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Posts Tagged ‘bloggers’

Are women being harassed off the Internet? It’s happened to me

In behavior, blogging, business, Crime, culture, journalism, Media, men, Technology, US, women, work on January 12, 2014 at 1:10 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you read this long and thoughtful piece from Pacific Standard, an American magazine, by Amanda Hess about women bloggers being harassed, threatened and vilified?

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An excerpt:

The examples are too numerous to recount, but like any good journalist, I keep a running file documenting the most deranged cases. There was the local cable viewer who hunted down my email address after a television appearance to tell me I was “the ugliest woman he had ever seen.” And the group of visitors to a “men’s rights” site who pored over photographs of me and a prominent feminist activist, then discussed how they’d “spend the night with” us. (“Put em both in a gimp mask and tied to each other 69 so the bitches can’t talk or move and go round the world, any old port in a storm, any old hole,” one decided.) And the anonymous commenter who weighed in on one of my articles: “Amanda, I’ll fucking rape you. How does that feel?”

None of this makes me exceptional. It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection. Here’s just a sampling of the noxious online commentary directed at other women in recent years. To Alyssa Royse, a sex and relationships blogger, for saying that she hated The Dark Knight: “you are clearly retarded, i hope someone shoots then rapes you.” To Kathy Sierra, a technology writer, for blogging about software, coding, and design: “i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob.” To Lindy West, a writer at the women’s website Jezebel, for critiquing a comedian’s rape joke: “I just want to rape her with a traffic cone.” To Rebecca Watson, an atheist commentator, for blogging about sexism in the skeptic community: “If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain.” To Catherine Mayer, a journalist at Time magazine, for no particular reason: “A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47 PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING.”

Here’s a response from a female writer, in the progressive magazine Mother Jones:

She’s done exhaustive reporting on the failures of law enforcement at all levels to comprehend, let alone address, the emotional, professional, and financial toll of misogynistic online intimidation. She’s called local police, 911, and the FBI on a number of occasions when she feared for her safety IRL; law enforcement officials have recommended to her and other women that they stop wasting time on social media. One Palm Springs police officer responding to her call, she recounts, “anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘What is Twitter?’” “When authorities treat the Internet as a fantasyland,” she writes, “it has profound effects on the investigation and prosecution of online threats.”

It’s a painful read, but Hess’s piece should be required reading for anyone with an Internet connection. And check out this excellent response by Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic (a “6-foot-2, 195-pound man”), who recalls guest-blogging for a female colleague there who was on vacation. “I’d never been exposed to anything like it before,” he recalls.

I’ve fled a public space on the Internet — Open Salon — years ago after a really frightening experience there; my last post there is May 2012.

It’s a space — unlike some others on-line — that attracts some terrific writers but also some really weird, creepy people with a shitload of anger and animosity. I blogged there a lot for a few years, and usually cross-posted from this blog to that one. But what worked here just fine, there sometimes prompted some crazy-ass responses.

It got really ugly at one point, with dozens of commenters piling on to vilify me, mocking my resume (wtf?) and eventually escalating to the man who told me that he would physically hurt me if I continued there.

That was it for me.

I went to my local police station — I live in a small town north of New York City. The cop stood above me, barely listening, clearly dubious. Some woman whining about the Internet? Really?

Only when (too ironic) I started brandishing my legacy-media dead-tree credentials — 20+ years writing for The New York Times — did he start to pay closer attention. I also knew, (from a friend also posting at OS), that the man threatening me lived in Florida.

We thought.

I wanted to be sure he lived very very far away from me, so his threats were highly unlikely to come to fruition.

I also know a District Attorney and have some knowledge of the law. I pushed hard and the cops finally did determine that yes, my harasser lives in Florida but — so far — had no criminal record. I also pushed hard, repeatedly, to get the guy removed from OS and, finally, management there did so.

I haven’t been back since.

Having been, in 1998, the real-world victim of a con man, a convicted felon, I have no illusions that the world is filled with unicorns and rainbows, nor that law enforcement gives a shit about how absolutely terrifying it is for a woman to be threatened and/or pursued by a malefactor determined to do us physical, emotional and reputational harm.

They don’t.

So women have to figure this out for themselves.

Interestingly, very few trolls find their way to Broadside.

I have very strong opinions on volatile issues like gun use, abortion, women’s rights and more, but rarely express them — for the reasons stated above.

I have no time or energy to fight with trolls or to keep running to the cops for help.

And, yes, it’s very much self-censorship.

Ironic, in a medium designed for the maximum freedom of expression.

Have you or other women bloggers been harassed in this fashion?

Ten ways to blog better — (but 20 more you missed!)

In behavior, blogging, education, Media, Technology on November 11, 2013 at 1:44 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Broadside now has more than 8,060 readers worldwide, adding new followers daily.

Here are are 10 of the 30 tips I shared yesterday with the students in my webinar, “Better Blogging.” I hope you’ll sign up for the next one. I also do individual coaching; if you’re interested in learning more, please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com.

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Please use photos, videos, drawings — visuals!

