It's super noisy out there, so why write? What I've learned at BlogHer 14
I'm writing this from a chilly conference room in San Jose, which at this particular point in time is home to the BlogHer14 conference. The subject: The Future of the Social Web.
It's a heady topic, covering the last 10 years of change--from Friendster and Blogger and MySpace to whatever hip new thing you're totally beta-geeking out about right now.
One of the main takeaways that I'm getting from this, however, is a constant: There are people hungry for content and content creators are always working hard to figure out how to get those eyes on their websites, blogs, apps, photos, videos, games, etc. And, of course, there are so many people and companies clamoring to figure out the ways to "monetize" their "brand."
(And if I never hear the words "monetize" and "brand" again after this weekend, it will be too soon).
(Fun fact: I once unironically used the word "brand" in reference ot myself in a conversation with my friend and I've hated myself over it ever since. Seriously, sometimes it's the last thing I think about before I fall asleep and I think, "Why? Why were you that asshole?")
(This is nothing against those who do want to monetize their brand. Honestly. It's just not for me.)
The primary question that it leaves me with is this: Where do I fit in?
I've worked as a journalist for 20 years now--that means I've always had eyes on my work.
But when it comes to my personal writing, that audience has mostly been smaller, more intimate, more curated.
And by that I mean that sometimes it's just been an audience of one: Me.
(Cue throwback pic of junior high-age me writing in my diary. Oh wait, that picture doesn't exist? #sorrynotsorry).
Of course sometimes there have been more people. Ten years ago-ish I launched my first website and blog and used that as a place for both blogging and posting creative work. Mostly my entries centered on pop culture. Music, film, fashion, a little politics, maybe too much Britney Spears. I also posted a lot of poetry. Because I just know how much the world was clamoring to read all those poems I wrote the summer after my divorce. I mean, right?
At some point however I got busy and the blog lapsed and eventually I let the domain name expire. I had too much work-related writing to do--who has time to throw a few words up online for, you know, just fun?
Eventually, however, I started hungering for something else. Perhaps Facebook and Twitter fueled this where, for me at least, there's the intersection of private and public.
So four years ago I launched a new website.
And let it sit.
And then I added the blog.
And I let it sit.
And then in 2013 I posted a few entries.
And then let it sit.
Why the lethargy?
Maybe it's because, as Twitter exec Melissa Barnes just said on stage, "it's super noisy" out there.
There are so many, many, many people shouting to be heard.
And without the traditional platform of a corporate-driven print or online product, it's very difficult to rise above the din.
So honestly, sometimes, you just think 'why bother?'
And then sometimes you kick yourself in the ass and tell yourself it's not your job to be the center of the universe--it shouldn't be your goal to be the center of the universe. Rather, it's your job to write what you believe in---to write what drives you.
And so I started blogging again. This time it got more personal. I mean, really personal.
I've written about my struggles with depression, past relationships. I've written about getting an abortion and why I reject the idea that it's a taboo topic.
So far the response has been positive. Which is not to say that's why I'm posting these entries. As a paid journalist I'm pretty damn familiar with negative reactions (that's a post for a different day). But, certainly, it's helped. It's helped to realize that sometimes one voice (mine) can connect with another human being.
This really and truly means a lot when you are, like me, an inherently internal person. An introvert. Someone who, in person at least, can come across as painfully awkward (remind me to tell you about the question I tried to ask at a BlogHer panel in which the panel speaker looked at me as though I had two heads. Two very stupid heads. No big deal, really.)
When one of those posts resonates with another person, it feels damn good. Earlier this week, BlogHer posted my What we talk about when we talk about abortion post to its home page and I flipped out with joy. Never mind that my writing reaches thousands upon thousands of people weekly through my job. This was different. This was something I wrote because I couldn't stop thinking about it. This is a post I labored over for a week. This is a post that I hesitated to share--my mouse cursor lingering over the "share" button when it came to posting it on Facebook.
The reaction that I received on that post validated every single reason why I write--both ego-driven and soul-driven: To connect with people. The conversations that it opened up online and in real life (another post for another day) were revealing and rewarding.
Now, I'm not going to lie and pretend that there's not a small (OK, medium-sized) part of me that doesn't fantasize that maybe one day I'll write a blog post that goes crazy viral or that makes people look at me as if I were the next the Bloggess (hello, New York Times bestseller!) but in the stone cold light of day I know that's not how it works.
And that's not really why I'm doing it. Yes, I'd like to write more and for different audiences, for different sets of eyes. But I also want to write for myself and to connect with others--even if that other person is just a friend at a backyard party who wants to share her own experience with me.
When that happens it's goddamned awesome.
And one of the things I've realized at BlogHer 14 is that sometimes that small, money- and brand-free connection is just as valuable.
But I wouldn't say no to that book deal of course. I may be a shy introvert-asshole that once used the word "brand" in a real sentence about herself, but I'm not stupid, y'all.