how to support the bloggers you love.

How to support bloggers-1Almost every time I chat with a fellow blogger or writer, the conversation inevitably turns to business and money (0r rather, the lack of money I should say). Just last week a blogging friend asked me about sidebar ads and affiliate programs, desperate to figure it out. She told me that between hosting expenses and paying someone to help her with some technical issues, it feels like she is paying to blog. And that paying to blog made her "grumpy." And I get that. For some people, blogging is synonymous with writing, and I think we all can agree that writing is art. It would be like asking an artist to pay money to hang their artwork in a museum so that people could marvel at it all day long. Doesn't that seem backwards? Shouldn't the museum pay the artist, in some form? And shouldn't the visitors pay the museum, so the museum can support the artists?

The problem with blogging is that the internet is the museum. And we, the people at home on our computers, are the visitors. And there are no fees, ever. It's like Free Museum Day, every day. We get to hop from blog to blog to blog to the Huffington Post back to blog to blog to blog. Everything is free, all the time. We get to read stories and find inspiration and feel connected to other people and get great ideas. FOR FREE!

Some bloggers have mastered the art of making money off their words, and to them I say, bravo! Some have landed book deals or TV shows or extravagant sponsorship opportunities and to them I say: GET IT GIRLS. More power to ya.

It's a weird world we live in, when I take a step back and think about blogging in general. We're all sitting at home on our laptops, pouring our hearts and souls into cyberspace, no doubt by our own desire and own accord, yet we desperately want to be paid for it.

Anyone who blogs knows how much work it is. It takes effort to set aside time to write, to empty yourself, to take pictures, to edit pictures, to resize pictures, to post links to social media, to respond to comments and e-mails and questions. I spend more time on my blog than I do on my photography business and I'll let you guess which one brings in more money.

And I do all of that because I love this blog. I love it because I work so hard at it and because at the end of the day, I feel like this blog is a little piece of me. It's my life story, all wrapped up into one tiny website.

Do I wish I could make money off this blog, this thing that occupies so much of my time and effort? Of course I do. Do I feel entitled to make money off this blog, because of the fact that other people are reading it regularly and often gaining something from it? Not really.

Because at the end of the day, it is my choice to blog. 

I can choose whether or not to spend my Wednesday nights at Starbucks writing or sitting at home watching TV. Sometimes I pick TV, and sometimes I pick writing. It's my choice. Nobody forces me to write here. I don't feel entitled to earn an income off this website because I have decided to work hard at it. I didn't make a blog with the intention of making money; I made the blog to have a place to write. Having said that, it would be great if I could turn this work, this art, this blog of mine, into something valuable for my family. But let's be clear: earning money from this blog is my desire, it is not my expectation.

I think a lot of my blogging friends are in similar boats---they love to write, they love to make art, they work very hard at it, and would love to make a few bucks in the process. So for them, I am sharing some tips for you, the reader.

Here are some ways to support the bloggers you love, both emotionally and financially:

1. Leave a comment. The whole point of blogging (at least how I see it) is to create community. When you leave a comment on a blog post, that is your way of saying, "I'm here! I am a part of this!" It makes the writer feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. You don't need to leave a comment on every post---just once in a while when something resonates with you. Some of my favorite posts that I have ever written have a string of comments below them that all say some rendition of "Me too! I feel this way, too!" Those comments not only benefit me, they also benefit the other commenters. The less alone we all feel, the less crazy we all are.

2. Send them an e-mail. I have been affirmed in my writing so much from reader e-mails, it's ridiculous. I save every single one. They go into a special folder called "Don't Quit Blogging" and when I feel overwhelmed with this blog, or writing, or sharing my life with the internet, I just read a few of those e-mails and get over it. If you've been reading a blog for a long time, soaking up words that someone else has graciously dumped into the internet for free, the least you can do is take 5 minutes to e-mail them and say, "Keep going!" This is on my goal list for 2014 to do myself with a few of my favorite bloggers. I owe them at least that much for continuously blessing me with their writing.

3. Share their content. If you're like me, chances are sometimes you read blogs on your phone. It is stupid hard to leave comments on blogs from your phone. I don't know why, because it's 2014, and you'd think the Masters of the Internet would have figured this out by now, but they haven't. Do you know what's REALLY easy to do from your phone? Like, share, retweet. As bloggers, we're in this for the community, and at the end of the day, we want people to see our art. Wouldn't it be sad if there was a beautiful museum filled with art and nobody ever went to visit it? When you click retweet and share, you are sending people to our museum. WE APPRECIATE THIS.