I wish more bloggers consistently added quality visual content to their posts. Often, a well-chosen, quirky or beautiful image will pull in a curious reader more quickly than your very best words.

Every magazine or newspaper, and the best blogs and websites, uses illustrations, maps, graphs and photos — chosen carefully after much internal debate by skilled graphics and design and photo editors and art directors, each working hard every single day to lure us in. A sea of words is both daunting and dull. Seduce your readers, as they do.

Think like an editor

When you write for an editor, (as every journalist and author does), your ideas, and how you plan to express them, have to pass muster with someone else, often several. Their job is to ask you why you think this story is worth doing, and why now. (Just because you feel like hitting “publish” doesn’t mean you should.)

Who is this post — and your blog — written for? Have you made your points clearly?

Would your next post get past a smart editor or two?

Your readers are busy, easily bored and quickly distracted

All readers resemble very small tired children — they have short attention spans and wander off within seconds. Grab them fast! Keep them reading to the very end using “golden coins”. (Tip No. 30!)

Woo me with a fab headline

Magazine editors sweat over coverlines, the teasing short sentences they choose to put on their magazine covers, hoping to make you buy their edition over that of their competitors. Newspaper editors know they need powerful, succinct or amusing headlines to catch our eye and pull us into a story.

Have you ever studied some of the best heads? “Headless body found in topless bar” is a classic. This is an excellent headline as it immediately made me read the post — it’s bossy, very specific and focused on a place I know well. Sold!

Here’s a link to how to write great heads –  and another.

Break your posts into many paragraphs, and keep them short

Don’t force readers to confront a huge unbroken block of copy! It’s lazy and editorially rude. They’ll just click away, irritated. (I see this on too many blogs.)

Post more frequently

A blog that only pops up every few months is the sign of someone who just isn’t that into blogging. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it takes time. Once you’ve found an audience, your readers want to read more of what you have to say! Don’t disappoint them.

Or less

Some bloggers, giddy with the delicious freedom of being able to hit “publish” after every thought flitting through their head, post constantly. Do your readers really have that much time or interest?

We’re not writing for ourselves, but our readers’ pleasure.

Your readers probably don’t live nearby, and may not get your points of reference

While you assume we know the cafe/restaurant/politician/streets you’re referring to, we probably don’t. Remember that your readers — and potential new followers — are coming to you from all over the world. Which is incredibly cool! But consider  including links or a helpful brief explanation so we feel included, not shut out by our (natural) ignorance of what’s super-familiar to you.

English: Broadway show billboards at the corne...

English: Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Edit, copy-edit and proofread

Lightning — not lightening.

Palate — not pallet.

Spell-check will leave plenty of terrible errors in your posts. Read each one over carefully at least three times before hitting “publish.”

Introduce yourself

Is your “about” page still empty? Why?

In a world jammed with competing voices, why should readers choose to listen to yours?

Who are you? Where do you live? Have you any specific experience or credentials that add authority to your posts?

The best “about” pages include an attractive photo of you, some fun facts and a few paragraphs that give us a taste of your voice and point of view. It’s your very own editor’s page or movie trailer, and ideally makes us eager to dive into your archives.

I love the one here, at key and arrow, written by a young couple in Austin, Texas — it’s quirky, charming and informative. (Their logo and header are also terrific.)

PLEASE SIGN UP FOR THE NEXT WEBINAR — LEARN TO THINK LIKE A REPORTER — 4:00 p.m. SUNDAY NOV. 17 AT 4:00 P.M. EST.

DETAILS AND REGISTRATION HERE.

Tell me a little about yourself?

In behavior, blogging, life on August 13, 2013 at 1:09 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Now that Broadside is past 6,500 (!) followers worldwide, it’s time for some more introductions.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of you off-line — Lorna, Michelle, Danielle, Anne, Niva, Elizabeth, Cadence, Charlene, Jael — but am curious to know a little more about y’all.

Lurkers, yes, you!

I’ve enjoyed comments from new followers like Georgia and Darlin’ in Austin — whose blog Key + Arrow I’m loving, and Kathleen R., who teaches in Germany and Grace, a college student who writes Cultural Life.

I know, from checking the gravatars and profiles and blogs of every new follower, that many men also visit Broadside and some consistently comment, like New Zealand author Matthew Wright, DadofFiveboys, Rami the student/writer, Nigel, an Australian writer,  and Kentucky schoolteacher Paul Barnwell.

But there are legions of you who still — silently, comment-less — remain ghostly presences…

Who are you people?!

With a hat-tip to Lisa Kramer, of Lisa Wields Words, for the idea, please tell me/us a bit about you!

— Where do you live?

— If you’re in college or university, what are you studying? Are you enjoying it? If you’re a teacher/professor, what do you teach?

— Who are your three of your favorite bands/musicians/composers?

— Do you have a pet? Type? Name?

— What’s the view from your front window?

— Your favorite food?

— Dream job?

— Favorite author(s) or books?

— What’s a perfect Sunday morning?

I’ll go first…

— Tarrytown, New York, a village of 11,000 people 25 miles north of New York City, right on the Hudson River. It was named one of the nation’s 10 Prettiest Towns by Forbes magazine.

