I was saddened to read this article in the New York Times by Steven Kurutz entitled When Blogging Becomes a Slog, but can I completely relate to it. It’s about the consequences of having a successful blog and having a successful life, and the consequences when the two intersect…
What happens when you gain a blog following
Let’s be blunt: Having a popular blog is pretty exciting.
It’s like going from being the ugly duckling to the Homecoming Queen in a clichéd Hollywood makeover movie. And, as Olivia Newton-John found when she went from the “sweet girl next door” to the diva-esque “girl in super tight black bodysuit”, it does have a downside. And I don’t just mean finding a way to keep fitting into those tight pants and stilettos, dancing around a carnival with John Travolta.
As many of you know, I had a month’s break this year because I was exhausted from the negative aspects of this otherwise fabulous existence – you can re-read the “Why I’m having a break from Luscious” post and then the cheerier, “Hello, I’m back!” to learn more.
The month off was great. Hard but great. It was hard being away from my online family, the Luscious Lifers I’ve come to know through my laptop, who leave great comments, thank me with “likes” and emails, and generally “share the luscious love”. As the weeks of my break went by, it was hard seeing the stats dwindle because nothing new was being posted and fewer people were engaging in the existing content.
I really like the idea that I’ve come to know what people such as Lourayne, Mercy, Sarah, Christine, Girlfriday, Wendy, Lori, Matthew and Carole will respond to when I post it. It makes me smile when I see that Elise or Rossella or Maria or Judy or Andrew or Sharon have “liked” something. Or Lorna or Maxine or Rocio or Jennifer or Leanne or David or Toni or Athena or Beverley or Neicee or Larry or Kathy or Josie… (apologies to everyone I’ve left out, there are so many of you!)
I feel grateful when people share their stories with me, such as Heather, a writer, who has been wanting to start her own blog but just needs some encouragement to get started. Or others – whom I won’t name – who share their very personal stories about infertility and depression with me. It’s an honour that you feel you can trust me, and I guess it’s part of the reason I keep telling my own stories and sharing things I like most days.
The benefits of a break
The main thing I gained from my time off was realising how entrenched Luscious is in my life. This might sound ridiculous considering my blog name is quite literally “my Luscious Life” and I’ve willingly shared aspects of it with complete strangers.
After I made the decision to take time away, I’d still reach for my phone to take a photo of something nice to share on Instagram. I’d hear about someone’s death and want to share my condolences on Twitter. I’d read an article of interest which I wanted to share in a “Luscious news – quick picks” post.
But I told myself that a break was a break, which meant not sharing for a while. I didn’t like it but I made a point of “sitting on my hands” and keeping things to myself.
Despite worrying about what a narcissistic idiot I may be as an “oversharer”, it reinforced how much I am happy to share things with the Luscious community. And by the end of the third week, I knew I’d definitely be back to the blog quite soon.
Four weeks after my “having a break” post, I was back. Energised and raring to go.
Juggling other interests
Depending on your point of view, I’m lucky or unlucky to be childless – read about our struggles to have a family here – but as time goes by, I’m falling into the “grateful I have the time to pursue other interests” camp, unlike my friends with children, who are run ragged and can barely find time to have a shower.
I have an incredible, supportive partner (Mr Luscious) who wants me to do what makes me happy. We’ve survived several years of complete misery relating to his divorce and the alienation of his daughter by his first wife, as well as bouts of depression, moving every 2 years, and ongoing financial stress. But we’re luckier than most, and have mostly weathered the storms.
So now I get a world in which to write, to learn French and Italian, to play tennis, and to walk on the beach with our dog, Mabel. It really is very luscious, but we still have daily concerns such as ongoing health and money issues, and currently, some awful things happening at Mr Luscious’s work.
I try to share the good things and minimise the bad things, partly because it’s my nature to embrace the positive, but also because I feel the other people in my life deserve their privacy. They didn’t sign up to have their lives on display.
