Where do I go from here?

Where do I go from here?

When I decided to write about blogging, I did what I often do, I went online to find out what I could.

That’s not entirely honest. I googled it and check two links.

I found an article in New York magazine on line called The Early Years by Clive Thompson which was basically a timeline of the history of blogging. Did you know that the first blog, ever, was created by a college student in 1994? Almost twenty years ago.

Quite a few years ago my oldest son told me I should start writing a blog. I didn’t listen to him at the time, much to my chagrin. If I had maybe I could have proftted from being one of the early people in.

Did you know that people actually made money off of blogs? You probably did. I’m always the last to know.

But like so many other things, it helps to be popular if you are already famous. We like to follow people who have been proven to be well-liked by other people. The same goes for authors. We like to read authors who are the best sellers. They don’t have a problem getting an agent or a book contract. Same goes for famous people. Just check out the tables in your local B&N. But you already know that.

Clive Thompson talks all about it in Blogs to Riches: The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom also published in New York magazine.

I never intended or expected to make money with my blog.

That’s probably a good thing, too.

I started the blog to encourage myself to write regularly, even every day, and to start creating an online presence. Just a little over two years ago on January 21, 2011, I started my blog with a short post, A New Start with Clean House, that mentioned both my mom and Arthur. Arthur is still with me. Mom is not. I still write about both.

My second post, Missed Opportunities, was about the red fox that I saw run through our yard, but failed to capture on camera. I still have missed opportunities, but now I keep my camera on a shelf in the kitchen where I am sometimes able to catch the wood ducks, the pileated woodpecker and the owl, the groundhogs, my most recent good catch – the scarlet tanager, and even a red fox.

I saw this female wood duck this morning. I think she was looking for her mate. They’re usually together.

01-Wood duck - 2013-05-01 _32.-500

My third post,  Fiddles radio broadcasts, signing off and iPads, was one of my all-time favorites. Very few people read it.

I tried to find the stats. I went to “all posts,” and then filtered for the date. I clicked on the miniature bar graph in the column that says “stats.” I had one “syndicated” view. I have no idea what that means, but it can’t be good. Truthfully, after rooting around a bit on my stats page, I don’t have any idea how many hits that page actually got.  I’m not going to obsess about it.

I continue to tell myself I shouldn’t be concerned with my stats anyway. I continue to not listen.

But a blogging acquaintance, compatriot, friend (what are we to each other anyway?) named Sue Dreamwalker commented on that post and continues to comment occasionally to this day. She has a nice post up today about May Day. So while some followers come and some go, she has stayed with me. I’d like to say thank you to Sue and all the rest of you who joined me early and have stuck around. Another shout out to Nancy at Spirit Lights the Way for lighting my way early on. And while I’m at it, I have to mention the amusing William at Speak of the Devil who continues to hold the esteemed position of being my number 1 commenter.

But I digress.

They say to have followers you have to be a follower. Which sounds a lot like friendship to me. And over the months, now years, that I’ve blogged, I continue to contemplate how this approach can possibly work unless you are satisfied with a static, relatively small, but loyal group of bloggers. A little blogging community. I’m not criticizing that, I’m just saying that if it becomes nothing more than a quid pro quo, your reach with your blog is limited to the amount of time you have to read and comment on others’ blogs. Which also depends on how long-winded your blogging friends are. You can see I will not fair very well in this system, because it becomes fairly obvious fairly early, that you can visit many photographers’ blogs in the time it takes you to read one lengthy, well-written or not, story on a writer’s blog.

This is a dilemma for me.

I started my blog when I was researching how to publish my memoir Dancing in Heaven.

After reading articles online, I realized that to publish a book, either by agent and traditional publisher or by myself, I needed an online presence. After I wrote Dancing in Heaven, I fully intended to seek an agent and publish it through traditional means. My mind changed. But the journey gave me a lot of fodder for my blog.

