Before You Start a Blog: Question Your Life

If you’ve come to this blog via Pinterest or a link to a post that’s no longer live, I apologize for your disappointment.

It’s been about a week since my blog has been offline. Maybe longer, actually. I’m not really sure to be honest. To make a long story short, my hosting provider deleted all my data. (And then I promptly switched to a better hosting provider, obviously.) While I have the majority of my blog backed up, there was something luring about the blank canvas I couldn’t deny.

After a few days of deliberation, I’ve decided to start from scratch. In a way, it feels devastating that all the work I’ve done, all the life I’ve lived and written about – it’s all gone. But on the other hand, it’s incredibly liberating, and I have learned so much. Below, I’ll tell you the story from the beginning and why blogging flipped my life upside down. And almost destroyed me, but it was worth it.

But first, here are 10 things for you to think about Before You Start a Blog:

  1. Why do you want to start a blog? I mean really, ask yourself why.
  2. What are your days like? What hours do you see yourself blogging? Will it be a major lifestyle adjustment?
  3. What do you want to blog about?
  4. What will you call your blog? After you realize the name is taken, try about 5 more times. Then make sure the names are available on social media platforms.
  5. Are you ready to invest? Nothing is free. Everything costs time, money, or another currency such as social shares. You can get where you want to be, but you have to be ready to invest yourself.
  6. Are you going to take original photos? Do you have the right equipment?
  7. What kind of system do you see yourself coming up with for creating content, writing posts, editing photos, and then sharing? Depending on the type of blog you write and computer you have, this might take some creativity.
  8. How will you start? Do you want to take the time to learn how to set everything up from scratch, or enlist the help of someone who has been there? How much of a budget do you have to design and launch your blog? It can be done successfully and beautifully, no matter where you start from.
  9. If you want to grow your blog into a business, are you prepared to be self-employed? Purchase health insurance, file (and probably owe) taxes as a small business depending on the state you live in, and keep track of expenses throughout the year?
  10. Do you like reading blogs? This is important. Do you know how much competition there is out there? Are you familiar with a few different types of blogger “voices” and do you know how you would stand out and be unique? You’ll also have to network with other bloggers, and reading and commenting on other blogs is one of the best ways to connect. You’ll also meet some really good lifelong friends in the process.

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, that’s ok.  Whatever it is you want to achieve, first you have to ask yourself what exactly it is that you want, and then just know where to find the info.

I didn’t have a big plan to start a blog. I never started off with dreams of writing for brands or being a social media superstar. I wrote no goals, short term or long term. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, really. But before we get to the part about all the fancy shit I now know how to do and how it was all worth it and offer you all my unsolicited advice on blogging blah blah, let’s take it way back.

Early 2000’s – I’m 15. I’m obsessed with making my Myspace profile to look cool and listing out all my favorite bands in bold and italic and strikethrough and putting little xx‘s and ♥’s around things I write. I’m also obsessed with a boy I met in my new English class, whose electric brown eyes I can’t get out of my head. Put the two together, and there I was awake at 5am writing novel-length messages and unknowingly learning HTML along the way.

Fast forward 8 years. Life happened, I live in Miami Beach, married with kids. I’ve spent the last 5 years working in hospitality management, planning luxury events, and moving into human resources. I have a meltdown trying to balance long office days in heels and raising babies, and decide to give up my job with benefits to stay home as a mom and wife in the suburbs of Florida. That boy? We’ve written thousands of emails to each other nearly every day for almost a decade by this point, and I call him my best friend. But we live 1000 miles away and we are both in committed relationships that we respect. Feelings have gotten deeper and they hurt, so we decide to do the right thing and stop talking. Lost without being able to write him, I decide to find another outlet.

