Thursday, June 3, 2010

Blogathon Brilliance: Things I've learned

Well, two days after the blogathon is over, and I’ve finally had time to process what I learned and have given my fingers a break. And my mind. My creative mind was becoming soggy cereal mush trying to come up with things to write about. Yes, even when I wrote about nothing. That takes energy too.

During the blogathon I tried to visit all the bloggers who were participating in the ‘thon, and I’ve almost made it. I’ve promised myself that I’m going to get to each one. Even if the blogathon is over.

But there are many lessons to be learned from this experience, little nuggets of take away wisdom that helps people like me gain perspective about my own blog, effort, writing skills, et al. And after which I have determined: I am appropriately mediocre. I’m right there in the middle. I’ve determined the middle place is a good place to be. So- things I’ve learned:

There are people out there who have fabulously designed blogs.
Reading many other blogs is a little like window shopping: you get to admire all the goods and then go home and try to replicate them yourself. I now know there are many different places to get blog designs, like The Cutest Blog on the Block, and many bloggers who are just really good at designing their own stuff. I love the look of Blogging About Boys, and Parenting By Trial and Error. Very homey and scrapbook-y, which I find darling. I also ran across Western, which has to be one the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen. From a design perspective, it’s easy to use, the photos and graphics aid the reader and don’t hinder it, and everything from the colors to the fonts are cohesive. Looking at these beautiful blogs and then going to visit my own, leaves me feeling a little bit like I’m wearing baggy, faded, plain, straight-cut jeans, while those around me are sporting low waisted, butt-affirming, boot-cut, rhinestone studded, embroidered pockets, haute couture denim, but my content is good, so I’ll focus on that. I can always get butt-affirming designs later.

There are blogs on just about anything. And everything.
One of the things that us bloggers fear, is not having a community with whom to share our passion. Having no readers feels like failure, and makes you ask the question about whether falling trees make a sound in the forest if no one is around to hear it. But blogging classes (and famous bloggers as well) stand by the rule that to be successful, you must blog about what you love. The readers will find you. Three blogs I found interesting and unique (and just go to show you that you can find a blog on just about everything) are: The Boom Boom Room, a blog about folk music and the hippie generation, that also include some fabulous clips of old tv commercials; About English Idioms, a blog dedicated to the history of idioms and why we’ve come to coin terms like “Takes the Cake,” or “The Cat’s Meow.” And lastly, there’s even a blog for people who’d like more information on how to get stoned correctly, and possibly even make money by selling marijuana to people who medically need it, on the blog  Her mission statement reads, “Do you want to be a healthier, happier, more productive stoner? You’ve come to the right place. Let me show you how…” Oddly enough, Sami (admittedly) had trouble blogging every day in May, mainly because she is “extremely forgetful” and subscribes to the “less is more” view of communication (which includes blogging), and she’s not going to “beat herself up about it.” (All those quotes are her words, not mine.) I’m thinking that maybe she should take the “more productive stoner” line out of her mission statement and hit the hash pipe again. But like I said, there’s truly a blog out there for everyone.

 I really like the three column layout and need to try and put that into my site.
Another thing I discovered is that I really like the three-column layout for blogs. I’m liking Blog Salad and Lost in the View, the latter actually being a blogspot blog. Which means it’s possible for me to do this, event though Heather warned me that it took her “4 hours and 10 beers” to figure it out. It’s always bothered me that my blog has a ton of wasted space in the sidebars, which makes my blogs run super long (not that I tend to ramble on about things) forcing people to scroll to read my stuff. I’d also like to include more links, and other interesting things in that wasted space, eventually even (possibly) trying to monetize my blog. Could you imagine making like, $5.32 cents a month just because people clicked through to see advertising? That’s one free latte. Or one day of late-fees for my library books. Or five things from the dollar store, which keeps my kids busy for 30 minutes while they peruse the crappy, chemical-laden products. Regardless, I must get myself three-columns.

Everyone has days when they are too tired-so we repost, ask questions, and link like crazy.

At the beginning of the blogathon, Michelle Rafter, host and organizer of this fabulous event, blogged about “10 Sure Cures for Blogger Burnout,” which include, reposting old blogs, having people guest post, and also using photos and You Tube clips as postings for a day. I hated having to post lame blogs about how tired I was or how I didn’t have anything to say, but that’s honestly how those days were. Even pro-blogger and parenting author Jen Singer has days when she just can’t get out a long blog. So you can imagine how happy I was to read her post entitled, “I Got Nothin.” Yeah Jen! Thank you for having nothing. If for no other reason than I feel better about myself when I have nothing. During this thon I used all the aforementioned tricks and they can be lifesavers. I’m always left wondering though, would people rather read my blogs about nothing, than nothing itself?  

