Christina Carrell writes for her audience. She knows who they are and engages specifically with them. As a mother of an active boy, and coping with everyday pain, her writing focuses on the challenges encountered from being a mom with pain. She shares her own experiences, offers support to those facing similar issues, and spreads awareness for this sometimes invisible illness.
With a BA in English from Marywood University, and MA from Rutgers University, she has held a full time position at MSAA: Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. She has successfully managed national social media accounts for this organization, and puts her knowledge, experience, and skills gained from this work, into her own writings. She will be sharing how knowing your target audience can greatly set you apart and build a larger following at NEPA BlogCon this year! Don’t miss out, get your ticket, and enjoy the following sneak peak of what is to come!
Christina Carrell, Mothering With Chronic Pain
1) Your blog is for a specific audience. Do you find it is beneficial to focus on a niche? Do you feel it is better to create a blog gearing towards a particular group and not try and relate to everyone in the world :)? If so, in what ways have you found this to be advantageous?
I think narrowing down your audience is almost always beneficial when you’re writing. This is especially true if you’re working on a topic that’s already saturated with content. I write about parenting, and of course, to say there are a lot of parenting blogs out there would be an understatement. For that reason, I believe that focusing on one niche (parenting with chronic illness) has often helped my blog Mothering With Chronic Pain stand out when submitting my work for guest posts.
In addition to gaining more traffic, focusing on a particular niche can also generate a more engaged audience. If you’re writing about something that hasn’t been written about a lot, your audience is hungrier for your content. They will be thankful that you are addressing something that hasn’t been addressed before, and they are more likely to be interested in the content you’re delivering.
When you’re writing on behalf of your business, you want an audience that is going to engage with your product and ultimately purchase it. If you can focus your audience, it’ll be easier to hone in on what attracts them. Similarly, if you’re writing for a nonprofit organization, you want to know exactly who your clients and donors are and to focus your content on their needs.
It isn’t always enough to just broadly identify your audience or customers. For instance, you’ll want to ask yourself: How old are most of my readers? Are they male or female? What do they value? These are questions we should ask ourselves before we write almost anything. Sometimes, the answers change over time as our audiences grow. Fortunately, there are a lot of great tools for analyzing your audiences across social media platforms, which I will discuss in my NEPA BlogCon presentation.
2) You have said writing is a great way for you to share your story about dealing with chronic pain and spread awareness on it. You have offered support to others coping with related concerns. But were you surprised at the response received from others and on how much writing helped you in return?
I’ve always loved to write, but I didn’t always make a regular, daily practice of doing it outside of work and academia. In relation to creative pursuits, a lot of people talk about something called “flow” state, which occurs when your mind is completely focused on a task. Author Steven Kotler explains that flow occurs when “[o]ur sense of self and our sense of self consciousness completely disappear.” Often, during the quiet hours after my toddler goes to bed, I enter a flow state with my writing. Chronic pain is always present in my life, but when I’m writing, I can stop thinking about it for a time. Since I’ve started writing every day, I’ve been able to carve out one area of my life where I can temporarily forget about my medical issues.
When I first started writing, I didn’t know any other parents who lived with a chronic illness. But after I started my blog, I met a lot of parents online who helped me feel less alone. Yesterday I found out I was nominated for a WEGO Health Activist Best in Show: Blog Award. I was surprised that someone felt inspired enough by my blog to nominate me. A few women have told me that my blog has helped them feel less alone, and that’s very rewarding.
3) Would you recommend other moms to find something they can share and blog about? It seems blogging is definitely a way to connect with others. Can you offer any advice on how maybe to get started with sharing a person’s voice and experiences?
When women become moms, they can sometimes feel isolated from the “adult” world. I think blogging can be a great way to remedy that isolation and to stay connected, whether to a particular career field or a hobby. It’s something that you can do any time of the day. Even if you’re not looking to pursue writing as a career, you can blog about something that interests you. In doing so, you end up reading others’ writing and continuing to learn and stay abreast of your chosen topic.
As cliche as it might sound, I think that someone who is looking to get started with blogging should do some self-reflection to determine where their passion lies. In today’s social media landscape, there’s a lot of demand to produce new content on a regular basis, so whatever you choose to write about, you’ll be writing about it frequently. A lot of people quickly give up on their blogs, and you’ll be less likely to quit if you’re writing about something you love to talk about anyway.
