally-charged debate and attracted a lot of attention.
“I never should have gone off that drug. I know this now, having suffered terrible postpartum depression that could have been avoided had I seen the red flags in my third trimester, had I taken early steps to deal with the symptoms. But three months after Leta’s birth I was an inconsolable, suicidal mess. I was beyond repair, and all the drugs I tried in the following months would only make things worse: Risperdal, Ativan, Trazadone, Lamictal, Effexor, Abilify, Strattera, Klonopin, Seroquel. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t unclench my jaw or hands, couldn’t imagine how I would get through another ten minutes. After weeks of threatening to leave Jon if he had me committed to a hospital, I finally gave in and committed myself.”
A few months later, I stumbled onto Naomi Dunford’s IttyBiz.com blog, ostensibly about marketing, but clearly, by the number of times she drops the F-bomb in any given post, it’s not your mama’s marketing blog.
But, it’s not the shock-and-awe language that reels readers into Naomi’s world…
It’s the extraordinary exposure of her personal life, her willingness to strip-naked and her wicked sense of humor and humanity, as we see in this recent excerpt from a post entitled, “Moral Of The Story: Violent Snuggling Edition:”
“Again, if you know anything about pregnancy, you know that you spend a lot of time peeing in cups. Once a month, then once a fortnight, and finally once a week, throughout your whole pregnancy, you’re peeing in cup after cup after cup. I look at the cups and think very hard about peeing in one of them. After three seconds, I realize this is ridiculous. Not because it’s unhygienic and disgusting, but because there’s not enough room in a cup. I’m pregnant, people. Pregnant ladies make a lot of pee.
I’ll spare you the details of how the situation physically came to be but I’ll tell you this much. I realized that the true glamor of entrepreneurship had sparkled into my life.
I was hiding from my children in the kitchen, squatting under the table between an iMac and a car seat, and peeing into a juice pitcher.
And that’s when my husband walked in.”
And, it seems, our “strip-bloggers” have pretty good noses for finding others like them.
In fact, Following a link from one of Naomi’s recent posts, I landed on Caroline Middlebrook’s post last week entitled, “Yesterday’s Podcast Was a Lie,” where in the space of a few hundreds words, she not only revealed she was gay, but also that she’d recently been dumped, suffered devastating emotional withdrawal and then lied about the decline of her blog quality before finally laying bare her life. And, last I checked, that post had 82 comments, almost all hugely supportive and thankful for her candor.
Which all got me wondering…
What’s the deal with everyone stripping naked on their blogs?
Are they doing it out of an odd sense of voyeurism, therapy, masachism or a desperate need to connect. Are they looking to fill in gaps in their “offline” support networks? Are they looking to help others by revealing heir humanity and letting people know we are all human in the end?
Or, are they just whoring out their personal lives to build bucks, buddies and buzz?
While others have suggested this to me (and to them in their comments), having had the chance to get to know a few high-profile strip-bloggers, I don’t think so.
Sure, being naked, crude or disarmingly transparent can be hugely effective at engaging readers. It can build traffic and word of mouth lightning-fast.
But, you really get the sense that their blogs are like their version of talk therapy and the decision to take public what, for most people, is deeply private is more about a desire to connect, find community and comradery than to drive page-views and revenue.
Further proof of a purer motive is the fact that Penelope’s blog doesn’t even serve ads. Naomi’s is supposed to be fundamentally about marketing and her personal tirades likely don’t do much for her marketing biz. And, Caroline’s recent expose came completely out of the blue on a blog about making money online.
No doubt, though, Dooce.com has benefited substantially from traffic and ad-revenue. But, reading the posts, you still get the feeling it’s about something more.
So, rather than speculate, I just asked.
In fact, I put four simple questions to a few and here’s what they said:
- How do you decide how personal to get? I just focus on writing about whatever is on my mind and feels important. I also try to tell good stories.
- Why do you get so personal? I just want to be me and make real connections with people. I am creating a community so that I can investigate the intersection of work and life with other people. Doing it alone is not as fun. And there is no point in being part of a community if i can’t be my true self.
- Is there a line in the sand you won’t cross and, if so, what is it? I take out peoples’ names if they felt they were talking off the record and they don’t want a conversation recorded on the blog. (I actually did that today, in this post.
- Have you ever felt you revealed too much and regretted it after the fact? No. I have regretted the years and years that I kept big secrets. Keeping secrets has not helped my life. I can’t remember when I regretted telling something about myself..
- How do you decide how personal to get? Whatever I’m saying has to meet two criteria: it has to provide some kind of value to my readers, and it can’t hurt anybody I love. Sometimes value to my readers comes in the form of a horrible warning — for the love of God, don’t do what I just did and here’s why — or a funny story or something actually instructional. And I don’t embarrass my loved ones. It’s not their fault I’m such a raging exhibitionist, and besides, I’m too busy embarrassing myself.
- Why do you get so personal? Because non-personal blogs bore me senseless and I don’t want to be boring. Even on the big “expert” blogs, my favorite posts are the ones in which the authors get really personal.