— I attended Victoria College at the University of Toronto, studying English, French and Spanish (English major), with a goal of becoming a foreign correspondent. I loved the intelligence of my peers and the high standards of my professors. The school is huge, with 53,000 students, which felt impersonal.  I worked as a reporter for the campus newspaper, which jump-started my journalism career.

— Tough one! Joni Mitchell, Bach and Aaron Copland. (Also, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones, Keb Mo, et al.)

— Just my husband!

— The Hudson River, the west bank of the river and the towns along the water’s edge. We also see the Tappan Zee Bridge, now under re-construction, with the noisy hammering sounds as they dredge the river bottom.

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— Maple syrup, closely followed by very good, creamy Greek yogurt. Great combo!

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— Running my own magazine with unlimited funds and a super-talented staff.

— Alexandra Fuller, Jan Morris, Edward Abbey (non-fiction); Tom Rachmann, Richard Ford, Balzac (fiction.)

— Waking up healthy beside my husband…cranking up some blues or rock and roll…blueberry pancakes and bacon…the usual three newspapers, in paper: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

Let the introductions begin!

The kindness of (blogging) strangers

In behavior, blogging, culture, domestic life, journalism, life, Technology, women on June 23, 2013 at 12:01 am

By Caitlin Kelly

So this little box arrived on my doorstep, with a return address in Los Angeles and $11.25 (!) in postage.

It rattled deliciously.

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My granola!

Improbably and very generously, Niva, who writes the terrific blog, Riding Bitch, had sent me some of her home-made granola — yes, really — all the way from L.A. to N.Y., a six-hour plane ride. She’d mentioned on her blog that she’d made too much.

I, of course, said: “Send me some?”

And she did.

Too funny. How completely bizarre, and lovely, that blogging made two women connect enough to send cereal winging its way across the vast fruited plains of the big ole United States.

This is the fourth present I’ve been sent by blogging pals, each of which was deeply touching and completely unexpected.

Elizabeth Harper, a fellow ex-pat, an American now living in Cornwall, who writes Gifts of the Journey, saw this bar towel and sent it to me across the Atlantic.

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Danielle, a young American lawyer who writes I Heart the Brazil, from Auckland, sent me (!) a gift card to my favorite New York City indie bookstore, Posman’s. Which I promptly spent, and am still loving the books I bought with it.

And C., who writes Small Dog Syndrome, (and who’s been working as my [stellar!] part-time assistant for a few months), sent a box of calming tea from her then-home in far-away Utah. More than anyone, perhaps, she knows when I’m on my absolutely last nerve. (Of course, this might have been a gently — ahem — worded suggestion I chill the hell out.)

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It’s hard to express how touching and lovely this is.

I’ve been writing for a living since 1978, with my work published in books, newspapers, websites and magazines and read by millions of readers — but only blogging has created this sort of sweet global bond, one that prompts us to email or call or send stuff to people we haven’t (yet!) met face to face.

It’s an interesting high-wire act, this calculated exposure, this calibrated intimacy — putting it out there into the blogosphere and awaiting a response. Blogging, more than any other medium, allows us to express some deeply private thoughts and emotions, which, and I’ve seen this for many years, emboldens others to say “Really? Me, too!”

Journalism is usually too structured and commercial a product to allow for this sort of authentic expression.

Whenever I get a paid assignment I consider myself a tailor — someone wants a suit made in gray gabardine or navy pinstripes in size 42 tall. Got it. They do not want me to come back months later with some wildly bohemian and personal Vision of a suit. They just want a suit, their suit, by X deadline, in X size.

Even my most personal of personal essays — one of which won my National Magazine Award for humor — was written for a specific audience, (Canadian women), and might well have read differently if edited by Americans for their readers. Ironically, the same idea was roundly rejected by Woman’s Day, a big American women’s mag.

This essay, written for The New York Times about my apartment building neighbors, was also created for a specific readership.

When I write for this blog, I have no idea who I’m talking to!

Well, to some degree, I do…There are regular commenters: an artist in Arizona, a student in Ohio, a professor in Massachusetts, a mother of six in the States and another mother of six in New Zealand. There’s a florist in Ecuador, a medical student in Lebanon, a celebrity’s relative, a 17-year-old in Ireland, a Maltese movie festival.

But I have no idea what will make y’all happy. I just put it out there and hope for the best.

Getting eyeballs is great.

Receiving pressies is pretty damn cool.

Thank you!

Are they reading your blog?

In behavior, blogging on June 19, 2013 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The first time I posted here — July 1, 2009 — I was shaking.

Seriously.

I’ve been writing for a living since university, and had grown very accustomed to attention and feedback for my ideas, photos and writing. Unlike many bloggers, this wasn’t my first attempt to gain eyeballs, just the latest iteration.

Would anyone ever show up?

Today, this blog has more than 5,400 readers worldwide, in Ghana, Malaysia, Lebanon, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, the Middle East, India. Crazy, but gratifying.

I’ve also been fortunate to have had my posts chosen six times for Freshly Pressed, which showcases a selection of WordPress bloggers every day. If you haven’t ever made time to read any of them, I urge you to. I always find something lovely or thought-provoking.

