The Things I Love and Hate Most About Blogging
Many people are probably thinking about telling their boss to kiss their ass, walking away from 9 to 5, and exchanging stiff suits for pajamas, to work from home as a blogger. But my general advice is, don't do that. It's hard. I mostly only do this because my mental health roller coaster makes it more difficult for me to maintain a steady job than the average person. But some days, I long for the stable income the 9 to 5 people can rely upon. Even if you're really great at writing (and most people aren't as good at it as they think they are), it's really hard to get paid to do it. But, you can definitely do this on the side, and only put an hour or two a day into it, and still make some extra money on the side. And that's fantastic.
The people who work full time as bloggers now started out that way, putting 5 to 10 hours a week into it, while keeping a job they didn't love, but could tolerate, to pay the bills. Eventually, if you stick with it, you might also be able, one day, to leave your less than ideal job and work from home full time.
I'm not even technically "there" yet. I get support from my wife. I wouldn't be able to work at this all day, every day, and also work on my art and fiction writing, without her support. Even though I put in effort and did my research, that's not always enough. It's damn hard to earn money this way, and I won't sugarcoat it. But what I do get now is a reliable extra 60 dollars a month, and that number has increased steadily. What it took was not just writing new, quality articles, but also there has been tremendous value in updating and revising my older content.
Hate 1: Ads Dominate Everything
"Being your own boss" is a myth. You're never really your own boss when you start your own business. And yes, if you want to make money blogging, you have to treat it as a business. You may not have to hire and fire employees or buy thousands of staples at Office Max, but it is a business if you're doing it for money. And that means, the people paying you are your boss. If you have a brick and mortar business, that means your clients and customers.
If you have a blog, your readers are your bosses. But, more important are your advertisers. It's fairly easy to sign up with Google Adsense, the HubPages Earnings Program, Amazon Affiliates, and so on. But that means that those companies can now give you rules and guidelines your content has to follow. If you don't follow their rules, your hard work researching and writing your article is for nothing. One thing that makes me kind of mad is that I can't talk about a few topics on here without being demonetized. These include sex ed, discussion of sexual media, LGBT+ media, feminism, and gender issues. If I want to write about these things, I have to stick it all into a nonfiction book, put that on Amazon, and also hope Amazon does not censor me. Censorship is real, and a handful of big companies dominate what you can and can't write about. As long as you want to make money writing it. They say it has to be "family friendly", to which I say, psh. The lesbian aunt is part of the family too. And so is the horny teenager. Discussions of interesting anime fan phenomena like "traps" or "fujoshi" should not be off the menu.
Hate 2: Marketing Myself
I've always hated the term "brand". I grew up as a farm kid, and "brand" was a bad thing they used to do to cattle. Some very kinky adults enjoy it today, but it's painful, not pleasant. Brands are false images corporations want you to associate with their products or services. Nothing more.
And yet, blogging is sometimes inseparable from the idea of not only branding yourself, but promoting your "brand" on social media. And if the thought of that makes you feel like you're being threatened with a hot iron to the ass, you're not alone. Lots of bloggers hate branding and marketing themselves on social media. It can gain you success, but I'd say, only do it if you love doing it. If not, attempts to market yourself will just backfire, waste your time, and make you miserable.
What do I do instead? SEO (search engine optimization) on a per article basis. If you search for "autism and anime", my article on why autistic people are more likely to be anime fans, is ranked number one, or was a while ago. I didn't try to get ranked highly. I didn't have to do anything inauthentic or tricky. I just identified a connection between two things that many people don't think about. I investigated the connection and shared my findings with people interested in the connection. Whatever your niche, think about doing that, building connections between your niche and other topics you're interested in. For me, it's interesting to connect anime with psychology, literary theory, philosophy, or history. Finding some way to combine different niches is a powerful tool. For example, if you're interested in the guitar, you can also write travel blogs about going to concerts or finding great venues in certain cities for local indie music. That unites the concept you're interested in, guitar, with other concepts people are also searching for.
So, I personally find that SEO works better than outbound marketing. Nobody gets into writing because they're super extroverted and love making sales calls. And nobody gets into it because they love spending/wasting a ton of money on ads. So don't. Just make good content, that satisfies people's search queries. Looking good visually (get a good header image, make sure it's not copyright protected) and having a good title work wonders. Do some research about what people are searching for most that's related to your topic. That's all you really need.
Hate 3: It's Overwhelming How Fast the Internet Can Change
America has always been a land of constant change. Since America is the birthplace of the internet, it makes sense that this value of change and constant progress also became a dominant value of the internet.
Sometimes, I love it. I love that language used online is fluid, fast, no longer constrained by the dictates of stuffy old professors in Massachusetts. Now more than ever, language is governed by and for the people.
But it's also a headache at other times. When there are no rules, it can kind of feel like a game made up by a six year-old. You constantly have to play according to what this tireless child wants, and keeping up with her is hard. Your feet get sore and you feel like quitting and taking a nap, but she's just getting started. That's what writing for the internet feels like.
What to do about it? Don't follow trends. Sure, trends come in huge waves, with enticing numbers. I wrote about Pokemon Go! to capitalize on a trend. But, I also wrote about it because I liked it, because I enjoy the Pokemon franchise and all it has to offer. I didn't do that just because it was trending. Trends come, they go, and once they go, they're rarely, if ever, talked about again. That's not what is referred to as evergreen content. Really, you should be focusing on writing an article that is delightful, fun, catchy, entertaining, and gives people important, relevant information.
To deal with how fast the internet's standards change, I like to remember that there are principles of good writing that don't change. The number of links I'm allowed to use, and the number of certain words I'm allowed to say, may vary. But the general principles of quality content will not.
