Miss Ryan’s 5-Minute Guide to Not Being That Guy

I am always happy that anything I write may be meaningful or inspirational for others in their own life journey.

Recently, I wrote a post on something I mused about, saw a “like” come through that someone enjoyed my post, and was very happy it spoke to them. The WordPress email that comes through always invites us to “see what they post on their blog.” So, I clicked one with a title very similar to one of my posts to see what the person had to say on our mutual topic.

Um, well … I need to put on my editor and teacher hat here for a moment and hope my readers will keep reading to the end because this is relevant to every writer, not just the fledglings, about writing and blogging etiquette. Some will recall that way back in 2012 I wrote a post entitled, “Miss Ryan’s 5-Minute Guide to Stress-Free Writing” that was a huge hit not only in the school system I was working in, but as a resource now linked to by various colleges as well. I was just trying to help out some high school seniors get a handle on how to start their research papers. This Volume II edition expands on those basics.

Creativity comes from inspiration that shows up in our lives from everywhere. As a writer, please do yourself a huge professional favor and start this very important ethical habit early in your writing career:

If you read something that someone else wrote and it inspired you, acknowledge where you got the inspiration and link back to the person’s original post.

  1. Start off your own version or summation of that original inspirational post with something like, “Saw a post [today/recently] that [inspired me/made me think/struck a chord/stopped me in my tracks/spoke to me/made me laugh/whatever], and wanted to share my take-a-ways.” In other words, acknowledge that you got the idea from somewhere and are about to share your personal thoughts about it.
  2. Then go ahead and write your post with your insights or the take-a-ways you got from it. Add in your own thoughts, insights, experiences and opinions about that stuff.
  3. At the end by means of acknowledging your source of inspiration (remember your academic term paper rules), add in something like, “Thanks to _____ (original post’s author) over at _____ (their website) for their [great post/article/insight] that gave me the [inspiration/opportunity] to [ponder my own experience/to smile/to reflect/to gut check/whatever] on this subject.” I believe this would be what Instagram refers to as a “shout out” but it’s not a paid promotion.

The reason I share this is because at some point, an aggressive writer who blogs for their livelihood may be very offended and publicly accuse you of plagiarism or stealing. You don’t want that kind of bad-mouthing of you getting out there in print on the internet if you are truly interested in pursuing your passion of writing (especially if you really are at fault, intentionally or not).

As we all know, if it’s on the internet, it may not be true, but it might as well be carved in stone for the rest of your lifetime.

Don’t risk getting your reputation dinged because you made some rookie-type errors early in your career.

As a preventative or remediation measure to avoid future trouble, some housekeeping on one’s own website may be in order.

Other than the de ja vu sense I got from the blogger’s post, what raised my eyebrow on the specific post that prompted this writing was not that their blog post immediately followed the fellow blogger’s clicking “like” on one of mine. It was that it was written as a blurted out report that came from out of the blue.

My editor self looked at the short posting as being painfully in need of an assist. Not only was there no reference to the prompting source as above, but no reference to the writer, how the message applied in his or her life to build an empathy bridge with the reader, or why they were even posting randomly on the topic.

Lack of knowledge may cause us to make serious gaffs (hence, this article to help folks not to make those gaffs), but it’s easily rectified by gaining the knowledge. Same thing about execution of that knowledge and putting it into practice.

In other words: don’t issue “do this” dictates or commands for others to follow without setting the context.

The post had no depth. At all. In fact, as I thumbed through all the posts, the blog had a lot of other very short random advice snippet posts. Same comment applies, especially to one where the writer was offering a short compilation of advice to a newborn baby… Um, is the writer a new father? Did a sibling have a baby and he or she is a new aunt or uncle? What prompted this collection of Cliff’s Notes?

There was no vulnerability on the part of the writer shared nor anything that draws in the reader to feel like the writer “gets” them. Without an emotional connection, there is no empathy.

The main thought I had scrolling down the page to look for the rest of the article was, “where did this nugget of platitudes come from?”

In other words, for those of us who write for a living, it was painfully obvious that those blips weren’t the author’s proprietary thoughts and that the person plucked them from somewhere but didn’t acknowledge their source of inspiration. Don’t be that guy.

Thought leadership that builds influence comes from sharing your own humanity and experience.

To leave that out of your writing equates to picking up a used notebook from a thrift store with a bunch of notes that don’t mean anything to anyone but the person who wrote them.

I’m not criticizing or attacking that specific blogger personally as I am sure their whole point of blogging is to share with the world tips on how to live a happier life, so the cause is noble. I am merely critiquing a young and enthusiastic would-be fellow professional on how to avoid seriously potential danger zones with regard to both critical writing technique and professional writer etiquette. You cannot build a loyal following if you don’t provide more than superficial value.

Like I said, I write and teach writing, especially ethical practices. For example, this is my personal blog for me to share random, free-form personal essays and musings, but it has turned into a go-to for undergraduate writing reference. If you click on my blog’s tag of “my best papers,” you’ll see a pile of assorted essays and college-level papers posted, most of which start off with some sort of brief commentary explaining its origin. My career did not require a college degree, but I decided to get one late in life, which is why I went through an academic curriculum to get the piece of paper to hang on my wall that says I’m officially an adult.

