Thursday, June 18, 2015
8 [Unexpected] Things I've Learned From 8 Years of Blogging
On July 12th, I will have been blogging for eight years. EIGHT YEARS, readers! I can hardly think of any other hobby I've been consistently working on for that same slot of time. Sure, I still play the piano, read books, and enjoy dancing. But--let's be honest--I only play the piano a few times a month at best, I haven't actively worked on improving my reading ability in years, and the last time I worked on my dance technique, I was still single.
Blogging has been one of the few constants in my hobbies, and I can clearly see now that it has had some totally unexpected repercussions in my life.
8 Things I've Learned From 8 Years of Blogging:
1. How to take a much better photo
I have to include photography as the first item because it was the most unexpected and the lesson with the most payoffs (literally). Around 2011, I discovered that blogging (for some people) was a paid profession, and one thing almost all of those blogs had in common was gorgeous photography. I've always loved taking pictures, but for me, a "good" picture before was one where I looked good (or whomever I was taking the picture of)--I never stopped to consider anything else like composition, lighting, background, etc.
The interest really started when Matt permanently joined my life picture (because he had some background in photography), and since finally purchasing my own DSLR in 2013, I've never looked back. Now, not only are the pictures on my blog a lot more interesting to look at (in general), but I've also managed to start a small photography business on the side. My photography is still not where I'd like it to be, but it is a heck of a lot better than when I first started (as shown in exhibits A, B, and C).
2. Blogging for others makes for a much more interesting journal for myself
One great thing about a blog is it's like having a journal that's accessible wherever you are (complete with pictures). Growing up, I used to be a big pen-and-paper journaler, and for a long time, I felt guilty that blogging made me stop writing things down like that. But then, when I look at my actual pen-and-paper entries, I realize that blogging makes me a much better record keeper--for one, because I'm trying to make it interesting for others, the entries are much more interesting for me too when I look back at them.
Take this comparison--for my very first official date, this is all I wrote in my paper journal:
"Saturday was the dance! For our day activity, we went to the first session of conference (which was really good), then went to go see the movie "Signs," then went to Wendy's for lunch. It was really funny, because the guy's parents had to drive us everywhere. The dance was wonderful--while the guys went to the priesthood session, Liz came over and did my hair and Hannah did my makeup. I wore the navy blue bridesmaid dress I wore at Sarah's wedding. Everyone (especially David) kept telling me how gorgeous I looked." (and then there's a little more about me trying to make an ex jealous at the dance, but I'll spare you the details of my immature self)
Although the entry is kinda funny and all, I don't know if many would find it interesting besides me (and even I was getting distracted reading it).
In short, blogging has made me care more about including details, presenting things in a more interesting way, and has made me more adventurous in general. (If you know people are going to be reading about your life, you start to live it in a way that will make it more interesting, both for yourself and for your audience.)
In short, I love going back and reading old blog entries, whereas I almost never go back and read my old journals.
3. Take (and include) pictures of the everyday events (and not just the milestones)
Because I've always loved to take pictures, I was always pretty good at getting pictures of the big things--dances, birthdays, parties, girls' camp. But the everyday stuff? Not so much.
Blogging changed all that. My favorite blogs to read were often just little snapshots into other people's everyday lives, complete with pictures of the hot beverage they drank that morning and the flowers on their windowsill. It was blogging that made me find beauty in the everyday things, and now, looking back, many of my favorite pics and entries are of the seemingly "everyday" things--that are now no longer a part of my life.
Isn't it funny how what we consider our "daily routine" today will be nothing but a memory even a year or two from now? Because our "everyday" life is changing so much all the time, I am beyond grateful to my past self for documenting those seemingly miniscule little details.
4. Number of followers isn't everything (unless you're trying to make money)
This lesson was a long time in coming and a bit of a hard one to learn. You see, when I first learned that blogging was a thing you could do for profit, I was all over it--it's most of the initial reason I got into photography in the first place and did a lot of research as to how to make my blog more interesting to a general audience.
However, I hated the feeling I got when I poured my heart into a post or into a sponsorship, only to be disappointed when the traffic didn't match my expectations. (The day I discovered the Stats button in Blogger may have been one of the worst in my blogging life, I realize now in hindsight.)
Basically, I finally reached a point when blogging for profit wasn't what I wanted--I realized I wanted to write to ultimately please myself without having to worry about the numbers. And even though a part of me would still love to make money doing this, I realize that for me, it's better this way because blogging can forever remain my happy hobby rather than my forced job.
5. However, caring about gaining more followers (at least initially) made me a better blogger
Okay, okay--I know I just said that the numbers don't matter. BUT, it was the pursuit of numbers that got me to read up on blogging things such as templates, html, including photos in every post, etc. Now, when I look back at my first few years of posting, I cringe at the awkward placement of the photos and the weird spacing of some of the paragraphs. In fact, I think I'm going to make it a goal this summer to go back and reformat all my old posts to make them more accessible.
The biggest changes I'm glad I made?
- including a photo in every post
- making all my photos large (if side by side) or extra large
- writing more creative essays and less journal-like logs
- including more details
- writing events more like stories and less like summaries
6. It's easier to blog consistently than to blog sporadically
Oh man, this is one I'm definitely in the middle of learning (again) now--since pregnancy really took its toll on my blogging habits, I'm having a bit of a hard time getting back to posting regularly. My goal is to try and post three times a week for most of the summer because the above lesson is all too true--the second you stop blogging regularly (whatever that means to you), the easier it is to just not blog at all.
And I definitely regret now the fact that not much of my pregnancy was documented due to my not posting.
7. What works for someone else may not work for me
One of the biggest tips most big bloggers tell the latest up-and-comers is that they should have a definite blog focus and that they shouldn't do long posts. "People who read blogs don't want long posts," they write. "They want a tiny snapshot into an idea that they can read in 30 seconds' time before they rush off to their next appointment."
Perhaps it's the fact that I'm so long-winded that I never got much of a following, but eventually I just had to own the fact that I like to write long posts. (This very post is serious evidence of that.) In the end, because my blog has evolved from trying to please the stats and traffic gods to creating meaningful content, I do things my own way. It's cost me followers, but ultimately, I'm much more pleased with the result.
8. Inspiration can come from anywhere
In the days when I was regularly blogging five times a week, people would often comment to me, "I don't know how you do it--how do you think of so many different things to write about?"
And I would tell them--when you're in the habit of blogging regularly, you're constantly on the lookout for ideas. And you quickly learn that those ideas can come from anywhere--other blogs (esp. other blogs!), books you're reading, a funny comment you heard in passing, the beauty of the vegetable patch outside your front door...you get the idea. Eventually, because you're always looking for it, inspiration just seems to come in greater and greater droves until you're finally forced to start keeping a "Things to Blog About" list to keep them all straight.
I'm still trying to work my way through that list.
Well folks, I don't know what the next 8 years will bring in my blogging habit, but I sure am grateful that you've been here for this particular part of the ride.
What unexpected (or not unexpected) things have you learned from blogging?