5 Takeaways from the Blogging While Brown Conference

A couple of months ago, I decided to get my act together, start blogging again and figure out ways to get my name out there.  One idea that came to mind was to look for speaking opportunities at conferences where my story might be unique.  That’s when I remembered a conference a friend mentioned to me back in the day called Blogging While Brown.  This year’s location?  Washington D.C., which happens to be my current place of residence.

The main point of any conference is to network, but my plan was to attend as a more passive participant.  After all, 90% of what I learned about blogging came from Google and trial and error (I learned the other 10% from Joe Bunting and The Write Practice), might as well attend a real life session or two. Also, I thought I’d check it out to see if BWB was a place where I could pitch something in the future.

I went, and here are my takeaways:

I can make the mobile version of my blog look better!

I attended a session on the Mobile user experience and discovered that it is sooo 2012 for a blog to not look right on a smart phone.   Naya Scarbrough gave a great presentation about designing a blog with the user in mind.  She reminded us that there is a pretty good chance people are reading our blogs on a phone and we should act accordingly.  She also provided some thoughtful tips on how to assist readers who are visually impaired.

I agree with the concept (I mean, my favorite writers are the ones who write with the reader in mind) I’m just lacking a bit in the skills.  Still, I was inspired by the session and, as of today, you no longer see a weirdly cropped version of my header when reading my blog on your phone! Woo hoo! (But I had to change themes to make it happen, which is why my blog looks slightly different now).

Podcasts are the new blogs.

Last month my friend Nicki (who I’ve known since high school) started a podcast called Side Hustle Pro focusing on women of color who turned their side hustles into full on businesses.  When she first told me about the idea, I was really impressed- a podcast, wow!  So cool!  Even though I listen to podcasts literally every day, it never would have occurred to me to start one.  Nicki was at the conference too so I joined her at a workshop hosted by Rob Walsh called “How to be a Podcasting Rock Star.” By the end of the session, I knew Nicki was onto something.

I don’t remember the exact stats but basically there are a million blogs out there and like 1000 podcasts.  Of those podcasts, 75% are hosted by men.  This means that the podcast market is a lot less saturated than the blog one, especially if you’re a woman.  Rob Walsh also pointed that it’s simply easier for people to consume podcasts.  Where it’s hard to multi task while reading a blog, you can listen to a podcast while walking, driving, riding the train, working, exercising, whatever.

So why is everyone blogging?

Black people blog about gaming.

And everything else.  One of my favorite parts of the conference was the Black Weblog Awards*.  The awards ranged from Best Fashion to Best Business to Best Gaming or Comics Blog.  I loved that because it was a reminder that black people blog (i.e., write) about all sorts of topics and do it well.  So shout out to the gaming/comics winner The Deep End Review as well as the person behind Quirky Brown Love (Best Original Graphic Design winner), who made this point in her speech.

There is a point to personal blogs.

At the start of the conference I was still wondering if I should change the direction of my blog.  It is essentially a personal blog because I write about my views and experiences and don’t really try to teach anyone anything or sell anything (although those are welcomed side effects, especially when this book comes out).  I thought, should my blog be more intentional in these ways?

Spoiler alert: The answer is no.

It was the winner of the Best Personal Blog award, Yetti Says, who reminded me why personal blogs are important.  On Yetti Says, she writes openly about mental health issues and made the point that sharing your experiences publicly does a service for people who find themselves in situations similar to yours.  As she spoke I remembered that they was a large reason why I started this.  I imagined that one day I would reach my goal of publication and people would want to know how I did it.  My blog would show them that it wasn’t easy, that I had doubts along the way, but I was able to make it happen- and therefore so could they!

On the other end of the spectrum, words from Arsha Jones–a speaker at the conference who is all about turning page views into dollar signs also convinced me to keep doing what I’m doing.  I told her I had this blog and eventually a book to sell.  She said that authors really do have to sell themselves on their blog to get people interested in their books.  I took that to mean I should keep doing what I’m doing.

 “Writing Your First Book” is a valid topic for a session at Blogging While Brown.

As I mentioned, one of my goals of this conference was to identify potential opportunities for me to potentially speak at it in the future.  What do you know, one of the sessions was called “Writing Your First Book” by Stefanie Newell.  I couldn’t go because I had a conflict, but I think that’s something I’ll be able to talk about one day!


