Break the Rules. Burn It Down. Build Your Own.

Last week for work I was at a blogger conference that was well outside my niche. I was happy to help out and take on whatever was needed, running an education session and volunteering as a mentor. That mentor thing seemed like a good idea when I did it, but as the time to meet with my assigned mentee drew closer, impostor syndrome started to creep in.

What if this person can’t learn anything from me?

What if I don’t have anything to offer?

I kept a cool head and figured I’d make the best of it, at least I’d be able to offer guidance in some of my areas of expertise if nothing else.

The meeting itself was fantastic. My mentee and I connected quickly, we found parallel stories in our lives, and I had real, concrete advice I could offer her to move forward. She needed someone to say, “You are good enough to do this,” and I was happy to be that person. It ended up being one of those to-the-brim, sloppy with love moments where I remembered why I do what I do and how much it means to me.

As we talked about moving forward and setting goals and all that stuff, I shared some of the best advice I could give anyone who’s living the internet life. 

Anyone who says, “You must do X,” is wrong.

Anyone who says, “This is how you succeed,” is wrong.

Anyone who says, “These are the rules,” is wrong.

Anyone who says these things hasn’t been paying very close attention to the internet. We are succeeding everywhere and no two of us are doing the same things. We are experimenting and finding different meanings of what it actually means to succeed. 

Anyone who says these things is not talking about you, they’re talking about themselves. And they’re too shortsighted to understand that what worked for them isn’t a universal formula for success.

I try very hard to avoid this. When I give talks on SEO, I try not to say that it’s required or necessary. I try to recognize that it is one way to build traffic that works really well for some people. I give my talks knowing that a lot of people won’t take my advice and that’s okay

I started blogging in 2001. In a different place with a different name. It was a different world back then and there was no one telling us what to do so we just did.

When I started this blog in 2007, I began that way, but soon realized that in the years I’d been stuck in my own site that blogging had become a thing and people were using it to make money and this could now be my thing. I spent a couple of years taking notes, following advice, doing what I was told to do. I broke rules sometimes, but I tried to follow that model.

The funny thing is that model was already coming apart at the seams by the time I jumped on. The bloggers who’d come up and made it big were big fish in a small pond, but now the pond was so large that it was almost impossible to differentiate yourself from others. And with everyone trying to follow the same model and build the same numbers it became a slog.

So I quit that model. I stopped feeling like the only way my blog mattered was if someone agreed to pay me to write sponsored content on it. I stopped caring about whether I’d ever get to steady 6-figure monthly traffic. I was lucky because I already knew how to blog in a way that felt true to myself, I hadn’t wandered too far from it, and I just went right back to it.

Among the rules I’ve broken? 

Oh, so many.

Post consistently! You should have the same number of posts every week! 

Share regularly on Facebook! Engage your audience there! Give them content they want to see!

Promote on Twitter! Share links of your own and share links from your friends!

Pin every single day on Pinterest! 

Comments are the thing that really matters to measure engagement!

Build your email list! That’s the most important thing!

Your posts should never be more than 500 words!

Find your niche! Define your personal brand! 

Use your byline to build your brand! Share your writing as much as possible!

Personal blogs are over! 

No one cares what you ate for lunch on Instagram!

I could go on. Almost every rule I’ve ever heard I’ve broken. And it’s actually worked out really well for me. A few years ago I thought I would only be successful as a blogger if I got bigger. Turns out I did get bigger, but not by a lot. And I’ve still been wildly successful beyond what I could have imagined, just not in the ways everyone else defined success.

A few years ago I was just another blogger who was dipping their toe in monetization.

Now I write for other sites, I get to write things I care about and work with people I enjoy.

I speak at conferences and teach bloggers new skills and I’m pretty damn good at it, if I may say so myself.

I blog about what I want to blog about and no one has yet stomped their feet and stormed off.

I started a brand new career path at a time when I needed it desperately, solely because of the effort I put into my blog.

I’m an expert now. I feel comfortable using the term. I have to use the term if I want people to take me seriously and if I’m going to remind myself that my experience and insight is valuable.

And none of this would have happened if I’d stuck with the rules I was told to follow. 

I did what felt right to me. I did what I was good at. I did what made sense for my life. And that is the only rule that I really believe in.

Every few months there’s another round of bloggers writing about burnout and how their hearts aren’t in it anymore. The only way you can avoid that is to do this because you love it. Because the way you do it makes you love it more. Because you’ve made your own rules to protect your heart and your brain and keep them where you need them to be. If you don’t do that, there will inevitably come a point where you no longer love it and you wonder why you’re doing it. 

So here I am. A tiny little blogger who doesn’t have crazy numbers, who doesn’t have name recognition, who doesn’t have hordes of followers. And I’m telling you that all those things don’t matter. What matters is what you do with what you’ve got and how you use your expertise and what you want to accomplish and what you’re doing to get there.

So thanks to Candice for that mentoring session, which reminded me of exactly what matters to me and reminded me of just how far I’ve come in a pretty short time. Parts of my life may get pretty messy and tough, but this blog? Has been my joy and my community and my success. And I couldn’t be happier with it.