- Is there a line in the sand you won’t cross and, if so, what is it? If it would be more trouble for me than valuable to my readers, I don’t do it. My mother-in-law reads my blog, and she’s… sensitive. If what I say is going to come back and bite me in the ass at Christmas and ruin everybody’s party — and trust me, this has happened — that’s when I draw the line.
- Have you ever felt you revealed too much and regretted it after the fact? No. My husband comes from a much more conservative background than I do and he can sometimes get concerned about what people might read into what I say, but it’s been fine so far. I ran a piece recently wherein I lamented my lack of capacity to be Superwoman — and I half-jokingly included the feeling I should be having sex with my husband 6 times a week. He’s like, “They know that it’s you that thinks you should be doing that, right? They know that’s not me?” Yes, honey. My readers are very well aware that I’m the neurotic one.
I also wanted to get the perspective of a male, but had a lot more trouble finding anyone who’d gotten as naked as the women and cultivated a sizable audience as a result. That alone, I found pretty fascinating. And, I’d love to hear you theories on why this might be in the comments…
So, I turned to my friend Leo Babauta from ZenHabits.net, who’s is known as being a very open blogger who often brings in stories about his life and his family. I wouldn’t classify Leo as a serious strip-blogger, though he does get into his psychic-undies here and there and getting personal as been a hallmark of his extraordinary journey from launch to A-list in less than a year.
Here’s what Leo shared:
- How do you decide how personal to get? It’s really a gut feeling, I think, but it’s based on factors such as how much info people need in order to decide whether my tips/advice is worth taking. Why should we listen to Leo about how to wake up early? Well, if I tell them that I wake at 4:00 a.m., and have shaved a few hours off my wake-up time, that helps them decide that I’m worth listening to. Another factor is whether I can share what has worked for me — it’s much better advice if you’ve actually done it, rather than just something you’ve come up with on the spot. And if you’ve done it, people want to know about that. So I share my experiences — it makes my advice much more realistic. I try to give real-world experiences, rather than vague stuff, and that means that I have to share things that have happened to me, that I’ve gone through.
- Why do you get personal? It’s important for people to relate to the blogger. We always want to know more about an author (I not only look at the back inside cover for the author bio and photo, but I google them too). So if you share stuff about yourself, people can relate to you more, and that really makes a difference.
- Is there a line in the sand you won’t cross and, if so, what is it? I don’t have a hard line … my basic test is whether my wife would kill me if I shared this info with the world. She doesn’t mind if I tell people about blisters I get from running … but if I got them from our sex life, she probably wouldn’t want me to share that. That’s not a true story, btw.
- Have you ever felt you revealed too much and regretted it after the fact? Not yet. I think people genuinely appreciate you sharing your life with them. So far people have been very kind about what I’ve shared. My “wife test” has served me well so far!
In the end, it seems effective strip-blogging comes down to a few essential principles.
- Be able to write. Like any other great blogger, you still need to be able to write. If you’ve got great stories, but can’t share them in a way that’s compelling, game over.
- Be authentic. You cannot write off-the-wall stuff solely for the purpose of creating shock and awe or in a quest to drive traffic. Readers will sense that and abandon both you and your blog.
- Embrace life. In order to have good stories and experiences to share, you need to get away from your computer and embrace what Tevye from Fiddler On The Roof called life’s “full-catastrophe.” Engage in the world around you and immerse yourself in relationships, actions and consequences. Dance where the good stuff happens. This is where the stories and revelations that make for compelling strip-blogging are birthed.
- Be honest. Don’t lie or make stuff up in the name of freaking people out. People can smell a lie and you’ll be done in the blink of an eye.
- Consider the impact on others. If you blog about the people closest to you, understand it will have an impact on their lives and be ready to deal with that. Think seriously about the effect on those around you and decide what is and is not sacred…if anything.
- Lean on the community. Strip bloggers often reveal their lives as an example of what to do and what not to do, but as much as people draw solace and inspiration from them, you also get the feeling they tend to rely on their reader-community for support, conversation, solutions and inspiration, too. And, they acknowledge and converse with everyone in the comments.
- Edutain. Whether your voice is authoritative, funny, wicked or raw, find it, cultivate it, make it clear and strong, so that you can deliver your message in a way that only informs, but somehow also entertains.
- Be thick-skinned. Some people will love you for stripping, others will hate you. Be ready for strong, potentially aggressive comments and be prepared to handle and engage them. No doubt, they will come.
If I’ve left any out, please feel free to add more below…
Violate these fundamental principles and you risk trashing your reputation, losing your audience, inflaming and inspiring attackers, creating a public record of things you’d rather have private later in life and tearing apart certain personal relationships.
I have to admit to being somewhat awed by really good strip-bloggers.
I could never do what they do, I’m just not nearly that transparent. For me, I set clear boundaries. I offer bits and pieces, glimpses into my personal life if they are relevant to what I enjoy writing about and sharing. But, I also tend toward being overly cautious about the effect of whatever I write on the people closest to me. Admittedly, this limits what and when I write. But, I can live with that. So, I occasionally go topless, but buck-naked, not quite yet…if ever.
So, what about you?
What you think about strip-blogging?
Do you secretly lust to read it? Do you strip-blog yourself? Are you mortified by it?
Let me know in the comments below…
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