Guest Melissa Ford – Blogging and Books

The idea for Life from Scratch  came to me while I was crossing a library parking lot, holding a stack of cook books I had checked out.  What if a woman used the year post-divorce to teach herself how to cook?  A half hour later, during my next errand to the food store, I wondered what if that woman became a blogger and that’s how she found the voice she lost during the marriage.  Over the next few days, I tugged and twisted the skeleton of the story out on paper, throwing in a best friend and some siblings, an ex-husband and a new lover.  And voila — I had a book.

Okay, it took more like six months or so to write it, but I had the bare bones of a book.

You’re supposed to write about what you know, but I think people take that idea in such a literal se nse that it limits them creatively.  I’ve never been divorced from a marriage, but I have been divorced from a job, and that first year away from work was scary and life-changing and regretful and joyous.  It wasn’t the same thing in the least, but it was a window into understanding what friends spoke about when they talked about their divorce.  The job I left had started out as a wonderful connection and had turned into a soul-draining relationship over the years.  In my case, it bordered on abusive.  I completely lost my voice and was too terrified to express what I needed.  Leaving was the right step, but it meant relearning a lot of things.  We financially had to learn a new existence.  The daily rhythm of my life changed.

Without my career, I was free-floating for a few weeks.  The excitement of the first few days (“no work today, yay!”) turned into anxiety (“holy shit, no work today… what am I going to do with myself?”).  A random trip to a bookstore changed everything when I saw a cooking school textbook on sale.  I couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars it would cost to go to cooking school, but I could afford $49.95 for the textbook.  So I started at the beginning and taught myself how to cook.

Which is not to say that like Rachel, I considered toasting an English muffin as close as I would get to baking my own bread.  I was a decent cook before I started my cooking school for one.  I became someone who understood how to write her own recipe, who understood how to deconstruct someone else’s food and rebuild it again.  It really wasn’t about cooking at all.  It was about finding my passion.

I did start a short-lived blog about my personal cooking school where I posted some recipes.  My husband helped me set it up because he was in that first wave of bloggers on the Internet, and I thought that it was amazingly cool that strangers read his posts and followed our lives.  He linked to my blog and some of his readers came over.  It was intoxicating to get those first comments.

I stopped posting in that space because I didn’t need it.  I think for a blog to be successful, you need to need it.  If you don’t need it, you won’t take the time to write there regularly and then it ceases to capture your life if you are swinging by every few weeks to jot down a random idea.  I needed to cook, but I didn’t need to write about cooking.

I found the space I needed a year or so later when my husband and I were trying to conceive again.  We had gone through fertility treatments to conceive our twins (again, if you’ve read Life from Scratch, it connects to writing what you know… sort of), and I had become massively depressed during those years.  My husband suggested that I start a blog as an outlet as we got back into trying to conceive, and I also wanted to connect with other infertile men and women for a book idea I had jumping off of an Ask Amy column.  So Stirrup Queens was born.

I needed to write Stirrup Queens, and I needed to read other bloggers and talk with them via the comment section on their blog.  While I loved Stirrup Queens from the beginning, it took a little time to find my rhythm and make it feel like an electronic version of myself on the Web.  A written extension of myself.  It was Melissa Ford, in word form.  I think my voice has changed over the years.  Like Rachel, I am a general diarist who happens to concentrate on a certain facet of her life.  Where Rachel writes about cooking, I write about my uterus.

My blog has gotten a large following.  I’ve won awards, gotten work based on my blog success, published two books due to that space, and have gotten amazing opportunities, such as going to the White House.  All because I started a blog.  So I am continuously asked how one goes about building a large following online.  What is the secret?

Here, come close to the screen and I’ll whisper it…
Need your space.

Okay, it’s not as simple as that, but that’s where you have to start.  Need your space.  If you need it for yourself (not to build a platform or get a huge audience) and need to write there regardless of whether or not anyone reads it, you will build the foundation for a great blog.  At first, don’t worry about what anyone else is writing or whether they’ll even want to read what you have to say.  Just enjoy your space on the Web.  And when you find that your mind goes to your blog when you’re away from the computer; when you jump there mentally because it’s your happy space — a comforting space — you are ready for the next step: connecting with others.

Read other blogs.  Comment on them (that’s the important part — people will find you when you comment).  Not just once or twice, but go back over and over again, reading every post and commenting when you can.  Expand that reading circle to new blogs, and comment on those blogs.  And at the same time, keep writing your content.  Don’t compare yourself or feel self-conscious.  Just write what you need to write; write the type of stuff that you would want to read.

