I have a confession to make.
This blog isn’t for you.
There, I said it.
I’m not writing for you.
Wait, don’t leave yet. Let me explain.
I may not be writing for you, but that’s not to say that I’m not thrilled when you read and comment on the hard work Tara and I put into posts. I love learning that you take our advice to heart, or enjoy our stories. I certainly hope that our posts help inspire and enable you to travel, and to seek out learning moments wherever you go.
If this page helps you, that’s wonderful. But it’s the icing on the cake, as far as I’m concerned.
Because I’m not writing for you; I’m writing for me.
I am, above all and before anything else, a writer.
It’s almost November.
For many people, that means it’s almost time to break out in the winter jackets, wax the skis, and start making plans for Thanksgiving.
For me, November holds a slightly different meaning.
November 1st marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo. The goal: To write a 50,000 word novel (or novelette, as it were) before the end of the month.
This will be the eighth year I’ve participated in the madness and, like the past few years, I find myself heading into November with a to-do list piled to the ceiling, wondering how on Earth I’ll manage.
NaNo calls for about 2,000 words a day, if you pace yourself steadily. It becomes a bit overwhelming when you add that to my various other ventures, including a full-time job, two out of town conferences, running a separate business, weekly to bi-weekly language lessons, moving and, of course, helping Tara maintain Outbound.
Which begs the question (and trust me, I’ve been asked this many times. Heck, I’ve asked myself this many times), why? Why do it? Why risk my sanity by adding another task to my to do list?
The answer is simple. Because I love it.
It’s not the stress that I love, or even the thrill of victory when I cross the 50k finish line (though it is sweet). It’s the intimacy of taking sometimes random thoughts and committing them to paper. Of taking individual words and molding them until they tell a story, opening a window to a world that was not there before.
At its heart, writing is an act of creation. And I love every second of it.
This is also why I blog.
I love travel. I have always loved travel. But I’m a writer first and foremost, a traveler second.
Writing is therapeutic. It’s calming. It allows me to process my thoughts and emotions, and to put to paper the memories I don’t want to lose.
I’ve kept a journal since I was six years old. I’ve been blogging in some form or fashion for over ten years. I’ve literally written millions of words comprising a myriad novels, poetry, short stories, vignettes and blog posts.
When Outbound Adventurer came into being, I wanted to create an avenue through which I could express myself and record my adventures. It was a convenient way for family to keep up with me, and I certainly hoped to inspire and educate others. At it’s core, though, I was doing it for myself. For my own benefit.
But as more people begin reading this blog, I’ve found that the focus, for better or worse, has shifted somewhat.
The Conundrum: What is a travel blog?
When we created Outbound, it seemed simple enough. We loved writing, we loved travel, so why not create a blog about travel?
These days, though, it isn’t enough to just be a writer within the industry; not if you want it to succeed. And, yes, of course we want Outbound to be successful. I might be writing for myself, but I still cherish every comment. I still do a little victory dance each time someone tells me they took my advice to heart.
But just writing isn’t enough anymore. Running a blog has become a full time job in and of itself.
Running a successful travel blog means wearing many hats. You aren’t just a writer. You’re a marketer, salesperson, PR agent, social media guru, entrepreneur, graphic designer, SEO expert, web designer and photographer. Your inbox literally begins to overflow with articles telling you how to maximize your visibility, write media kits, gain sponsorship, establish authority.
It’s exhausting. I often find myself dedicating an absurd amount of time to activities that have nothing to do with the actual writing process. And, as the months drag on, I find myself wondering — is all of the extra work actually helping?
Quality vs. Quantity: A case study
Last month, we tried an experiment. Over the summer, Tara and I were hyper-involved in social media, promoting our site on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Trover, Instagram, Yonder, StumbleUpon, Bloglovin’ and more social media platforms I’m sure I’m forgetting. We created a media kit, participated in Twitter chats, and joined Facebook groups.
Our numbers were good. Not spectacular, but given how young this blog is, they were good. We had about 3,000 unique visitors in one month. Most of that traffic was from social media. But our bounce rate — the number of people who came to our site and left without looking around in depth – was abysmal. Around 80% of our visitors simply scanned the page they clicked on, then left. The average amount of time spent on the site was less than 30 seconds.
What was the point? I was becoming so overwhelmed that my content, my writing, my passion was suffering, all in the name of tweeting one more time, of earning one more reader who would stare at the page for a few seconds. That wasn’t what I wanted. That’s not what Outbound Adventurer is about.
So we backed off. We pulled out of most Twitter chats. We scaled down our social networks to Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, leaving the others behind for the time being. The three social media platforms we kept, we limited our activity on.
And, predictably, our numbers dropped.
Last month, we saw only 600 unique visitors.
But guess what?
Our bounce rate dropped from almost 80% to 4%. The average number of pages a person visits within the site went from one to three, and the average amount of time on the site skyrocketed up.
So no, we aren’t reaching as many people. But the people we are reaching? Those of you reading this right now? You want to be here. And that is so much more important to us, even if it doesn’t score us advertisers or sponsorships.
Back to the drawing board
Tara and I are both educators, and at the end of the day, we have to follow the same advice we’ve given our students, time and time again. Follow your passion and be prepared to work your ass off. Nothing comes easy, but if you’re prepared to put in the effort, you will reap the rewards.
As I go into the hectic month of November, throwing another project onto my plate, I know that something has got to give. I won’t sacrifice my writing, so that means I may have to skimp somewhere else. I might drop out of a social network. I may not be able to build and update our media kit. I might need to take a month off of Twitter chats.
And that’s okay — because once you stop loving what you’re doing the next question, logically, becomes this: Why are you doing it?
Do what you love, love what you do
For me, success lies in perseverance. I’m in it for the long game, not the quick fix. That means that when I become overwhelmed it’s time to trim the fat and make sure that my limited energy is going to the right place.
I want my writing to speak for itself. If that means that our readership increases by slow increments, rather than superficial leaps and bounds, then that is absolutely a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
I know that we’re not the only bloggers out there who feel overwhelmed. We aren’t the only ones who want to just make everything stop for a moment. I want to implore you to force yourself to stop, because the industry won’t. That hamster wheel is going to keep on spinning. But it’s important, as a blogger, for you to take a moment for yourself and think. Ask yourself:
- Why am I doing this?
- What am I hoping to gain from my blog?
- Which methods are working, and which are adding needless stress?
And if you have to cut back, if you can’t do it all, if you need to take a break or change your strategy, don’t apologize.
I know I won’t.