A Week in the Life of a Non-Influencer

Or “Blogging for the Small Potato.”

Inspired by Tracy’s recent post at Fanserviced-B, I’ve been thinking a bit about what blogging means to me and what advice I would give to someone who was thinking about starting a blog. Because, you see, I’m a lot closer to where you would be than someone like Tracy is. While I have almost ten years’ worth of defunct blogs under my belt, I’ve only been at this space for a little over two years and have therefore built up two years’ worth of audience and “influence.”

And I’m just now starting to feel like a “blogger” rather than a person who happens to have a blog. That said, I don’t neglect much of my daily life in favor of blogging or social media. I don’t spend money on the blog, other than what I would already spend to “treat myself.” Because this isn’t strictly a beauty blog, I don’t have to keep a constant influx of product to maintain a review schedule. Honestly, I feel like I’m posting more beauty reviews that I would really like lately because I have a backlog of things I want to share with you because I’ve enjoyed them or because I have other opinions on them. And then there’s always tea. My goal is to post three posts a week, which has lately been one beauty review, one tea post, and one wildcard, but that has been known to change. Basically, I’m not making any money off this, not even to cover my costs, so I don’t feel terrible letting it fall by the wayside on weeks when life picks up.

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Here, I’ve decided to share what a week’s worth of blogging activities looks like for me, a small-time blogger. I have a full-time job and commute 2+ hours each day as well. After my week, I’ll also share some tips for the new blogger, from someone who hasn’t made it big.

Thursday:

On Thursdays, I telework, which means I wake up at 6-6:30 a.m. like normal, but I have a couple extra hours in the morning that I don’t spend commuting. I usually use this time for blog-related activities (although wedding planning has crept in at the edges sometimes).

Blogging: I usually try to post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so I looked at my blogging drafts and the photos I had and planned what I was going to post on Friday. I wrote the post reviewing my favorite deep conditioners and got it ready to post. I also took a bunch of photos while I had sun coming through the window.

Social Media: I actually joined an online course about increasing Instagram engagement since I’ve come to realize that Instagram is my preferred form of social media. But I need to be better about engaging with people myself.

Friday:

I managed to wake up on time and so I had some downtime in the morning before work to work on my blog post. In the evening, we took off to go to Philadelphia, which is halfway to New York City, where we planned to spend Saturday.

Blogging: I posted my review of hair masks.

Social Media: First Instagram lesson was optimizing your profile, so I updated my profile a bit. I also posted a bunch on my Story as we made our way up to Philly, plus my travel evening skin care routine.

Saturday:

Other than a few shares early in the morning (including a makeup routine selfie), I was largely radio silent on Saturday. We had our trip to the opera, which I talked about on Monday, but the main things were that 1.) our hostess didn’t like it when anyone pulled out a device during lunch (heavens forbid I’m that person with a phone out during the opera!), and 2.) no one else had their phones out to take photos, other than one family at the restaurant taking a family photo. I just felt gauche taking photos, even though I kept seeing things I wanted to share.

Blogging: None

Social Media: Posted in the morning and evening on my Instagram Story, plus posts of my makeup and a philosophical post after finishing a book. Instagram lesson was about cohesion of my feed, so I thought about how to tighten the visual theme of my images. I also started trying to increase my commenting on Instagram.

Sunday:

We were up early and on the road before 9 a.m., getting home before noon, but we were supposed to help out a friend who’d recently moved, so my afternoon was filled with that. Plus I was just dying of allergies.

Blogging: Sketched out the posts I wanted to put up for the week, including starting to write my opera review. Too dark to take photos by the time I got to blogging in the evening, though.

Social Media: Instagram lesson was about strategy, which I thought about. Decided to actually make an effort to post 1-3 times a day, spaced by at least eight hours.

Monday:

Teleworking again because of subway construction, so I had extra time to devote during the day.

Blogging: I used my extra time to finish my opera post and write a post for Wednesday. I also took photos while I had morning light.

