Walking the line between self-revelation vs. self-indulgence

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This picture of me and my family wearing Care Bear onesies might just be self-indulgent.
I was talking this morning with Cat Rocketship (editor of Offbeat Home), about the delicate balance that many of the Empire sites walk between first-person writing and, well, self-indulgence.

My book, Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides, is definitely more memoir than anything else — an issue that sticks in many a reviewer’s craw. This stupid book isn’t NEARLY as helpful as the website, reviewers have been known to write. And they’re not wrong: the book was written as a memoir/service hybrid, and the subtitle of the book adds to the confusion about what people are getting. (I brought this issue up with my book’s publisher when the 2nd edition came out. They poo-pooed making any changes.)

While the book may be all about me, me, me — with all the websites, I’ve been very VERY clear since the start that none of them are about me at all. Yes, my fingerprints are all over them, and yes, I share my stories in posts here and there — but none of the Empire blogs are focused on me (or any of the other editors for that matter), and that’s a very intentional editorial decision.

YES, blogging is a personal medium. YES, I want people’s personal stories. But if I’m planning my wedding, I don’t want to go to a wedding blog and see photoshoot after photoshoot of the blog’s author — I want material that’s going to help me plan my damn wedding! As a blogger myself, I know from first-hand experience that we really aren’t that interesting. I sit in front of a computer all day, typing things. Trust me: pictures of my readers are WAY more interesting than most pictures of me. (Possible exception: family Care Bear picture.)

But then it’s easy to swing too far the other way, with posts that are all “5 way to bla your bla without even blaing your bla bla” written by a nameless editor who could be writing for any service site. “7 bla blas you never expected to be bla” posts only get you so far, and then it all starts to feel like SEO fodder. First-person perspectives and stories are what the Empire is built on, so it’s not like I want to strip out the personality.

I think for me the big difference is building the bridge between the author’s experience and the reader’s take-away. “Here’s something I did” is boring; “Here’s what you can learn from my mistakes” is interesting. “Here’s how I did something awesome” is gloaty; “Here’s how you can do this awesome thing too” is interesting.

This is one of those editorial issues where there’s no easy rule. I think the goal is just to make the personal content feel relevant and interesting to people who don’t care about you. A first-time reader who’s never visited your site should be able to stumble across a personal post and have the same useful experience as a longtime reader. In other words, your readers shouldn’t HAVE to know you to enjoy your personal posts.

Comments on Walking the line between self-revelation vs. self-indulgence

  1. For the record, I found your book
    exceedingly helpful. Maybe it doesn’t provide the same visual inspiration as the website or the indispensable checklist that the website has… but the personal advice is incredibly valuable and thoughtful. It’s more like a psychiatric self-help book for the bride than the traditional planning tome.

    I even re-read the chapter on guest lists after I had a freak out over an RSVP (uninvited +1, non “significant other” stranger). Suddenly, feeling like a bouncer at your own wedding took on new meaning.

    I think your insight and the insight of all the editors is always valuable or interesting at the very least.

  2. I never really thought about this too much but that’s a good thing. It really is a good point that reading posts that are all about one person but not applicable to anyone else isn’t all that interesting, especially if it’s post after post after post. The mix of semi-transparent editor/author with useful content really works. Famous people can get away with it (Wil Wheaton, Neil Gaiman for nerdy examples), but only to a point. They do, eventually, still have to talk about something other than themselves and have to give their readers something to come back for. If your blog isn’t transparently about yourself (and you aren’t enough of a draw all by yourself), then you need to give your readers a reason to come back.

    I used to be super into crafting and stamping and card blogs. The best ones mixed personality with instructions. I could see what they did, they inspired me, and I felt like I was kinda their friend. Ok, a bit of a creepy stalker friend, but still a bit like their friend. I wouldn’t bookmark a blog that couldn’t offer me inspiration and I much preferred the blogs clearly written by someone to company blogs that felt like they had no personality.

    So I love that the Empire blogs feel like sitting down to have a chat with people who I like. And a chat about an actual topic, not just the rambling “so how are you today?” kind of thing. I can still learn things after my wedding, I can find interest in Mama even if I don’t have kids, and I can gawk at cool home things whether I’m interested in that topic or not. And I still feel like I could probably sit down and talk with any of the editors and find something to say beyond, “Hi! So your blog is cool.”

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