Along the way, I realized that a lot of simple and basic writing instruction is just not taught in schools. If half of the basics were actually taught in middle and high school, college would be much easier for students. I always wind up tutoring people in my classes on what should be basics.

Bloggers know that on their dashboards, it shows what link a visitor clicked to arrive at your site. Just my individual academic papers from five and six years ago still get my site anywhere from 300 to 500+ organic visits a week during college semesters, and I don’t advertise. It’s in the comments sections of those papers where most of the instructional info is as I answer students’ questions.

Getting back to the post that prompted this brings me to something most people in general suffer from: self-esteem and questioning their own authority.

What I saw missing from the advice post I was reading is the answer to the question a reader always has: “Who is this person to be telling me this advice?”

You may even feel like you don’t have the authority to give advice, but you have helpfulness inside you wanting to come out. Stop apologizing for your niceness. The world needs more nice people who want to help others. Don’t hide behind some thing or other. Be boldly nice. I’m nice. That’s why I’m writing all this out like I’m sitting across from the reader and having a one-to-one conversation. The internet is impersonal. We make it personal by building connections through our writing and our videos and our social media. Don’t apologize for standing up and saying, “hey, here’s something I learned from and want to share with others.” Being nice and helpful is its own authority. There are tons of folks out there who are authorities on being obnoxious, mean, crude, rude or any manner of negative influence. Don’t be those people.

Soapbox rant on that topic tabled for now. If that still doesn’t connect with you, however, and you believe you have to have a degree in some field or other, then go ahead and get one if that makes you happy. If your degree is in something completely relevant to the topic you want to dispense advice on such as a psychologist, social worker, holistic healer, etc., or you are a medical professional dispensing that level of health advice, fine. Brag about that to set up your personal authority to speak on the specific topic.

More mousey than nice? No academic degree? Are you a reader and learner? Good. Try this pep talk then:

Get your head around your authority issue by using the “acknowledge where you got the inspiration” technique above.

Letting folks know you are a lifelong learner who shares wisdom nuggets you find because “this is how it changed my personal perspective” makes it clear you are not just pontificating to the universe. It uses a reader’s empathy to relate to you and want to accompany you (and your writing) on a journey they relate to.

Linking back to the inspirational post or posts also opens up your possibilities to collaboration with other authors with huge audiences, which can get you guest posting opportunities on other blogger’s monetized sites as well as podcast interview invites. Just some possibilities to consider if you haven’t thought of them already.

Final words on this for now.

Please remember that all of our “old writing” will live on in the archives of the space-time continuum known as the internet. The day you become a best-selling author and start touring means everyone and their uncle will be looking you up for background info on you. If another blogger with influence bashed you in the past for “stealing” their thought leadership without giving them proper credit or attribution, that is a black mark on your reputation that could cost you a potential book publishing contract. Don’t think for a moment that publishing companies don’t thoroughly investigate a person before they consider publishing the person’s book. Even if you publish independently and go to promote your book yourself, some hater out there will be jealous of your success and look for things to bash you with.

Head that guy off at the pass and don’t give them any logs for their petty hater bonfire. Cover your bases ethically from the start to pave your road to success.

I get told quite often I should write a book on this stuff. I might. In the meantime, I hope those reading this “get it” quickly and go back and edit some of your own past posts accordingly to conform to ethical standards if anything looks a little hinky on the authority front, especially if only for CYA purposes. If you post frequently, take advantage of hunting down your most recent inspirational sources while they are still in your browser history to find. The important thing to always remember is to give credit where credit is due, not just because it’s ethical, but because as an online personality, cross-linking boosts your posts and website in the search engines.

If that’s news to you, Google it. Not only do links back to your original sources increase your site’s SEO and Google ratings, it’s the ethical and professional writer’s mandate to cite properly.

If you think any of the foregoing may apply in your case, I strongly encourage you to go back literally now and spend the time needed to comb through and edit every one of your posts if necessary to add in attribution nod-of-the-head information. The last thing you want to happen is to get enough internet fame to get you noticed by the folks who can get you to the next level and beyond just for them to find something on your site that they feel you “stole” from them without giving them credit for.

Um, ooops. Sorry doesn’t cut it once the damage is done.

Influencers are influencers for a reason, so don’t give anyone a reason to influence others against you! Again, don’t be that guy.

Let me know if anybody has any questions or wants a little more help on this or clarification about something. As a career editor, some things just scream “red flag,” but you may not know it’s a red flag until repercussions actually tell you it’s a red flag.

After-the-fact isn’t helpful.

That’s why I took the time to write here and not post a comment on the blogger’s post. Posting any of this as a public comment on someone’s blog would only come across as mean no matter how well-intentioned it might be, and I’m nice for a living so I won’t do that. My calling in life is an encourager, and I want to help people do what they love by mentoring where I can. I have a few young grasshoppers out there who ask me once in awhile to take a look at something for them before they post, and I am always happy to do so.

Many blessings, prosperity, gratitude and joy be with all of you on your personal journeys of blogging!

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