Every day, five to 15 new people find Broadside and decide to follow.

I’m honored, and really enjoy the diversity of readers, and comments.

For those of you hoping to grow your audience, some things to think about:

What’s your goal?

If all you want is to create an on-line record of your thoughts and work, I’m not persuaded that’s a blog that will ever gain much traction or many readers, while LinkedIn is professionally useful for this purpose.

Some people say they want their blog to be a place to process their feelings. Which is fine — it’s your blog. But if your real desire is to attract lots and lots of eyeballs, you’ve got to be a little more focused. No one, I assure you, has time or energy to read rambling navel-gazing better suited to a long private conversation with a friend, or a journal entry.

Every time you post, consider the question — what’s in it of potential value to your readers?

How often are you posting?

The metric I’ve read is to post three times a week, which I’ve consistently maintained. Some people post every day, which is too much for me to absorb as a reader and too much to produce as someone — like you! — with a busy life and many other interests and commitments.

If you’re pooped trying to make it all up without help — use links and timely, much-discussed news stories as inspiration.

Two women knitters with blogs, holding up thei...

Two women knitters with blogs, holding up their knitting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you showing other bloggers a little love?

I don’t follow a ton of blogs, but I look at the site of every single person who signs up to follow Broadside. I make it a point to visit the sites of people who “like” a post so I can “like” or comment on theirs.

Are you making your blog visually inviting?

I’m dismayed by how few bloggers seem to understand a basic principle — we’re visual creatures! We want something pretty or interesting or memorable to look at and think about, not just a big fat pile ‘o words. Zzzzzzzz!

Include photos, drawings, sketches, video to illustrate your posts. Since few bloggers bother to do this, yours will immediately stand out from the crowd.

How’s your punctuation, design sense, theme choice and layout?

I won’t read any blogger who simply throws down a huge chunk of copy, (especially white on black), without one single paragraph to break it up visually and intellectually.

It’s like yammering on without taking a breath. NO one anywhere in the real world gets away with that shit.

English: A Saturday afternoon barbeque for the...

English: A Saturday afternoon barbeque for the Progressive Bloggers on Parliament Hill, East Block, Ottawa, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you living an interesting life?

If your life is pretty quiet and routine, are you still offering readers some fun, quirky or moving insights into it? What value are you adding to my day in return for my attention?

Elizabeth Harper, an ex-pat American from Georgia now living in Cornwall, posts some of the most beautiful photos I’ve seen on the web. I keep her posts in my email forever just to go back and look at them. They’re like 17th century paintings.

Do you reply, quickly and authentically, to comments?

I try to reply to every single comment. If someone has made time to read long enough to care, to care enough to comment, that’s a hell of a compliment. Replying is polite.

Are you funny?

We all could use a good laugh — and I don’t mean simply plugging in a pile of gif’s. I mean seeing your world, and sharing it, in a way that makes us laugh along with you.

Are you too angry?

I get it.

Believe me, there are many, many things to rant about. But it’s got to be balanced out by something lighter. If all your blog is about is yelling and screaming and bitching and moaning — even if your target(s) are 100% deserving, you’re not likely to grow your readership into the thousands, even hundreds. It’s just too tedious after a while.

Tone matters

Your blog can be whatever you choose, of course. But which voice? Meditative, poetic, sassy, smart-ass, challenging, wise?

One blog with a very consistent tone, is Truth and Cake, written by Rian, a 30-something American woman who married a Canadian man and moved to Vancouver. She’s wise but not dull, encouraging but not sappy, firm but not bossy. I love her choice of header photo — snappy pink heels and all.

Another is Under the counter or a flutter in the dovecot, by Australian writer Nigel Featherstone. I enjoy his meditative voice and gentle questioning of almost everything. Every time I read one of his posts, my blood pressure drops.

Are you obsessed with being Freshly Pressed?

Easy for me to say, right?

Yes, being FPed will boost your visibility, big-time, probably adding hundreds of new followers within hours. But it’s not the only measure of your blog’s value. If your readers are reading, commenting, talking to you and to one another, it’s working.

Some blogs are just never going to make the FP cut: they’re too specific, too sexy, too curse-laden, too shout-y. Be yourself, but be realistic about the mass appeal of what is more likely to get picked by the WP editors.

Aim for the intersection of personal and universal

This isn’t easy, but it’s what works best.

I’m not a widow, but I’m eager to read what Niva, a TV writer in Los Angeles, is writing at Riding Bitch; her header photo speaks volumes about her spirit.

I’m not an educator, but I enjoy reading Mindful Stew, written by Paul Barnwell, a thoughtful high school teacher in Kentucky. Terrific bloggers manage to find a way to make their concerns matter to the rest of us, even if we don’t share, and never will, their specific experiences.

Are you passionate about your posts?

One of the worst habits I see in many other blogs is the written shrug. If you’re really that bored, tired or distracted, why inflict it on your readers? Bloggers like this annoy me. They want attention, but haven’t done anything special to warrant it, sort of like the five-year-old at the playground yelling “Mommy, watch me! Watch me! Watch me!”

