Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why We Still Blog - Type A Conference Recap

I've been blogging for awhile, and there are times when I just don't want to open my computer - and I don't. Three blogging veterans shared some amazing stories at Type A Conference that share why they keep blogging.  It's great motivation for all of us, and the key remains to remember why we started to begin with.

I have also posted other Type A Conference recaps:
Keynote session with Chris Garrett
Don't Rank Me: Getting Past Scores and Numbers with Kelly Whalen and David Binkowski
Time Management with Amy Bair
Taking Over the World with Google+ with Lynette Young
Vlogging for Bloggers: From Keyboard to Camcorder with Christie Crowder
Blog Coding with Peter Pollock and Caitlin
Blog Design with Laurie Smithwick, Brittany VanderLinder, and Melissa Culbertson

Why We Still Blog
Cecily Kellogg @UppercaseWomen
Tanis Miller @redneckmommy
Katherine Stone @postpartumprogr

The three bloggers began the session by reading some incredibly moving posts.

Katherine opened the floodgates of crying from the audience with Overwhelmed by Motherhood: The Anatomy of an Anxiety Attack.

Cecily followed that up with a blisteringly true Holding True: Maintaining My Non-Diet Status in the Post-Holiday Onslaught of Shame.

Tanis finished up with an incredibly moving My Son Has a Super Power.

From there, the conversation began.

Katherine: Did you cry?  Laugh?  React?  That's why we blog.  When we met before this sesson, we all agreed that we blog for three reasons: Community, writing, and therapy.

I started blogging becuase I had post partum depression, and I felt alone.  It's a very isolating and scary thing. It's so alone when there's no one around who feels like you do.  I didn't want anyone else to feel alone like I did.  It's not like I had a master plan.  I had a sense of purpose, and my purpose was that I was going to help somebody, and that's why I started and why I still do it.  It helps that for me I have a purpose that's much greater than me, so whenever I forget why I'm doing it, that reminds me why I'm here.

Over the   years, other things get added to it like meeting you and finding my tribe that I love and adore.  I love you guys and you make me feel like I'm part of a group of wonderful people, and that's why I do it.

I started blogging because my son was almost five, and he just died.  I live rural; I don't have any visible neighbors. My other children were in school, and I was losing my mind. No one else I knew had a son who just dropped dead when they were five, so I turned to the internet figuring surely that someone on the massive world wide web would feel like I did.  Eventually I stumbled on my first mom blog that had a blog roll on the sidebar that linked to other blogs. I fell into one blog after another and there are women out there who are writing what I'm feeling, and there was a light I could relate to.

After a few months of reading, I figured I could write so why not.  I started writing about how I felt losing a son and how I couldn't laugh and how I felt nothing because I felt like an ice cube.  I felt like I wanted to write to honor my lost son and my current children.  I wanted to remember how to feel.  Grief is the monkey on your back that when you think it's gone, it grabs your hair and yanks and says "Hello, I'm here."

Women have such power and there is such wisdom in our words, even though it's such a small blog and you think no one is reading.  Someone saved me, and if I can be that one ray of sunshine in a dark moment, that's why I blog.

Cecily: I started blogging because I couldn't have a baby.  I started hanging out on the Fertility Friend message boards.  People talked about the baby dance, which meant sex.  People talked about sprinkling you with baby dust.  I don't know if you've met me, but I don't want to be sprinkled with baby dust.  I couldn't connect with these women, but one day in those forums, someone linked to three blogs - Heather Armstrong, Julie of A Little Pregnant, and the defunct Getup Girl who was probably one of the best bloggers I've ever seen.  They were funny and irreverent and crazy, and they were talking about it like how it really is.

You go get your scans with a dildo cam, so I wrote about that and my doctor visits, and I wrote about losing my sons when they were six months along, and I wrote about the birth of my daughter.  When you're writing, it's first person narrative, and that's what really makes it sing for me.  One of the things about being a long term blogger is staying relevant.  If you're a woman and use your uterus and blog, then you're a mommy blogger, no matter what you blog about.  I had to rebrand, and my daughter is six and not so willing to be written about.  You have to keep being someone who matters in the blogging community, and I don't want to lose this amazing community I have.

