Mark Twain on Blogging

I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts about BlissDom ’10. What I learned, what I gained, what I felt.

I tried reading through my notes.

I tried reading through other people’s posts.

Then I tried looking through my photos . . .

And that’s when Mark Twain spoke to me.

You see, my friends and fellow bloggers Jody and Kara road-tripped with me to Nashville from Iowa. On the way down, we were to drive right past Hannibal, Missouri, a place I’d never been but had always wanted to visit. I was an English major, and Mark Twain remains one of my favorite American authors. So when Jody pulled off the highway into downtown Hannibal, I nearly peed my pants. (Partly from excitement and partly because I had been chugging the Coca-Cola like it was, well, Pepsi?)

Looking through the photos I took of Hannibal made me recall what it was about Twain that drew me in, and so I started reviewing some of his most famous quotes.

And that’s when it hit me: Had he lived now, Mark Twain would’ve been a blogger.

And a good one at that. He would’ve been a rock star without trying to be one; honest to the core.

So in honor of the blogger who lived before his time, I’m going to channel the late Mark Twain and allow his words to help me recap my BlissDom experience.

About Writing

“Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

Twain loved to let a story tell itself, and this was one point stressed in the writing workshops I attended. It’s the former English teacher in me that has to wag my finger and remind myself at times, “Show, don’t tell.” How much more interesting is a story if a reader gets to experience it for herself rather than hearing you retell what happened.

“My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.”

Resonating with your readers requires finding the “universal specific,” those things that hit a heart string and make them go, “Yeah, I can totally relate.” It’s the familiar voice that readers will keep coming back to. You don’t have to be the next Toni Morrison to be a writer. It’s okay to be one of the “common folk” who likes to tell stories; you’ll appeal to a wider range of readers that way because most everyone, at least at one time in their lives, has lived the ordinary life.

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you are inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

As an editor in my “real life,” I’ve learned that inserting “very” into a sentence tends to have the opposite effect of the one intended. So overused, it waters down the message instead of making it stronger. Megan Jordan of The Velveteen Mind and founder of Blog Nosh Magazine emphasized how she really whittles down her words in the editing process, making sure each serves a purpose. She also made an interesting point about women writers in particular. She said that when women write and talk they use a lot of “qualifiers,” such as “I think I would like . . .” or “It was kind of like . . .” or even by ending a sentence with “Don’t you think?” She suggests reading through a post and crossing out all the qualifiers. Be direct and own it!

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

I have to admit that I love me a good thesaurus. When I was in 8th grade my mom gave me a huge thesaurus titled The Synonym Finder for Christmas, and I still use it today. (I was sooo not your typical 8th grade girl!) Megan admitted she doesn’t like to use the same word more than once in a post if she can help it, so she turns to the thesaurus to help her find another word that carries the same meaning, or perhaps is even more precise.

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

I found it very interesting to hear how Megan plans the pauses her readers will make while reading her posts. She calls it “pacing the reader” and directing the “cadence” of her posts. She’ll break up text, use ellipses, and sometimes place just one word on a line by itself. Sometimes she’ll strategically place a photo to create a pause. I suspect she is really a poet dressed in blogger’s clothing.

About Finding (and Embracing) Your Voice

“Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.”

Wanna know a secret? I never thought I was funny until I started blogging. I just thought I was a good complainer. This conference really helped me find my voice and embrace the talents I have. And a lot of speakers talked about humor. Molly Wigand, a writer for Hallmark and my new HERO (especially after she shared a certain BOOGER CARD for kids that she had penned) emphasized the importance of looking at things from a different angle to find creativity and many times a humorous approach to a topic. Deb from Deb on the Rocks called it the “juxtaposition of odd things” that she enjoys creating and reading.

“Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.”