OK. I’m watching, already. Whatcha got for me?

Are you open to differing points of view?

I’m happy that we’ve had some pretty heated (civil) discussions here. A perky, chirpy echo chamber is boring.

How much are you willing to reveal about yourself and your thoughts?

Possibly the most essential element, and one that’s damn hard to do well! Too much emotion and it becomes grossly confessional. Too little, and we never really get to know who you are, just some coy cipher. Yes, discretion is important, certainly for professional reasons. But a tidy/polite/buttoned-up blog becomes a big snooze.

Have you given your posts time to cool down?

It’s rare I write a post and hit publish. Many are refined for days, sometimes weeks.

I’d skip sex, religion and politics. But that’s just me

I rarely post on religion or politics, and almost never about sex, (sexual politics, yes.) Most of the time, it’s not worth it to invite/wrangle trolls and craziness.

What do you think?

What’s working for you?

What do you enjoy here at Broadside?

Here’s my last post about how to blog better, with tips…it got 96 likes, so it might be worth a look if you’re new here.

Thank you! Merci! Gracias! Danke!

In behavior, blogging, culture, journalism, life, world on March 28, 2013 at 1:39 pm

With 4,180 people now following Broadside, and 1,360 posts here to choose from,

Broadside Benefit 1979

Readers include:

— a tour guide in Ghana

– a medical student in Lebanon

– a journalism student in New Zealand

– a Toronto interior designer

– a translator in Berlin

– a mother-of-six in Australia

– an American father-of-five

– a Canadian woman living and working on a remote Australian sheep farm

– a Manhattan cinematographer

– a high school student in Paris (salut Hanae!)

I enjoy this diversity — although it’s tough to satisfy all of you!

I began my career when I was 17, when I sold three photos as the cover of a magazine in Toronto, so you’ll find posts about how to freelance and how to find work and how to deal with it once you’ve got it.

Many of you, like me, have traveled widely, and/or are currently, or hope to be, or have been ex-patriates. We’re  people who share a deep curiosity about the rest of the world and have explored it firsthand. My second husband is both American born, and of Hispanic (Mexican) heritage, so I also live some of these cross-cultural challenges in our marriage.

Some of the things I blog about:

How to live an ethical life?

What are our best “next steps”? And what will we do if they don’t work out?

What contributions, paid or volunteer, can we make to the world?

How can we and our families live (well) in a time of income inequality and restricted access to good jobs?

Can I really produce art — writing, music, dance, design, film, video — that touches people? How?

What drives creativity?

What does it take to make  friendship, family or marriage thrive, or wither?

What is success and (how) can I achieve it?

Making a home beautiful — on a budget!

As a twice-married Canadian who has lived in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, London, Paris, New Hampshire, Cuernavaca, Mexico and now suburban New York, I know we each see the world through glasses colored by race, gender, sexual preference, education, socioeconomic class, nationality and religion, (or none), just to name a few.

Toronto Skyline

Toronto Skyline (Photo credit: Bobolink)

I earn my living, and have since my undergrad years at the University of Toronto, as a writer of journalism and non-fiction. I’ve worked as a reporter for three major daily newspapers, most recently the New York Daily News. I write often for The New York Times, with five business features for them in the past year, with two more to come.

I’m also the author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, so if you haven’t checked them out, I hope you will. My newest, “Malled”, a memoir of working retail and an expose of low-wage labor in the U. S., is being published in China in June. I’m excited!

I won my National Magazine Award for a humor essay about getting divorced — that’s fairly typical for me. Life’s too short for constant draaaaaaama, and panicking — as they taught us in lifeguard school — usually just kills you faster.

I began writing Broadside in July 2009. Please take some time to roam around the archives.

Here are some of my favorite posts, all from 2009:

Why I read obituaries, and you should too.

— How summer camp changed my life.

— Why being a journalist feels like joining a tribe (in a good way!)

– What it feels like to try to sell your non-fiction book (it sold!)

Thank you for reading Broadside!

I'm Caitlin Kelly, author here.

I’m Caitlin Kelly, author here.

The joy of blog pals

In behavior, blogging, culture, life, women, work on February 16, 2013 at 1:12 pm

So I get this email a while back from Elizabeth Harper, an American from Atlanta who fell in love with an Englishman and now lives in Cornwall, and who writes the lovely blog, Gifts of the Journey: “I saw something that made me think of you and I’ve mailed it.”

I wondered what it might possibly be, while touched and grateful that a woman I’ve yet to meet or even speak to was kind enough to think of me and send me a present.

A pub bar towel. Thanks, Elizabeth! So fun!

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The other night, barely minutes after I posted, I got an email from Michelle in Minneapolis, pointing out (thank you!) a typo I’d missed. How unlikely, and helpful, to have a sharp-eyed volunteer copy-editor a few time zones in the other direction.

She and I had breakfast there in October 2012 when I went out to give a speech at the University of Minnesota. We had a blast. It’s the oddest moment, these blogging blind dates, when you finally put a voice, face and body to the person whose writing you’ve been reading for months, maybe years. She writes The Green Study, in a voice that’s consistently clear, crisp and no-nonsense.