There are people who make me laugh. Out Loud.

Probably the best thing about this whole blogathon, was that I found my alter ego living in Ohio and blogging at Two Hands and a Roadmap. I love that she’s slightly embarrassed of living in the town known for it’s Polka Hall of Fame, and that she swears more than me in print. I swear plenty in person but not as often in print, and Tara swears plenty in the written word. And she’s funny. She hides cookies in the oatmeal container in her freezer. Her husband also does not read her blog. It’s truly freaky how similar I feel we are. And her pic on Facebook makes her look a little edgy and neurotic. I love that even more. She also has a gift for being really funny within a really short blog post, which I need to learn to do. Perhaps writing a thesis-length blog posting every time is not necessary, and I could swear a couple times and get the same effect. I’ll have to practice being short. To the point. Concise. Without losing the funny. Tara does this brilliantly. Thanks Tara!

All in all, it’s been a great month. Sure there were other teeny, tiny bits of blogging information that I picked up, like the differences between Wordpress and Blogger; the importance of having your very own domain name, and the necessity of marketing and cross linking yourself between Twitter, Facebook, your blog, your email, your personal website, Digg, and Stumble, which for the most part, wafted over my head like a thick, heavy, breeze on humid July afternoon, leaving me feeling sticky and confused. Everything in it's time. The biggest lesson for me was that making blogging a priority makes all the difference. Taking the time every day to write a post has done wonders for my dedication and self-discipline. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from readers and friends who like reading the posts everyday, and are actually tuning in pretty regularly. Now all I need to do is transfer that skill set over into other areas of my life: writing my novel, cleaning the house, staying organized, and making dinner to name a few. And speaking of the latter, the kids need to eat. Dangit.


Su-sieee! Mac said...

Rachel, hello. I like your review. Totally agree with you about Tara.

I also use Blogger. It sounds like you haven't heard of Blogger in draft yet? It's still part of blogger. There, you have more template choices with the ability of doing 3 columns in different variations. And, you don't need to know html. Here's the URL

Congrats on making it through the Blogathon!

Heather said...

lol. If you send me an email, I may be able to provide some exact coding - if I remember where I have it - to get that 3 column thing. :)

h dot faesy at gmail dot com

Heather @ Lost in the View

Pam said...

You mean dammit! It is funnier if you swear, remember???
You also didn't mention how wonderful it was to have guest bloggers...

Rachel said...

@Sus-siee; Thank you! I'm definitely going to check that out. Hopefully it will be easier than Heather's coding.
@Heather; I'm in awe of you teaching yourself coding and how to create buttons. I'm bowing to you, as I type this.
@Pam; I do apologize. I should have mentioned that having guest bloggers, especially ones named Pam who write about their sex life, was *the* pinnacle of the entire blogathon experience for me. I'm sorry that it slipped my mind. Maybe it was hormones. :)

Michelle Rafter said...

Lady, you are too good. This is hilarious. And you, Tara Phillips and Tracy O'Connor (of I Hate My Message Board, which you have to check out, if only for her gross pictures of canned food) were the funny ladies of this year's blogathon. Too bad you live on the wrong coast (!) or it'd be fun to hang out over a bottle of wine. If you're ever in my neck of the woods let me know.

Michelle Rafter

Susan Weiner, CFA said...

I never thought about the 3-column format before. Hmmm

dana said...

It amazes me (and of course impresses me) no end that you seemed to read so many of the other blogs, enough to comment on them here. Way to go. I'm still trying to connect to some of them.
Fun blogs though Rachel. Always enjoyable.

Rachel said...

@Michelle-same goes here:if you're ever in the Boston area, I would LOVE to meet you! Swilling wine together would be a bonus. :)
@Susan-I'm really liking the three column blog, although I still wish I had more room in the blogger templates. Wordpress is better; check out Dana's site...she has three columns with lots of room!
@Dana-I must confess that writing that blog took about three hours; mostly because I hadn't saved anyones URL or even made notes to which ones had what features I liked, so I had to keep going back and forth to many sites to write about them. I think I had about 35 windows open at once. It was worth it though-but not something I can do often at all!