Transition from Transparency

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring why I blog and my values concerning both writing and my personal life.

I had originally intended to write about how I value transparency, and how my blog helps keep me humble because I put everything out there for all the world to see. How I write (or used to, anyways) about my faults and failures, about my weaknesses, and about my degenerate childhood to serve as both an example and a warning.

This is in contrast to when I was younger, before I became Christian and when I had several different masks I wore depending on where I was. No one truly knew who or what I was, least of all me, and I subsequently developed a tightly wound ball of neuroses that made healing and growing next to impossible.

On top of the lack of self-understanding, my fear of abandonment (stemming from a workaholic mother and a distant father) had led me to assume that if anyone knew the real me, they would turn away. That if I let anything slip about myself, or if someone found out what I had done or what I was, that I would lose what little companionship I had managed to garner. I hid out of fear.

When I first saw that people (Christians, notably) forgave me for my past sins… no, that sentence is not quite true. They didn’t forgive me, they just didn’t think about it. As Christians began to learn more about me and my past, it was a complete non-issue, and that was a huge relief to me. There was no drama: I’d screwed up, it was in the past, and we were different now. It was like being reborn with every truth I let fall from my lips.

Being brutally honest, wearing my heart on my sleeve as it were, was the only way I knew to excise those fears, doubts, and masks, so I committed to always be transparent. To not censor myself, and to not hide behind another mask. And this translated into my writing and blogging (beginning my freshman year of college), where I forced myself to be public with my private-most thoughts and concerns. To be honest, lest I fall back into that trap of fear and self-loathing. Blogging transparently, and living honestly, helped me break free of those fears.

Now, however, my writing is transitioning from that stage. I write less about myself personally and more about technology, the world around me, and interacting with that world. I censor both my blog and my social networking accounts (such as Twitter), not sharing certain thoughts or words, for fear of offending or alienating.

While this leaves me a little unsettled due to my previous commitment, I am comforted by knowing that I now have personal relationships, rather than the impersonal eye of the Internet, to keep me accountable and honest. I have friends who I know I can trust, and while my blog is less transparent than before, my friendships are far more honest than they ever were.

Of course, that means there are more arguments, more heated debates, and a few more apologies, but from these are friendships forged, as far as I’m concerned. If we cannot fight, trusting that the other will not walk out, then there is no real friendship there.

I am glad to have friends I can trust well enough to be transparent with, and equally glad that I need not put every detail on my blog just to keep myself honest. My blog entries from years past are nearly incoherent piles of worthless prattle, and not worth being read by anyone. By transitioning to writing about something other than myself, I am able to communicate something worth reading. I am free to give something to the World Wide Web that might help others, rather than pouring out my heart to only help myself.

Blogging about Communication

As some of you may be aware, SilverPen Pub has been around for a while. Despite its ostentatious name, it isn’t really anything more than my personal website where I throw whatever I want for posterity’s sake; a place to backup documents, share writing, and ramble about whatever I please. But as I continue to grow and change, this site continues to evolve, and in regards to content, I think I’m ready to take another baby step.

In the past, my blogging was simply a means of communication. It kept me in touch with a group of friends, and by interacting through LiveJournal and Xanga, we were able to keep up with each other more easily. Then my blog transformed into a collection of theological essays, where for the better part of a year I wrote something about religion, the Bible, or answered theological questions nearly every day. Once I got burnt out on that, I began to put all of my writing on the web: poetry, short stories, class essays, etc.

Transitioning from simply posting my writing on the web, I had the crazy idea of doing 100% of my writing through WordPress. I would publish items as I wrote them, with the goal of garnering feedback from readers to see what should be improved or changed. The problem with this is that it required too much linearity, and since I was working on uncompleted ideas without even an outline, it made that kind of rough. I recently decided to stop posting everything like that.

I’ve always wanted a theme for my site: some over-arching concept that pulls everything together. But finding such a theme was difficult, because I want to write about half a dozen different topics and the only unifying factor between them is that I’m doing the writing. As I climbed the stairs to our student union on campus, though, a surprising thought occurred to me.