The blog is born. I write about recipes I’m baking with all my newfound time. I tell little stories about the kids. I read every article I can find on how to gain readers, how the blogging world works, and how to grow a site into a successful business. I use my marketing and PR background to pitch to brands, and within a year I’ve partnered with corporations and small companies alike to write sponsored posts. I grow my social media accounts, I order business cards, I travel and attend conferences, I shoot high-quality photos on my expensive DSLR camera, I laugh with other bloggers about my early days figuring it all out. I’m a professional blogger. Except one problem: everything I wrote about was a lie.

You have no idea how good it feels to write that sentence and not worry about the fact that I’m calling out all my old posts as bullshit. Because those posts are gone. And it’s true. Although the actual events I wrote about happened, and I really did love the products and brands I wrote about, underneath every single word about my family and marriage being happy and enjoyable, hiding in between the lines somewhere was a big lie. I was miserable.

For awhile, I thought it had just become a job. I rationalized the dread I felt as I was writing blog posts as that familiar feeling of just procrastinating things on a to-do list. While I loved writing and taking photos, I thought I’d scheduled myself into just another endless hole of deadlines and expectations from brands. I had wanted to work for myself and have no boss, and I ended up feeling like I had a dozen bosses at any given time because I was working for so many different clients and trying to please them all.

Time with my family suffered. I was homeschooling, and aside from the scheduled hours with the kids, I was absorbed in my blog. Every activity and adventure became a stressful photoshoot instead of living in the moment. My already unstable relationship became more strained as the pressure to write in a certain “mommy-blog” voice made it painfully clear how distant we really were. A company wants me to write about how much we enjoyed Father’s Day and how much I love my husband, paired alongside a recipe featuring their product? Sure. Let me just snap a few photos of us in between arguments and pretend it’s all reality. It’s all about the sunshine and good photos anyway, right? At least I’m getting paid?

I know I’m not the only guilty one. I know social media and blogs in general are known to highlight the good and omit the bad. Being real online is hard. Being real when you’re trying to squeeze key messages into a sponsored post is even harder. Being real when you are incredibly unhappy and your life is not set up in any way whatsoever for the support necessary to run a successful business from home? Fucking impossible.

We could go down this road. I could tell you how I’d lay on the bathroom floor crying, questioning my ability as a mother with the kids locked out of my bedroom, when I was supposed to be writing a post. I could tell you how focusing on the blog stole so many moments of my early years with the kids, and that I ended up feeling like I’d made a huge mistake in quitting my job. I could tell you how I felt trapped and misunderstood in my marriage because trying to share our life online meant admitting what an unhealthy, miserable relationship I was in. I could tell you about how much self-confidence I lost when everyone in my life acted like I was a bored housewife and this was a just a hobby. I could tell you how I failed at blogging because nothing in my life was right and I felt like it never would be. If the story ended here, I would tell you all of that.

But the truth is, blogging carried me through. Pouring my life into words on a weekly basis, documenting the way my children were growing up, even setting unrealistic goals for myself… all of it shaped me into who I want to be. For a long time, that meant living in a painful position, breaking from the mold I was in. And eventually it meant changing my entire life, one area at a time, before I got to the root of it all. Along the way, I blamed blogging. But I can see now that it’s actually the best thing that ever happened to me.

And my best friend I wrote to endlessly? Eleven years later, here we are living together in our hometown, happily in love and building the life we’ve always wanted together. And that is absolutely the truth, and I have not been compensated in anyway to bullshit about it.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that in my spare time (aka moments of severe procrastination), I’d put off things that needed to be done in order to play with my blog’s design. Instead of writing a few new posts or scheduling Facebook shares or replying to email pitches, I’d suddenly decide I needed a new logo. And then a new theme. And then for the sidebar to be a different color. And then to have custom social media buttons. And then when I finished, I’d write a couple posts and do it all again. In three years, I believe I’ve redesigned my blog about 25 times. Not counting all the side project blogs I started that never came to life fully – those were really just excuses to come up with new designs also.

