12 years of blogging: How I lost — and found — my voice
July 14, 2019 marked the 12th year of this blog! I thought it’d be a good excuse to look back at my journey through blogging.
They hey day of blogging
When I started blogging blogging was very different than it was today. Templates were simpler, ads were hardly a thing, content was strong and tended to celebrate the work of others, and everything was far less “perfect” and curated. Blogs provided a lens to share a perspective and a view. And there was an entire community around them. Back then, if your product was featured on certain design blogs, you’d find yourself having new sales and getting to a new level of success. Everyone didn’t have their own blog back then.
I started a blog because I saw the community that was forming around them. This was long before Twitter and Instagram even existed, so the community happened in the comments of posts (and 99% of the time comments were nice and supportive).
When I launched my blog on July 14, 2007 (Bastille Day) I had a blog name (always the hardest step) and I knew that travel and design were interests to me. I started my blog using Blogger, a free platforms many bloggers used. I made a header logo, but blog design was hardly a thing back then either. The barrier to entry and pressure to do something amazing was low back then. It was about ideas and having a perspective.
The biggest concern of the time was crediting the work of others, which I always insisted on. The fact that I took the time to do it often led me down a curiosity rabbit hole discovering more awesome work by the creator. I hoped that in not only naming them, but by linking to their work others could do the same.
Finding my voice
I didn’t fully realize it but my daily posts were also a way for me to figure out what I really liked. I’d often share work or projects I found inspiring by other designers. I struggled at the time because I liked the idea of city guides, but there were other bloggers already doing them. (Little did I realize there was room for everyone to do them and share them from their own perspective.)
I started a weekly column called Boarding Pass which explored the creative ways people traveled and recorded their memories. It was a way for me to showcase the work of others while creating original content. I also became connected to cool people who would go on to do even more amazing things—many who are still good friends today!
During my early years of blogging I became the first DesignSponge intern. D*S was one of the blogs I worshipped and that kept keep me sane in a day job that I often felt bored at. I’d look forward to her six (!!) posts a day. I still never knew how Grace kept that pace for so long (August 2019 she’ll be retiring the site). I went on to work as a contributing editor, contacting creatives around the world asking to feature their homes on the “Sneak Peek” column.
Blogging is about work ethic
Here’s the thing about blogging: it’s more work than you realize. But, to the same extent it highlights your work ethic and discipline. It’s still my blog best business card to this day.
Starting in 2007 my blog became my daily morning practice and helped me get through my day job. I was working full-time and managed to get a post done each morning. In 2009 I moved to Paris for grad school. I now had all the flexibility in the world, yet couldn’t seem to keep up regular posting.
It took me YEARS to realize how blogging had so much value in terms of creating good habits. I remember being in a job interview and I didn’t have to prove that I knew what I was doing, it was all right in front of everyone through my blog. (That whole “show, don’t tell” thing works!).
In my own bubble of bloggers I also totally took for granted that what came “easy” to me was not intuitive to others. Even if blogging took time, as a communication tool it came naturally to me. That’s something I didn’t fully realize until I gave other people reigns over one I was managing for a client.
Still, I shied away from the term “blogger”. I admit I was somewhat embarrassed or ashamed by the term, and felt judgement from people outside the blogging community who didn’t “get it” or what went into it. I shouldn’t have cared, but I did. (It took me years to really stop caring what others think. I’ve created a path that isn’t traditional, so it’s bound to leave people scratching their heads.)
In my post-grad school world, I was still finding my professional self (the hard way: starting a business in France). Little did I fully realize until much later, but the reason I was able to find clients was thanks to my blog. It was something that instantly legitimated me. It’s too bad during this period I struggled to get excited about blogging, and as time passed I only would make the time once in a blue moon to write a post. It wasn’t my priority, and that was OK. It was still working for me in the background.
The introduction of other social platforms
Twitter also entered the stage for me in 2009 and some of the conversation and connection moved there. At the time, it all felt authentic and engaging rather than a distraction or reason to look at our phones more.
A few years after Twitter, Instagram launched. I wasn’t the first to get on that platform as it was originally about putting “cool” filters and frames on your photos before anyone realized the true value it held as a social and connective tool.
Despite some fundamental issues, I still very much enjoy Twitter. I’ve always prioritized social media as a tool to learn from others and share ideas, rather than the “success” metrics society seems to have imposed on us.
Overtime I managed to make Instagram my “microblog,” prioritizing captions more than the number of likes I got. (Remember, it’s not about the likes.) I needed an archive where I can find things again. And if you look closely, my hashtag system makes that easier. If only Instagram would make some changes, it’s an incredible research tool!
During the hey day of social media Google killed Google Reader which made valuing longer form content and individual voices die with it. While I never used it to read blogs myself, I know it changed the behaviors of others. As we became more glued to screens, we had to work to find more than sound bites and pretty pictures, so why make the effort?? At least that seemed to be the attitude that emerged. It was yet another external factor that was not a motivating force.
The longer I kept blogging, the more blogs changed. They became more polished and “perfect”. They were less side projects, and many became a business. People offered classes on creating a blog, and rather encouraging people to find their own style, everything started to look the same. When that happens you start questioning what you’re doing more, and it’s easy to replace the joy with inferiority.
Enter the complex. “But mine doesn’t look like that,” and “I can’t do ____________, because [so and so] is already doing it.”
Society definitely has it’s way of making us feel like we should confirm when it’s actually the exact opposite that has lead to my greatest successes.