The advice I heeded was that I needed to build a platform, which at the time I read it was a completely foreign concept to me.

I started a blog.

I’ve read other advice more recently, that if you are a writer, you will serve your goals better by not spending time blogging, but writing instead. I think there is probably some truth in that position.

But I’ve also read that if you are a published author, you need to have a blog where your readers can learn more about you and communicate with you.

But then, I’ve read that if you want to have a successful blog, you need to  pick a topic, carve out your niche, and stick to it.

But that sounds kind of boring to me, and what would I do with my bird photos, garden updates, travel posts, and art series among other things?

If you’ve ever held a digital camera in your hands, running around a sunlit garden or walking through a park filled with birdsong, you already know that snapping photographs is a lot more fun than sitting at a desk doing the hard work of translating your thoughts from your brain through your fingers and the keyboard to a computer screen. Just saying. So maybe I get a little distracted at times.

I organize and generate pages, primarily for my own use, and simply because it feeds my OCD nature, but the occasional visitor finds them useful at times. Particularly the bilateral knee surgery documentation we did. People have thanked me for that one.

What I really think is that there is way too much advice out there on the web, well-meaning though it may be.  My head is spinning. Yours may be too after reading this disjointed post.

My solution is to do what I usually do in these cases. I trust myself. I trust my judgment. And I trust my heart. And thankfully I am married to an outstanding provider, so I am not obligated to make money from my writing in order to be able to feed myself. Which I should be doing a lot less of anyway if I want to listen to the advice about weight, health and nutrition.

I started blogging to force myself to write everyday. I’d grade myself at maybe a C on that one. Because, like I said, the photography has been enticing. And I don’t really consider my photography blogs “writing.”

The commaraderie and support that I received from followers, friends, and commenters I found invaluable as my family entered crisis control in the beginning of December with the diagnosis of my mom’s cancer and through the next intense weeks before both of my parents’ deaths in January.

I struggle with keeping up. I question what it’s all about. I wonder about the best use of my time.

My world was turned upside down when my parents died. I had devoted a lot of time and concern to their care. My foundation was badly shaken. And even though Mom and Dad were well past the days of doing anything of consequence to aid or assist me, they were two people in my life who always loved me no matter what, who always believed in me. And they were gone. That is a tremendous loss.

As I try to make meaning out of my life, I’m asking the question. Where do I go from here?

Freshly Pressed Magic

The Last Snow - March 5, 2012

This is another reason I love March.

This morning I shuffled into the kitchen and was blasted with light from the snow-covered limbs of all the trees in the woods beyond our windows. It is truly astounding to see, and I wish I could bring it to you here, but photography has its limits.

I consider it a birthday gift from above. Mother Nature has dressed herself up to celebrate the day I came into the world. Isn’t that nice? (A big egotistical, perhaps, but a nice thought.)

I’m as ready for spring as anyone, as you might as noticed from the recent post that won me great notice and acclaim, but I don’t know if there is anything more beautiful than a fresh snowfall that coats the limbs of the trees.

But this post is about being freshly pressed, not about fresh snowfalls.

Thursday morning I was putzing around on my computer as I do every morning, creating and publishing a post, reading emails, responding to comments, you know the routine, when I started noticing several new people visiting and commenting on my blog. At first I wondered, “Did one of my good blogging friends like Julia at wordsxo (whose post today makes a nice companion to my famous, award-winning, best-ever, post-of-year) tweet my post again?”

Sometimes it happens that someone retweets my post and I see new faces on my blog. Always nice.

As I was reading my email, comments started filtering in from my loyal followers. In fact the first eight comments were from the familiar faces, or in some cases, icons, of friends.  Then two new names showed up. Then Susie Lindau, another new face, cleared up the mystery when she congratulated me for being freshly pressed.

It was like when I got a bad mammogram result via registered mail and I double-checked the address thinking, “I got somebody else’s letter by mistake.”

Then the “likes” and the comments started rolling in like a tsunami.