There are whole articles on what those principles are, but generally, it boils down to:
- Answer questions people are searching for answers to. You can find out what people are searching for the most using Google Trends.
- Use simple language.
- Communicate clearly.
- Eliminate unnecessary words and sentences.
- Use short, to-the-point paragraphs.
- Avoid redundancy.
- Avoid adverbs.
- Try not to use the passive voice.
- You don't need framing words like "I feel" or "I think". Just cut those out. What you're saying is by definition what you think.
- Angsting over correct language? Worried that grammar nerds will hate you if you end a sentence with a preposition? Don't. Try reading the Buzzfeed Style Guide for more info, and breathe a sigh of relief that you need not stress about every little fine detail of "correct" language. Which, by the way, doesn't even exist. "Correct" is subjective.
The internet changes fast. The niche you want to write about might also experience swift, sudden, unexpected changes. Language changes. Everything is impermanent. Rake your mini Zen garden from Barnes and Noble. Tell yourself it's going to be okay. And it will be.
Now for the Things I Love! Love 1: Flexibility
Even though I still have to find a topic people want to read about, and it does have to be whatever nebulous phrases like "advertiser friendly" or "family friendly" even mean, I still have a lot of freedom to write whatever I want, whenever I want, and however I want. Just because I normally write about anime, doesn't mean everything I write has to be about anime. If I wanted to write an article about the squirrels in my backyard, I could do it. I don't have to report to any manager or boss. I don't have to log my time. I don't have to tell anyone when I'm taking a piss break.
That's a double-edged sword, because sometimes it's nice to have someone external, other than yourself, imposing deadlines, making sure you stay on task. But for the most part, I absolutely love the freedom of writing online.
Love 2: It's Not Boring or Repetitive
Variety is the spice of life. But, if you work any regular, steady (albeit more reliable) job, you're going to eventually be bored. And yes, I've gotten bored with anime, and bored with movies. But I've never gotten bored with writing itself. I always have something new to write about. If I get bored with anime, there are cartoons. There are books. If I get bored with books, I can try writing about crafts, travel, animals, nature, food, music, the sky is the limit. Anything that interests you can be a blog article. Because it will likely reach an audience who also finds that topic interesting. You could start as a mommy blogger, get bored with that, and move on to talking about the restaurant business.
My search engine strategy is on a per article basis. That means I'm not concerned about getting people to click on my profile page. I want to get them to click on specific articles that I write. That means I don't have to stick to topics that fit my "brand" (there's that icky word again). My identity isn't tied to writing about any one thing. That's why I can't really get bored, and this job doesn't feel repetitive like so many others do.
Love 3: I Can Help People, But I'm Not a Punching Bag
Most people probably want a career that helps people. But paradoxically, few people enjoy jobs that directly work with people, like sales, food and beverage service, or being a customer service representative. Because in those jobs, you're becoming a punching bag. The company messes up, or does something that makes the customer angry. You had nothing to do with it, and have little to no power to fix it, but you're the one they can talk to, so they yell at you.
I have PTSD from being bullied as a child. This has made it extremely difficult for me to handle "punching bag" jobs, because interacting with any irate customers would send me into a depressive episode, where I'd be unable to work for days. Since most corporations treat "mental health day" as a strange word from some alien language, I was screwed. Going into a deep depressive episode and staying in bed would get me fired. Calling in sick would make me feel guilty, and worthless, making my depression worse. Going to work depressed was also not an option, because then it would be too much of a struggle to put on my happy face and voice for new customer interactions, and coworker interaction.
Writing is a job that's a lot more forgiving if your mental health makes it harder to work with people. But it is still beneficial to people. When I write a good article, I know my content will benefit my intended audience. That makes me feel good, without "helping people" in the emotionally exhausting, often painful sense of working with people more directly. Sometimes I don't get to see the impact of my content on individual readers. But, if I'm doing my job correctly, every article I write should have tremendous value to at least one other person. Knowing that keeps me going when I'm having off mental health.
The closest thing to feeling like I'm someone else's punching bag are when I get hateful comments. But those are somewhat rare, and can easily be blocked, deleted, and/or ignored. I'd rather deal with those than be yelled at on the phone or in person.
Love and Hate: Writing is Solitary
The one thing I sometimes long for is being around people all day. I had an office job once, and when I was at that, I hated being isolated, and loved days where I could talk to people. Working as an internet writer is lonely. And like I said, since you're not directly interacting with people, it's hard to know if your work has a positive impact. One of my toughest jobs was delivering pizzas, for example, but when I did that, at least I got to see people smile, happy to receive their pizzas.
But, being alone is also a good thing. I don't have to worry about gossip or personality differences. I don't have to wonder who took my stapler, or worry someone else will grab my lunch. If something is moved in my home office, I know damn well that either I moved it, or we have a poltergeist. And things I do, like move my furniture around, don't affect anyone else, so I don't need to ask for anyone's permission.
And not having to talk to people all the time is great. If you get sick of talking to people as a CSR or pizza delivery driver, you're shit out of luck. Not getting a lot of opportunity to talk to people doesn't mean I never do. It means that I choose where, when, and how. And, with whom. And that's pretty important. Some days, I miss having a job for the social chitchat and feeling of connection with my community. But I have to realize I am connected with my community, and with the larger world, as a writer. So the lack of socialization in this job can be a good thing or a bad thing. Plus, I reach out and talk to other writers and bloggers online. I like doing that because those people understand what I'm going through. Both being writers, we're already part of a community. I have more in common with another writer halfway around the world than I do with my own neighbor who's a pastor. Writing can actually connect you with some amazing people.
© 2020 Rachael Lefler