Happy anniversary, Sona! Today is the first anniversary of my blog and potentially the first time I’ve referred to myself in the third person. To celebrate the occasion (the former, not the latter), I have invited a few of my favourite bloggers to share their wisdom and insights in a “blind blog” by answering five simple questions about blogging. What’s a blind blog, you ask? It’s something I made up (as far as I can tell). It’s kind of like a blind date, except instead of going out on a date with someone you’ve never met, you blog with someone you’ve either never met or you blog on a single topic without any foresight into what your co-bloggers are writing before hitting “publish.”
So on my blog’s first birthday, we are experimenting with blogging. As you’ll see from the “Group of Five” below, they all share one thing in common: a belief that blogging is a labour of love with different rewards and challenges for those who dare to take it up. Without further ado, I introduce you to my favourite five in my first-ever blind blog!
The all-star line-up
Question 1: Would you call yourself a blogger? If not, what do you call yourself?
Laurel: I see my blog as a tool for communicating ideas and starting conversations. It’s not typically how I identify myself. If someone who blogs is a blogger, then yes I am. I could give you a list of usual labels – wife, mother, sister, friend, life coach, author, but I think “globe trekking, ocean loving, poetry writing, dark chocolate eating, wisdom seeking, slightly irreverent work-in-progress” is a more revealing description.
Leanne: I blog, but I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a blogger. I’m a holistic nutritionist, foodie and athlete with a passion for healthy treats, whole food eats, and balanced living who just happens to spend every waking minute cooking healthy meals, taking pictures with a borrowed camera, and writing [or attempting to]. I’m not sure what kind of label we could make up with that, how about “awesome nutritionist who likes to eat, cook, write, and take pictures?”
Michelle: Yes, I would — and often do — call myself a blogger. In fact, I say it as often as possible — to baristas at my favourite cafes, to bartenders and waiters, to people I meet at events — because I’m always looking to spread the word about our Toque Girls blog. If someone seems friendly and cool, I’m quick to say, “My friend, Christina, and I have a blog you might like.” And then I give them a business card with our blog URL.
Rhett: I’m a flip-flopper. Generally it depends on my mood and how I feel about the internet that day. I’ll usually use “writer” in most situations because it covers a multitude of sins, but if I feel that I have time to explain myself I will use “blogger.” I often feel that when I use blogger I need to explain how I approach it, because of all the gunk that the word brings up, especially amongst my peers in journalism. Yes, my blog is all about me, but my intention is to be a storyteller and it’s hopefully not just the minutiae of my life. I want it to be engaging to both myself and my readers.
Tara: At this point? No, I don’t call myself a blogger. Once in a while I do, but that’s mostly when I’m actually blogging consistently, even if only for a few weeks (consistency has been a challenge for the last several months). I don’t really call myself anything. I just have my blog up and I put up a post when inspiration strikes or someone gives me a review they’d like me to post.
Question 2: Who, in your opinion, should and shouldn’t blog?
Laurel: I guess anyone who feels they have something to say…which on any given day might be just about everybody. I think if you can’t be respectful or civil in the way you post your ideas, then you shouldn’t bother. We don’t all have to agree on things, but we don’t have to make the other person wrong either.
Leanne: I think anyone who wants to blog, should. I’ve come across a lot of blogs that I don’t care for, but that doesn’t mean someone else out there can’t benefit from it. [Serious moment…] But, there is one exception. Any blogs that suggest harming yourself, your health, or others shouldn’t exist.
Michelle: I think everyone who is passionate about something, and wants to share that with other people, should (or could) blog. I don’t have a strong opinion about who shouldn’t blog. I’d say that if someone can’t commit to updating their blog on a semi-regular basis, then it may not be worth having one; people will stop visiting if content is really old.
Rhett: Everyone should blog, but not everyone will be a blogger. In the same way that everyone can write, but not everyone is a writer. The point is that blogging and writing is a lot of work. From understanding the technical aspects to writing. And the latter seems to always be treated glibly. So everyone should try it and begin to have an understanding that, while it’s easy to set up a blog, it’s a significant effort to maintain.
Tara: I’m of a few minds about this one. The first thing that popped to mind was “you shouldn’t blog unless you have something to say,” but that’s a tricky, loaded, and shitty statement because who gets the final word on whether anyone has something to say? Anyone should blog if they want to, they just shouldn’t expect to gain a following or to make any money with it. Making a career from blogging is like winning the lottery, so it really needs to be for the love of it. And if you are just looking to set up blogs to bring in ad income through heavy SEO, you’re probably not really a blogger anyway as much as you’re a business.
Question 3: What has surprised you the most about blogging?
Laurel: Sometimes I have a great idea for a blog but I let the moment pass and then don’t end up posting it. I’m also a little surprised at some people’s reluctance to post comments. People sometimes email me with comments rather than post. One of the most important things about blogs is their capacity to begin a dialogue. So I encourage everyone to post a comment and share their thoughts.
