on growing a blog
Yesterday, I read a blog post by my friend Helen Jane -- this one, actually -- and later on in the afternoon, when I spoke to her via Skype, I had nothing to say in response except preach, my sister, preach. She said in her post what I've been feeling for the past couple of months, and it felt really good to have someone else tell me, "No, you're not crazy, it's a Thing." What she put her finger on, actually, is exactly why I took the week off last week. So, you should read her post, because I'm about to talk about it.
So let me first start by saying that I'm not quitting the blog. There is too much good that has come to me in my life because of Chookooloonks (good that I'll be gushing to great extent about in an upcoming post later this month), and the truth is that I love the medium. I love it more than Twitter, more than Instagram, and to be honest, way more than Facebook. My social media roots are in blogging. The chances of me going away anytime soon are slim to nil. Really, really.
But here's the thing: February will mark 9 years that I've been blogging, and by that measurement, I'm one of the Old-Timers. Back when I started blogging, way back in early 2004, there really weren't that many people doing it -- political blogs were starting to take hold, perhaps, but blogging had yet to become mainstream. Back then, I started Chookooloonks on Typepad, one of the earlier blogging/hosting services, one that was only 4 months old when I signed up. Facebook barely existed (and at the time, was really only for Harvard University students), and Twitter definitely didn't exist. When I started my blog, I didn't know a single soul in my day-to-day life who even knew what a blog was, much less had a blog of their own. In my own little community, I was totally charting new territory.
I expect other bloggers who began their blogs around the same time felt the same way. And you know what's cool about charting new territory? There aren't any rules. People blogged for tons of reasons: to keep in touch with friends, as a new way of journaling, to record their young children's lives, whatever. But there weren't any expectations about what we were supposed to do with our blogs: there was no such thing as monetization. Or sponsored posts. Or branding. It just didn't exist. When people said "I think I'll start a blog," it was generally because they just wanted to write for writing's sake, and no other reason.
Over time, however, the Rules of Blogging came in -- things like how to monetize, or attract sponsors, or "brand yourself." Now, when people say "I think I'll start a blog," more often than not, they're doing it with an eye to making money. To be clear, I'm not criticizing -- there has been many a casual blogger who has beautifully transitioned to a career in blogging (people like Ree Drummond and Gabrielle Blair immediately come to mind) -- and in fact and in the past, I've tried to do the same thing. I've designed and redesigned this site in accordance with the Rules of Blogging. I went to blogging conferences to learn The Right Way To Blog. I've strategized for the Optimization of Search Engines. Heck, I even have given talks on Transforming your Blog Into a Business. I continue to believe blogging is a great way to give a business or corporation a personal image, a viable way to grow a business, or even become a business. And to those of you who do it well, I cheer you on with all my heart.
Somehow, through all of this, I forgot that I never planned for my blog to be my business in the first place. I began the blog because I loved to write -- but somewhere along the line, the blog went from being my expression to being my product. And while certainly, I do enjoy earning a living through writing, photography and public speaking (and hope to continue to do so by writing more books, offering online courses and in-person workshops, and contributing to other sites and magazines), the Chookooloonks blog was never supposed to be a commodity. It was supposed to be my playground. Chookooloonks was my creation purely for creating's sake.
Because I lost sight of this, I think, I became a bit resentful of my rigid blogging schedule, of my need to make sure that I didn't go more than 48 hours without a new post. I became tense before writing a post, because instead of focusing on what I wanted to say, I tried to guess what people wanted to read (or worse, try to write what I thought people should read). I may have even burned out, a little, even though the possibility that I was exhausted and drained and even a bit bitter made no sense to me: since I love writing and I love photography, how could I possibly hate blogging?
Anyway, that's why I took last week off, to figure out what was causing me so much discomfort. And yesterday, when read Helen Jane's post, it finally hit me: it's not blogging that I hate, per se; it's the fact that I was trying to do it in a way that was incongruent with the reasons I started blogging in the first place. I love writing, I love photography, and I love expressing myself using both -- that's never going to change. What needs to change is my do-them-This-Way-or-else attitude. I can focus on the business aspects of my writing, photography and speaking elsewhere. I'd like for the Chookooloonks blog to become more about expression again.
My friend, writer, photographer, author and gardener extraordinaire, Gayla Trail, says that her biggest piece of advice to someone who is struggling with his relationship to gardening is this: he needs to cut himself some slack. He should allow for disappointments, and pay close attention to what works and what doesn't. Combined with Helen Jane's observation that there's always time to "course correct," I think this is pretty good relationship advice no matter what the subject -- gardens, parenting, other people ...
... and maybe even blogging.