So last summer after I got bored of my fourth project in a matter of weeks, I even sought help from a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me as ADHD. Equipped with medication to help me focus, I tried and tried to make plans for what I wanted to do. I wanted to use my HTML and CSS skills to offer custom design services to bloggers like me, who wanted a new look for their site but didn’t want to pay thousands for a custom built web design with year long waiting lists. I wanted to finish classes to be able to offer even better services. And I knew even then that it had nothing to do with my inability to focus. At the time I still blamed blogging, and I was encouraged by those close to me to “Stick with it, you’ve already built a good thing, why change your whole plan? The blog works.”

Life had other ideas, and I spent the next 6 months packing and relocating and starting over in so many ways. And like most things, if you focus on what other people think is the best path for you, you probably won’t be fulfilled or satisfied. So just like that, I did what I wanted. And the girl who is never satisfied because the woman who is happy and ready to take action on her goals and dreams. Creativity may be similar to ADHD, but medication isn’t what I needed. I needed to question the way I lived, and make tough choices, and then changes.

So when I try to explain the relief I feel now, looking back at how much I struggled then, it’s difficult to put into words. It seems melodramatic to say that blogging changed my life, but it has. When you write about the personal aspects of your days and relationships, and the lines are blurred between reality and home life and work and professional life, it’s easy to lose yourself. If you aren’t sure of who you are or what you want to do in life, you’re going to get swept away in the current of trying to make a post clickable or caught up in the frenzy of how many likes you got on your last Instagram shot. In my case, I think it took a few too many years but I finally found my voice.

I know what I want, I know how to get there, and because of the confidence and reassurance and discipline blogging has taught me, I am nothing but excited about what the future holds.  I want to share the practical advice, but it’s been overdone and only you can be you. My most valuable piece of advice I wish someone had told me? Be prepared to question your entire life.

If your goal is writing a few posts about your home life as a hobby, or to share with other family members, you’ll be fine. If you want to build a successful, beautiful blog that provides income and a source of fulfillment as a career, well…it’s a journey. And it’s not always fun or rewarding. Bloggers are not just bloggers. We are writers, we are photographers, we are graphic designers, we are editors, we are curators, we are publishers, we are marketing experts, we are social media managers, we are trendsetters, many of us are mothers, and we are also entrepreneurs. And on top of all that, nobody fucking understands what you do. And they won’t. Even if they say they get it, trust me, they still don’t.

When you write what you honestly feel, embrace that power, and find the right balance between sharing your individual, personal stories – making genuine connections with people who read them – and using your voice to monetize in a way that isn’t deceptive or makes you feel like you’re selling your soul, then you hit that sweet spot where blogging is no longer a job, just a lifestyle you love that supports you to do what you want. And if along the way you realize your life isn’t set up in the way it needs to be, or you lack the support you need to build your own business and work from home, then maybe you’ll face a wall like I did and decide if you want to quit or climb it.

And I definitely fucking climbed it.

In the last three years, here are some of my most favorite moments and adventures I got to experience through blogging:

My children and I got to swim with dolphins at Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. girl-dolphin-kiss-swim I got to take my son to NASA Kennedy Space Center for his birthday, and then attend a NASA Social alone a few weeks later to watch a launch up close and tweet about it. Kennedy-Space-Center-Family-Vacation-2014-9 I perfected my chocolate chip cookie recipe through batch after batch of different tests. classic-chocolate-chip-cookies I was invited to Arkansas on behalf of No Kid Hungry and toured the Tyson corporate headquarters, helping to end childhood hunger. no-kid-hungry-trip I did a complete DIY renovation of my old kitchen and transformed it into a vintage dream. vintagekitchendiybeforeandafter wallmuralbeforeandafter beforeandaftervintagekitchenstovearea I wrote about my home birth and hospital experiences, and I partnered with Seventh Generation throughout the end of my last pregnancy.

josi baby

I watched my the two most unexpected posts of mine ever to go viral: a recipe for Chicken Bacon Ranch Tater Tot casserole and a post about the Secret to the Juiciest Chicken, and then watched the internet argue ferociously about chicken in the comments section. tatertot casserole chicken bacon ranch recipe

I got the html code for a heart symbol tattooed on my arm.

tattoo-html-ink

I dug through my Gramma’s old cookbooks to recreate her banana bread. Buttery-Banana-Bread

I locked myself out of my house one morning and spent a couple hours taking candid photos of my kids, when I realized it was time to make a big change. I wrote about my decision to divorce and move 1000 miles across the country with my three kids.

