On your way to becoming an A-list blogger, marketer, copywriter, or author, you probably try on ideas. Maybe you even use them. You take the advice, apply it to your personal situation and make it your own.
Some might say that’s the definition of a copycat.
If you have ever learned a new skill, you know that watching others is the first step. Kids on a playground do this shamelessly. They watch how a friend runs into a rope and keeps the rhythm while getting into the jumping part—all without tripping over the rope.
Or one kid paints an especially interesting picture of a house and everyone around him tries to make one just like it.
In learning to be a teacher, I was a hopeless copycat.
I was desperate for actions that would work, especially to keep a first grader’s attention without shaking her by the shoulders. I copied my supervising teacher when I was an intern. I copied the teaching superstars, the ones I observed in the university’s lab school. I copied the 63-year old teacher next door in my first year of teaching.
Because I hadn’t discovered what worked yet and I hadn’t found my personal style.
If you look at the successful bloggers, if you followed them before they were skyrocketed to the blogging stratosphere, you’ll see that they, too tried on different hats along their journey.
We improve by trying on ideas
As I write the memoir of my teaching years, I smile as I think about how some of the things I copied in teaching I also tried in blogging. And, of course, some of the advice was just plain bad and I didn’t go near it.
“Give them clay on the first day. It keeps their hands and brains busy.”
“Honey, they’re going to be scared,” the gray-haired teacher next door said. “Give ‘em the clay right away. Working to soften it keeps their hands and brains busy so they forget about their fears. It gives them a purpose—something to do.”
Because if you don’t give them a goal, they’ll be wandering around aimlessly, with no focus. Wondering what the whole point of school is.
Blogging lesson: Your readers are not first graders, but they still need to know that you have a point, that your post has a purpose. They want to know what it is you want them to do. So state your goal in your headline and early on in your post. Then end with a question. What do you want them to think about? What do you want them to do?
“Don’t let them see you smile until Christmas.”
This advice is just plain absurd. Yet it is still being given to impressionable rookie teachers. The thinking is that they’ll all start acting like goofballs if they see their teacher as anyone but the stern task master.
Blogging lesson: I didn’t follow the advice then and I don’t now. Because it is no way to build a community. The more you can open up and be a real, live human, the more your readers will do the same and that is when the really good discussions happen.
“When your class is out of control, turn off the ceiling lights to get their attention.”
I fell for this one because I desperately needed a clear strategy for making my students listen. In my teacher intern experience, my supervising teacher used it to get the kids to focus. Lights off meant heads down on desks and quiet.
It seemed to be easy and effective. So I used it. Until one afternoon in my first year of teaching a car hit an electrical pole near the school. It was my best math lesson yet and my students were making me proud when suddenly we lost our power. The heads of 29 kids obediently went down on their desks. It was the last time I used the lights out trick.
Blogging lesson: Don’t use a blogging strategy because it works for someone else. It may not be the right solution for you and your readers.
“Never say ‘I’m sorry,’ I’m afraid or “I don’t know.’ Your students will lose confidence in you.”
Bad advice that was. And so against everything I knew about human nature. In reality, honesty and showing a little vulnerability is what works. Why wouldn’t it?
On the first day of my teaching career, as they worked on their clay, Chris, the tall, blond-haired boy in the second row, wore a deep frown. A lone tear trickled down his cheek. Katie, the girl to his left, was on the edge of her seat. She looked at me and back at Chris. Suddenly, all eyes were on me.
In a stroke of genius, I stopped acting like I knew everything in the world. I stopped acting like a teacher. I held up a piece of clay one kid had shaped into a ball.
“You know,” I said. “I feel just like this piece of clay.”
Now the room was deathly quiet.
“My stomach feels like it’s rolled up in a thick ball. Were any of you afraid to come to school today? Maybe like you didn’t know what was going to happen and you were afraid you would do things wrong?”
At least 10 kids nodded.
“You know, I’m scared, too,” I said. “See, it’s my first day as a teacher. Ever. And I’m afraid I won’t know what to do. How to do things right.”
I waited for some kid to say, “Look out. Ship’s going down!,” followed by a mass exodus of 29 six-year-olds, running for their lives.
Instead, I saw faces starting to relax and shoulders rising like 10 pounds had been lifted from them.
Katie raised her hand. “I think you’re a good teacher, Mrs. Dunn,” she said with a lisp. A couple of other kids chimed in with words of encouragement.
The tide was turning. And it was because I was honest with my students. It was a lesson I never forgot.
Blogging lesson: Now, granted, there are times when you just have to keep your thoughts to yourself. If you are a surgeon and it’s your first operation, you’re not going to say to your patient, “Hey, it’s okay to be nervous. I’m scared, too, because this is my very first surgery.”
Or you’re a pilot who just got her wings and your pathetic voice comes over the speaker. “Good morning. We’ll be flying at 39,000 feet. Just wanted to share with you that this is my first flight. I really hope I don’t screw up.”
Okay, you could say that, but it might not go over very well.
The takeaway for blogging is this: be open and honest with your readers. Admit your fears and mistakes. Because no one has all the answers.
What about you?
Do you try the ideas and advice of others?
Do they ever serve as a springboard for your own new ideas?