The Mumsnet BlogFest on Saturday drew about 300 mommy bloggers to London to talk about how blogging is giving a voice to women's issues and "recalibrating the power balance in the world of comment," said Justine Roberts, co-founder of the website that runs an umbrella network for bloggers.
In Finding Your Voice, Zoe Williams, a Guardian columnist and author of two parenting books, said she writes as though she's talking to someone she knows. "If you're expected to write to people you wouldn't want to talk to, it's hard to write. I think of talking to someone I know."
Rachel Cusk, an award-winning author of novels and non-fiction books, called on bloggers to "make contact with their innate authority" in writing about their lives. "If I was wondering about what people were going to think, or trying to mediate the reading experience, I wouldn't be able to be truthful," she said. And later: "Don't try to be somebody else, be yourself."
Panelists noted that it can take years to develop your voice.
In a session about how to handle negative comments from trolls, psychologist Tanya Byron spoke about needing to be prepared for criticism and insults when you blog under your name. You have to have emotional resilience that acts as a form of armour, she said. If you don't, it's better to write anonymously. One panelist noted that you write because it's the truth, not so people like you.
That said the panelists -- a number of whom write for major newspapers -- recounted how challenging it was to cope with hate comments and death threats that went far beyond the bounds of legitimate criticism. Most noted that entering into a debate with these trolls was not constructive.
Louise France, former editor of The Times of London' Saturday supplement The Magazine, spoke about immersing yourself in a publication before considering how to hone a pitch for a story that truly stands out. For example, while she wouldn't be interested in a story from the parent of a child who is bullied, she might be interested in the story from a parent of a child who is the bully -- and who can provide insight from that angle.
There was discussion about the importance of traditional publishing versus online publishing and how both can complement each other.
Mumsnet has led two recent advocacy campaigns. One was called the Campaign for Better Miscarriage Care and involved bloggers breaking the silence on their own miscarriage stories. The other was called the We Believe You Rape Awareness Campaign -- which included debunking myths of rape that lead victims to fear they won't be believed if they report the crime. I'm interested in finding out more about these campaigns and how their success might inform our efforts to raise acceptance of kids with disabilities.
When I asked about how we can bring child disability issues into the mainstream, Blogging Can Change The World panelists felt we had to be very strategic and specific in what we were asking -- versus a general request to increase visibility of kids with disabilities and their families. One suggestion was to align child disability issues with mainstream parenting issues.
The day ended with a talk by Caitlin Moran, author of How To Be A Woman and a columnist with the Times."Writing is about angles" she said, and finding takes on subjects that haven't been written about before. Ask yourself "Why am I writing this?" as a prompt.
She said writers often feel forced to have an opinion or come to a conclusion about a topic. Instead, she suggested simply describing the topic, or writing about your confusion over it. "Let information pass through you," she said.
Sophie Walker is a parent I met who blogs about raising her daughter Grace, who has Asperger syndrome, and her decision to train for the London Marathon. Sophie did this to raise awareness of autism and improve her health so that she could better support her daughter. Her blog grew into a book -- called Grace Under Pressure -- which was released last month.
Another mom I met is Hannah Postgate, who is about to launch a business bringing together products that support families of children with special needs. Her daughter Rosy has an undiagnosed genetic condition. Rosy and Bo should be off the ground in a few weeks. She plans to give tips on how to adapt products to meet specific special needs.
Check out the Mumsnet list of special-needs bloggers. Tomorrow, the forum is hosting a live chat with Edward Timpson, Minister of State for Children and Families, to discuss reforms in special education in Britain.
This is something I'd like to see us do at BLOOM, if we can figure out the technical side.