When Dana Loesch of Mamalogues made this remark, bells went off in my head: “Humor is my ministry. It’s what I have to give.” Suddenly there wasn’t anything frivolous or shallow about concentrating my efforts on humor in my writing. It’s humor that makes people feel comfortable. It’s humor that makes people connect and feel like they can let down their guard. With humor, I can be real. For me, it’s authentic. It’s me being me, no pretense. I had never before thought of humor as a blessing, a gift, or a ministry. That is definitely something that I will be pondering on sleepless nights (which fortunately, I have plenty of).

“Let us not be too particular; it is better to have secondhand diamonds than none at all.”

Since we’re being real here, I’ll tell you that while I was reading the tweets on Twitter about what so-and-so-blogger was buying for the cocktail parties or how so-and-so-blogger just HAD to go shopping because she had nothing to wear, I opened my wallet and moths literally flew out. Since there was really no money in the budget for me to even attend the conference in the first place, I really didn’t think I should press my luck by asking Husband if I could run to Jordan Creek Mall and pick up a few outfits (and possibly a new purse) (oh, and some shoes too!). But looking through my closet wasn’t very inspiring, so I did the only thing I could afford to do: scoured the clearance racks at Target and hit the local thrift store. And I managed to score two dresses and a few pieces I could pair with things I already owned, which satisfied my longing for some new duds and cost me less than $30 total. So I had to laugh when one of the cute little servers at one of our luncheons came up to me and said, “I love your shirt. Where did you get it?” Was I flattered? Definitely. Was I honest with her? Certainly. “Goodwill,” I said with a smile. “But,” I said, “the brand is Delia’s if you want to try to find it.” Score one for Goodwill! Then at the cocktail party the next night, a super-cute and trendy blogger came up to me and said, “I love your dress! Who is it?” as she grabbed for the tag. “Goodwill,” I said, again with a smile. Later I read her blog and learned that she loves vintage clothing, and although this wasn’t vintage, just used, I still think I may have scored brownie points with her for being honest about my thriftiness in fashion. Next year I may see if Goodwill can sponsor my trip to BlissDom as their spokesmodel . . .

About Community

“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

Mark and I are completely in sync on this one. If only I could pay my mortgage in compliments, I wouldn’t need any monetary compensation for writing! I can’t tell you how good it felt when, after introducing myself and my blog, I heard these words: “Oh, I’ve heard of you!” Initially, I react with surprise, “Really? You’ve heard of me?” But then my heart swells at the thought of someone I don’t know reading my words and thinking of me. Such a selfish feeling, but one that I think many writers feel. Right???

“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.”

I’ve read Blogging for Dummies and subscribe to Copyblogger. I research, read, and comment. But there’s nothing like actually meeting other bloggers and communicating with them in real life. I have gotten more out of a 2-day conference than I could’ve gotten out of a year of reading or only interacting online with my peers. It’s funny because many bloggers are rather introverted by nature, but in a conference setting this mutual understanding exists that allows us to let down our guard and relax. We just “get” one another. To use another Twain quote: “Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.” At BlissDom, it was about conversation. (And Harry Connick, Jr.) (And cotton candy martinis.) (But definitely about conversation.)

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

I had the pleasure of spending time with some of the kindest (and most fun) women I have ever met. (Like Aubrey and Sarah and Jennifer and Andi and Laurie and Sara from Denver who doesn’t have a blog and Gussy and Brigid and Alisa who is a kick-A writer but doesn’t have a blog either and Jana and Amber and Robin and Rebekah and Justice Fergie and Susan and Tamara and Heidi and Cecily and Mela and Chris Ann . . . whew!) I will in no way be able to name them all, so please forgive me if we talked and I haven’t mentioned you. The Opryland Hotel was literally saturated with kindness. Honestly, that place is amazing. I didn’t realize such genuine customer service even existed!

“Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”

I love, love, love this quote. How awesome would it be to live such a good life that even the person who stands to profit from your death is disappointed? Classic Twain: A deep thought wrapped in a humor crust, not unlike a good convenience store burrito.

So thanks be to Mark Twain, a blogger before his time. And don’t even get me started on how he would’ve ruled Twitter . . .

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