Tanis: My kids were 8 and 9 when I started, so I always had to struggle with my boundaries and what I put on there.  They sort of passively accepted that their mother was going to make fun of them on the internet, which is the family dynamic at home, too.  The therapy bills will be awesome.  My daughter is turning 16 and my son is turning 15, and I think I'm going to be losing my mommy blogger badge soon.  Once they're out of high svhool, their stories really aren't mine anymore.

I'm really focusing on sharting stories that are relevant to me.  Sometimes it's fighting with my inlaws - life happens to all of us.  It's the small moments in life that are the most relevant to us.  It's the small things that make life interesting and are what we can relate to.  If you're waking up in the morning and putting things out there, you're taking a bite of life and can share that with people.  Someone will find it interesting, and if people don't then I'll write something else.  Once I lose the mommy blogger status, I'll just be Tanis blogging and I'll keep doing it.

Katherine: Post partum progress is a niche, and that niche never goes away because people have babies every year and 20-25% of women go through PPD or a similar illness. Now that my son is 10 and it's been  9 years since I had it, I'm further and further away from it.  When I first started the blog, it was me, myself, and I, and no one else was touching my blog. I felt very obsessed and controlling.  I didn't want to cede any control or let anyone else in, and finally I had to get over it because I had to start allowing other people's stories and points of view on the site.

I'm 42 now, so there are women who are 10 years and more younger than me having babies, and I wanted their peers to be able to talk to them.  So now I'm the editor of Post Partum Progress, so I write mostly once a week and I edit other women's stories, so it's more of a group thing now.  That's one way of differentiating.  I also have a new blog on Babble Voices called Something Fierce about living a fierce live and what that means to me.  It's about standing up to stigma and for women's health and how that applies to other parts of life and may apply to yours.

I'm a little nervous because - is anyone going to read it?  Will anyone accept me for that, or am I just the PPPD girl?  It's true for many of us where we get known for a particular thing and then it's not that I don't want to do that thing anymore, but I want people to know that Katherine Stone is more that just that little thing. So it's hard to venture outside that little realm that you've been living in for years, but I'm fierce,, so I'm going to give it a shot.

Cecily: I've been blogging since before Facebook, before Twitter, before G+ and everything else. There was just comments.  People did follow and come over to your blog from other comments on other blogs.  I used to be very funny on my personal blog until I lost my sons, but I love the freedom that Twitter has allowed me to be funny because on my blog everything is so serious.  One thing that might be different from others is that we are all personal blogs.  Tanis and I are self-centered narcissists, totally.

How do you evolve in blogging and use other platforms and use the larger social community.

Katherine: I started to find some success on my blog.  I blogged on my blog and in the comment sections of other blogs.  Then I discovered Facebook. And then Twitter started, and I did it for like two days and said WTF, I don't understand this, so I quit.  Then I went back a year later because everyone said I had to be on Twitter.  I chat about everyhing, and my mother is now on Twitter, which is SO awesome(sarcasm).  All of a sudden I have all these other things and places and people are starting to ask me, "Can you write here and write here?"

My blog and my tweet stream turned into my resume or my busines card.  My Facebook page was my cover sheet.  It was the gateway drug to getting other jobs.  I don't make much money on my blog and all ad revenue is donated, but now - because of my blog - I'm getting paying jobs and not just mooching off my husband, and that's what happened with my blog.  It's been a stepping stone to building a profeesional life, but I work really hard at it.  I have to force myself to shut off my computer and spend time with my kids.  Internet is my crack.

Tanis - So this is about branching out.  For the first four years or so, it was just Post Partum Progress all the time, and I also started when there was nothing else. The only way to get people to know  you was to comment on other blogs or send them an email saying, "Hey I'd love for you to check this out".

Twitter becme the place for me to be me.  I made a conscious decision that this blog is a place for other people, not telling people about my vacation or what I had for dinner because they're struggling with the worst part of their lives ever.  When Twitter came along, I  thoought I might have a place to be myself.  That's where I put my little paws in the water to show who I am and to see if people accept that.

For many years, I never went to a conference because many of us in the blogging world have - like me - social anxiety.  Stab me a milion times in my forehead because it would feel better.  That's how I felt.  Finally, I realized that I'm never going to get anywhere hiding behind my laptop.  I started going to conferences, and that's when everything changed.  It doesn't mean that I don't have social anxiety, but meeting people in person has made a massive difference in getting these extra projects and having people say, "Would you like to do this or that?"  That didn't happen until I started going to conferences and started forming relationships.

