Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Lessons In Blogging (from an older Millennial)

I was in high school at the turn of the century - when Internet connections became a 24-hour thing that didn't tie up your phone line. This mean that my generation was in a unique position of growing into adulthood at the same time as the Internet. Naturally, because of the awkward nature of maturity, we all grew together in both awesome and embarrassing ways.

Kids my age were expressing themselves in what felt like a safer environment because you didn't have to look anyone in the face to say something that was on your mind. You knew, if you put it out there - on your AOL profile, or your Geocities websites - the people who loved you, hated you, pretended to love you but really hated you, or anyone that was bored and knew who you were - could click on a link or two and see what you had to say. Sometimes it would even become gossip material at your locker the next day.

I was maybe 16 when Live Journal was a thing. It was perfect, because it was an electronic journal, essentially, that some of our parents weren't keen enough to find, but our friends could see it and comment on it. The problem was - you had to be invited to use it, and every one of my friends that had an account when I was desperate for one were out of invitations. This lead me to googling for other online journaling options, and I stumbled on Open Diary.

It was free, no invitation required, and fully customizable with obnoxious outer-space backgrounds and hot pink text. I signed up, wrote my first passive aggressive entry, and stuck the link to it in my AIM profile so that the dramatic girls I was hating on at the moment would stalk their way to seeing what I really thought of them. I was SO COOL!

Over time, my backgrounds changed, the topics I wrote about changed, and the types of drama that resulted from it evolved as the website did. We were all mad at the almighty Bruce at one time or another. (Remember when he changed the layout of the site, guys? Yikes!) The longer you wrote on OD, and the more times you hit "random" to find other diaries to keep up with, the more your community grew. There were tight-knit groups on OD - cliques, even. A popular crowd. I told you: high school on the internet.

The wonderful thing about OD was that you could create any level of privacy you wanted. You could share things with people who only knew you virtually, which I loved. I can think of 9 people that I still keep up with on Facebook, Instagram, and Prosebox (a sort of OD spin off that popped up when OD died - or rather, Bruce killed it!) Those people knew (know) me in ways that many others don't because I was able to express the full level of my emotions through writing - something I'm almost never able to do while speaking in person. It was a huge perk that having a diary within OD meant that you wouldn't really get noticed through a Google search. But as the blogging world exploded, some of us branched out.

I started my first Blogger blog in 2007 - it was meant to be a family blog that I updated regularly while we were living in Charlotte. I shared it with my family members and friends back home and invited them to keep up with every little (and big) thing we were up to. Through the years, as I went through various phases and was introduced to other blogging niches, I started others that I'd work on here and there, and eventually get scared away from for one reason or another.

And now, here we are - living in a saturation of the Internet so heavy, that if you don't have a professional level photo for pinning purposes, or your points listed out in bullets or under big, bold headlines - no one cares. I can almost guarantee that the only people that have put time into reading my story here - ya know, the actual reading part - are the ones that know me in real life (hey, guys!)

Everyone else will scroll down to my points below and skim them. Or they'll already have run off to find a different article with less words and more illustrations. The children's book version.

I'm not trying to be critical, because I'm as guilty as you are. The only time I'm fully immersed in reading something from start to finish these days is within a hand-held book. And even those I skim through the parts that bore or embarrass me! (Stop saying "slacks" and "blouses", Nicholas Sparks - your audience doesn't talk like that!)

We are too entertained. Too connected. Too instantly satisfied.

There have been many times in the last few years that I've A) felt a pull to dramatically unplug and B) questioned my desire to blog. I always end up sticking with it after agonizing over the details for too long - usually because whether it's on a blog or not, I'm still writing daily (so why not get some views from it?), or because if I keep my traffic up I can get sponsored posts and pay for my kids' Christmas presents. But I think I've finally hit a point where I need to do some serious soul-searching about both blogging and unplugging, among many other things.

As I've played with these ideas lately, here are some of the lessons that have come to me.

