Create Your Own Blog

Writing this blog
When I started this blog a little over two years ago, I had little idea that it would become a great platform for me to share, educate, and speak out about issues while on the journey of my dance career. In fact, I only really started this blog because I was scared shitless about finding my own work. I knew that I had writing skills and a unique perspective. But I saw blogging more as a personal journal that could potentially be used as a marketing tool instead of a platform for sharing my experiences, thoughts on dance politics, or a handbook for independent contractors of all professions. Yesterday, Life of a Freelance Dancer reached over 50,000 views. And as it approaches 100 posts (this will be #99), I have decided to share some of my secrets about creating a blog and how to write compelling posts that draw your audience into your unique world.

I don't know if it's our age or more of a popular trend within the ballet world, but I have had a great many friends mention to me that they want to start freelancing. Since I started a blog that is unique and contains material that has generally been untouched in the past, I get a lot of people reaching out to me about working as an independent contractor. During a handful of these conversations, more than a few of these dancers have told me that they are considering starting their own blog. They see that I have been successful with it and figure, "If he can do it, I can do it." The problem I often find, though, is that not much more thought has gone into something that can be a monumental task.

The first thing I do when somebody mentions that they are going to start a blog is ask questions. I always begin with, "What is your niche?" The obvious answer for us is dance. But is that enough to be compelling? There are many styles of dance, different types of dancers, and a multitude of tracks that somebody can be on throughout their career. The first thing that a potential blogger needs to think about is finding their niche. This special place one hopes to hold in the blogosphere needs to be one topic in which the blogger has endless knowledge and exponential passion. It may seem like an easy task to sit down and write about a subject here and there, but it is absolutely impossible to maintain one's writings over an extended period of time if the topic doesn't mean the world to you. This is the ultimate reason that most bloggers fizzle out within the first month or two of writing.

Once a writer chooses their niche, they need to take other things into consideration. How often do you plan on blogging? If a blogger plans to write whenever they feel inspired, they are not going to be able to maintain an audience. Even things that people are most passionate about usually swing up and down on the scale of inspiration. When I started LOFD, my plan was always to write one blog post per week. I didn't know if this was feasible, but it seemed often enough to keep people coming back to check in and infrequent enough to keep me from burning out. Two years later, the longest I've gone without writing has been two weeks. And while I wasn't posting during that period, it wasn't because I was uninspired. It was because I was too busy rehearsing or performing to sit down and create content. It is extremely important to post with regularity, as it will help you to maintain your audience. And, believe it or not, if nobody is reading your blog, you are that much less likely to continue writing.

Now that you have considered your niche and time management, why would somebody want to read your blog. Just writing about a specific area of expertise doesn't mean that everybody who has interest in that topic will read what you have written. I have heard people tell me, I'm going to write about me doing this and my review of that and my experience with this and my thoughts on that. My response can come off pretty offensively, but it is one of the most important things to consider. What makes you so interesting? So, you are a ballerina that likes fine dining. Or you have a special knack for knitting leg warmers. But just because you are passionate about something and you shared it on a public platform doesn't make you or your writing interesting. What makes a writer compelling is finding their own unique voice. When you talk to somebody in person, you can hear their vocal inflection as they speak. But reading a smattering of letters jumbled together on a blog with pretty colors in the background and IPhone photos in the foreground does not draw an audience into a story. Creating a unique writing style within your own content will make one far more interesting. Beyond the way that I phrase my posts, I am known to be too openly honest for most of today's common social standards. But the combination of these two things give me a unique voice that makes my writings stand out in ways that others may not. The tendency is for people to watch somebody do something successfully and to attempt to become successful by copying how that person garnered their success. This rarely works. Find what is unique about you, put yourself out there, and people will read what you have to say.

At this point you've created your blog, so the next step is to write your first post. What are you going to write about and how many topics have you already compiled? Most first-time bloggers think that they are going to come up with all of their topics on the fly as they find inspiration. Some people can do this. But for most of us bloggers, we need to compile a list of possible topics for the future. I generally write about what I am experiencing or inspired by in the moment. But as I stated above, you don't always feel equally inspired to write. How are you supposed to write when you don't feel any motivation and it has been days since you last planned on posting? Nothing can destroy your drive to blog more than writing a handful of forced entries. Not only do these posts take too much energy to write, but they often come off as uninspired to readers. And as for maintaining readers with humdrum content, you can think of it like this. If you go to a restaurant once and the food is bad or the service was poor, how likely are you to return to that restaurant? Unless you have already pulled in a loyal following of readers, this can force people to stay away from your content before they even get to the entree. I always have a list of, at least, ten blog topics that I could write about if I can't think of any other subjects. I have gotten to the point where I rarely need to touch that list. But every once in awhile, I'm too busy to be imaginative or in too little of a writing mood to conjure up a new topic.