Plus, the woman served in the military as a Russian linguist!

Depending what you write about, a fellow blogger may come to know you quite well indeed, and vice versa. I felt immediately at ease with Michelle, and we quickly fell into deep conversation.

English: Entrance sign at the northwest corner...

English: Entrance sign at the northwest corner of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first blog blind date was with Lorna, a young woman in Edinburgh who writes the blog Gin & Lemonade. I met her and her fiance, then beau, at a Manhattan bar.

On our recent vacation, we had a sudden family crisis to deal with and I knew, of all people, Elizabeth would know how to cope. It felt bizarre to fire a panicked email across the Atlantic, but she quickly wrote back a long and compassionate reply — a measure of her great kindness, as she and John had just survived a truly terrifying experience, a head-on collision. Here’s her post about it, with photos.

And then there’s C, who writes Small Dog Syndrome, which I’d been reading and enjoying for a while.

A few months ago, I needed a new assistant, someone really smart to represent me and my business interests. I need a challenging mix of charm and utter tenacity and wondered if she might be the one, and now she is. Thanks to her candid, tart blog posts, I knew we shared a love, and experience of, world travel and ex-pat life, and a stiff upper lip in the face of unpleasantness, personal or professional. You can’t intuit that from a resume!

Have you met or worked with any of your blog pals?

How did it turn out?

Life after being Freshly Pressed: tips, advice — and welcome!

In behavior, blogging, books, culture, journalism, Media on December 12, 2012 at 2:01 pm
English: Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité

English: Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whew.

More than 5,000 views (in three days) later, and 532 likes, life here at Broadside is back to normal. It’s fun to be featured, but the Niagara of comments is overwhelming if — which I do — you try to reply to each comment and visit everyone’s site who “likes” a post and/or who signs up to follow this blog.

For those new to Broadside, welcome! It’s a bit like throwing a party, happy to see old friends, and finding 300 people you’ve never met in your living room.

I blog every other day, sometimes a bit more often, on a variety of topics, often on writing. I am happy to hear dissenting views, but won’t tolerate rudeness, to me or others here.

If you want to argue a point, cool! But please do it with wit, facts and intelligence.

Insults are a direct route to the trash bin.

For those of you new here, I hope you’ll visit the blogs of some of the regular commenters here, like Nigel Featherstone, a writer in Australia; MrsFringe, a snappy mom in Manhattan, Michelle, a feisty, fun mom in Minneapolis; Rian, an expat American in Vancouver; the witty C, who I hope to meet for tea in London, Elizabeth, who traded Atlanta for Cornwall mid-life and the loquacious Rami, a student in Ohio.

A few thoughts on being FPed and how to get there, which Rami asked me about. I’ve been FPed six times, which is crazy, but flattering. The posts were about everything from why we need to thank one another, the lost art of conversation, how to write better to this most recent, about women’s obsession with their bodies.

I’m Caitlin Kelly, a Tarrytown, NY-based career journalist who writes for a living, and have been doing so since 1978, so blogging comes easily to me. I write frequently for The New York Times and have written two well-reviewed books. I hope you’ll buy them, and spread the word if you like them!

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” has sold well; it’s the story of my 27 months’ working in an upscale mall, and includes interviews with dozens of others nationwide, from the CFO of Costco to a woman who’s 51 making $7.25/hr — with a master’s degree and $60,000 worth of student debt.

Retail is the largest source of new jobs in this economy. Terrible jobs!

Here’s a link to both…

I’ve also sold personal essays to places like The New York Times and Marie Claire, so I have some experience writing for an audience about things personal. My second book, a memoir of working retail, is also filled with personal detail, interwoven with dozens of interviews.

So…how to get Freshly Pressed?

Be consistent

Blog on a regular schedule. People who start to enjoy your work want more! It’s frustrating to find a terrific blogger but never hear from them. People have short attention spans. Don’t let ‘em wander off.

Choose your tone

I think this is key. The blogs I linked to above each have a clear and consistent voice, some calm and meditative (Nigel and Elizabeth), some encouraging and upbeat (Rian), some funny and smart (C.) When FPs editors go looking for people to feature, they, too, need a good mix of voices. If yours isn’t clear and strong, your chances of being featured likely diminish.

Tags and categories!

Be sure you are adding these to every post.

Mix the personal with the universal

This is the toughest balance of all. Too personal is confessional and tedious. Too universal is too vague and no one can relate to it.

How about a call to action?

Several of my posts that have been FPed make clear I want readers to do something — Say thank-you! Start a conversation! Write better! They might not do any of them, but it’s clear what I want them to think about doing, at least.

What are people talking about?

Not the bloody Kardashians! But in a more general way, in the culture. It might be the U.S. Presidential election or Hurricane Sandy or unemployment or Christmas or Eid. People want to read something that’s current and meaningful to them.

Great headlines matter

Hard as hell to do well. Really hard. But the best posts draw in many readers with a funny, moving or quirky headline that make you want to read more.

Get angry!