4. Buy them coffee. This is kind of a stretch, but speaking personally here, I write best in coffee shops. Coffee is expensive. Well, my coffee is expensive because I don't even like coffee---I like the milk + chocolate + espresso + syrup concoctions that cost 3x more than coffee. It takes $5 and less than two minutes to caffeinate your favorite blogger. Send them an e-gift card, or try the Tweet A Coffee service from Starbucks.

5. Buy stuff they blog about. I don't say this carelessly; I say it intentionally. If someone blogs about amazing running shoes (not me, I hate running), and you happen to be in the market for new running shoes, buy the shoes they recommend! If someone blogs about Christmas cards, and you know you're going to order Christmas cards anyways, click on the link in their post and use their promo code! Bloggers receive teeny tiny commissions off those purchases, and for many of us, this is the only compensation we receive from our blogs. Personally, I abide by the 95/5 strategy: the content on this blog is 95% genuine and 5% sellout. And by sellout, I mean I'm blogging about a product that I honestly recommend, but probably wouldn't blog about if it wasn't for the minor financial gain. Basically, for every 20 heartfelt posts you see on this blog, you're also going to see one about hairbrushes or Christmas cards. I try to keep it very, very minimal around here, but the truth is: those posts are the only posts that earn dollars. When you buy something that I recommend, it's basically putting a dollar in my blog tip jar. Tips = diapers, coffee, college tuition for Everett. MY FAMILY THANKS YOU.

6. Visit their blogs before shopping on Amazon. I recently realized something dumb. All of the bloggers I love have Amazon affiliate accounts, and I shop on Amazon, A LOT. What if, instead of just going to Amazon.com and buying the stuff I want, I FIRST went to my favorite blog, clicked on one of their Amazon links, and THEN ordered my stuff? It would take an extra 5 seconds, and would throw a little bit of money their way. Not sure where to find an Amazon link on your favorite blog? Try searching for "Amazon" in their search box, browsing their old gift guides, or looking for posts where they recommend books. Once you find it, just bookmark the post, that way you can get to it easily every time you shop. ISN'T THIS SO SMART? You're already shopping on Amazon, and by spending an extra 5 seconds to click on one extra link, you are SUPPORTING YOUR FAVORITE BLOGGER. I am totally doing this from now on.

7. Buy an ad on their blog. Have an etsy shop? A graphic design business? A blog of your own? What better place to spend your marketing dollars than supporting your favorite blogger while ALSO increasing your web traffic? This is what we call a win-win.

8. And last but certainly not least, just show up. Read the posts. Like their blog page on Facebook. If your favorite blogger writes a book someday, buy it. If your favorite blogger asks you to fill out a survey, do it. Be a participant. Engage. Read their e-book, take their e-course. Show yourself once in a while. Chances are, your favorite blogger is showing up for you even when they don't always feel like it. The best thing you can do is simply return the favor.

four years of blogging.

"If, anywhere in your soul, you feel the desire to write, please write. Write as a gift to yourself and others. Everyone has a story to tell. Writing is not about creating tidy paragraphs that sound lovely or choosing the "right" words. It's just about noticing who you are and noticing life and sharing what you notice. When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone. And if you're a really, really bad writer, then it might be most important for you to write because your writing might free other really, really bad writers to have a go at it anyway. If you feel something calling you to dance or write or paint or sing, please refuse to worry about whether you're good enough. Just do it. Be generous. Offer a gift to the world that no one else can offer: yourself." - Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed

***

First things first, please go purchase Carry On, Warrior immediately. I gobbled that book up in 48 hours. I laughed and cried and nodded and said "Amen!" several times while reading. It's a quick, wonderful read.

This month marks four years of blogging for me, and, well, that quote from Glennon pretty much sums up how I feel about it. Whether you've been here for a long time (heeeey!) or you're brand new here (hello!), you should know: there is no strategy for this blog. There is not a schedule of posts, or rules that I adhere to. This is just where I notice life. This is where I write about what I notice, often badly and imperfectly.