Blogging has changed my life, just as it affects so many others, but it’s more than blogging. Simple communication is the key. Me talking to you, you responding, and the two of us sharing our thoughts and ideas with others. It will come as no surprise that a lot of people are uncomfortable with intimate communication, even if the subjects aren’t all that intimate, because they’re afraid to let people close or to show who they really are.

I’m fascinated by communication between people, particularly on the Web, and it is this fascination that influences most of my work anymore. In a year or two, I’ll be pursuing a Masters of Science in Administrative Studies with an emphasis in Communication, and I’ll probably try to write my thesis about the economics of social networking. Not how Facebook and MySpace are doing financially, but how the exchange of ideas brings value, and how people simply talking with others, forming relationships across the Internet, is directly contributing to those same people’s income.

So if I’m looking for a theme, and I love studying and writing about communication so much, maybe that should be my focus. At least for a while, so I can see how it goes. My core topics won’t really change, but I’m going to be doing a bit more research and come at things from that angle of communication.

Everyone uses their site, their clothes, their interests, and whatever else to communicate something about them. I want to look into this more deeply and talk about how we talk, why we say the things we do, and where we go from here.

I don’t know where it’ll lead me, but my curiosity will lead me along.

My WordPress SEO Strategy

So you’ve built your website, but now you want to know how to get people there. You’ve got a great CMS (WordPress, in my case) and you’ve heard something about the black sorcery that is Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but you aren’t really sure what to do.

No worries, because I’ve got two very easy steps for you. That is to say, they’re easy to wrap your mind around, and a LOT less ambiguous than what you’ll find on other sites. When I first started researching SEO, it seemed like no one quite wanted to get to the heart of the matter, which was a step-by-step account of what you should actually do to ensure that search engines index your site correctly.

First step: Follow this guide on Yoast’s website. You don’t have to do everything on it, but certainly give everything due consideration. For instance, I don’t use Headspace, but I absolutely use Robots Meta and Redirection. If you walk through that guide, taking his suggestions seriously and implementing most/all of them, you’ll see your traffic from searches increase.

Second step: Find topics about which no one has written… and write about them.

At face value, this seems a lot harder than it is, but you’d be amazed at how much has not been done on the Internet. I’m not going to give you a list of topics (because I’ve got big plans to start this second step myself next year), but look around for stuff that hasn’t been covered and cover it. This is what journalists do when they try to be the first to break a story. For bloggers, you don’t even need to break it open, you just have to do it right.

If you’ve ever gone looking for help online with a technical problem, be it with Windows, Adobe Photoshop, Linux, whatever, you’ve probably ended up browsing for minutes, hours, or days through myriad forums, wikis, and guides. You finally find the answers you need and figure out the problem, but now you have two options. You can move on to the next hurdle you have to jump, or you can document it.

If you are looking for help with a specific process/problem, chances are other people are too. So put together a very detailed, specific step-by-step blog post on how to do the specific thing you are trying to do, and be sure to use a boring but precisely accurate title (Using the blend tool in Adobe Photoshop to combine two landscapes, or something like that). In a lot of these cases, you’re not even doing much original writing, you’re just copying from forums/wikis/etc. (always providing citation to the original sources) and bringing everything together into one easy to find, read, and use page.

A good example of this is my post about How to Install Wrath of the Lich King on Linux. It’s not a particularly hard process, but a friend of mine was having a lot of difficulty with it. I got it installed, emailed him how to make it work, then thought I’d go ahead and throw those same instructions on my blog. To someone who has used Linux and Cedega for a while, it was relatively easy, but if this is your first go-around, it’s impossible. By providing the instructions in a simple, easy to read/use page, my traffic has increased significantly and I’ve now got a page that’s the first search result on Google for a topic.

You can do this too, just follow the two simple instructions above. 1) Optimize your WordPress setup to improve SEO, and 2) Write about stuff other people haven’t (admittedly, it helps if you’er also writing stuff that other people want to read!). Do that, and you can’t lose.