One of the major changes I’ve seen recently in what’s featured on Freshly Pressed, (which I read every day), is their choice of material that’s more challenging and provocative, whether grief, divorce, politics. Women bloggers, especially, tend to be too polite. Say it loud and say it proud! What’s the point of blogging if you keep pulling your punches?

Read your competitors

This is pretty basic. If you really want your blog featured on FPed, you have to read at least some of what is chosen there to analyze what they’ve done so well. As a journalist and author, I read a tremendous amount, often envious of others’ clarity or turn of phrase. The only way to get better is to read the best.

Those of you who’ve been FPed — Rian, Michelle, others — what advice would you offer?

Why we write what we write

In aging, behavior, blogging, books, culture, domestic life, Health, journalism, life, Media on December 4, 2012 at 3:52 am
Sibling!

Sibling! (Photo credit: Gus Dahlberg)

Great post from Romanian writer/blogger Christian Mihai:

A lot of writers out there, if asked, will say that writing isn’t easy. But it’s not because of the rules you have to obey, or the conventions, or the need of a vivid imagination. Writing isn’t easy because you have to relieve the most painful moments of your life, over and over again, and then you have to write them down, hoping that they’ll matter to someone else other than yourself.

I plan to write a second memoir, some day, about my family, as people have urged me to do and as I want to do. But it won’t be easy or simple or fun. I have three half-siblings, one of whom refuses to speak to me and one of whom I’ve never met; the only time we spoke, on the phone from London to Quebec in June 2003, she said “See you at the funeral.”

Like that.

Readers of this blog know I occasionally touch the third rail of true honesty about some of the darker, tougher stuff in my life, like this post about how my mother and I have no relationship anymore, and have not spoken since May 2011. That post has 66 comments, and prompted some of the most honest and compassionate conversation we’ve ever had here.

My mother and I probably won’t ever speak again. I’m her only child. It hurts every single day.

But I don’t write about it, here or elsewhere for a few reasons:

– There’s no solution. She has dementia and is attended to by a woman I loathe who has made sure to paint me as a demon and she as the avenging angel. That script is deeply seductive to my mother.

– She lives a six-hour flight away from me and my limited time and funds for leisure travel don’t make me eager to step back into that minefield. I spent too many miserable years watching her gulp alcohol while I waited for the inevitable shit to hit a very large fan. It did.

– I loathe confessional writing that’s supposed to tug at my heartstrings. I don’t write it and I don’t read it. If I even have heartstrings, they are wrapped in five layers of Kevlar by now.

There is much I will never write about here. One female reader, from Kenya, asked me to write more about my struggles. I wrote her back to ask what she meant, but she never replied to my email.

Frankly, I’m not persuaded that focusing on struggle by writing about it to an audience of strangers accomplishes much. Writing about it can feel whiny and self-indulgent.

Although this writer, (a journalist and Hollywood veteran), who has produced only a few blog posts — each of astonishing emotional clarity — makes me feel differently about this subject:

I don’t know what my boss saw in me but I was relieved some good quality shined through. It was clear on the first day that we had a connection. She had lost her mother recently, and when she asked why I was jobless I said I’d moved home to take care of my mom while she was sick with cancer.

The day my boss hired me, she asked about the type of cancer and my mom’s age, and I told her the story. She was so sympathetic, I had a hard time not crying. Finally a workplace that was sensitive and nurturing, capable of seeing my pain and not finding it a turn off or unattractive.

Suddenly, all the things I didn’t enjoy about working in media and in Hollywood became obvious — the unspoken competitiveness between writers, the constant insecurity that you’re not young enough to be employable, the expectation that you will always be or act happy, the arbitrary way with which your work can be cast aside by a studio exec or an editor after months of toiling. Not knowing why they said no to publishing or producing your writing. It all creates this paranoia and lack of trust that permeates every action.

If you never read Freshly Pressed, you must start! I read it every day and almost always find something astonishingly good there; they’ve really upped their game from a few months ago when all they featured were photo, food and travel blogs.

I know someone, only peripherally, on Facebook, a male writer my age who is suffering — and that is truly the word — from Parkinson’s disease. I have very mixed feelings about the endless medical and emotional detail he spills there. I feel compassion but I also, I admit, feel irritation at so much uninvited intimacy.

That may be my problem, of course.

Here’s a lucid and lovely blog post by novelist Dani Shapiro on the disconnect — and it’s a very real one — between how private many writers really are and how public we must be in order to grow audiences for our work:

What I’m getting at here is the complexity of being a person at once deeply private and shockingly public.  A person who spends days — weeks — speaking as little as possible, a person for whom the word “hermitage” is appealing, and a person who sits in front of an audience, speaking into a microphone, telling stories (jokes, even!) and looking — in fact, being – comfortable.  It’s a split-screen, this writer’s life…It requires a kind of armor…

The absolute vulnerability necessary to write something real, honest, and universal is at odds with the public self.  Yesterday, during my event, there was a woman in the back row (there’s always one) who, every time I looked her way, rolled her eyes.  I mean, really rolled her eyes.  A full eye-roll, heavenward.  Her body language said: I’m not buying it.  It said, I’m bored to tears, when will this be over?  Now, the rest of the audience seemed very engaged, even rapt.  But because I’m a writer––because I am a sensitive creature with less armor than most––and, because in order to give a good talk, I in fact need to be vulnerable, I directed my talk to the eye-roller.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  How was I failing?  Where was I going wrong?  Why, oh why, didn’t she like me?  It’s the next day, and I’m thinking about her still.  This is no different from writers who can quote you chapter and verse from their negative reviews, but not a word from the glowing ones.  Or writers who troll their Amazon pages, only stopping to take in the one star reviews.

