I shared my humiliation and horror from my BlogU weekend with you, but I really did learn more than how to embarrass myself (I didn’t need a conference for that) and what happens when a squirrel lands on the roof of your car (squirrel blood on the windshield, which, when we noticed it, was almost as traumatic as Skippy’s death in the first place). BlogU is packed with useful information, and encourages introspection and self-examination. They present you with all the directions you could go: it’s up to you. Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the things I learned at BlogU.
You don’t have to do all the things
I took a couple of sessions that were enjoyable and informative, but that I walked out of thinking, “Yeah, that’s not happening.” It was useful to learn about SEO, but the impetus of it is to make Google think you’re an expert on your subject. If I were still food blogging, or if I were a beauty or fashion blogger who needed authority behind my information or advice, the SEO session would have been gold. As it is, I consider myself a humor blogger. What’s Google going to think—that I’m an authority on being a sarcastic wise ass? (On a related note: I AM.) So while I was interested to learn about SEO, it’s not anything that I’m likely to spend an exceptional amount of time implementing. And that’s OK.
BlogU is as depressing as it is inspiring
I know that doesn’t sound like a positive take away, but hear me out. There’s so much information to absorb, so many ways to improve, so many people with similar goals, it just seems overwhelming. But as I was thinking about how much there is to do, it occurred to me that breaking down a massive amount of work into manageable actions is what I do all day long. I can apply my professional skills to my personal goals as they relate to my blog and a writing career.
Beyond that, I can apply my professional skills in my writing career. As in, I can write about what I do and how I do it. Plenty of people are unsure how to create a plan, what the process of planning involves, and how to go about it. I’ve gotten countless marriage proposals from other women over the years because they want me to “run” their lives. Instead of doing that, I can teach them how to do it for themselves, how to create repeatable processes, along with the documentation, scheduling tools, and risk mitigation strategies that a plan entails.
To be fair, this has been percolating for awhile. In fact, it started when I was reading Jen Lancaster’s most recent book I Regret Nothing. She had some very depressing (and unfortunately accurate) thoughts on the state of the publishing industry and its future. She talked about starting her own business, in addition to writing. After years of women saying, “Will you marry me?” and trying to help my children create processes to keep our lives from imploding into a swirling supernova of chaos and despair, I realize that I have a marketable talent, an area of expertise. I haven’t thought through the whole thing yet, but I know what I’m not: I’m not a professional organizer, nor am I a life coach. I’m not going to tell you to buy a bunch of plastic totes and stick pictures of the shit you put in them on the front, neither am I going to help you figure out what you want to be when you grow up. What I can do is help you get from point A to point B with a clear plan that takes into consideration possible detours and roadblocks, and when appropriate, I can help you make that process efficiently repeatable. More on this later—I’m still putting together a plan for it.
This was reinforced in a couple of sessions. In one case it was was explicitly stated, in another it was implied. But either way the point is you have to write your material in your voice. You can’t go read Jen Lancaster or Tina Fey or any of ten thousand other funny people and try to imitate their style, or write on their subjects. I understand Jenny Lawson said something similar at BlogHer last year, which was to write your own story; everyone has a story, and it’s what makes them unique.
I confess in the past I’ve been guilty of being untrue in this way. I try to think like Jen Lancaster and figure out what overarching project I could embark on and write about. Or like David Sedaris and try to decide what two or three stories I could intertwine to instill an undercurrent of meaning into my essays. This is all wrong. I can’t do those things because I’m not them, and if I tried to imitate them my output would be as pale as copies made when the toner is low in the printer, with uneven streaks and wan imagery. I have to sit down and write what’s in my brain from my experiences, using my voice. I’ve stopped thinking I want to be the “next” anybody, because what I need to be is the first me. I know the day will come (fingers crossed!) when I’ll have to draw comparisons for the purpose of illustration, but for now I’m focusing on what sets me apart from the million other voices screaming on the internet.
Don’t change your clothes three times a day at a conference
It will confuse people and they’ll forget who you are because you were wearing a skirt two hours ago and now you’re in jeans. Also it will mean your suitcase is super full and there’s a chance you’ll risk breaking the zipper when you shove everything back into it to go home. Not that anything like that happened to me. I’m just observing. (On a related note: why is it that the stuff always fits into it fine on the way to your destination, but when you go to pack for the trip home, everything seems to have swelled and now it doesn’t all fit? Even if you didn’t buy anything new. Every damned time.)