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5 Rules for Surviving the Cruel Blogging World

This was it. This was the last straw.

Sitting us outside in the sun I could understand. I mean, how were they supposed to know it was going to be 90 degrees outside in September?

And the musical numbers? Definitely a bit much for my taste, but I could live with those too. Hey, it was their wedding. If they wanted it to feel like Mamma Mia!-meets-The Bachelor, that was their call.

But a season of prayer for the bride and groom? A stinking, 15-minute-long season of prayer when it felt like my sweaty neck already boasted a third-degree sunburn? This was too much. This wedding needed to be flamed, and I needed to be the one to do it.

I leaned over to my wife, dousing her with neck sweat, and said, “I cannot wait to blog about this next week.” They were words I would come to regret later. And by “later” I don’t mean seven days later, I mean seven years later.

The Wedding on the Sun happened back in 2002, a time when my blog was lucky to get 10 visitors on a busy day. Complaining about a friend’s wedding ceremony, while incredibly shallow and immature, wasn’t a big deal because no one read anything I wrote. It was a tiny tree of selfishness falling silently in Al Gore’s Internet forest. But fast forward almost a decade and things have changed.

My blog has grown from a way for my mom to keep up with my life into a place where I try (and often fail) to make my readers laugh. My readership has grown from 30 visits a week to more than 300 a day, and the folks who appreciate my bizarre sense of humor have begun to form a fun little community of readers.

I’ve grown a lot too. I’ve got two kids in grade school, and I’d like to think that all those years of parenting have made me a little better at handling the unexpected inconveniences of life, like sitting through an impromptu season of prayer in a crowded sauna. So it’s all good right? Well, not quite.

The problem is, the Internet is vastly different than real life. Unlike the hazy memories that fade from our minds every year, nothing disappears from the Web. All those trees that fell silently eight years ago are still lying there, archived in the form of ones and zeroes, just waiting to be read.

What makes the Internet so amazing is also what makes it dangerous: You have the power to publish what you create, but once it’s published you are almost powerless to destroy it. With this in mind, here are five rules to live by as you share thoughts, opinions, and verbal beat-downs on your blog.

1. Think Big Before You Get Big

So you want to take a stand on controversial political issues or share your favorite bedroom tips for maintaining a healthy marriage. That’s fine as long as you’d be comfortable writing the same post if your audience was 10 times the size. If not, then maybe you shouldn’t publish that idea. Consider it the online equivalent of the “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” maxim. The point is, never get careless with your content because your readership is small. That’s a surefire way to keep it small.

2. Think of Every Post As a Mass Email

Before you hit “publish” ask yourself these three questions:

• Would I be comfortable with everyone in my address book reading this?
• Who’s the first person that comes to mind that might be offended by this?
• In light of those two answers, is this still worth posting?

If your answer to the third question is “no,” make the necessary changes or scrap it altogether. If your answer to the third question is “yes,” go live with your post and then make yourself a Hot Pocket.

3. Everyone Is a Potential Reader

Just because someone has never read your blog doesn’t mean they never will. You might think your blog is a safe place to complain about your boss, your nose-picking uncle, or your socially awkward associate pastor, but all it takes is a few clicks on Facebook or an ill-fated Google search for that someone to find you. There’s no such thing as an anonymous blog anymore. There just isn’t.

4. Blogging Is the New Time Travel

Your January 19th, 2011, blog post isn’t going to stop representing you on January 20th. Those words about the boring evangelist that spoke at your church last week or the disaster of a haircut your professor is sporting are going to represent you for the next month, the next year, and for the rest of your life.

Unless we find an island with a glowing center and a four-toed statue, you won’t be able to go back in time to erase some of the awful things you wish you’d never written. All you can do is the next best thing: Avoid writing them in the first place.

5. Season Everything with Grace

Before you write that flame, trash that person, or mock that movie-length wedding ceremony, make sure you’re not being stingy with grace. This is not about neutering your opinions or pretending to be someone you’re not, it’s about understanding the power of words and being responsible with them. The truth is, being liberal with grace isn’t just good advice for your blog, it’s good advice for your life, too.

I learned these lessons the hard way when my friend Janelle—the one with the two-hours-in-the-oven wedding—started reading my blog a couple years ago. As soon as I found out she was a reader, I went back and edited my post about her wedding, changing key details about the who, where, and when, just in case she ever stumbled into my archives. Little did I know, it was too late.

She told me later that the first thing she did when she found my blog was click on the “’September 2002” section of the archives. She wanted to see if I had written about her wedding because she knew I was there. And there it was. The blog post that was only read by 20 people the week it went live was read by the one person I did not want to read it seven years later.

Thankfully for me, she’s a good sport and a much better friend than I. She admitted to being a little annoyed at first, but said she got over it almost immediately. “It was my day,” she told me with a huge smile. “I really don’t care what anyone else thought of it.” I was so relieved.

“Plus,” she added, “it was really hot that day”.

“I know, and don’t get me started on the season of prayer,” I said before I could stop myself. Hey, I guess some of us are slower to learn than others.

Bryan Allain is an engineer, writer, and speaker who lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two children. He blogs daily about the humorous side of life, faith, and pop culture at BryanAllain.com. He misses LOST more than you do.

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