Lessons Learned from a First Year of Blogging
One year ago today I wrote my first blog post, prompted by my thirtieth birthday the day before and emboldened by a new decade of life to start giving a slightly smaller shit what people thought of me. Back then my blog was called A Room of Her Own, as a nod to Virginia Woolf's classic and as a small claim of space to do what I love and be who I am. As the blog grew, I realized that the original name was becoming less fitting -- it was still my place to write, but it didn't feel like a quiet little closed-off room anymore. It had become a place where I could be myself, out loud, sharing my honest thoughts on life and faith with a community of readers and fellow writers.
When I changed the name I also moved from Blogger to WordPress, and within a few months Tamara Out Loud was unexpectedly Freshly Pressed. It was a huge gift because it gave my writing exposure well beyond my small group of friends and family members, and, as with most instances of grace, I had no idea what the hell to do with it. So I just kept writing.
It's been an incredible first year -- full of laughter and tears, new friendships and new experiences. Here's what I've learned so far:
Inspiration is everywhere. I used to save topics for some far-off "someday" in which I imagined I might get to publish an essay or even a book. But when I realized that blogging about something didn't preclude ever writing about it again in some bigger sphere, everything opened up. And if you are paying attention to life, you can find writing material everywhere, every day.
Something as mundane as your children's mispronunciations or an obnoxious chore can inspire a hilarious post; something as simple a self-defense class or a sentence on a marquee can inspire a poignant one. You just have to be paying attention. Even bad days can be rich with inspiration if you're willing to look at them with humor or thoughtfulness.
You're the shaper of your writing. I set out to write a blog that was truly candid, but that meant taking risks with where my audience might draw lines, and as I said above, I only started giving a slightly smaller shit what people though t-- I didn't quit caring altogether. So one of the most freeing things I've learned is that, although I keep them in mind, my audience doesn't shape my writing -- I do.
I've learned that when you write an essay about seeking Jesus through the struggle of sin, you're going to lose a certain set of readers; When you drop an F-bomb at the end of a poem, you'll lose a whole different set. But I've also learned that the audience that remains is truly one worth writing for because I can write for them with my own untempered voice.
"The man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." Technically, I learned that from Simon and Garfunkle. But throughout a year of reader comments and emails, I've come to realize that no matter how intentionally I craft a post, readers will take from it what their own perspectives, backgrounds, and situations demand.
You can take pains to accurately portray yourself as a flabby 30-year-old mother, and still your adventures in pole dancing may lend themselves to a strange Internet crush. You can preface and disclaim all day, and still a few words can wreak havoc. You can spell out plainly, "do not do this," and the very thing will be done. But, ultimately, once you press "publish," your work is over, and you have to let it go.
Don't be a dick. Or an asshole. In fact, just to be safe, don't be anything that belongs in undergarments. I've learned that the great big blogosphere can be a place of jockeying for position and self-serving promotion. But Tweeting snarky @replies, leaving argumentative comments on other blogs, and jumping to the defense of your own ego when you get a comment that stings can never push forward a blog with as much success -- and certainly not with as much integrity -- as can consistently delivering quality content.
Believe in your work. This has been a hard one for me sometimes, but I've learned that you can't show up as your own biggest naysayer and then expect to accomplish anything worthwhile. As soon as I took a short break from doubting myself I reached my first blogging goal, which was to have a post syndicated at BlogHer.com -- and then I did it two more times and counting. I say this not to brag but to prove a point -- sometimes you just have to get out of your own way.
Whether you've been reading since the beginning or have just recently arrived, I'd really love to hear from you on this little landmark occasion. You can share your own blogging lessons learned, tell me something you've gotten out of TOL in the past year, or just say, "hi." There's only one thing I ask: Don't be a dick.