Leanne: Community. When I first started up my food blog I had no idea what type of people would be visiting, but I had no idea it was going to be like this. I don’t know if it’s like this in other blogging realms, but with foodies [aka food bloggers – hey, maybe that’s my partial title?], we’re all connected. We support and inspire one another, have meaningful conversations, and build strong relationships. It’s absolutely amazing.
Michelle: A couple of things have surprised me about blogging. First, I can’t get over how happy it makes me. I would’ve never expected how much I’ve enjoyed working on the blog, writing about things I’m passionate about and, luckily, seeing the blog take off. One of the coolest things has been able to share the experience with one of my best friends, Christina. From Day 1, we’ve been able to share everything from our smallest victories to our biggest struggles. I remember setting up our blog last summer and struggling to get a blogroll going on the side of the page. We emailed about it, frustrated, because nothing seemed to work. That’s when Christina sent me a one-liner that made me laugh out loud: “I’m not sure what widgets are, but I’m pretty sure I hate them.” Second, I’m constantly surprised by how exciting it is to watch our daily hits (stats). When the blog started receiving a lot of hits per day in the fall, it was amazing. Checking our hits on my BlackBerry became a bit of an obsession; every morning, I’d turn on my phone to check our final tally from the previous day — before I even got out of bed. I’m forcing myself to check less often, these days, so as to avoid becoming a stats weirdo. (But I still check our stats before I get out of bed.) I don’t think that seeing our daily hits on the rise will ever get old.
Rhett: The connections you make. I’ve been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal because of my blog. I’ve taken part in a study at the U of C on blogging. I’ve landed jobs because of it. I’ve made friends around the globe. At my core, I started blogging because I love it. I love the web. In the same way that I did a degree in English because I love writing. It’s weird because I don’t know that I’ve ever really thought about this, but I never had any expectations of either. They both just really excite me and so everything good or bad that’s come out of blogging (or writing) has been a surprise and more often than not the surprises have been great.
Tara: I started off intending to only blog my book, film and music reviews and then quickly dove into link blogging. Link blogs are generally viewed as not contributing to conversations because they just aggregate other people’s stories/articles in one place, but I ended up with a small yet steady readership because they liked the articles I dug up. So that was the first surprise. The second surprise was how quickly I burned myself out by trying to keep up a link blog on my own. I felt like I had to put up several posts a day and they all needed to be incredibly interesting, so I would subscribe to more and more other sites just looking for new content. Five or six months in, I really started to hate it because a passion became a chore.
Question 4: What would you tell someone who is thinking of starting a blog? What wisdom or advice would you impart to him/her?
Laurel: Don’t overthink it! Just write. Be prepared that everyone is not going to like or agree with you. That’s okay.
Leanne: Don’t do it! Just kidding. Blogging has become such a huge part of my life, it’s brought me purpose, happiness, and creativity [sorry sweetheart, love you <3!]. So far I’ve learned in no particular order:
- Quality content is key. Think quality over quantity. If you’re not happy with it, don’t post it. It’s better to post content that people will jump all over, than content that leaves your readers with a bad taste in their mouth.
- Make sure to preview your posts before pressing publish. It’s not the end of the world, but make sure you give yourself some time to review your content. The content you post is all you have, so making sure it makes sense is important!
- Don’t get overwhelmed with scheduling your posts. Plan no more than 7 days in advance or you’ll confuse yourself and get overwhelmed. I promise.
- Take time to familiarize yourself with WordPress if it’s new to you. I can’t tell you how many of my posts have gone out wrong, or on the wrong date. Once I intended to schedule a post for December 27, 2010 and instead posted it for December 27 2009. Took me 2 weeks to figure out where it’d gone.
- Keep on keepin’ on. Believe in yourself, write down your goals, and stick to your plan. Don’t get discouraged. If you’re looking to build your base, just believe in what you’re doing, network with other bloggers, post good content, and the rest will follow.
- Write from your heart. Passion is key.
- Keep engaged with comments. If someone asks you a question, now is your time to shine! Now, answer that comment with pride!
- Keep an open mind. Life as you know it will change. Maybe not to that extent… but, just keep your mind open to opportunities that present themselves. Heck, my blog started off as a company website. Now I’m a 8.5 posts a week, recipe guru and it’s only been 3.5 months. Huh.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. This is so hard to do. Even though I haven’t mastered it yet, it needs to be said. Just focus on what you have to offer, what your content says about you. Comparing yourself to others will only discourage you. Don’t give up, you can do it!
- Only check Google Analytics once a day. I know it’s hard, but you can do it.
Michelle: To anyone who’s considering starting a blog, my No. 1 piece of advice would be: blog about something you are crazily passionate about. What do you love talking about with your friends and loved ones? What makes you excited, day to day? What can’t you live without? Those are the things you should write about, no question. If you’re passionate about your subject matter, people will be drawn to your blog. If you choose something that’s a chore to write about, or you’re just not that into, you’ll lose steam. And so will your readers. Another thought: if you want to start a blog but don’t know the ins and outs, there are some great classes you can take. For example, Christina and I took an intro course to blogging through mediabistro.com, and it was a huge help.