Social Media: Instagram lesson was about focus, which I lack, both in my blog and my Instagram feed. I actually made the decision to write a general lifestyle/personal blog, rather than just writing a beauty blog or just writing a tea blog because this blog is a personal labor of love, not an attempt at starting a business. So I guess a little lack of focus is to be expected. But I’m hoping I can try to tie things together a little neater.

Tuesday:

Slept in because seasonal allergies are the pits. But I had some free time later in the day after work.

Blogging: Polished my Matchaeologist review and did some blog housekeeping. The Matchaeologist review made me break the seal on affiliate links, so I added an Affiliate and Referrals page and put up some referral links from other places that I frequent.

Social Media: Instagram lesson today was about using Instagram to sell products, which isn’t really useful to me right now. But hey, if there are any brands itching to do a collaboration, I put up a contact page so you know where to find me. Most of my progress was just keeping up the engagement. I should do an “Instagram Engagement for Introverts” post because I find it really hard to comment on other people’s posts because I get into my head and worry that no one cares what I have to say. Maybe they don’t, but it’s nice to get comment replies. I also discovered that standing on the platform waiting for the train is a great time to fit in some Instagram commenting. I also shared my blog page on my personal (i.e., non-pseudonymed) Facebook page, which was actually a big step. So now at least I know my mom reads my blog. After more than two years.

Wednesday:

Wednesday was a particularly big blog post day because I was posting a review of something I got at a discount in exchange for a review. Now, I’m a small-time blogger. I don’t get brands knocking on my email to offer my promotional products. Every free or discounted item I have ever gotten to review I have gotten by asking the brand’s PR team if they would send me something. This is a touchy subject among bloggers, so I’ll say this: The trick to asking for free stuff is to be gracious and accepting no matter what the response is. When I asked Matchaeologist, they said they could offer me a deep discount, but not something for free. And you know what? I probably would have bought something anyway because it was a thing I was interested in.

Blogging: Published my Matchaeologist review.

Social Media: Wednesday is the day when I get up at 5:30 a.m. and go to barre class, so I posted my early morning on my Story. Instagram lesson was about sounding like an authority, which I’m oddly good at, considering I’m not much of an authority about anything I blog about.

So that was my week. It’s far less exciting than an actual influencer, but it gives a little idea about what blogging is like for mere mortals. This will probably never be a career for me, and I don’t expect it to, but I’ve seen a creep in my traffic over the last two years, without really doing much of anything but write about what interests me. So I guess I’ll leave you with my tips for novice bloggers:

  1. Remember that the bloggers that inspire you have been at this for a while. It’ll probably take two to five years build the following they have, unless you want to play games with clickbait titles and topics.
  2. Do this because you enjoy it, at least at first. Especially since it’s going to be costing you way more money than it makes you.
  3. Use what you already have and supplement sparingly. Instead of buying a DSLR right away, see where your iPhone will get you. Or try to find an inexpensive camera to get started. When I started thinking about doing more videos, I bought a tripod for my phone, rather than a new video camera. It’s not the absolute best quality, but I’d rather spend $14 to see if I enjoy something rather than $600 to discover that I hate it.
  4. If you’re planning on doing reviews, make a plan for the products you review. Know how long you’re going to test them and when the review will come out. That way you’ll avoid having a backlog to work through and can try to budget your beauty purchases.
  5. Give it some time to figure out your voice. Things will change. You will look back on old posts and cringe. We all go through it.

So I guess that’s what I have to say about blogging, as a small-time blogger. I think it’s important to see both sides, especially when you’re starting a new blog, because chances are you’ll be a lot more like me than like someone like Tracy, at least at first. Good luck!

Flash Fiction: Juniper

Note: This is something a bit different for this space. I have mentioned that I write in the past, and this week, I decided to write somewhat on one of Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction prompts. No bets as to whether this will become a regular thing, but here is my offering.

“Juniper”

There may be a few things in the world a nice cup of tea cannot cure, and this was one of them. That special sort of painful that is waiting for inevitable bad news required something a bit stronger. Besides, a cup of tea would only transport her back to that chair by his bedside, waiting and watching. Listening for his breath and wondering if this would be the moment it stopped. Sipping a cup of tea in the cold silence of a room where an uninvited presence clung to her shoulder, leaning in to see if it was time for him to make himself known. That room where she marked the time by how cold her tea had gotten.

