What Happens Next… After Five Years of Blogging.
My grandparents often send me clippings from their local newspaper. Usually, it’s recipes from the HEB store or articles mentioning Croatia, where my husband’s family is from. Years ago, my grandmother sent me a big feature article from Austin Monthly, with a tiny note attached.
“Dear Jennifer”, wrote my grandmother. She has always been the official correspondent from Grandparent HQ. “This gal was featured in the Austin newspaper in a big article about how she got a book deal from starting this thing called a web-log. Maybe you should do one. Maybe you could get a book deal too.”
My grandparents have always been some of my biggest fans, and have even created a binder where they keep things I’ve written through the years. I’ve leafed through the binder to find articles I wrote as a journalism student, stories from a now defunct website I used to write for, and papers I drafted in high school. They’ve even kept emails they thought I composed particularly well.
“Oh, but you wrote it so nice it sounded like a real story!” Grandma would reply, when asked why she printed and saved an email I sent her in 2001. ”I showed it to some of my friends. They enjoyed it too.” My body of work is already quite well known by every golfer and Lutheran in Marble Falls, Texas.
So I checked out the blog. It was Stephanie Klein’s Greek Tragedy– the OG of the blog world, back when it was full of personal stories and free from copious advertising. She was a terrific writer– sharp and honest with a strong, original voice. Some of my initial thoughts were “Damn, this girl has amazing hair”, “This chick has quite the mouth on her”, and “Huh. Maybe I should start a blog. Maybe I could get a book deal too!”.
Now this would be an amazing place to say… and I did it! Dear Readers, after five years of your loyalty I am proud to say I have finally landed a real-live-book deal! Grandma’s plan worked!!”
Well that day ain’t here yet, but I will tell you that I’ve been working harder to hasten its arrival. I’ve been writing a book. Yes! A real, live book! Can I tell you what a pretentious A-hole I feel like writing that? Who isn’t writing a book? I’m sure half the Kardashians have written a book. Snooki has a book. If they can do it, why can’t I?
If you’ve been reading for a while (and bless you for that, really) you’ll have noticed that this blog has gone through many iterations over the past five years of me tending it. It started as a fun way to document things I was doing around the city. I posted lots of pictures and recipes and scattered some stories in between. I spent a lot of time on here, and really enjoyed the creative outlet after work. But I could never keep up with 3 or 4 posts a week coupled with my job and personal life, and the only thing I’ve ever really been consistent with is my complete and utter inconsistency. I don’t make a lot of apologies for it because this blog is not my occupation, and I never want writing to feel like another obligation. I’ve taken long breaks and short breaks. Some months I posted every week, some months went by without posting at all.
I have done an absolutely terrible job at promoting this site, and the numbers show. I paid 50 bucks for a sponsorship ad once, gained about three followers, and never went down that road again. I feel like a jerk spreading my stuff on Facebook and twitter, which I’m not even convinced helps anyway. If I get one new bloglovin’ follower every other month, I’m thrilled. A lot of people say that content is king, but I respectfully disagree. It takes a lot more than original content to make yourself noticeable on the internet. I’m sure I could have paid a designer to make my site look more professional, paid more attention to learning about SEO, or spent more of my day commenting on other blogs in order to create a bigger community here, but with a (sometimes draining) full time job and a small budget, I just never took the time.
Time! There is never enough time!
I don’t know how other bloggers do it- I really don’t. I’ve done a lot of evaluating and rejiggering to find out where my time is best invested, and have made adjustments accordingly. I don’t post a lot of pictures anymore, because with my limited back-end knowledge and utter lack of technical prowess, uploading, editing and arranging pictures in a post added at least an hour to the process. There are pages on this site that have been “under construction” for two or three years, and the truth is, they will probably remain that way. I’ve chosen to concentrate my energy on my writing, and the other stuff is just not that important to me. I don’t really feel like spending time tweeting and retweeting either. I find social media a big enough time-suck as it is.
I kind of gave up on the idea of this becoming a popular blog long ago. My posts do not go viral, they are not the type that get “pinned”, and I will never be recognized on the street. Isn’t that a trip? I have seen “famous” bloggers around the city, and completely recognize them. I’ve seen “Love, Taza” pushing her baby carriage through the Upper West Side; I’ve seen women I follow on Instagram hanging out on the Highline or Bryant Park. One time I even saw Stephanie Klein buying cheese at Central Market in Austin and had a completely embarrassing fan-girl moment. Anyway, I don’t think it’s in the cards for me to become one of those recognizable bloggers. Fine by me.
In many ways, I am glad to be an “under-the-radar” blog, because it’s allowed me to write without a lot of outside influence or pressure. I have not been subject to the criticism or scrutiny that bigger blogs have. To my knowledge, I don’t have many “haters”, but instead have a smart and thoughtful cheering section who encourages me to share my pieces more often. I haven’t had to adjust my content to fit some larger standard because I simply don’t care about fitting one. As a result, I’ve been able to write what I want to write without worrying too much if it will appeal to a mass circulation. Most importantly, checking in here on a semi-regular basis has really, really helped me establish my writing voice. I feel like I’ve developed a very specific writing style that sounds like “me” at this point, and if I’d been writing for a really large group of people, it’s possible I might have derailed from it.
A week or two ago, Vin was scrolling through my Instagram feed, and happened upon a really sweet comment from a reader, urging me to “Write a book already!”.
“Isn’t it weird?” he asked. “Complete strangers are able to follow you and read your posts?”
I was surprised by his reaction, because getting complete strangers to read my posts has been the whole point of having these social media accounts, and a blog. “Of course it’s not weird! When complete strangers tell me to write a book, it’s the most encouraging thing in the world!”.
Seriously, it is. Please never underestimate the impact of your kindness. When you say “You should write a book!” to someone who has always dreamed of writing a book, you are doing many things at once–you’re making her day, you’re quelling her insecurities, and you’re lighting a big bonfire under her butt. At least that’s what many of you–family, friends, and far-flung readers alike–have done for me. Your notes of encouragement have meant more to me than I could begin to describe. They make me feel like my thoughts matter.
As such, I have been writing here less, and trying to write this beast of a book more. If it shapes up the way it looks in my head, it will be a collection of short personal essays, filled with stories I’ve never shared on the blog before. Right now all the essays are still in the phase Anne Lamont refers to as “the shitty first draft”, but I plan to go back and gussy them up later. I hope they will strike a balance between funny and sweet, and remain consistent with the voice I think I have begun to develop here, on this little web-log that came about after my grandmother sent me a clipping from the newspaper.
If you know any literary agents who are partial to non-fiction and personal essays, feel free to slip them my number. There’s a $20 bill with your name on it if you do. I figure that’s a better investment at this point than a sponsorship ad.
And if (I mean when…when!) I ever do finish this next writing project, I already know when and where I’d like to schedule my first stop on the book tour. Pencil me in for springtime in Marble Falls, just after the bluebonnets have made their brilliant debut. I’ll be parked at a skirted table in front of the Lutheran church, where I’ve already established a loyal and supportive fan base.