Sunday, January 31, 2010

Don't Should On Me

I really don't like being told what to do with my blog.

I mean, really.

Others have posted about this -- about people literally telling you what to blog or not to blog or when or how to do it. MotherReader mused about unrealistic expectations some people have of bloggers. My Friend Amy posted about being a public reader. I thought aloud about what happens when we move from reading in private to reading in public, a few weeks ago and yesterday.

First thing: the single person who shoulds me the most and I just want to say "shut up already?"


Blogging for an extended time period requires serious self-motivation. Statistics are nice, comments are wonderful, review copies are awesome, but at the end of the day or the weekend when it's the blogger and the book and the computer, the only person making that blogger sit down, log on, and write is the blogger.

People who don't blog wonder at the time (as if they don't have areas in their own life that take up time!) but rarely realize the personal drive it takes, the discipline, to continue week after week, month after month, year after year. My fellow bloggers who survive the critical time periods (three months, a year) I salute you!

Which means I am my worst task masker, telling myself what I should read, what I should blog about, how often I should blog, what blogs I should read, etc.

So when someone comes along and basically adds to the loud shoulding in my head?

It makes me tired. It makes me sad. It can overwhelm, actually. And it annoys me.

Blogging for me (like most bloggers) is on my own time -- not work time, on my own time, carved out around work and family and friends and real life. And call me selfish, but I also like to go on vacations. Or spend time off-line. And, well, -- you may not believe it -- spend time on things other than blogging.

So when someone says what a blogger should be doing, especially in a "you're doing it wrong" way? Especially in a "here's more work for you" way?

It's like going into a person's home, looking in the pantry, and saying "you should be a vegan. Oh, and grow your own vegetables."

I know it's not that simple. I know that blogging is a voluntary, public act. As I said yesterday, one should have a thick skin about blogging and intellectually I know that includes shoulding.

But, still, blogging and writing and sharing about books and reading doesn't mean it's OK to have someone else say, "you should be grading your reviews." "You should have longer posts." "You should have shorter posts." "You shouldn't have a lot of your post be about plot." "You should write about older books." "You should ..." "You should..." "You should..."

Well. You get the picture.

Here's the thing. Most bloggers are thinking about what they are doing. Really. They are considering what they are doing, and how, and when, and why.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be discussions. Discussions are great! Discussions are fun! It's good to be open to and listening to different opinions. You may even realize you may not have thought of something. At the very least, you'll get a better understanding of where someone else is coming from and (hopefully) respect that point of view. Blogging, like life, is a process.

Some valuable dialogues have been held in the blogosphere, such as the ones that have played out over the last few months about books about and by people of color. Other good conversations include the many (sometimes heated) online talk about ethics. There have been, and will continue to be, great conversations about book blogging.

But back to "shoulding" instead of talking.

There are certain universal truths: spellcheck is your friend. Proofreading is good. Don't steal content. Give proper credit to others.

But beyond that... put two bloggers in a room, you get three opinions on the best way to do something. The dialogue is valuable but there is no One True Way That People Should Follow. (Other than spellcheck is your friend, etc.)

Maybe I'm just overly optimistic and positive in how I think about bloggers and what they do.

I know! Me, the cynic! The questioner!

I think bloggers take pride in what they do and contribute, and do so while looking for ways for ways to do their best and be better.

I think I'm not the only one who "shoulds" myself.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Color Online said...

Thoughtful and helpful post, Liz.

I hope more than not we are clear about what is dialogue and what is "shoulding."

You reiterate a lot of what I was taught about writing in general: develop a thick skin, listen to feedback and then objectively decide what is helpful and applies to your work.

Lastly, I try to and I do mean try not to take everything personal. Everything isn't about me. It helps a great deal to remember to focus on message and not on the messenger.

Marge Loch-Wouters said...

Lots of food for thought in your post and really a good call to think for blog readers and bloggers as well. We all have passions and opinions. I always think, wouldn't we be boring if we all thought the same things? But it gets definitely snarky when the disagreement takes the "shoulding" road rather than the form of a dialogue with respect. Thanks for tackling this.

Emma Michaels said...

I am a big self should-er... thanks fr posting this! Great post as always!

Liz B said...

Color Online: I tried to be clear (without being too wordy) that discussion = good. As for taking everything personal, tell me about it! Maybe it's because we also read alone? Just us and the post/comments we are reading? But I've read good shoulds (say, include the name of author in your post as an obv. thing) and thought to the computer "but I do!!!" as if it were about me. And have to remind myself it's not all about me.

Marge, passions, opinons, great. With the current Amazon dropping of Macmillan books, I'm sure we will see posts about bloggers being Amazon affiliates or not. I know I'm thinking seriously about continuing or not. But the first time I read somewhere "bloggers should not link to amazon, and should only support independent booksellers" my back will be up and my response will be "why should I"?

Emma, thanks!

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I am my biggest "shoulder" as well. I blog outside of work and do it on my time and don't get paid, so it's hard when people jump in and tell you how you should be doing something that's not even your real job. I like the dialouges that bloggers have, but I think we need to remember to be polite. Just because it's online doesn't mean manners go away. No one will agree on the best way to do things, but I think as long as we talk about it and work together, we'll have a stronger community.