Nobody is sponsoring the depressed girl, we're not inviting her to the Hasbro party.  I'm not sending her to Disney.  That's the atttitude that people have, so it wasn't until I was like, "I'm a real person and competent" that anything changed for me.  That was a big thing to be able to get out there, and thankfully I'm proud of my work and I started to win awards.  Those things help, too.  A little, not as much as you might think, but it helps gain some recognition which means more people will learn about PPD.

The one piece of advice I would give is to get out there and be who you are, don't worry about what other people have done or what success other blogs may or may not have had.

Katherine:  I still don't get invited anywhere either.  We're party people, we swear.  A lot of you have a business, you're selling something or you're a hard core reviewer.  How do I be myself and write about what you want to write about and still get noticed?  There are a lot of brands out there who like me for being me.  Don't worry about the brands who don't want to work with you because there are brands - and big brands - who are willing to take a chance.  A lot of companies are scared of social media, but a lot of them are taking a chance.  Keep writing and being you.

Cecily:  One conference I went to, people would say that I would beat people up.  I don't know where that would come from,,but that was the rumor.  I've never been in a fight except in 7th grade when I totally lost that one.

It's not all about page views.  It's interesting to talk about page views versus influence.  We have influence.  You talk about trying to be you.  My review of sleep number, I talked about how awesome it is for fat girls and how sex was on it.  One of the things I've done is that I've taken ads off my blog.  Because I have branched out to write elsewhere, I have the freedom of having my blog be ad free.  My page views are much lower than when I lost my sons or when my daughter was born.  Page views are much less important than that community.

What does influence mean to you?

Katherine: I just want to say, in my old life I was actually a brand marketer for Coca-Cola.  In defense of brands, it's easy to forget that they have a business to run, and while there are brands I adore in my own life, they may not pick me to do their stuff because their goals don't include Post Partum Progress.  The other thing that is important to remember is that sometimes it does hurt because you think that I use it and love it and they've made the decision that you're not the person they need.  You have to make that ok and then connect with the ones who do want to work with you for your influence.

In terms of influence, there's Klout now and all these things that are supposed to tell us who is influential and who isn't, and I can't stand it.  People told me was the way to be influential was to follow only people who have a lot of followers.  Screw that.  I'm not that kind of person.  I'll never be that person.  I'm never going to buy Twitter followers ever.  I'm never going to buy Facebook followers.  Ever.  If that makes me have a lower score, I want to be true to who I am and to me as a blogger.

Write on a piece of paper why you blog.  When you think some days and get stuck on "why do I do this" because we think we're only successful if I have this or that, this is the piece of paper you turn to.  I have influence because I focus on why I started and why I blog.  My people in my community trust me - I hope - and are interested in what I have to say and are willing to support me in other things I have to say.  They will donate money to my nonprofit or will retweet a post from Cecily or Tanis beacuse I asked them to.  That is influence -getting people to act.  That's what I focus on and try not to get sucked into these other fake measures of influence.

Tanis:  I try not to worry about influence too much because I was a geek in high school and I can't even influence my teenage son to take a shower.  I can't convince the internet to stop using the word "retarded" or get Disney to send me anywhere.  Once I focused on the numbers, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die and stop blogging.  I focus only on my friends and that I'm doing what I believe in and that others appreciate.  If they don't, then there are others who will.  There are a lot of people who like numbers, and that's fine.  I'm not a numbers person.

Cecily: I was laughing about Katherine talking about Twitter buying Twitter followers.  That's a rumor about me, and no, I have never bought Twitter followers.

I cannot tell you the number of times I've wanted to quit blogging, and mostly it's because people have said horrible things about me, my family, and things I've written.  People said something on Mom Crunch about not calling those people trolls and instead calling them invested critics.  It's hard to remember - I joke that there are two ways to criticize, "I disagree with you and here's why" and "You're an idiot and here's why" - I've had my parents trashed; I've had how I saved my life when I was pregnant with my sons trashed.

One of the great things that blogging has given me is that I can go to my community and say, "I want to quit and can't take it anymore."  Heather Armstrong saved me when I wrote her an email out of the blue of "how do you cope, how do you deal with this?" And she reminded me how many people I help each day.

But it's hard sometimes.  It's also the declining page views.  It's the less time because I'm mot invested in writing elsewhere.  It's the having a life and writing online.  How do we get past the things that make us want to quit?