The highlight of my month off was the space to work on my three books (a novel, a travel itinerary book, and a guide to luscious living). I got a LOT done and felt pretty pleased with myself.
But despite being glad that I came back to the blog, I haven’t been able to get the balance between the blog and the books ever since – my writing has suffered and since receiving some excellent feedback on my novel (“akin to Donna Tartt”) I’ve suffered from writer’s block – I suppose it is a fear of failure? But it’s a nice problem to have, all things considered, and I know I’ll figure it out eventually.
It can be an all-consuming world
Thinking about today’s blog topic, I did a quick “why i’m having a break from blogging” search on Google and was surprised by how many posts came up. It occurred to me that most bloggers simply aren’t prepared for the world blogging opens up.
I’ve been doing this online thing for a while now and still get absorbed for most of each day learning new things about blogging, social media, the changing ways of society, technology etc, on top of researching potential posts. It’s a full-time job, essentially, even when there isn’t a new blog post to show for it.
BTW, you might like to read my step-by-step guide to creating a single blog post here: An anatomy of a blog post. I’ve received so much feedback on this topic that I’m now drafting a “how to create a blog from scratch” post.
I feel for bloggers who struggle, whether they’re new and starting out, full of energy and enthusiasm, and keen for recognition, or longer-term bloggers such as John and Sherry Petersik from Young House Love who have done so well in terms of commitment and success, but have flagged their exhaustion, as outlined in the New York Times article.
Fellow blogger, Erin Loechner, sums it up well:
Erin Loechner, who publishes the blog Design for Mankind, said that professional bloggers like herself take on very demanding, self-imposed workloads. “I think there’s a fear that if we post less, our readers will find that content elsewhere,” she said. And yet many bloggers don’t want to complain for fear of sounding whiny or ungrateful.
Can anything prepare you for the world of blogging?
Thankfully, I had some prior experience with my years as a journalist and communications/marketing consultant, but even that didn’t prepare for me this 24-hour-cycle-across-365-days-of-the-year environment.
I do it for love – it is about the luscious things in my life which obviously makes it easier (fashion, homewares, movies, music…) – but it still requires effort, and I try to think about it as a business most of the time, or more specifically, “the business of my life”. It’s about the things I enjoy, but I still want it to be professional.
I try to balance personal posts with more generic “photo gallery” posts; I have bills to pay so I try to choose ads to accompany posts which might actually be of interest; and I stay away from mentioning products unless I truly like them. And, as we know from the horrid Michael Kors experience, I’ll occasionally share a negative experience, but this is pretty rare.
This has evolved through trial and error.
In the very early days of Luscious, for example, I posted some photos of celebrities in a “Fashion Police” sort of way. But eventually I deleted them because I couldn’t live with ridiculing people. I may bitch and moan to my friends in private, in a “oh what is she wearing??” way, but sharing it with hundreds of thousands of people makes me uncomfortable. So I’ve made a point of “keeping things nice” on Luscious, proud in the knowledge that I’m (hopefully) not offending anyone.
Juggling the technical and commercial aspects of blogging has also been a challenge. In fact, probably harder than coming up with content, handling the administration, and dealing with the guilt of receiving more emails than I could ever hope to respond to. A lot of readers get turned off by the need to have some commercial elements on a blog.
In my case, I’ve gone with block ads and linked affiliate products which I have personally chosen, but the requests to take on sponsored posts still clamour in every single day, and I’ve turned down lots of requests which could have made heaps of money because they simply didn’t fit the Luscious brand.
Some people assume I am rolling in money (I’m always shocked when people say, “But I thought you’d be rich!”) and perhaps I could be if I was more driven by the potential income, but I’d rather keep “an authentic voice” than feel beholden to a sponsor.
I don’t want to sit in front rows at Fashion Week (I’ve done this and it’s less exciting that you would think…and then you have to rush to the next one and still right up a review instantly – it’s exhausting!) and I don’t want spend my life zipping around from one press launch to another when I have a little piece of paradise in our Mornington Peninsula home.