So she went to the cabinet and pulled down the bottle that she had bought ages ago. She never touched the stuff now, but somehow it seemed appropriate. She opened it and inhaled. The sharp tang of alcohol, and earth, and trees, and juniper. It smelled of bad decisions in college, and parties at Christmas, and a hundred other small things. So many memories in this bottle. But not that one.

It would do.

She went to the fridge and found a bottle of tonic pushed way back from a party she’d had that she couldn’t remember. As she cracked it open, it hissed. It hissed at her, asking why she wasn’t still there. Why did she leave? She didn’t really have to leave, did she? Why was she here and not there?

Quiet, she told the tonic water, as she topped her glass off. She didn’t have a lime, but it didn’t really matter. She had had to leave. She couldn’t put her life on hold just because his was ending. And he had wanted it for her, as he watched her grow up. He had wanted her to have this life, this life of busyness and travel. Even if it meant she couldn’t be there up until the end.

She had spent a month by that bed, dammit, why couldn’t she forgive herself this.

And yet, sleep still eluded her. Those cups of tea taunted her. She turned to her glass, the first drink she’d allowed herself through this whole ordeal. The first since a half a glass of beer, shared with him after he’d finished his last round of chemotherapy. She took a sip and pulled a face at the familiar-yet-unfamiliar tang of pine that touched her tongue. The second sip was easier. She sat for a long time with her drink and her memories, sorting through them all, and trying to file them away.

And then the phone rang.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Recap

Well, it’s December, and NaNoWriMo is over for this year. Once again, I reached my 50,000 word goal, and I managed to actually wrap up the story I was writing. This year was interesting because I found myself floundering early on, got my groove back on my writer’s retreat, and then lost it again toward the end when I got distracted by a new project.

First things first: I did officially win NaNoWriMo. I actually wrote my novel in 26 days because I started a few days late after scrapping my original idea, and then I managed to cross the finish line a couple days early. This year was probably one of the hardest years because I both cared about the story I was writing and yet lost interest in it as the month went on. I also pretty much did the whole thing by the seat of my pants, which wasn’t a new thing for me, but it was a new thing that it mostly worked out.

I’m definitely putting this story away for a while. Probably a few months at least. While there may be something salvageable, I think it’s going to take a bit of distance before I can even consider rewriting or editing. But who knows?

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep that NaNo magic going to continue working on another project that I’ve been trying to get out. Unfortunately, once again, I’m seeing that the motivation just isn’t there. I’ve had a few days in a row of sitting around the house that I haven’t bothered to use for writing. But I’m going to try re-invigorate my writing habit, using the things I learned this month. In the past, the words just came. I could sit and write thousands of words in a sitting. This month’s NaNo novel was not like that. So it meant that I had to learn how to 1.) make myself sit down and write even though the inspiration wasn’t striking me and 2.) make the words come out when I was making myself have a writing session.

This was an important thing to learn, I think, and something I hadn’t really picked up in previous years. Before, when I started floundering, I either quit or just went off on a ridiculous tangent. So now, I hope to use this newfound ability to focus on my work to my advantage beyond November.

Because if I ever hope to be a serious writer (though I will never be a writer of serious topics), I need to maintain that kind of habit. Blogging is a help to this, though my readers know how I lack that discipline as well. But sitting and writing fiction every day would be a good habit, one that I will continue cultivating. And I thank NaNoWriMo for helping me re-invigorate it once a year.

A Writer’s Retreat

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As you know from my previous post, I’m working on a novel for NaNoWriMo. What you don’t know is that this year, my story is set in a place inspired by the area around Fiancé’s parents’ lake house in the Poconos. When I mentioned to him that it would be nice to be able to write in the setting that is my inspiration, he immediately suggested we take a little weekend retreat up to the house so I could write and we could rather get away from it all. It’s a beautiful place, set back in the woods, right on the shore of a small lake. Now, in November, it’s much too cold to go swimming, but I enjoy the mornings and the chill in the air. And it is very peaceful for a writer.