*If you’re wondering why the Blogging While Brown conference had Black weblog awards, I believe it is because they took over the awards from another organization.  Still, it might be worth expanding in light of the conference name…




What It’s Like to Write for One of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers (Not this One)

Did you know I write for another blog?

Yup.  It all started a year or so ago.  I was following a bunch of writing blogs, and one day The Write Practice put out a call for regular contributors. I applied and got it! This week I learned that it was named one of Write to Done’s 2015 top 10 blogs for writers! Woohoo!

I would like to say this accomplishment is because of me (heh, heh), buuut I actually first discovered The Write Practice because it won the same honor in 2012 (or 2013?). Still, it feels pretty good to know that I at the very least have not brought it down.

Anyway, the experience has been cool. It’s made me a part of a solid virtual writing community. Joe Bunting (the founder and manager of the blog and basically my boss) gives me blogging tips, writing encouragement and Starbucks cards! And because each post includes a writing prompt, our readers are actually really involved. They take 15 minutes to write a scene or two and post them right in the comments.  It’s awesome to see!

One of my favorite posts is when I asked readers to write a scene from the point of view of an animal. The attempts were so funny!! I even took a stab at it myself.

Generally, however, I try to write posts that coincide with what I dealing with a writer.  So, for example, if I’m struggling with my POV, I’ll write a post about POVs.

I also try to reference writers of color and female authors as much as possible. It’s like Chris Rock said (more or less)-  sure, minority/female writers aren’t the only ones who need attention, but the chances are much less likely that they are getting it already. It’s just harder out here when you’re not a white dude (just click around my blog to learn why).  To the extent I can help, I’m like—why not?

The post (written by me) that got the most comments was when I asked readers to describe this Italian painting and then compare it to Zadie Smith’s description. Zadie Smith isn’t my favorite author, but my goodness that woman knows how to draw an image with her words. I felt really inspired by her skills, and it was cool to see others were as well. I’ve also written posts inspired by everyone from Walter Mosley to Uzo Iweala to a Washington Post Press Pass mentee.

Anyway, The Write Practice has more than 200,000 subscribers and accepts posts from guest bloggers all the time. If you’re interested, I encourage you to submit one for consideration!!


Pouncing on Opportunities

As I trot along in my legal career, I often receive advice about how to position myself for my long term goals. Network! Gain exposure! Join organizations and associations! Communicate your goals with others! It seems exhausting. But then when I ask people about how they became partner or in-house counsel or [insert important legal position here], inevitably their opportunities emerged from a combination of everything I mentioned above and, of course, “hard work.”

For better or for worse, I have internalized these lessons—with respect to my writing career. Every time I see an opportunity to network or get my name out there, something inside of me tells me to pounce!

First, was this chance to become a regular contributor to The Write Practice—exposure to 40,000 monthly subscribers for doing the same thing I’ve been doing right here for the past year? Pounce! Guess what peeps? I GOT IT. Every other week, they will feature a post from little ole me.

Then, I learned about this new organization called the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. For $50 a year, you gain access to free courses, resources on agents and conferences, and electronic friendships with other writers and potential beta readers. Of course I hesitated about spending more money on this, but–again–I couldn’t help but gear up like my cutie cat Jack (NOT pictured above) when he spots his favorite toy—opportunity? Pounce! I joined. Since the group is so new, everyone is “friends” with everyone else on the site—meaning I’m now connected to dozens of published and aspiring women’s fictions authors. I’ve even found some writers whose blogs I follow on a regular basis on there. Pretty cool!

So I sort of feel like I am on the right track and setting myself up for success, which is great—except 1) these opportunities also mean more responsibility and 2) I still have to deliver a novel. I’m making progress, but as I’ve mentioned, editing is a bi-atch. It always takes longer than I expect, and the more I do, the more I realize I have to change/fix. I feel like I’m doing this crazy balancing act, where my goal is in reach, but if I’m not careful, everything just might fall apart! (Side note: I’ve noticed that when I say stuff like that, it sometimes causes people to worry—don’t worry! Right now, I feel more steady than not, just not completely secure). That’s all for now. Look out for me on The Write Practice!!