Tanis: The best rumor for me is that I don't have an invisible kid who died.  I made it up.  But I really did have a child who died one day.  I don't have trolls and get hammered the way you do, but I'm tired.  It's exhausting trying to create the personal memoirs.  Not everyone appreciates that I'm writing about my kids or my husband or whatever.  I get beat up in real life about why do you do it, what's a blogger.  It drives me crazy and I want to give in.  Then I get an email from someone who says my son passed away and I don't know what to do or I have a disabled child and I just read a post you did.  You just put one foot in front of another.  Once it's no longer fun or fulfilling, you stop.  It's just like life.

Katherine: Sometimes about wanting to quit, it's just being overwhelmed.  These young people who keep creating new things make it tougher and tougher.  Now you have to do StumbleUpon and Pinterest and Instagram.  For many of us - this IS the Type A Parent conference - many of us have other responsibilities, and the times I think of quitting are when I'm overwhelmed and I feel like I'm doing everything mediocre, that I'm not doing one thing well that I'm just half you know what-ting.  I'm not really meeting any sort of level of quality in what I do that I would want for myself.

Sometimes that gets to you and you feel like I stink on so many levels and that's when I think I should quit because who am I helping?  I get so many emails I can't respond to them all anymore, and whose email did I miss and not help and they think I'm a horrible person?  I love that more people are reading and that they are reaching out - which is wonderful - but you feel like you're drinking through a firehouse.

The reason I don't quit though is because of what it says on that piece of paper in the first place.  If I'm not perfect this week or next week or the week after, that's ok.  No one has called to complain that I'm not perfect on that website.  Talk to your friends.  Get on Google Hangout.  Skype.  Tell them, "I'm thinking of leaving, is that a good idea?"  You might have them talk you down and ask how they can help you.  The biggest benefit ever is that blogging has changed my life.  I have beautiful people in my life that I just can't expain in words how important blogging has been to give me these amazing people.

Tanis:  I can't imagine quitting and losing all the friends we have.  It would be so isolating in northern Canada.

Cecily: I actually do get emails saying "You suck, and I'm not going to read you anymore."

It's interesting that there are all the new platforms.  I eat that up.  I sign up for all of them, and it's great that Babble has given me a place to geek out about it because my readers don't want to hear about Google+.

Being a long term blogger, my audience has eveolved.  I've lost a lot of people who read about my infertility.  I've lost a lot of the people who read when my duagher was born.  I've been sober 16 years.  I still get the emails of "my son is 16 and I think he has a drinking problem, what do I do?"  When I was 6 months pregnant, I developed serious pre-eclampsia and had to terminate my pregnancy to save my own life.  I was too sick for a c-section, so I had to do a partial birth abortion to save my life.  When I blogged that, I got a lot of ripping apart.  A woman who did this (criticizing) came to me months later.  She ended up being in the same situation and her community wouldn't support her.  My community did.  And that's why I'm in it.  For every single hate post, every single troll or invested critic, there are more who say thank you for saying it out loud because I can't.

What are your favorite moments from blogging?

Katherine - Emails, "You saved my life."  I'm done.

Tanis: The emails are fantastic, and I wouldn't trade them at all.  I love being able to walk into a room and realize that everyone else was struggling, as well.  It might not be with a disabled kid or a dead kid, but we're all isolated   I didn't understand that before I started blogging.  I didn't get how we could connect via our blogs or comments or emails.  We all spark off one another every day and that makes me feel less alone, and that saved my life after my son passed away.

What about work/family balance?  How do you do this - do the kids sit with you, do you do it at night?  How do you do it?

Tanis: All three kids are in school.  They get on the bus at 7:50 and hme at 4:30.  I don't turn off the laptop until they get home. It stays off until after dinnertime.  We do homework at the same table, and I do my blogging while they're at school.  I'm lucky with that. When they're on break, I don't know how to manage that and struggle with that.  When there are three kids at home whining at you and with the video games... business hours are what I do.

Katherine: Coming to these conferences and talking about that reminds me that I need to try harder.  I do the same things. My kids are gone for the day during the school year.  When I'm not having anxiety attacks, I work 9-3.  I hardly have time to eat lunch or go to the bathroom.  Literally, that's how much work there is in terms of emails and writing posts and doing interviews online; it doesn't ever stop.