Once you’ve determined what you want to blog about, you might then want to do some research to see who else is blogging about your topic and how you can enter into that conversation. You can analyze trends in your niche and start building your brand from there. There are a lot of great resources for getting started. If you need to learn the technical side of blogging, the websites Codecademy and Team Treehouse is a great way to learn WordPress, HTML, and CSS. While Team Treehouse costs money, many libraries offer a free membership to their patrons.
Susan Maccarelli of Beyond Your Blog interviews various editors from high-profile websites that seek guest posts and freelance writers. The interviews are available as podcasts on her website, and I love to listen to them while I make dinner. Publishing your articles to other blogs can be a great way to build your following, and I found her interviews and the other resources on her website to be an invaluable resource to me. While she recently announced that she will no longer be producing new content, her website and podcasts are still available, at least at the time of this interview.
There are a few other good resources out there for beginner bloggers. The Good Men Project, for instance, hosts training and classes on writing and building digital platforms. BlogHer supports new writers, and they have a monthly writer’s lab, too. The HerStories Project also hosts an affordable Bootcamp for personal essay writing.
4) I’m sure there are some days your health may cause you to want to just stay in bed! I would think knowing there are other moms reading, learning, and waiting to hear from you, inspires you. Would you share some other things which inspire you to write, even when not feeling the best to do so?
One section of my blog is called “Moms With Pain Stories.” In this section, I feature moms with various conditions. I’ve published one already, and have a few interviews completed and ready to be turned into blog posts in the coming weeks. The moms I’ve worked with have been excited to share their struggles and triumphs and to bring awareness to their often misunderstood conditions. I’m motivated to keep writing in order to be an advocate for other moms with chronic pain.
My family also serves as inspiration for me. My son is only a toddler, but I want to be a role model for him. I think when parents pursue their hobbies and interests, they end up being better parents because they’re happier and children can sense that. Recently, I published an article on The Good Men Project about how my husband takes care of my son and me when I’m sick with a migraine, so my love for him is very much an inspiration to me, too.
Beyond the people in my life, I surround myself with books and magazines that remind me of my appreciation for the written word. I keep a collection of my favorite novels from my childhood and my college days on my bookshelves near my working space and return to them frequently. Lastly, the Beyond Your Blog podcasts I mentioned previously also inspire me, because after I listen to one, I feel like I have the knowledge I need to submit my writing and get it published.
5) Does blogging help you keep up on trends and on top of current information in connection to what you write about? What have you learned by blogging? Do you feel you discover more when researching and working on articles?
I’ve learned a great deal about writing and online publishing. A couple months ago, I joined an online women’s critique group consisting of published writers living in six different countries. The writers in the group range in age from 22 to 80 and write in a variety of genres, including blogging, creative nonfiction, journalism, fiction, and poetry. Being a part of the group has allowed me to not only improve the articles I publish on my blog, but also to expand my writing to other genres, especially creative nonfiction. I think once you start writing in one genre, even if it’s only a personal blog, you can improve your writing in other areas, too.
I’ve also learned a lot about conducting interviews. I’ve had to interview women for my blog. I also write for a local food blog, and have conducted in person and telephone interviews with restaurant owners and county officials. I’ve learned how to ask better questions and synthesize the answers into a narrative. Oddly enough, interviewing has helped me better manage my social media accounts, because I’ve learned how to engage people and to ask questions that start discussions.
Most importantly, I think I’ve developed a greater sense of empathy through writing. I started out writing about myself, but I have learned so much about other people by interviewing them and sharing their voices. If I hadn’t been diagnosed with my conditions, I probably would have never heard of them. Likewise, I had never heard of some of the health conditions other moms in the online chronic pain community are enduring. This learning experience has taught me that you never know what another person is battling.
So much exceptional advice, encouragement, and true giving within your answers, Christina. A very huge Thank you for them. After each Question and Answer discussion I do, I become ever more excited for what BlogCon is going to offer! It will be an amazing day, and I’m so glad for this opportunity to get know everyone more. Everyone best be prepared to be blown away!