Get involved with online projects such as IComLeavWe or NaBloPoMo.  And most of all, don’t quit.  Don’t get frustrated that your audience isn’t finding you quickly enough for your taste and walk away.  Finding your tribe takes time.
I write often about how to build your blog traffic or how to leave a good comment, and while there are general guidelines you can follow (and certainly things you should never do), like marriage, there is no one, clear line that leads to happiness.  Though, just like novel writing, you need to start with what you know.
Which is how I came to write about someone so unlike myself (okay, so maybe I’m a bit neurotic like Rachel) — a divorcee who can’t cook and is dating a Spanish photographer — who is based so deeply in what I do know — that it is scary to leave your old life behind even if that life doesn’t work anymore; that sometimes when we can’t find our voice orally, we can find it via a written medium; and that we all need those human connections, to not feel as if we are a tiny voice shouting into the ether, but to know that we have something to say and people are hearing it.

Author Photo Credit: Mary Gardella

FROM DEBRA:  Do  you blog or wish you did?  Can you just put it out there without feeling self-conscious?

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16 Responses to Guest Melissa Ford – Blogging and Books

  1. lois greiman says:

    Welcome to the convert, Melissa. So good to have you. Life From Scratch sounds very interesting. And daring. It’s always a challenge to put a part of ourselves into our work. But I don’t think there’s another way to do it.

    • Mel says:

      Absolutely. You said it perfectly: it is hard (but necessary) to put a part of ourselves into our work. It’s what makes the story resonate for someone else; because it comes from such a real place.

  2. debradixon says:

    Welcome, Melissa! I think you’ve put a finger on something many writers struggle with–finding a voice and finding an authencity in the writing. One of the reasons a daily personal blog has never beckoned me is that I do feel the best personal blogs are those of people willing to share their lives in a fundamental way and who have something to say, something they need to say. That goes right back to “needing your space.” Right now, I don’t need that much space, so this group blog has been the best place for me. I can need my little bit of space. (g)

    • Mel says:

      And sometimes a little goes a long way 🙂 I think people also need to be comfortable when they’re writing every day that their voice is going to change. They’re going to try on different voices, different turns of phrase, different ways of tackling a subject.

      I can sometimes look at an old post and date it by looking at the voice.

  3. leannebanks says:

    Welcome to the convertible Melissa! Loved hearing your process for both your book ideas and your blogs! How cool that a blog you were so passionate about not only helped you get work (yay!), but also an invite to the White House! Congrats on making your passion your success!:)

    • Mel says:

      Thank you — I feel like so much of it is a game of dumb luck. Why my blog over someone else’s? If anything I’ve learned can help someone else, they’re welcome to it. Though I don’t think there’s a template (as much as we wish there were) we can follow to a T to get X result.

  4. Michele says:

    Welcome, Melissa, and congrats! I just went to Amazon to get Life From Scratch for the Kindle (a nice free download) and you are #1 on the bestselling free Kindle list! Whoo!

    • Mel says:

      It’s a crazy feeling to know that so many people out there (who aren’t related to you!) are reading your book. Thank you so much for downloading it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

  5. kylie brant says:

    Melissa, congrats on the new book! I congratulate those with personal blogs. It’s all I can do to comment several times a week here and come up with the occasional blog idea! I find it can suck so much time but I think if I were doing it daily it would be more of a stream of consciousness thing. Like, hey I love my new phone…or did anyone else notice it’s a full moon?

    Full moon! Idea for blog post next week!

    • Mel says:

      Absolutely — I think that I spend less time on it now than I did in the beginning too, just because it has become muscle memory. I can think something and know whether or not it is going to be worth writing. And by worth it, I mean “worth it for me.” I can never predict what will strike other people, so I always start with what I’m getting out of it. Am I getting something off my chest, etc.

  6. Helen Brenna says:

    Hey, Melissa. Welcome and congrats on the books! Blogging is changing our world, no doubt about that!

    • Mel says:

      Thank you so much! And I think blogging is changing it for the better. It’s different, but it levels the playing field a bit and gets more voices out there.

  7. Welcome, Melissa! Thanks so much for the link to your advice on blogging, especially increasing traffic and making good comments. I’ve been publishing books for over 25 years and the part I like least in promotion. I love to chat with people, and as long as I think of blogging as exchanging stories and ideas, I’m fine. So I’ve wondered about the comments. When people visit the blog, do they read the comments? Or do they just add theirs and move on?

    Ohmygod, you met the president. omygodohmygodohmygod….

    • Mel says:

      I read the comments before I add mine unless I want to get down what I’m thinking BEFORE I’m influenced by anyone else’s thoughts.

      I have to admit, the promotion part is the least favourite part for me too 🙂 But I do like blogging regularly and see it more as the exercise portion of writing rather than the promotion. I try out ideas on the blog; think through things aloud.

  8. cindygerard says:

    Hi Melissa
    What a cool blog you have! And what a great way of expressing yourself. I’m going to start ‘needing’ my space better :o)
    Congrats on the new release, btw and thanks for riding with us today!

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