I’ve made a choice about how I like to live and how I want the Luscious blog to function, but it’s taken a while for me to figure it out.
How things have changed
Throughout history, there have been writers, journalists, presenters and radio broadcasters with whom we formed attachments, from the serialised novels of Charles Dickens to the hard hitting reporting by the American Ed Murrow to family-friendly radio serials such as “Dad and Dave” which my parents grew up listening to in Australia. People would read their columns or sit around “the wireless” for their regular updates.
But now we await new blog posts, Facebook status updates, tweets and Instagram photos, and feel disappointed when there is nothing new. We need our “fix” just as Mr Luscious needs regular doses of chocolate.
I can understand this – I like seeing new things in my various feeds as well – but I’ve been shocked by how many people have emailed me to tell me off for not posting something new. It’s usually done in a well-meaning way such as “I love you so much, Luscious, but why haven’t you posted today?? I’m having a bad day and need you to post something to cheer me up! You must post something!!”
I try to see it as a good thing – hey, it’s mostly nice to be popular – but it’s also a little weird thinking that someone is relying on me to make them feel better. And in the meantime, I may have my own every day activities, or even my own angst, to deal with.
It was unpleasant reading some of the comments the Young House Love people receive, including this one from the New York Times article:
One commenter named Margaret said she had lost interest in Young House Love because each of the couple’s three homes “look exactly the same,” and complained they decorate with “cheap furniture.” The couple shouldn’t use their children as an excuse for a lack of posts, Margaret added, because they “make big bucks” from their blog.
Do bloggers have a responsibility to their fans? Should you change your life (or, in this case, decorating decisions) because someone assumes you’re making “big bucks”? Or drop whatever you are doing because a fan is having a bad day and needs help feeling better? And how far should you take it? Popping over to their house to make them a cup of tea? Taking out a new mortgage to use more expensive furniture in a house remodel for a Young House Love blog post?
There have always been people in the spotlight, of one calibre or another, and their fans and detractors. But providing feedback was typically done by writing a letter, finding an address, adding a stamp, and going to the post box to send it in.
Today, it’s instant – you can convey your sentiments by “liking” or “favouriting” (it sounds silly, doesn’t it), sharing, retweeting and commenting (if you like it), or conversely, criticising, deleting, spamming and bullying.
If you put your life on display as a blogger, do you have to accept all the consequences?
And as a blog reader, do you have the right to criticise a blog for accepting sponsored posts, more intrusive advertising, or a change to the way content is presented or the frequency of its delivery?
What will the future look like?
Like all things, an equilibrium will eventually be found for the way we communicate online. Or at least I hope it will.
Relating my thoughts in this post is not meant to be a complaint, simply an insight. It’s an honour that people care about what I have to say, and I’m constantly surprised by all the fabulous feedback. But I can understand why people like the Petersiks from Young House Love are worn out. I worked at my blog for almost five straight years without taking a day off, and whilst it had its rewards, it burnt me out. No one wants to subscribe to a blog called “My Not So Luscious Life” do they?
If you’re thinking about creating or expanding your own blog, just remember to work on finding a balance that suits you. Mr Luscious is a broken record on the subject of “just post what you like – you can’t please everyone” and I know he’s right.
My month’s break was great, but it reminded me that there are other things I want to pursue too, so please consider reading Steven Kurutz’s piece, When Blogging Becomes a Slog, and take something from it, either as a blogger or a blog lover. And perhaps be kinder to yourself and the people behind the blogs you follow.
I think I have a responsibility to be happy, smart, thoughtful, creative and true to myself. What about you?
Thoughts? Leave a comment below.
- Grace Bonney from DesignSponge: State of the Blog Union: How the blogging world has changed
- Jason Kottke: R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013
- Holly Becker from decor8: The Future of Blogging – What Do You Think?
- Erin Loechner from Design for Mankind: Blogging, Now
- Mashable Mind Map: What is the Future of Blogging?