When trying to summon new material to write about, I find that I write best when I am inspired. What inspires you? I can be inspired by something that I have experienced at a gig, a conversation with a friend about dance politics, or even a random person walking down the street having a conversation with a fire hydrant. I find that when I am truly inspired by a topic, I can write a blog in a wildly short period of time. If I'm less inspired, the task is more tedious and takes a lot more effort. Keep in mind that inspiration doesn't always have to be positive. But, if you are inspired and passionate about something, people will be more likely to enjoy your content. How many times have you seen a street performer present an act skillfully with passion and stood in the street smiling to yourself. If you can write passionately inspired posts, people will respond the same way. And they will come back for more. Who doesn't feel good when they are pursuing something that they feel passionate about?

The main reason that bloggers continue posting in a public forum is because they want people to read their content. If you post and don't tell anybody about your writing, nobody will know it exists. Most people figure that they will simply post their blogs on their Facebook or Twitter. And they think that all of their friends will read what they write and then their friends will share with their friends and their blog will become famous. It unfortunately doesn't work like that. The more you sell your blog in your own social media feed, the more likely your friends are to get annoyed with you. I do post every blog on my accounts, but I don't post about it much more than that. When I first started blogging, I oversold myself to my friends and I instantly saw fewer comments, less likes, and some even deleted me. Using social media successfully is a delicate balance of posting enough, not posting too much, and delivering interesting content that isn't too sad or self-indulged. The best way I find to draw in readers is a combination of social media and Search Engine Optimization (or SEO).

One of my recent Twitter posts
For social media, I always post a link to my most recent blog on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, typically with a quote from my writing. On Twitter, I always make sure that I use hashtags for #dance, #ballet, #freelance, and/or #blog. This allows people that are interested in these topics to find my tweet, even if they don't follow me. Beyond that, I have each individual post linked on a separate LOFD fan page on facebook and on a board in Pinterest. The way my blog is set up, you can only see the most recent post at the top of the page. Most of my other posts are hidden on the sidebar or on other pages of my blog. Since I have spent so much time writing each post, I don't want them to disappear into the blogosphere only to be found when somebody searches a specific topic. On Pinterest, each blog post is pinned to the board like a post it. This makes it easy to scroll through individual pieces versus scrolling through entire pages of writing.

As for Search Engine Optimization, this is where things get a little trickier. I am still on a bit of a learning curve when it comes to SEO. But using blogger, I have a few tricks that I use to increase traffic to my website. SEO is essentially creating pathways to have search engines, like Google and Bing, move your site closer to the top when somebody searches a topic that may relate to your blog. In my posts, I try to find ways to insert links to articles and businesses that are related to my writings. Make sure that you are being honest to your writing with these links. Don't add a random link that has no relation to your work because it is popular. But adding links to other searchable subjects may have your blog showing up when somebody searches for a place, like the School of American Ballet. Also, be sure to add labels/keywords after you have finished your post. In Blogger, there is a sidebar with post settings that allows you to add labels to your content. During my editing process, I search for words in my writing that really stand out as important to the post or names/subjects that are highly searched. For instance, if I wrote a post that included a story about working with Christopher Wheeldon, I am surely going to include him in that list. The more searchable your blog is, the more likely you are to gather readers. And the higher the viewership, the longer the life of your blog.

At the end of the day, you may ask me why I spend so much time sitting at my computer having a conversation with my keyboard? I never thought of myself as a writer until recently. Obviously, the excitement of seeing the number of views on my content tick higher and higher contribute to my long stream of writings. But the reason that I continue blogging from week to week is because it gives me a platform to express my thoughts, views, and explorations to people that I don't even know. I can help somebody I've never met learn how to get a job or cope with shitty conditions in their workplace. I always tell people that criticize me for sharing so much about my personal and not-so-personal life online this. There are so many times in life that we feel alone, like we are experiencing something all by ourselves. Those of us that have a platform to share MUST do so for those people. At some point, somebody has experienced what I have along my journey through my career and life.  Sometimes, though, they don't realize that they weren't the only one to have ever experienced it. If putting a little too much of myself out there helps somebody else in their time of need, I'm more than happy to help. With all of this said, if you've got it in you, GET STARTED WRITING!

Don't be afraid to express yourself

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