And sometimes I want to give it up because it's a lot of time and work and energy. But a couple of times a year, maybe 3 or 4 times, I get e-mails from strangers who read these words, and they seem sort of grateful. They tell me that my words have helped them in some way and made them feel less alone. I say this not to brag or humblebrag but to tell the truth: without those 3-4 e-mails, I don't know if I would still be blogging. They really keep me going, especially when I feel like quitting. And sometimes I really feel like quitting. I mean, let's be honest, do you know what I could do with the time I spend blogging if I wasn't blogging? I could write books! I could organize my closet! I could paint my nails! I could bake cookies! I could sit on my couch with a bag of cheetos and watch, like, EVERY season of the Real Housewives!

But here we are, four years later, chugging right along. I'm just noticing who I am and noticing the way the world works, and sharing what I notice here. Sometimes I write well and sometimes I don't; sometimes I write for me and sometimes I write for you. Sometimes I just need to empty myself.

Thanks for sticking around, and for the comments, and for the e-mails. I am grateful for this space and I am grateful for you.

writers vs. bloggers.

I've been thinking a lot this week about what it means to be a writer, and what it means to be a blogger. And I suppose the question of the day is: which am I? I have no problem telling people that I write, but I always hesitate to say, "I'm a writer."

Why is that? I guess it's always because I'm scared of the follow-up question: "Oh, you're a writer? What do you write?"

......

Sheepishly, I typically smile and tell people about my blog, and about The Violet, and about how sometimes I write for nothing and just save it in a word doc on my computer. They smile back, and regardless of what they're really thinking, I always assume they are thinking that I'm not actually a writer.

Are all bloggers writers? Are all writers bloggers? I guess some people blog with minimal writing, and some people write with minimal blogging. If I want to be a writer, does that mean I have to write books? Or write for magazines? Can I be a writer if I only write on this blog? Or does that make me a blogger, and not a writer?

I can hear myself going down the rabbit hole.

Sometimes I find myself wishing I was a real writer, with a real project outside of this blog that consisted of nothing but stringing words together. Like a (short) book, or a magazine column. Something with credibility that I could point to and be like, Look people! I'm a real writer! I wrote that! It's so legit!

But then I think if I did have a project such as that, what would happen to my blog? How would I write here and write there? What would I say all the time? My life isn't even interesting! Yesterday I blogged about poop for crying out loud.

The truth is: I love writing, and I hope someday I'll have the balls to call myself a writer, regardless of whether I'm writing a blog or a book or a miscellaneous article for a miscellaneous publication.

The other truth is: I love blogging. And I love blogging for more than just writing, I love blogging for the community. A few weeks ago, a student from Sac State interviewed me for a paper she was writing about blogging. She asked me point blank: "Why do you blog?" I started rambling about all sorts of things, but eventually came to a very simple conclusion: I blog for the me too's. I blog for the community, and for the total strangers who e-mail me and say, "Hey, thanks for writing that today. I feel that way too." The amazing thing about this relationship, this bond, this connection between strangers, is that it goes both ways---from me to you and from you to me. Like when I wrote about Everett being breech, and three mothers reached out to me: "My baby was breech! Call me! Let's talk about it! I'll tell you everything!" I never went to the birthing class that discussed c-sections. I never even cracked open a book, or researched c-sections on the Internet. I talked to three women, asked all my questions, and walked into that hospital on May 7th feeling like I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. And guess what? Now I'm the breech baby/scheduled c-section expert. Well, not expert, but now people are asking ME what to expect. That's community. A place to share information and ask questions and find answers and challenge, inspire, and encourage one another. That's what I want in a blog, and it's taken me almost four years of blogging to recognize it.

My friend Lesley (who is most definitely a writer, and a good one!) recently wrote about blogging for passion and purpose, and in it, she created a blog mission statement. I loved reading her thoughts, and was instantly inspired to write my own as well. With that, I give you my blog mission statement:

Where my heart resides is a community that exists to inspire, encourage, and bring joy to people through the art of honest storytelling and beautiful photos. Topics will range from marriage and motherhood to faith and friendship, with a focus on embracing life as a twenty-something.

Q: Are you a writer or a blogger? Or both? I'd love to know your thoughts on the difference...

blogging about blogging.

Don't you hate it when people blog about blogging? Me too. However, sometimes on rare occasion, it must be done, and this is one of those times. So my dear friends, please grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair, kick off your shoes, and stay awhile... First and foremost, thank you for being here. Whether this is your first time visiting (hello!) or you're a regular reader, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit this blog. I know there are millions (billions?) of blogs out there, and I truly appreciate the fact that you have chosen to read mine.

*deep breath*

So, here's the deal. My blog is having a bit of a mid-life crisis.

