The Bipolar Burble blog welcomes guest author somePlaywrights, a collaboration of two writers based in Annapolis and Brooklyn, who face, seemingly weekly, a struggle to succeed as a creative, bipolar collaboration.
On its own, the practice of creating art is bizarre: fusing this abstract feeling with that concrete image, trying to convince others of something only you can see, and all the while endeavoring to balance concept with content. With the addition of bipolar disorder, a condition that is just as, if not more, slippery, firm, and fleeting, the artistic process often teeters between genius and delusion, between coherence and disunion. It is in this realm, where mania meets medium and depression intersects with artistic production, that we, as bipolar artists, must carve and claim our collective space…
I’m a bipolar writer. This is not news to anyone. As a person with bipolar disorder, I naturally have good days and bad days. Specifically, I naturally have average days and horrifically depressed days. And it impresses people that the Bipolar Burble blog manages to stay running through it all. Every week I get one or two posts up no matter what.
So people have asked me, how the heck do you do that? How do you keep a (popular) bipolar blog going through the depressed times?
Nevertheless, some people, not so much. Today I received this regarding my writing:
I hope this individual kills herself for writing this bullshit.
Go fuck yourself you ugly bitch.
This comment never made it online, for obvious reasons, but as I’m the moderator, I see it nonetheless.
Intelligence and Bipolar Disorder
This comment was in regards to this post I wrote on the intelligence of people with bipolar disorder.
In the post, I point out that people with bipolar disorder are not, in fact, more intelligent than the average person and, actually, exhibit cognitive deficits. You can go read the post for details, but basically, people with bipolar disorder suffer from a variety of cognitive deficits which may factor into your definition of intelligence. (You’ll note that, in the article, each cognitive deficit contains a link to the source for the information. You’ll also note that I never said anything about creativity. It may be the case that people with bipolar disorder do show more creativity.)
And boy, do people take offence to that fact. There is this prevalent myth out there that people with bipolar disorder are somehow brilliant and that’s a good part of having bipolar disorder.
One could argue that I am a famous mental health writer. Under “mental health writer” on Google, a post I wrote is on the first page and my bipolar blogs are on the first and second page of the Google search results for “bipolar blog.” Moreover, I have over 35,000 followers on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
So yes, I’m arguably a “famous” mental health writer.
And lots of other people want to be where I am. I get questions weekly from people starting blogs or writing careers who want advice on how to go about doing it. Well, if you want to be a famous mental health writer, or just plain old build a following, here are a few tips.
Well, like a travel writer writes about travel, I write about mental health. Perhaps my type is not as common as a travel writer, but mental health writers are out there, nonetheless.
And, I have to say, it’s not easy being a mental health writer. It means talking about unpleasant subjects on a daily basis and facing parts of yourself that you’d probably prefer to gloss over. And it means forming an opinion, standing up and standing by that opinion even when it’s very unpopular. (At least, that’s what being a mental health writer means to me.)
And making a living is hard and there are no vacations, no weekends and no sick days.
Every six weeks or so I like to do a quick round-up of writings I’ve done elsewhere, just in case you’ve missed them. This session’s round-up include subjects like assisted outpatient treatment, self-harm and mental health stigma. Here are some of the notable articles:
- Assisted Outpatient Treatment Thoughts – I’ve previously written here about assisted outpatient treatment (AOT; also known as Laura’s Law) and I’ve written two additional pieces on Human Rights and Assisted Outpatient Treatment and Does Assisted Outpatient Treatment Work?
- Self-Harm Thoughts – I’ve been on a bit of a self-harm jag recently and I’ve written about Stress Leading to Self-Harm, created a video on Stress, Anxiety and Self-Harm and whether or not to Hide Self-Harm Scars. I’ve received some amazing and touching comments on these pieces.
- Credibility and Mental Illness – ironically, by admitting I write under a nom de plume I seem to have lost credibility with some people on a very post talking about Losing Credibility Due to a Mental Illness.