Rhett: Expect to burn out. Expect to shove your blog to the backburner throughout the summer. Unless you’re a seasoned writer (and even then), it’s hard to gauge just how much energy blogging is going to take and you’ll go through incredibly creative times and then some times you’ll just be tired. It’s not that you can’t produce, but that TV seems like a more interesting way to spend your time and that’s okay. Finding a rhythm that both you and your readership can handle takes time. Currently, if I post once a week I’m pretty happy. I have other friends who post 10 times a day. Beyond that, read a lot and be part of the community. Subscribe to other blogs. Watch the changes in web design and development. Learn about SEO and marketing. Jump into social media. Play with HTML, CSS and even a little PHP (if you’re using WordPress or other open source platforms). You don’t need to know how to build a car, but be able to change the oil.
Tara: Like I said above, don’t have any expectations. You probably won’t be able to quit your day job and you probably won’t change the world, certainly not within the first year or two. Also, depending on what type of a blog you’re running, make sure the posting schedule is manageable so that you don’t end up hating your site.
Question 5: Which of your blog posts are you most proud? Why?
Laurel: I have 2 kinds of favourites – the first is doing an ongoing series on a topic that gives me lots of time to explore an idea and hear people’s feedback. Last year I did a focused thread on making simple changes called 10 in 2010. This year the focus is on happiness called Get happy in 2011. The other posts I like are ones that are short but contain simple wisdom like this one.
Leanne: I’m most proud of my Valentine’s Hot Chocolate Float post. I had attempted a chocolate cherry “steamer” post a couple of weeks before this post and after about an hour in the kitchen I just couldn’t get it right. It was disgusting. Then I tried to mix it up a little by attempting a peppermint chocolate drink. Horrible. I was so fed up at this point that I decided to let it sit for a couple of days.After about a week had passed I decided that I was going to try it one last time. So, as soon as I got home after work one night I marched right to the kitchen and started playing around. I didn’t have a recipe, I didn’t write anything down, I just let my creativity flow. I really have no idea how I landed on ice cream in a hot chocolate. It just happened. I let myself go and created something spectacular! Not only that, but it’s been one of my most popular recipes on Foodbuzz and most commented post. So, lesson learned: let the creativity flow.
Michelle: I think my favourite blog post so far is one I wrote in December, called A Calgary Christmas Miracle. The short story: A new couch I’d bought wouldn’t fit through my door and I ended up having to hire a crane to deliver it to my balcony doors. Something terribly stressful — not to mention expensive!! — turned out to be a great, funny personal story to share on the blog. And a close second would be the post I wrote about learning to make my grandmother’s traditional French meat pie, because it involves people and food that I love.
Rhett: My idea of my blog has evolved over the years. Lately, I’ve pondered whether or not I should delete the majority of my archive because 95% of it is just awful. Only in the last year have I felt that I’ve truly begun writing interesting stuff. But I leave it up because it’s a process and, while being a personal blogger might be highly arrogant thing to do, you get to watch me wade through the few good and many bad ideas. If you were ever so interested, you could probably read through 4 years of blogging and see me develop as a writer and blogger. I haven’t done it and I don’t recommend it, but I’m just saying that you could.
My favourites to date are: Couple Dating (which is the article that launched the WSJ interview) and Leah’s News. These two are my favourites because they were a ton of fun to write and they came really easily. They weren’t a 15-hour birth. I sat down and wrote those suckers in an hour. Whereas, I also really like my recently posted Resolution: Live Differently, but that post went through five re-writes before it came out like that and I’m still not convinced it’s all that great. I felt like it could’ve done more.
But those first two are the best examples of my “voice” to date. That’s what I mean when I talk about not wanting to identify as a personal blogger. If I can show people that my goal is to write like that all the time I hope people will understand that it’s not about ego or arrogance, but writing a successful story and that the way I understand storytelling is through my voice and experiences. I’m total rubbish with short fiction and poetry, which is where I started.
Tara: My review of Gavin & Stacey. My husband and I picked up a boxed set with the entire series at Heathrow on a whim and it quickly became my favourite show ever. I love that post because it came out of my passion for the show and wasn’t a “just the facts ma’am” type review. I won’t ever know for sure, but I’m hoping it led to at least a few people giving the show a chance. The other is my recent post documenting my outrageous commitment to stop buying factory-farmed meat and eat a more plant-based diet that is supplemented with small amounts of local organic meat. I’m proud of this one because it marks a turning point in my life. I’ve been known for being a person who likes to eat a lot of meat and processed foods, and while all of that has changed in the past six months, this post was the place where I declared it to the world.
The final word
I’ve gotta thank Laurel, Leanne, Michelle, Rhett and Tara for taking the time to participate in this community blog with so much passion and enthusiasm. I have learned so much just reading their answers (I need to take a WordPress class pronto!). And I also have to thank my readers, visitors and commenters for making this labour of love a whole lotta fun! In case you want to read my very first post, you can read it here. Otherwise, here’s to year two!
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