To those of you who filled out my survey, thank you! The response I got was overwhelming and eye-opening, to say the very least. In fact, so many of you left kind comments in the last section that you MADE ME CRY. Like, real tears streaming down my face. Those comments were totally unexpected, and I honestly cannot thank you enough for taking the time to write them.

My blog has hit a fork in the road, and the purpose of that survey was to help me decide which way to turn. To be completely honest, I started having second thoughts about this blog while I was pregnant. I knew my blog was changing, because I was changing, and I didn't really know how I felt about it. I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue blogging, if I wanted to continue to share my life with strangers and expose my life as a new mother. As much as I love writing and sharing some of that writing here, I started having doubts about whether or not some of those thoughts should remain private. I also started feeling guilty (hello motherhood!) about the amount of time I was spending on this blog. The guilt increased even moreso when my regular freelance gig ended unexpectedly in June. I started questioning whether or not I should be spending this much time blogging, when I could be spending more of that time making money through photography or another freelance project.

Which brings me to the fork in the road. After a lot of thought and consideration and prayer, and lengthy conversations with Brett, I came to the conclusion that I needed to do one of two things: 1) Stop blogging altogether and invest my time/energy elsewhere, or 2) Start taking this blog seriously. If anyone believes I already do take my blog seriously, it pains me to tell you that you're sadly mistaken. I check my google analytics once a quarter, and really just giggle at the keywords that have brought people to my blog. I don't know anything about SEO, or how to increase traffic, or how to solicit advertising. I don't know any of those things because I've never bothered to learn. Truthfully, I never took my blog seriously because I was never comfortable with the label blogger. I wanted to be Ashlee, that girl who has a blog, not Ashlee the blogger. I always thought that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, or even as an aspiring writer, the label of blogger would ruin that for me.

And then I read this and started to reconsider. Maybe, just maybe, it's okay for me to be a blogger. Heck, maybe I'm not meant to be published in any other way. Maybe instead of constantly questioning my ability to write, and questioning whether or not God has a concrete plan for my writing, I should just....write. And maybe the best place for that writing is here, on this very blog. Maybe, just maybe, it's my calling to be a blogger. Maybe it's my calling to create a public online space full of thoughts and feelings that other people can relate to. Maybe, just maybe, it's my calling to share my life with strangers, to tell people they are not alone.

As I started reconsidering my feelings about being a real blogger, I read Joanna's post on Blogging as a Career, and to say I was inspired is a complete understatement. It honestly boggles my mind that people can turn their blogs into a career. I've had people ask me in the past if this is something I would ever consider doing and I have always said no before they even finished the question. I had nothing against bloggers who were doing it, I just never thought it was for me. The thought of blogging as a career, or even a part-time career, terrified me. I feared people would see me as a sell-out, or that I would have to blog a certain amount of times each week to maintain the traffic I had promised advertisers. I feared that blogging wouldn't be fun anymore, or that my blog would become too popular and I would get lots of mean comments from people who like to do that sort of thing. Most of all, I feared that if I started taking my blog seriously, it would change, and not in a good way. I feared that my writing would become more superficial and less authentic, more forced and less inspired.

Basically, I was feeling very confused and torn about the fork in the road. I felt like half of me was ready to take the leap and finally turn this blog, this place I've grown to love, into something that would not only help support my family financially, but would also become something that I could be proud of. The other half of me was just plain scared. The truth is---I love this blog. I love feeling connected to people that I've never met. I love the e-mails that you guys send me. I love the accountability that exists here....the accountability to write well and take beautiful pictures and most importantly, the accountability to do what I say. Without this blog, I fear that I might lose my creativity or drive, because truth be told, you bring it out in me.

In the midst of assessing the good and bad, the fears and excitement, I created a quick survey for you. You, my kind readers, many of whom have been reading this blog for years. I wanted your take on things. I wanted to find out, anonymously, how you felt about this blog, and whether or not you cared if I took it to the next level. And, well, a whopping 83% of you said a few ads wouldn't bother you. The vast majority of you said, more or less, that you really wouldn't mind if I started taking this blog a little more seriously. A few people even left comments at the end encouraging me to do so.

That being said, you, dear readers, gave me the little push I needed to pick a path once and for all. After weighing the pros and cons and discussing them with Brett, I have decided to (attempt to) take this blog to the next level. In fact, you can even call me a blogger if you want to.

What does this mean exactly? A few things....