- Acceptance and Mental Health – as I wrote about Acceptance of Bipolar Disorder Being a Process, acceptance of mental illness treatment is a process also, including the idea that Taking Medication Makes you Weak. This includes information on accepting the limitations placed on us by bipolar disorder.
- “Soft” Bipolar – information on what Bipolar Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) is. Indications you might be bipolar even if not traditionally so: Soft Signs of Bipolar Disorder.
- Drug-Free Treatments – Alternative Treatments for Bipolar disorder, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Bipolar disorder and Drug-Free Products to Help you Sleep better.
- Understanding How Lithium Treats Bipolar Disorder – mice are helping us understand bipolar disorder and lithium.
Last week on HealthyPlace’s Breaking Bipolar I mentioned that I use a nom de plume. Yes, that’s right, Natasha Tracy is not my legal name. I don’t think this should come as a gigantic shock to anyone given as writers have been writing under pen names since the beginning of the written word.
But apparently it did come as a shock. And apparently people felt betrayed by this piece of information. And apparently some people felt like being rather nasty about it. And apparently some people felt like becoming ex-readers over it.
Well, OK, fine, that’s your prerogative. But I have my reasons for not using my real name. Here are a few.
I don’t want people knowing where I live. I don’t want stalkers.
Allow me to relay a short tale to you.
Writing and Death Threats
I have a good friend who is a writer. He writes on sensitive, emotionally-charged subjects similar to mental illness. And is the case with us online personalities, he got death threats. Horrible, but not something that isn’t expected in the world of the internet.
My friend was the kind of person who did share real details about his life and family and he did use his real name. So when it came time that a stalker really hated him, the stalker found out where his kids went to school and made threats against them.
Yes, that’s right, threats against his kids. Deplorable. Unthinkable. And illegal.
And if you think I’m going to facilitate that type of behavior where I’m involved you’re downright batty.
No, I’m not in the Book
The reason that I don’t use my real name and I don’t tell people exactly where I live is because I don’t want a real-life stalker. It’s because I don’t want someone to make death threats and easily have the capacity to follow them through. It’s because my privacy is important to me. It doesn’t mean I’m not open, or honest, or even make public appearances and videos, but it does mean that you don’t get to be able to easily find me. That is not your right.
I want to be hirable in fields other than mental health.
Again, a short story.
I was working for a very fancy software company. One that makes the software you’ve probably got on your computer right now. I worked among some of the smartest people you can imagine. Their big brains were barely contained in our building.
And while I was working there I had a vagul nerve stimulator implanted. The details aren’t important but suffice it to say that when it activates it cuts off my throat and makes it difficult to speak. So if I was in the middle of a conversation with a co-worker I would wave a magnet in front of the computer implanted in my chest to turn it off so I could continue speaking. I never told people what it was or why I did that, trying to make it as inconspicuous as possible.
However, my co-workers decided on their own that the device must have to do with my heart and that every time I waved something over that area of my body it must be because I was so stressed in the conversation that something was going wrong with my heart. My co-workers assumed that I couldn’t take the stress of the job due to something that had nothing to do with stress.
They just made a judgement without facts.
(I didn’t know this for a long time. Eventually one of my co-workers told me.)
And once I found this out I realized that’s why people had started treating me differently – not because there was anything wrong with me but simply because they perceived that something was.
Employees Judge You
And you can bet the judgements would have been worse if, heaven forbid, they thought I had a mental illness. People suggest that others don’t judge you for your differences when this blatantly isn’t true. I had a slight difference that produced no change in my behavior and yet it changed the way other people treated me. People can be biased and bigoted and small-minded. If nothing else, it’s a subconscious thing.
Employers Judge You
And even worse, in the same environment one of the employees was assumed to be bipolar. And he had to leave the country (and finally the company) to get a fresh start because of how it affected how people treated him.
These are not things I made up. These are things that I have witnessed, things that I have lived. If your experience has been different that is great, but I wouldn’t risk having that kind of experience again. I just wouldn’t.
(Keep in mind that I’ve work in very-corporate America where backstabbing and politics run extremely amok.)