Liz B said...

greenbeanteenqueen, maybe I overreact to it, but it sometimes feels like some should-ers don't get that this is a one person, after hours gig. and I know I can be guilty of shoulding others (I don't like reading umpteen blogs that not only cut & paste jacket copy for their reviews, but do so without crediting it to publisher).

but discussions, and talking it out, along with realizing that some of this stuff has to be discussed anew as either new bloggers join or old bloggers cross paths for the first time? always good.

Julie said...

Once after a storytime I was told "You really lost the kids during [x book."

You know what I say to critics and should-ers? Do it yourself.

Not very gracious, I know, but neither is criticizing or making excessive demands of a free service.

Charlotte said...

I'm currently drafting an intropective post of my own (it's my blog's third birthday), and am thinking of my own long long list of shoulds...


Stasia D said...

I'm finding shoulding playing a part in what I am reading. I really "should" read more tween stuff....should I read this fab adult title if I can't blog it? I hear what you are saying. It's tough, and I try to remember my genesis.. blogging to help folks find some tween titles. If I'm doing that okay, I guess it's all good.

Jen Robinson said...

You are certainly not alone in "shoulding" yourself, Liz. I have to keep my unread books in a room where I don't see they too often, otherwise they "should" me, too.

I definitely get irritated when other people tell me I should review more of any particular type of books. I am doing the best that I can with the time that I have available. Every book that I read is 100 other books (or more) that I'm not reading. And something I've found with myself is that if I spend a lot of my time reading books that I "should" be reading, instead of books that I WANT to be reading, well, that makes the whole blogging thing start to feel like an unpaid chore. And that's not good for anyone.

I am sometimes influenced when people I respect tell me what they've decided to do, and why, without trying to force it onto me. Often that will make me think ... hmm, maybe I should do that, too. (e.g. I saw you start mentioning the Amazon affiliate links in all your posts, without much comment, and I saw that and thought "now, that's probably a good idea.")

melissa @ 1lbr said...

I'm fortunate that no one has "shoulded" me yet. Even when I ask for people's opinions :) But I definitely tend to be the one pushing myself to do things on the blog.

Don't forget to take a vacation!

Doret said...

I agree with Jen. Reading only books you think you should be reading as opposed to books you want to read, leads to serious burnout and takes away all the fun.

To avoid getting burnout of children's books again, I have three tbr list.

Tasha said...

I am definitely guilty of should-ing myself. Not just about blogging but about a lot of things. I wish I could cut down on it.

But at the same time, I think that it is a sign of the self-driven personality that most bloggers have. It is one of the reasons we sit down and do this. Because we should. Because we need to.

Yes, we need to read the books that we want to. But it helps to broaden my reading to know that I should read books about people of color, should read books for a variety of ages, should continue blogging.

It's one of those two-sided things. Both good and bad rolled into one. We just SHOULDN'T let the negative side get out of hand! ;)

Lori L said...

Wonderful post Liz!
Is it something in the air, the "shoulding" from strangers? I've been faithfully blogging for three years now and recently had several visitors leave comments telling me what I should be doing. One even suggested that I didn't understand a book I intensely disliked and missed all the depth in it so I should re-read it. Normally I can just ignore these comments and delete them, but the bossy, condescending re-reading comment really ticked me off.

Pam said...

Great post. I have always done what is best for me and I do advocate for readable and navigable blogs. So maybe I am a "should" person...

Alison (Alison's Book Marks) said...


You said so much of what I've been feeling lately! To maintain a blog that bears your name and signature takes time, effort, and talent. Many people don't see it that way and add to your "shoulds" when we certainly put enough "shoulds" on ourselves. I said on My Friend Amy's "public reader" discussion - once it starts feeling like a job, I'm out.

For what it's worth...I love your blog!

Kathy B. at forwordsbooks said...

Liz, I am so behind in my commenting - I am "shoulding" myself.

Amen to this.
Thank you for this.
You are a blessing to the entire kidlitosphere community.

BookChook said...

Loved your title, Liz!

I sometimes read messages to bloggers that I interpret as "shoulds". For instance, on the kidlit list, there was discussion about people from the IRS or some other acronym taking an interest in where my review copies come from. I often have to remind myself that i don't actually live in the USA and can thumb my nose at any old IRS!

If the shoulds are external, I combat them with a strong vision of what I want to do with my blog. But ah, the internal ones are the worst, as you suggest. The only way I fight them is to build constant reality checks into my blogging life, and to "walk away from the computer NOW!"

jenn said...

This was so refreshing to read. I'm still finding my comfort zone in this blogging arena and all the "shoulds" weigh heavy on me. Everything from how often I should post, what topics I should write about, should I be more serious or silly, should I weigh in on controversies--not to mention the controversies add to that list of "shoulds" as well. It's nice to hear your voice hear echoing my sentiments. It makes it a little easier to tune out my personal "shoulds" and just focus on making my blog an enjoyable place for myself, which will hopefully translate to making it an enjoyable place for the visitors who stop by.