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With nothing else to do, I spent the weekend writing, eating delicious hearty food, drinking plenty of tea and whisky, and just generally enjoying the peace, quiet, and beautiful surroundings. I shared a little bit of it on my Instagram story. And then, Sunday morning, we woke up to this.

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The beautiful autumnal landscape had transformed overnight into a magical winter snowscape. A thick blanket of snow covered everything, making this beautiful place even more peaceful, and it inspired me to bring winter to my novel. I’d never seen the lake in the winter before, so it was even a new experience in my inspiring setting. I continued to write, and then we called a plow to dig us out, so we could head back to our daily lives. I managed to write 10,000 words over a single weekend and figure out where I was actually going with the story, so it was overall a fantastic success. I hope the other WriMos out there are enjoying their November and finding their inspiration!

On Writing and NaNoWriMo

It’s November, and that means it’s once again time for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a challenge to writers of all kinds to sit down and type out a 50,000-word first draft of a novel-length work of fiction. The concept was started to try to encourage people to listen more to the little creative voice in their head than to the little critical voice in their head for just a month. Just long enough to get that first draft down on paper. Or pixels.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo a few times over the years. I’ve finished my 50,000 words three times and failed twice. I’ve even edited and polished one of the manuscripts and tried sending it to an agent (no dice). And now I’ve decided to try again this year. I have a story idea that’s rattled about in the back of my head for years now and that I’ve started and let lapse enough times that I think it will take the focused motivation of NaNoWriMo to get me through it.

And that’s the real beauty of NaNoWriMo: the motivation. I can write. I can write quickly. I can come up with ideas. I can come up with lots of ideas. But when I try to force myself to sit down every day and type out 1,500-2,000 words to keep a story moving along, eventually I just… stop. I just skip a day. Or a couple days. And then it’s a week. And then I’ve forgotten about the story and if I try to come back to it, I don’t really remember what I was going for. I’ve found it’s important to keep a story in your head pretty much constantly until you’ve gotten it all out. At least for me.

With NaNoWriMo, you get constant reminders. There are emails. There is a website with statistics and a forum full of like-minded individuals to keep your mind on your writing. And that’s the other benefit I’ve found in participating in NaNoWriMo.

When my mind is entirely immersed in my writing, I find very little time to worry about other things that aren’t completely vital to my daily life. Sure, I get my work done and I cook food and take care of life things. But I don’t have time for anxiety. I find that instead of sitting in bed unable to sleep because of my anxious internal monologue, I’m thinking about future chapters. I’m drafting conversations between characters. Or I’m just mentally exhausted from a day of writing. And I drift off to sleep in blissful peace.

It’s like a kind of meditation. My mind is so focused on one goal that it empties of extraneous thought. Part of me wishes I could find a way to keep this focus the rest of the year but most of me is just happy that I have it for the month of November.

Happy writing, WriMos!

Ink-Stained Fingers (or Out, Damned Spot)

I got a new fountain pen yesterday. This one came only with a converter so I also got a bottle of ink and had to figure that out. The result is that my fingers still have greyish splotches of ink on them, even after a lot of handwashing.

But I think fountain pens are an essential part of my desire to train myself to have beautiful handwriting. I was taught handwriting as a young child and generally rebelled against it. I could focus very hard and make my writing pretty decent if I printed. I did this when I taught at the chalkboard. But leaving teaching left me with a bit of a scribbled hand.

So I sat down one morning at my writing desk (which was also a vanity) and decided to learn how to write neatly. I copied out the exercises of loops and sticks and wrote out each letter many times. Then, I copied out Paradise Lost to practice. And it worked.

And when I felt like I’d improved, I bought myself a monogrammed purple marbled pen from Levenger. But it was so nice, that I never let it leave home. I contented myself with gel-roller pens. So when I was ordering some new office supplies the other day, I saw an inexpensive, art-deco-style fountain pen. I threw it into the order, along with a bottle of black ink.

When it arrived, I realized there were no instructions on filling it, so I improvised. Which proved to be messy. But I filled my new pen, and re-filled my old pen, so now I have two beautiful fountain pens full of jet black ink. And the ink stains are fading well enough anyway.