Employers Google You
And let’s not forget that before any techie geek is hired the employer Googles the heck out of them and if they were to find my writings, judgements would run rampant.
Why I Use a Nom de Plume
So, quite frankly, death threats, stalkers, prejudice, hirability and other reasons are why I use a nom de plume.
And I will not apologize for that. You can judge me and feel it discredits me if you like, but I believe my work speaks for itself and your judgement speaks considerably more about you than it does about me.
I started the Bipolar Burble eight years ago anonymously. And for the vast majority of that time, no one read my blog. Oh, sure, I had a few avid readers and a person would stumble on it now and then, but even after I started producing decent content, no one read it.
Which initially was OK by me. I didn’t write for others, I wrote for myself, so if I had one, lonely reader, then that was fine, I still felt the urge to push pixels around.
Until, of course, it wasn’t fine. Then I had to figure out why no one read me and figure out how to actually get people out there to know about me. And so people ask me all the time: How do I get people to read my blog? How do I find an audience?
Figure Out What Your Blog is About
Ah, you say, but I know what it’s about, it’s about me!
Well, good for you. How many people are putting your name into a search engine? Unless you’re Ashton Kutcher, I’d wager, not many. You might want to alter your focus.
Pick a topic that interests you and that you can stick to, day after day after month after year – like, say, mental illness. And then be prepared to write on your topic and only your topic for a long time. Changing topics (like I’m doing right now) might confuse and fracture your audience.
Make the blog topic broad enough so that you can write many things but narrow enough so that you can identify a group of people who would be interested. For example, My Pet Parakeet, Pete is specific, but may not find much of an audience. Whereas Cheery Chairs is a pretty broad topic but it might be difficult to identify the segments of people deeply devoted to it. Chairs for Parakeets might be something in the middle.
Write Great Blog Content
No matter what you choose to write about, your content had better be stellar. It has to be something that connects with people so that people will want to go back to it again and again.
And make sure that content stream is constant – 2 blog posts per week at a minimum – more is better when building an audience.
Figure Out Who Cares about your Blog’s Subject
Once you’ve decided to go with a topic, figure out who cares about that topic and target them. Perhaps the National Society of Parakeets? Maybe the International Council for Chair Care? Perhaps Pets for Rest?
And then access those groups. Become a member. Participate in their events. Discuss things with other members. Get the word out that your Chairs for Parakeets blog is the very best.
Get an Audience – Get Loud, Proud and Social
Tell everyone under the sun you have a blog. Tell your family and friends and neighbours and school chums. If they don’t know about it, then they can’t support it or you. You can never tell too many people about your work.
And seriously, start social networking. Don’t roll your eyes at me – Twitter and Facebook have been the major drivers of my audience and they can be for you as well. I can’t go into all the ins and outs of social networking here, but set it up, do it, and use it for promotion every day. (But don’t be obnoxious.) (See how to write a Twitter bio here.) Also promote sharing and subscribing to your blog.
Learn About Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Yes, this one is last because if you’ve done all those other things, then blog SEO will (sort of) happen naturally. SEO keys in on keywords (subject focus), connections (networking) and quality content – things you should always be doing anyway. To get finer-grained, you’ll need to start learning about how Google works and that could take some time. For now just know that those other rules really matter.
Overall Tips on How to Have a Popular Blog
- Talk about what’s in the news – people are looking for commentary on it and they likely have thoughts on it too
- Be controversial (or not) – this always gets readers but you might not like the fall-out
- Answer your comments – this builds community and conversation and keeps people coming back
- Use headings, bullet points, paragraph breaks and images liberally – no one wants to read a large chunk of text
- Create solid, frequent content – oh, did I mention that one already?
- Keep articles to 400-600 words – people don’t have the attention span for more than that
- Link everything together – social networks, to blog, to homepage, etc.
- Guest post elsewhere
- Comment on other blogs or in forums where your audience hangs out
- Care for and about your audience
And keep in mind, becoming popular takes time. I have more than 6 times the traffic than I did a year ago, but that took a year. So be patient. If you want people to read you – they will – but it isn’t as simple as build it and they will come.