Today, in my first post of 2015 — first in a good five months, actually — I’d like to tell a bit of a story.
A Tale of Three Blogs
Erin Reads was the very first blog I started, way back in 2008. I mean, I’d done the LiveJournal thing and all, but this was my first proper for-public-consumption site.
And I had no idea what I was doing.
Fortunately, this awesome community of ours is ridiculously welcoming, and I gradually found a style, a rhythm, and a place in the broader constellation of book blogs. I made friends, participated in events (speaking of which, Readathon sign-ups are live!!), even managed to secure a few advanced reader copies to review. I loved it so much. And blogging for pleasure was all I’d known.
Fast-forward to 2012, when I started my second “real” site: Remade By Hand (RBH). I started it at a point when things felt like they were shifting, and I wanted a new place to follow that feeling as it unfolded. As I felt my way along, the posts started to get more personal, to feel more vulnerable. It’s hard, finding the line between what you’re ok with sharing and what’s too much. It’s a very individual thing. And when your whole life is up for inclusion, you have to make the decision over and over again.
At the same time that I launched RBH, I found myself connecting with a different sort of community: one of online small business owners. Terms like “content strategy” and “call to action” worked their way into my vocabulary and my thoughts. I started to think about the audience I was writing for, to learn the best way to format a blog post for readability, to pick up tricks for writing snappy headlines that would get people to click on my posts. I explored the art of writing sales pages and web copy. Most of it felt fake to me, disingenuous — and luckily, since I wasn’t selling anything, I really had no reason to worry about all that stuff.
But it was there. It’s hard to unlearn something once you’ve learned it, isn’t it?
Then, later that year, I finally had a reason to implement all this new knowledge: I launched my editing services, adding them to RBH. Now that I had something to sell, I started trying to be a little more intentional, to take tiny stabs at doing things the way I was “supposed” to do them according to the world of internet marketing. I attempted to make a plan, a schedule, to try various techniques and tactics.
I hated it. I hated having to wrap my thoughts in a veneer of salesmanship, to make sure everything I did had an ulterior motive, to think twelve steps ahead and lock myself into a plan. I hated it so much that I stopped blogging, unable to reconcile my personal blog with the professional stuff I’d tacked on to it. I hated it so much that I finally split my services off onto their own website and let RBH revert back to its own quiet self.
RBH was never about selling. It was about self-expression and spanning the miles between people in a way only the internet can do. And trying to give it a different goal backfired in a big way.
But with the new site, I had a place that was all commerce from the start. I wrote a few posts that served double duty: helping readers and furthering my own commercial interests. I had a posting schedule. I had a series of articles mapped out and partly drafted. I was doing it RIGHT, dang it.
Until, very quickly, I wasn’t.
It turns out there’s no love for me in writing articles to particular specifications. I know people who quite happily only do that. I know others who flip comfortably between writing for themselves and writing to teach and sell. I can do the latter when I have to, but I don’t like it.
To me, writing is an act of self expression. Plenty of people write to persuade, or sell, or disclose, or contradict, and why shouldn’t they? Those are perfectly legitimate uses. But that’s not me. I write to process and organize my thoughts, and I write to connect with other people in a genuine way. (Even when I work with clients, these whys are at the heart of what I do.) I say what I want to say, in the way I want to say it. It’s an art, of sorts, and even the simplest sentences can feel like soul craft. Writing has never been a tool to me, to be wielded one way or another depending on the desired outcome. And when I forced it to become one, I lost my love for it.
What Became of Them?
The blog on that third site is gone now, replaced by a list of articles (once posts). Maybe I’ll add to it. Maybe I won’t. Here’s the thing: I finally realized I don’t need to produce “content” to run my business. I have a handful of wonderful clients I love working with. They know where to find me. And if a friend of theirs gets into writing a book or needs help with website copy, my clients are quick to bring up my name. I lucked out with them. They don’t need “content” from me. And I finally realized I needed to adjust my actions accordingly.
And RBH? I haven’t written on it since the day I unveiled the new services-based site. It’s dormant, for now. There’s too much ick still there for me to know what to do with it. The muck has to settle, and then maybe then I’ll be able to see more clearly.
Which brings me back to Erin Reads.
Yes, I’ve had my bouts of burnout here. I’ve pushed myself too hard, posted for no good reason, slipped into trying a thing or two to achieve an end I didn’t actually want. It’s had its dormant spells, too — once when I turned my attention to starting RBH and again more recently, when I simply fell out of the habit of reviewing the books I’d read. And sometimes now I find myself falling into marketing habits, looking at this blog the way I learned to look at writing meant to sell.
But really, this site is pure. It’s never been a commercial enterprise. It lets me bare one part of my soul without grappling with how much to reveal in this ever-more-public age we live in. And it allows me to talk books with other readers — one of the things I love to do most.
I need to keep reminding myself of that.
There is a point to all this, I promise.
Here it is: Know your intentions, your why. When you sit down to write a post (or anything else, for that matter), know why you’re doing it. Is it to share your opinion? To connect with other people? To grow your blog readership? To make a name for yourself? To sell something? Some combination of those, or something completely different?
There is no right or wrong answer, of course. We all have different goals. But if you’re working toward a goal that doesn’t really matter to you, you’re going to meet burnout, and frustration, and disappointment. I’ve done it — twice. Both times I fell hard out of love with what I was doing. And even now, as I think about coming back to Erin Reads, sometimes my plans and ideas run away from me.
Everyone else is doing readalongs…I should coordinate something! Maybe I should bring back Reading Buddies!!
Do I need a posting schedule? Without one, will I post enough?
Holy cow, there are so many new bloggers I haven’t met. I need to reorganize my Feedly AGAIN so I can keep up with everyone!
Is there anything wrong with these thoughts? Of course not. I’d love to get into readalongs again (and really enjoyed hosting Reading Buddies). Posting schedules have, at times, worked for me (though they’ve also accelerated burnout at times). And yeah, there are a LOT of bloggers I haven’t met! (If you’re one of them and you happen to stop by, introduce yourself, would you?) But my, how quickly the pressure edges in when I start to let my mind run its circles — all before I’ve even posted a review this year.
You blog because you love it. You blog to have a record of what you read, to engage more deeply with books, to keep them from slipping away as soon as you’ve turned the last page. And you blog to talk about books you’ve read (or want to read) and related topics with fellow readers. Start there. Add and subtract as feels right. But never, ever lose sight of your core, your reason, your why.
(If you haven’t guessed it yet, this advice is at least as much for me as it is for you. Keep me honest, will you?)
Now let’s get back to talking books!
What are your core reasons for blogging (or other writing), whether you write about books or something else?