I always knew I didn’t want to be a “pro blogger” that was dependent on ads and making money directly through my blog. (Nothing against those who do, it just wasn’t for me.) Instead I took the “slow and steady” approach. My blog still managed to remind me of the kind of work that inspired me and unlocked opportunities because I had this online presence.
I also became jaded.
I’d share (free) content on Prêt à Voyager and people still wanted more. The most common one was asking for advice about moving to France. While every situation is different, I’d do my best to respond. However, France is the land of bureaucracy and doesn’t always work like people want it to. I jokingly called myself the “dream crusher” because I was honest and had to tell people what they maybe didn’t want to hear (I tried to be positive in my responses though).
The real kicker was how few people would write to even say thank you. It made me bitter, and annoyed. Eventually I wised up and wrote an epic post on living in France that I hoped would help some people on their journeys. It’s not that I didn’t want to help people, but more that I was in a very different place in my own journey. And the lack of responses was taxing.
Fast forward to last summer and I was at a friend’s birthday at a chateau (hey, it is France!). Two of the women at the party came up to say hi and thank me for my blog and tell me how helpful it was for them as they both now live in Paris. This was AMAZING and heartwarming to hear, but the thing is as someone who puts words and ideas out in the world, you rarely hear these stories on the other side. In the years where I was unmotivated to blog and felt like no one was listening, this would have been so awesome to hear.
These days I do my best to reach out to people when I don’t want/need anything just to let them know I love their work. I don’t even expect a response, but I do hope that I can help make someone’s day.
A shift in mindset
The simple act of blogging gave me clarity in what I liked and didn’t like, and what got me excited. I didn’t realize it until recently but it was a tool for exploration.
The world around me kept saying it’s about getting more traffic, and more likes, and more shares. I didn’t care too much about any of this, but still, it has a way of rubbing off on you. Whenever I was speaking to groups, I’d point out that what my blog really was was an incredible archive of ideas. It was something I did for myself—a reference for later—but was also happy to share.
As I was invited to give more talks in companies, they often liked the fact that I was blogger, which was very confusing to me. Sometimes even big name brands. One was in luxury, which confused me further. It turns out they loved my take on travel, and that’s why they wanted to work with me. They also wanted someone who could have fun! Imagine that.
As time passed I see now that there were times I got lost. Blogging felt like a chore and wasn’t fun for me as I started to think I was “supposed to” be sharing rather than what I wanted to be sharing.
I can think back to a few moments where big bloggers expressed their own take on blogging and what should/shouldn’t be shared on social media. There were even times when their way of thinking or insecurities creeped into my own mindset. While I find so much inspiration from others, there are other times where I should focus more on myself rather than what others think.
When I stopped blogging as regularly, I lost some of my writing muscles, which I’ve worked hard to build back.
Granted, in the middle I also was building my business (and learning things the hard way). I wasn’t sitting down doing nothing, but I also wasn’t flexing my muscles like I knew I wanted to be. But that’s the rad things about running your own blog—you write your own rules and can change them at any time. The real challenge is getting started (and not waiting for perfection).
As I started to take on on bigger client projects they started to take over my life, and suck any energy out me for sharing anything for myself. They were great learning experiences, but I also knew I wanted to turn back to my own endeavors. I had a craving to blog more because I knew it was my tool for unlocking opportunities. That’s when I used NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) last November as an excuse to write and publish something every day for the entire month. It set a momentum and joy that I hadn’t seen in myself for awhile.
As I pivoted back towards more ownership of my work—coaching, and a new online project—I knew that I needed to make my voice heard again. I don’t necessarily know that I’ll keep up this posting schedule forever, but for now I enjoy it, and it keeps me accountable to myself. It’s also a way to track my own evolution, because we don’t want to get stuck doing the same thing forever if that’s not what we really want.
Starting my newsletter was the best thing I did for myself. The other day I tweeted, “My newsletter is becoming what my blog once was where I share new discoveries and inspiration. And I love putting it together.” And now my blog, and business blog are a place where I can share longer form writing, often leaning towards sharing lessons and perspectives I would have learned earlier.
Finding joy again
In writing regularly again, I’m finding more joy again. I’m exploring in new ways and making new connections. The clarity is coming from doing, not from over-thinking or trying to make things perfect. I have a morning writing practice that doesn’t come naturally to me, but once I start, I can’t stop. It sets my day into momentum. (And it keeps me from looking at my phone first thing, which is more life changing than you realize!)
Over time I realized that writing and business can be fun. It’s not always easy, but it is what you make of it. I still don’t care about numbers and traffic, but I do hope that I am able reach people who can benefit from hearing my stories. Often I write posts so I remember my own advice. Heck, at Blogtacular in 2015 I even spoke words that I need remind myself of these days. We know more than we think! We just easily forget it.
I find I still have connections with those bloggers from back in the day. I’ve noticed a handful of them starting to share their voice more too in something deeper than an Instagram caption. I can’t help but think we’re circling back to blogging, and being human again. It’s not to late to start (or start back up).
The worst thing you can do is wait for it to be “perfect” to get going. Imperfection adds charm. Own who you are. And a friendly reminder, this is the internet, so things aren’t set in stone, you can always update them as you go.
Thanks to everyone who has been on this journey with me! You can find my business writing over at anneditmeyer.com, and sign up for my weekly newsletter: Connect the Dots.
Photo by Katie Mitchell Photography.