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I toured Atlanta during the Social Influencer’s Travel Summit and stuffed my face with shrimp and grits while meeting some amazing people.Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 1.41.00 PM


I found every excuse possible to take photos at the beach. bluelizardbeach-13 My food photography improved. (I cringe now when I look at the early photos I posted. This guava coconut cake was my first post.)

First blog photo ever. Yikes.

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All of my photography improved really. I was determined to learn more about how to get the perfect shots. Now I love that I can capture my kids in such a special way as they grow. IMG_9423 gabby3 leo3

I found some me-time with Bigelow tea, “found happiness” with a Coca-Cola campaign, and watched my children experience falling leaves for the first time at Garden of the Gods. me-and-my-tea-8 gardenofthegods1

I traveled to Tennessee twice in 2015, crossing it off my bucket list. The first time was with my little sister when we saw the beautiful Rock City and Ruby Falls.

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The second time was to ring in the New Year in downtown Nashville with my love.IMG_0453 969007_10207289804699837_6752584578893116756_n

I worked with dozens of companies, on hundreds of campaigns including sponsored posts and social media promotion. Some of my favorite campaigns I did and brands I worked with include: Tyson, Evolution Fresh, McCormick, FarmRich, Seventh Generation, Driscoll’s Berries, Krusteaz, MY M&M’S, gDiapers, Peeps, Coca Cola, Bigelow, Hallmark, Just Dance, TurboTax, PopSugar, Piggy Paint, Kiwi Crate, BeautyBox Five, and so many more.

But sponsored posts can only get you so far, and they make you feel soulless in the end.

Most of my favorite posts were the ones that were completely my own. One Thanksgiving, I gave away a brand new Kitchenaid Mixer.

thanksgiving-kitchenaid-mixer-giveaway

When I announced the winner (who sent me her adorable photo below), I asked that everyone donate to No Kid Hungry.

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This started somewhat of a tradition, and the following year I asked readers to help again. We raised money to feed over 3000 meals to children.

I changed my blog name not once, but twice in three years. Starting as MissJosiDenise.com, I rebranded to The American Mama in May 2014. Only last month did I finally make the switch back to JosiDenise.com because I was tired of being boxed into the “mommy” blogosphere. This was my first header and logo:

250 px full josi banner

And then I literally became my blog pin-up character for a fun photoshoot.

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And none of this would’ve happened without my blog. As much as some days I’ve hated it, or wondered if I should have pursued a 9 to 5 office job somewhere, I have to be thankful for all these experiences and how much blogging has taught me.

I wish I could go back to the beginning and have someone tell me just how far spilling some words on paper would take me. As I venture into new avenues of writing elsewhere, of course I’ll still be blogging. Headphones on, getting lost in the way the keys type across the page, the rush of hitting the publish button – those things I can’t give up. Plus I like owning my own space to post photos of the kids and tell my stories, where I am not dependent on Facebook or Instagram to disappear one day and all my work would be gone.

(On that note, Blog Lesson #1: Always back up your work, even if you trust your hosting provider.)

It’s strange not to see a long list of archived posts on the right anymore. I guess in a way, this post is a small tribute to all I’ve done before and the fun memories I have from blogging experiences. But what’s to come is going to be so much better.

If you’re thinking about starting your own blog, I say do it. But be prepared to question your life.

 

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