1. Advertising - I am going to start exploring the idea of adding a few advertisements to my sidebar. I will probably start with ten slots, and see how it goes. The advertising will be simple and clean; you won't see flashing banners all over this site, ever. I won't be doing sponsored posts, but I might start doing one giveaway a month. If you are interested in advertising on this blog, please shoot me an e-mail (ashlee.gadd @ gmail.com). I would love to chat with you!

2. Comments - I am going to be much, much better at responding to comments. I promise. A few of you left notes in the survey about this and it broke my heart to know that some of you don't leave comments because you don't think I even read them. This could not be further from the truth and from this point on, I am going to make responding to comments a priority. I have read every comment ever posted on this blog, and I appreciate them all. I also just want to throw this out there: I LOVE E-MAILS. If you have a question or a comment, or just want to say hi or ask me what kind of stroller I registered for, you can always e-mail me at ashlee.gadd @ gmail.com. If comments are more your thing, I added a "notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail" box that you can check if you want to receive an e-mail after I or someone else responds to your comment.

3. Facebook - Can I just say how much I love that 46 people marked "Facebook is the devil" on this issue? Joking aside, I probably should have included more background info in this question. Currently, I post my blog links to my personal Facebook page, which I'm sure, annoys a lot of people who don't read my blog. I like to keep my Facebook network pretty small, so anytime I get a friend request from someone I don't know, I almost always ignore it. And sometimes, I realize later that the friend request came from a blog reader, and then I feel terrible. So the purpose of a WMHR page would be two-fold; 1) to stop annoying people I know in real life (who don't read my blog) from seeing my links in their newsfeed every day, and 2) to allow me to connect and engage with readers on Facebook without having to extend my personal network. A lot of you said yes to this question, but more of you said no, although even if you said no, it probably wouldn't really affect you either way. Basically, I'm on the fence about this. I might do it in the future, but for now, I'll continue posting links on my personal page since I know a lot of you access my blog that way.

4. Frequency - 75% of you said you don't care how often I post, as long as the content is good. 25% of you want me to post more often. 0% of you wish I posted less often (hooray!). I plan to keep my current pace of 2-3 posts a week, although I might start posting more "mini-posts" like a few photos and a quick thought or quote. I tend to like those types of posts on other blogs, and I think it's refreshing to see lighter posts in between the longer ones.

5. Design - A few of you commented in the survey that you like the current design, which is so flattering and a little bit awkward because Brett and I spent, like, NO time creating it. Let me be clear: neither Brett nor I have any graphic design skills whatsoever. I wish we did, but we don't. The design of this blog will probably stay exactly the same, give or take a few minor tweaks here and there (I still need to make a blogroll and I might attempt a new banner). I have always been a proponent of strong content/light design over strong design/light content.

Which brings me to....

6. Content - To the three people who left notes in the survey asking me to chill out with the mommy posts, thank you. I know the mommy posts have been overkill. If I'm being honest, it's probably safe to say that I've gotten a bit lazy with this blog. It's easy to write about motherhood because it's currently consuming my life. My entire days revolve around keeping Everett fed, happy, and alive. We live in a bubble right now---a bubble where I wear the same pair of yoga pants four days in a row and put on makeup twice a week. That's just the way it is. And while only three of you had the guts to say it, I'm sure more of you feel the same way. You told me that you missed how I used to blog, and you know what? I miss it too. While motherhood has been, and will continue to be, a big part of this blog and my writing, it will not be the only topic discussed here. I'm currently trying to find a balance, both in my real life and this blog, where being a mother is not the only thing I talk about. It's a work in progress. I'm only three months in, and I appreciate you cutting me some slack. Thank you for being patient, and for putting up with the posts that might not be relevant to you. To the 30+ people who left comments in the survey about how much they LOVE the mommy posts, thank you for reading and for supporting me in my new role as Everett's momma.

Okay....is anyone still reading this? If you are, thank you again for being here. If I could give you a hug and bake you a cupcake, I would.

I am excited and nervous at the prospect of taking this blog to the next level, and I couldn't be doing it without you. Thank you for supporting me, for leaving comments, for sending me e-mails, for telling your friends about this blog, and for showing me kindness and grace as I pour my heart and soul into this virtual space. I am so, so grateful.

Love, Ashlee

(p.s. To the reader who left a comment in the survey about the friend with a breech baby, I am happy to talk to her about what to expect with a scheduled c-section if she has any questions. Just e-mail me!)