1. It's Not My Full Time Job
I think because I'm a SAHM that's been a blogger for 15 years and have been able to make money on it here and there, I assume that it should work for me the way it does for legit full time bloggers. I could probably (maybe?) make it go somewhere bigger and greater if I spent 40 hours a week on it, but I don't, and I won't. Even with more organization and commitment, which I've had in the past and worked really hard at, I can't expect full time results without full time work. And I'm not willing or able to give it that much right now.

2. Back Off A Little
I tend to go in phases with my blog - a few weeks or months of working my butt off, balanced by the same amount of time spent ignoring it. Part of the problem is that I was seeing it as my job (one that I'd get burnt out on or feel too disappointed with after my traffic failed to increase), but it's also that when the gears start turning for me, I get a little carried away. Twenty ideas will pop into my head, and I want to use them all so badly that I end up creating a really full editorial calendar. That causes a couple problems. It makes for a really large workload that can sometimes feel stressful, and when your carefully crafted posts with pretty pictures flop five times in one week, it's a lot of rejection all at once as a reward for a lot of work. Plus, with that much content (even if it's good and useful) doesn't get the full attention it deserves - in both crafting it and promoting it. It goes against my "do it all, and do it now" nature, but it's time to take ONE post idea and put my all into it for a week. Maybe even two weeks. And that's totally okay, because it's not my full time job.

3. I'm Not Exactly Unique
Sure, sure, no two people are exactly alike. But these days? We are freakishly similar. Basic, even. Not everyone my age is doing the same things or dealing with the same struggles, but there are SO MANY OF US talking about those things at the same time, that my voice isn't any more appealing than the next person. Since my blog isn't my full time job, and I don't have spare cash to spend on making it outrageously pretty or sponsoring posts on greedy social media ads, I am extremely easy to ignore. Even when I feel like I have a unique or special idea - only the people that know me personally tend to find any value in it. Sometimes this idea feels really crippling. Many people say that even so, say what you have to say anyway because someone may need to hear your voice specifically. That has sometimes been enough to keep me writing, but then remembering that my voice is only being thrown so far cuts me back down again.

4. I'm a Little Late to the Party
Even though I started blogging around the same time as everyone else, I didn't find success early enough. It's extremely hard to wade through the saturation these days. Big name bloggers were discovered years ago, and their loyal followers already have full plates. They only have enough time in their busy lives to keep up with a small handful of the best-of-the-best, and it's not likely that they'll take on anyone else.

5. I Refuse What I Don't Enjoy
Okay - I occasionally sell bits of myself to brands that are willing to pay me to talk about their product. However, I have standards, and I say no to everything that I hate seeing on other blogs. I won't talk about a brand I don't at least like a little bit. No blindly placed ads or blinking graphics. No constantly shoving of brands in your face, worded in the ways the brands want them to be worded. No banking on blogs with bigger names to drive you here unless they decided to do it themselves. No obviously ad-looking photos on my Instagram account. I realize that these things may be holding me back from booming traffic, but I can't help it - I'm a little bit old school, and I refuse to change that.

I'm putting this all here today to say that I am a little lost, a little unsure of what to do with my years of blogging and tendency to write out every little thought, and how to balance it all appropriately. I grew up in an environment that groomed me to not only write a lot, but to share it. It has changed so much over time, and I've gone back and forth on what to do with it now that things have grown to the level that they have, and...I don't know, I'm maybe getting somewhere finally.

I know that I shouldn't have this need to share every idea I have (though, come on, the entire Internet and all of the apps on our phones are created for sharing), but it's hard to stop. It's a habit to break, sure, but I also know that with the appropriate amount of work I can make some spare cash, and it's hard to let go of that outlet, too.

What do you do when writing and crafting posts makes you happy in the process, but disappoints you afterwards? Or when you suspect that maybe every habit you've been lead towards in your adult life never had your own happiness as its focus in the first place?

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