Why You Should Be a Copycat Blogger

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.

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?

 

Make sure you don’t miss a post.

24 Comments

  1. DannyBrown September 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    Great points all round, Judy. There is no such thing as originality anymore. There are, however, original takes on existing inventions, products, services, whatever.

    Besides, if you take something and improve on it 100%, haven’t you essentially made it new anyway? 😉

    Cheers!

    Reply

  2. flowerpotsun September 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    I love the advice to learn by trying on new ideas. Fantastic post, with a lot of great points for bloggers and writers.

    Reply

  3. JudyDunn September 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    @flowerpotsun Glad you took something away from this. Thanks for listening—and leaving a comment. : )

    Reply

  4. JudyDunn September 15, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    @DannyBrown Thanks. You are right. There IS no originality. Only new spins and improvements that only make things better. I love this line of thinking. And you seem to be incredibly good at doing this. : )

    Reply

  5. PatriciaYagerDelagrange September 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    I always enjoy reading your blogs, Judy. You know, I started blogging about four months ago and I never blog to writers exclusively (learned this from Kristen Lamb), but rather about any subject that people might find interesting. And I am not afraid of “putting my feelings out there” so people can know me. I have no idea whether it’s working, but I’m trying.

    Thanks for the tips.

    Patti

    Reply

  6. bdorman264 September 16, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    Never a good sign when your surgeon says ‘hey, I’ve never done on of these before; this should be interesting’.

    Interesting post and so true; everything is a culmination of all we have learned and seen and then it becomes our own unique creation.

    Being open and honest with your audience (w/in limits, use common sense) is always a good approach.

    Reply

  7. JudyDunn September 16, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    @PatriciaYagerDelagrange I think you are on the right track. I like a mix of posts: ones targeted to a specific audience and others that will appeal to the human being in all us. Blogs are really works-in-progress, aren’t they?

    Reply

  8. JudyDunn September 16, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    @bdorman264 Ha! But every one of them had to have their first surgery. Like in teaching, some parents would request that their kids not be assigned to a first-year teacher. But what other way do we learn to teach but by teaching? I love your second sentence here. We are impacted/influenced by others but in the end we make it our own.

    Reply

  9. callagold September 17, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    Judy,

    I wish I’d had you in first grade. This was a long and worth reading post. Thanks for the advice and the stories.

    Calla Gold

    Reply

  10. JudyDunn September 17, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    @callagold Nice to see you here, Calla. And that’s quite a compliment. : )

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment.

    Reply

  11. CatsEyeWriter September 27, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    @WritingH Marya, Thanks for reading—and for the compliment. Made my day. And how are you on this fine Tuesday morning?

    Reply

  12. AppliedBehavioralStrategies October 5, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    Thanks for this Judy. I’ve just discovered you and I’m excited to subscribe to your RSS feed. I’m curious, when you have a professional blog, as I do, should we still break away and share personal things? or do we keep it strictly professional?

    Thanks!

    Reply

    • JudyDunn October 5, 2011 at 9:35 am #

      @AppliedBehavioralStrategies Great question. I think we all struggle with this. (How much is just enough? And how much is too much?) My advice is to look at your target audience, your readers, and, first and foremost, give them what they need.

      And if your blog has a distinctive voice and personality, all the better. Lots of people in social media follow the 80-20 rule. 80 percent good, solid information and 20 percent fun, interesting and more personal stuff that gives readers a sense of who the person is behind the blog.

      I tend to share more personal stuff here on the Cat’s Eye Writer blog because I’m telling stories to drive a point home. I am also writing a memoir of my teaching years and want to give readers a taste of what’s coming in my book by including some scenes and stories from time to time in my posts. But within the context of this blog, the stories serve the purpose of helping people become better bloggers. I always tie them to that because that is the goal of my blog.

      I’m not a believer in the 100% transparency theory. There are some things my readers don’t need to know about me—even don’t WANT to know.

      My advice? Educate and engage and if you can entertain at the same time, you will have a compelling blog. (The entertaining part is not absolutely necessary, but it does add the extra element that many blogs out there don’t have.)

      Reply

      • AppliedBehavioralStrategies October 5, 2011 at 10:30 am #

        GREAT! thank you so much. I also meant to tell you that your teacher advice is spot on! I could not agree more! when I’m teaching new faculty, I teach them the same things!

        Reply

        • JudyDunn October 5, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

          Another educator, huh? Cool. Welcome to the Cat’s Eye Writer community. : )

          Reply

  13. courtcan October 19, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    Okay, Judy. That’s really not fair, making me get all teary-eyed with that story about telling your kids that you were scared, too. Not fair at all. ; )

    In blogging, I’ve used a mishmash of other people’s ideas and my own. It’s blog-as-lab time again! 😀 Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Blogging on two specific days of the week worked for awhile; then it stopped working, because I was just pressuring myself and feeling guilty when I didn’t stick to the schedule. Keeping each post tightly structured didn’t work, because my brain just doesn’t think that way. Letting each post be creative play–now that worked! And weaving bits of personal info into things has worked, too. My readers really like hearing about my struggles to protect my writing time. : )

    Reply

    • JudyDunn October 23, 2011 at 9:10 am #

      I am going to soon be entering that “protect my writing time” zone. I am almost finished with my book proposal and after some coaching/critiques of my outline and narrative arc, it’s time to fix the butt in the chair. Glad to see that you “copy” and massage ideas to make them your own. I think it’s the best way to learn. Thanks for sharing your insights, Courtney.

      Reply

      • courtcan October 23, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

        Judy, protecting my writing time is an almost daily challenge. Don’t get me wrong–I love my writing time. But there are days when it feels like a chore. The story is there, but I don’t want to put in the butt-to-chair time. (I get distracted by sparklies.) On those days, if anyone but anyone gives me an excuse to avoid writing, I’m hard-pressed to resist jumping on it!

        The truth of it is that I am the person I must protect my writing time from the most. But what’s brilliant is that once I realized this, the urge to protect only got stronger. : ) The struggle’s still there, but self-knowledge gives me an extra resource!

        Reply

        • JudyDunn October 24, 2011 at 10:50 am #

          @courtcan I know exactly what you mean. I blame a certain lack of self-disicpline on outside distractions (Facebook, the CNN website, etc.) but once I decide to start, I’m in the zone. I have days where I don’t look up from my writing for 2-3 hours! Other days it’s a real chore. I think it all evens out. And we each need to find our own, unique path.

          Reply

        • courtcan October 27, 2011 at 9:33 am #

          Judy, I have the same experience: Some days, writing is like slogging through knee-deep molasses in January. ; ) Other days, it’s a wild, waterslide ride from top to bottom — and then an express elevator back up so I can start the crazy all over again. Those, of course, are my favorite days!

          Sometimes I wonder, though, if we need those agonizingly slow days. Maybe those are the days our subconscious is forcing us to take a rest when we don’t want to? Or maybe those are the times when we’re really digging deeper than we think we are, getting at hidden treasures we didn’t know existed.

          Either way, I think you’re right: It all evens out eventually! Here’s to the uniqueness of every Writing Life! : )

          Reply

      • courtcan October 23, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

        P.S. Much success in getting your first draft down! Exciting times. : )

        Reply

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