I will say that I have a tradeoff that I have a mental illness where I need sleep.  If I don't get sleep, I will be in the hospital.  I don't get up early or stay up until 2am.  I have friends who do and can, but I cannot.  I can't follow through on as many opportunities as other people can.  I like living freely - not in restraints - so I have to protect my health.  There are some bright lines in terms of my health.  For my kids, I won't say that I'll never look at my phone with them because I totally do and my six year old calls me out on it, and I apologize.  Thankfully, my kids are comfortable enough with me that they'll call me out.  I have to hear that because they're telling me that, and that's when I stop.

Tanis: I try not to tweet on weekends.  I shut it off because I have to have some downtime.  If I don't step away from the computer, there isn't that much to write about.  I need the material.

Cecily - I work part time for who happens to be a Type A sponsor... I follow a pretty strict schedule.  I do my About One first thing in the morning because I can't write well in teh morning because I'm not a morning person.  I write between 3 and 5 pieces of content a day, so I have to get off Twitter to do that.  I'm not as active on Twitter between 1 and 6pm.

I have an office at home and work in my office because it makes my family - my mother who lives with us and my husband - respect it.  I work until dinnertime.  When my daughter comes home from school, I'm still working and she knows that.  A lot of times, she'll bring a game into the office where I'm working and play there so that she's physically in the room with me.  When she talks to me, I look away from the screen, but I also tell her that mommy needs to work and she needs to respect that.  I spent time with her dinner until bed.  Then I'm back online again.

I find it gratifying to be online in the evenings once the kids are in bed and you all have had some wine.  I also a little from FOMO.  I don't like to get offline because of that.

Katherine:  The other thing is when my husband is home, I still don't go back to work after the kids are in bed.  For me, I'm lucky in that he travels a lot.  When he's traveling and after the kids are in bed, I'm back on.  If you don't see me on Twitter, that means my husband is home!

Tanis: My husband hates when I'm online and we're both home.  He really hates it, so I stop.

Amy Lupold Bair - How do you deal with the people around you in real life who suck compared to everyone in this room?

Tanis: My hsuband says there are two distinct Tanises.  The one who lives online, and the one at home.  Not everyone loves what you're doing.  People in your real life may read something you wrote and not love it.  My mom saw a post I wrote and didn't like it and showed it to my dad, and he beat me up.  I didn't talk to him for 2 1/2 years.

Then there's someone who I thought was my best friend who saw a post about how I started to travel to the States and called CPS on me beacuse good moms don't leave their kids.  We lost the baby we were fostering to adopt because of that.

If you let it affect what you're writing, they're winning.  If I write it, I own it.  If I'm not willing to do that, I'm not willing to press publish.

Katherine: I'm so glad you asked this.  When I come to a conference, I feel alive. These women are so real and alive and smart and funny and down to earth.  Then I go home to the suburbs of Atlanta.  And I get the dog face.  What do you do?  Blogging?  Errrr? What?  One neighbor said, "What does that take you, like 30 minutes day."  Yeah... then I eat bon bons and I put my feet up and people fan me.

I feel very isolated at home because I'm not part of the world that I'm not doing what they're doing.  They are playing tennis all day, while I'm working. They don't understand why I'm not doing the same things they are.  I sometimes think that they think I don't want to be in their world, so I must be aloof and snooty.  It's a major gulf.

The very first thing I ever wrote was a PPD post for Newsweek that they published.  The week before it published, I started having buyer's remorse.  I talked about wanting to kill my son in the article, so my husband and I joked that we should buy copies and put them in mailboxes of all the neighbors with a Post-It saying, "Don't hire this woman as your babysitter."

Cecily:  Here I'm Cecily. I am not Wife.  I am not Daughter. I am not Mom.  I joined the social media club of Philadelphia.  This is a community that respects that I'm a professional.  We have a huge social media group that is 150 people strong. We have events we do together that makes a difference.  My best friend's husband said to me once, "You said blogging, and I zoned out."  I was so hurt.  My best friend said the business of blogging so so boring, but if I said this about her job, she would be so hurt.

This is my job, my passion, and my joy.  I will keep people in my life who get this.  I am blessed to have another person who lives two blocks from me who lives in this world.


tiarastantrums June 29, 2012 at 9:49 AM  

katherine is quite remarkable isn't she -

Katherine Stone June 30, 2012 at 8:18 AM  

Thanks for blogging about our session! I love your summary of what happened. You make us look good. ;-)

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