Being freshly pressed blew my stats right out of the water. My blog does not have a huge following, but I very much appreciate the loyal supporters I have as well as the occasional random visitor who may be searching for “gote I know” or “foyer white delta light.” On any normal day I am happy to get between 80 and 150 hits on my blog. This number has steadily increased over the year that I’ve been blogging, and I hope it continues to do so.

If you’ve been freshly pressed, you know. If not, check this out. My stats went from my normal 100 or so hits a day to 2389 on Thursday and 2851 on Friday. I am still experiencing the aftershocks as I have already had 287 hits at 8:00am today. I’m not complaining. I am here to tell you, that yes, being freshly pressed really does drive visitors to your site. And I’d like to thank each and everyone of them who stopped by.

The important question is will there be any lasting effect?

This was actually the third time I’ve been freshly pressed. The first time was exactly a month after I started blogging when I posted “Hopping Hilltop Towns in Tuscany” on February 21, 2011. I had taken my computer to Dayton to be able to keep track of my stats which I was still obsessively checking at the time. I think I was getting about 20 hits a day. When I got to my mom’s there were 100 hits. I didn’t know what happened. Someone congratulated me for being freshly pressed and I still didn’t know what had happened. I watched the hits rise that day to over 1000, enjoying the thrill of the ride. It was nice that my mom was able to enjoy it with me.That post got a total of 2595 hits if I can trust my stats page. It received 53 comments.

Less than two weeks later another post about our trip to Italy, “The Soft Footprints of St. Francis in Assissi,” was freshly pressed. It received a total of 2000 hits and 62 comments. The comments number includes my responses, I think.

After each of these posts, I also gained new subscribers which greatly increased the number I previously had (which may have been around 2). In fact, I think several of my loyal readers, and now friends, may have come via the freshly pressed page. On Friday night I had gained over 50 new subscribers to my blog and they keep trickling in. So that’s all good. I don’t know how many subscribers actually continue to visit and read my blog. But it can’t hurt.

Right now I’m just trying to figure out how to get my book freshly pressed.

What’s my secret for getting freshly pressed? Like many things in life, a good dose of luck. Was my “Welcome March” post the best one I’d ever written? No. Not even close. So far I’ve found that the quality of the posts I write, according to my system of evaluation, has little to nothing to do with the popularity of the post. Sometimes it just has to strike somebody right and they want to share it. That’s what happened here, I’m pretty sure. But I did do a couple of things right.

First, a couple of weeks ago I visited the freshly pressed page to see what tags the editors were reading to use as freshly pressed. I think if you visit this page from time to time you will see there are certain categories of posts that they promote. I think my first two posts made it in under the “post-a-day” tag last year. I don’t think they particularly emphasize that tag anymore. The tags I noticed being freshly pressed, that I post about, are life, photography, travel, photos, and nature. If I want the editors to see one of my posts, I’d better have a tag on it that they’re looking at. There are millions of posts out there every day. (Actually I think it may be only hundreds of thousands.) I think “Welcome March” got picked up under the “photos” tag.

The second thing I did, I learned in feature-writing class. I put a catchy title on it. When I was writing the post I thought, Is this Shakespearean title a little over the top? And then I thought, Oh, what the heck, and I clicked publish. I think the title helped to get it noticed.

I try to write posts that are enriching in some way. Maybe they’re informative, or insightful, or something that the readers can relate to. Maybe it’s just something I found interesting or beautiful. But I try to keep the reader in mind, and post something that may be of interest to the reader. I’m sure you do the same. With my Welcome March post, I think my timing was impeccable and I hit a nerve. We are all more than ready for spring.

And then I just got lucky.

I’d like to thank the editors who selected my post for the freshly pressed page.

I hope this experience will bring me a couple of new friends. I’ve already found a few blogs that I intend to follow. But what I realize is that you all who read my posts week after week, and who came back today when I’m no longer rich and famous, are the true gems. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued support.