So what is the armor, then, that allows us to take part in the world around us, a world that will sometimes feel like just too much, a world that might insult us, or hurt us?  For the writer, I think there’s only one answer, and I’m doing it right now.  It’s to return to the solitude

What are you not writing about — and why?

What do you choose to focus your writing or blogging on — and why?

BlogHer 2012 — was it worth it?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, women, work on August 5, 2012 at 2:02 am
English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair par...

English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The conference is over, with its many parties just beginning as I write this.

Three days of full-on intensity, 5,000 bloggers in one midtown Manhattan hotel, about 80 percent of whom — maybe 90 percent — were female, and under the age of 40.

It’s not a pleasant feeling to feel ancient, but this conference was very much a place for 20-year-olds and their eager enthusiasm. I’m not being fair, because I did see a few women my age or a bit younger, some of whom  are well-known in that huge on-line community.

But I quickly wearied of hearing perky 20-somethings tell me they “mommy-blog”, as I searched in vain for people writing on books, or work, or business, or politics. Had I done my homework and really searched the site and reached out to people, I know I could have made those connections.

The 2013 conference will be in Chicago, July 25-27, and registration begins in a few weeks.

The Good

– The agenda offered a lot of choices, whether super-technical information or tips on writing.

– Running into five or six very good friends, a lovely surprise and pleasure with so many attending, like Heather Greenwood-Davis, a Toronto-based travel writer who just finished an around-the-world odyssey with her husband and two young sons.

– We were told that 85 percent of speakers are new each year, so you’re not hearing the same Cool Kids at every conference.

– Katie Couric, a television legend in the U.S., and Martha Stewart, another American media titan, were interviewed live on stage. That was fun and gave us a glimpse of these famous women being a little more spontaneous and human. I enjoyed that.

– There was lots of good food and drink, so we weren’t subjected to the usual conference horrors of overpriced, lousy food and $15 glasses of wine. (They actually gave us a fistful of drink tickets. Score!)

– I loved hearing 19 bloggers, including a man, read their work from the stage. Several were deeply moving and beautiful, like Susan Goldberg, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario (way north) with her partner and sons.

– I liked seeing women of every size, shape and color. One panelist, Cecily Kellogg, sported fuchsia hair and was wickedly smart and helpful.

The Not-So-Good

— Way too many people! Many told me they were frustrated and really annoyed at being, literally, shut out of sessions they had paid real money to listen to, some of them flying across the country to do so.  There were simply too many bodies for the venue.

— Way too noisy. I came home shaky, headachey and exhausted from the sheer volume of too many people in too small a space. If you’re standing a foot from someone and having to shout, we have a problem.

– Nowhere (at least nowhere obvious) to just sit quietly and think, read, chill, chat with someone. No one should ever have to sit on the floor!

— No way to quickly, easily and efficiently, every day, find fellow bloggers with your interests. It would be simple, easy and helpful to simply affix a colored ribbon to everyone’s badge showing what they specialize in.

I don’t know about you, but I simply don’t have the time, energy, stamina or patience to be all perky for hours (to be polite and friendly, which is what you do at conferences) with dozens of people with whom I have zero shared intellectual interests.

My larger question, which may be rhetorical, is if there is any useful and mutually respectful dialogue to be had — which I saw no evidence of (and may have been happening) — between old media (i.e. print/broadcast) and this new world of social media.

Old media, as you know, is focused on fact, ideas, provable assertions, reliable (one hopes) sources. Biased, yes, but evidence-based.

I am still uncomfortable in an insular, ego-driven world of all-opinion-all-the-time. I’m not persuaded that it, alone, offers lasting value without some underpinning of a more objective reality.

I also have deep reservations about women toting huge bags of “swag” they got from dozens of exhibitors, all eager for attention from this demographic — women who buy stuff.

Swag. i.e. free shit, included (no kidding), vibrators (bright pink, the size of my thumb), cooked sausage, toothpaste, feminine pads for women in menopause (who are no longer menstruating?!) and soy-milk ice cream bars.

One exhibitor told me many women swaggered up demanding to be paid to mention her products, or to be given free samples. Her company makes sinks, bathtubs and faucets.

You want a fucking free bathtub?

And — what has any of this gimmegimmeegimeeeeeeeee to do with great writing?

Nothing.

Long before you focus on your blog’s financial ROI, we should be focused on writing amazing work that people might, if we are really, really lucky, even remember years from now.

Or even a few days from now.

What do you think?

Were you at BlogHer 2012?

Do you think you’ll attend in 2013?

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