When I started this blog in 2012, I was thinking of applying to graduate school, and a friend told me that I should start to develop an online presence to give myself an edge over other applicants. He told me an easy way to do that was through blogging. Easy! Ha.
I’m not sure if it gave me an edge applying to grad school, but I did learn that it’s not actually that easy, and if you do it right, a blog can work for you in ways that you hadn’t thought of. My blog is something I hold very dear. It’s something I created from nothing, that I can share and use to connect with others. It’s followed me through lots of ups and downs. Here, I’m sharing with you the highlights of what I’ve learned in 8 years of blogging.
Your voice is exactly that–yours. And that’s why it’s valuable. Ahem, I’m looking at you, colleagues who’ve thought a million times about starting a blog, but then talked yourself out of it because it’s scary to put your ideas and your experience in front of other colleagues. I still have moments when I think, Oh I should really be more serious, or more academic, or more of an expert, or whatever thing I am not. But what I’ve found is that the things that make me different are what makes the writing valuable to others.
It’s easy to think, Oh once I’ve reached X milestone and checked everything off my professional to-do list, I’ll start blogging because then I’ll really know what I’m talking about. No! The value is in sharing your experience, while you’re in the experience. Now, I’m not diminishing the value of blogging by experts, but I personally love reading about other interpreters learning as they go along, and given the comments on my posts and the messages I’ve received from readers over the years, I’m not the only one.
Do what you need to do with the comments. It is scary to open yourself and your work up to criticism. Not everyone follows the “praise in public, correct in private” thinking. I am super sensitive and take everything personally (I’m working on it), so I feel like if I can do it, anyone can. You could blog and close your posts for comments, but really, what’s the point of that? (Although my very favorite blog, Crosses Rivers, does just that so it’s not like a hard-and-fast rule or anything). To me blogging has been all about creating a community and sharing and exchanging ideas. I have my comments set so that I have to approve them before they’re published. And guess what? There are some that will sit in the “unapproved” bin forever and ever. There are some that I published that didn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy, and they may get unpublished some day. The point is, it’s my little corner of the online space, and just like in my actual life, I get to decide who I do and don’t interact with.
Have some kind of plan, and don’t publish just for the sake of publishing. Bear in mind that the way I’ve lived my life has been this: The only plan is, there is no plan. I exist very comfortably in the space where I can make it up as I go along. And that’s not how everyone does it, so this advice may be limited in terms of its reach. My initial plan was just to publish once a month, and to speak to my colleagues. Ask yourself who your audience is and write to them. It took me a long time to ask myself what I wanted to accomplish with my blog, because its fundamental purpose has always been to simply process are share my experience in a creative way. If your goal with a blog is to establish yourself as an expert, or to get clients, that’s a different approach and you’ll want to read about that and think about it a bit in advance. You won’t see me giving any advice here about strategy or SEO.
Keep in mind that blogging takes time. It took me a long time, and lots of weekends reading FAQs and help articles to figure out even the basics, and it eventually got less time consuming. And this might be a personality thing, but it takes me many drafts to publish anything. I was posting once a month until 2015, when I finished my first year of grad school. During that time, I was totally overwhelmed and didn’t have much energy to put into blogging, though in retrospect I wish that I had written more and documented my experiences publicly while I was in grad school. Sigh. It’s also an exercise in acceptance.
Publishing once a month is a reasonable goal. If you’re feeling creative, sit down and write as much as you can and save those posts in your drafts to be lined up to be published. Jot down ideas for topics as they come to you. And don’t publish every month just because you said you would. This is your work with your name on it, and you want it to be good and useful and thoughtful. It will grow over time into a larger body of work.
It’s okay for stuff to evolve over time. Some of my early writing is almost cringe-y to me. Overly sappy sometimes. But I resist the urge to edit or delete stuff and I appreciate the evolution of my writing style. At some point, I switched from writing long narratives to more bullet point-y stuff (like this post). In the last few years, I’ve branched out beyond interpreting and written about some tangential things, like language fluency. Your blog doesn’t have to be a uniform piece of work, unless that’s what you want, of course.
Work and grow with your blog over time. Tend to it. Make sure the links are working. Respond as fast as you can to comments (the ones you want to publish, anyway). Thank people for taking the time to read and to share their thoughts.
Start before you are ready. Your to-do list can seem daunting, and there are so many choices in the beginning. What do I do first? Which platform do I use? Do I need a better headshot? Do I want an email address for my blog? Do I need a logo and a color palette first? What if I’m unsure of the name? If it makes you feel any better, I started blogging under a totally different name than I ended up with, on a different platform than I am now. After several months of writing, I came up with the name That Interpreter, and changed to WordPress. I didn’t have a logo made until, I don’t know, 2015? And the photo on the home page is seriously outdated, but I just haven’t had time to adjust the size of my current photo. It helps me to remember that nobody is standing over my shoulder waiting for that next post, or an updated headshot. At least I hope not. That would be weird.
My final piece of advice is to see blogging as a process, and we’d all do well to see our growth interpreters in the same way. It’s an imperfection practice, which has been important for me.
It’s been unexpectedly fun. Like really, really fun. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met through the blog. It’s been re-published and shared all over the internet. Nothing is more fun than meeting someone at a conference and hearing them say, “Hey, you’re That Interpreter”! In the end, it’s been an exercise in expressing my thoughts and feelings clearly on sometimes difficult topics, which is a really important exercise for interpreters.
My hope is that you find some of these tips useful. But selfishly, I just want to see more interpreter blogs! Do you have one, or have a favorite? Did you just hit “publish” on your first post? Share with everyone in the comments!