My Tribe of One

You are who you are. This is a thing I know, and yet I keep waiting for things to be different. I keep waiting for circumstances to change and reveal the me that’s been hanging out just waiting to make an appearance.

I went to New York for BlogHer this year. Blog conferences can feel a lot like high school. Where out on the street everyone was the same, inside these walls there are now groups. There’s cool kids, of course, with pageviews and social media followers standing in for popularity. And like high school groups form based on similar interests or location. Then there are the people who float from group to group. I have always fallen in this last category, ever since high school. 

That doesn’t mean that I won’t walk into every conference hoping this will be the one where I’ll be at the center of a cozy group who checks in regularly and makes sure no one’s ever going it alone. 

This never happens. Of course it never happens. And it’s not because the circumstances are holding me back, it’s because that’s not who I am.

If I had a group, I would probably be sneaking off to get some alone time or to say hi to someone I haven’t seen in a long time or to go watch a musical with an ode to an old school butch lesbian.

I don’t actually like being in a cozy group who does things together. When I’m in one I feel self-conscious. I start to worry that no one actually wants to hang out with me, that they’re just humoring me. Or I can’t help but focus on how different we are and how I don’t really want to do what the group wants to do and I wish I was on my own. 

It’s really a grass-is-always-greener situation. But I always feel my lack of a group acutely when I’m on my own at a conference. That is the norm now, especially since I’m working at almost all of these conferences so I have my own schedule and my own room. 

With all that said, BlogHer was kind of a turning point. It was the first big conference I ever went to, 3 years ago. Back then I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted out of blogging. I was still learning my way around all the trappings that went along with the writing and soul-baring, which was why I got into it in the first place. 

But I’ve worked hard for the past 3 years. Really hard. I’ve even built a career. 

It turns out, all that work means something. At BlogHer it meant that I would walk around for only a few minutes before I saw someone I knew or someone stopped me to say hello. That would’ve been unheard of to 2012 Me, whose only friends were people I’d met already in Boston or the small group of Autism parents I’d bonded with on Facebook. Even knowing two dozen people feels like knowing no one when you’re in the giant crowds of BlogHer.

This year’s conference experience was great, actually. I got to see the people I wanted to see. I had long conversations with people I’d just met. I skipped sessions that didn’t excite me. I didn’t worry about anything that wasn’t important to me. And I didn’t care if I looked silly when I was dancing. I got my Broadway fix, which was terribly overdue. I read books in bed. I had a drink or two or more if I wanted to.

People talk about their tribe when they talk about blog conferences, especially BlogHer. I don’t have one tribe, but many. And that makes sense for me. It feels right, if I take the time to think about it.  So for the next conference I think I’m just going to read this post again and remind myself that this is who I am. 

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

It’s not unusual for there to be flurries of activity around something in the blogging world. Right now there’s a lot of talk about quitting and the pressure of blogging.

I respect where those people are coming from, but it’s only reminded me of something that I realized a long time ago: I don’t feel it the same way a lot of other bloggers do.

For me blogging is only a choice in that it’s the fastest end possible. But it IS an end, it’s not a means. I’m not using blogging to get somewhere or be someone. Blogging itself is what I want, it is where I want to go, it is who I want to be.

I have been able to use my blogging to make other things happen in my life, I’ve tried to be savvy and leverage it when I can, but that was never the goal. And it has never been more than a perk.

It is possible that someday I’ll pull post less or differently. But that’s life. That’s things changing. 

I do have that dream that I really will get the time to write that novel and that my blog will become my secondary form of expression rather than the primary one. 

But I don’t see a future where the blog stops. I don’t see me quitting. 

I’ve been doing this for a long time. Two weeks ago marked my 14th blog anniversary. 14 years ago I wrote my first blog post on my old site. I wrote that post as a freshly minted college graduate, just 21 years old. I’ve been blogging my entire adult life. 

I went through one big change, moving from that old site to this new one. I had to find a different way for my blog to work. I had to fit it into a different kind of life. But it didn’t die. And I only feel more strongly about it as time passes.

Those pressures? I don’t feel them. Lately I’m posting around once a week and I’m okay with that. I’m still experimenting and trying things. The blog continues to evolve, but I feel like “evolve” is the correct word because it’s moving forward and becoming something better. 

I post and I feel better. I post and I feel centered. I post and I feel like I’ve spent some time with myself. 

I forget to promote my posts sometimes. I have things I want to try that I don’t get to or forget about. I have goals I set and don’t meet. But none of it changes anything. 

I get that blogging has become an industry. And I’m thrilled that it’s a way some of us can monetize something we love. But I’m here for it whether that happens or not. 

If you don’t get me, that’s fine. You don’t have to. I’m not saying my way is the right way. We all do this for our own reasons and in our own way. But I think there may be some people out there like me who are starting to feel like they should respond to the pressure to “be” whatever it is. And if that doesn’t feel right for you, I just want you to know that there’s nobody out there who says you have to play by a set of rules.

I have a small blog. I don’t care if it ever gets big. I am thrilled with it staying small. I write what I want and the funny thing is that my readers have become more involved when I am more true to myself. I’ve been able to make tons of blogging friends and get a day job or two out of it and learn things and teach them and be fairly well respected in my own small-time way. I thought for a while that I had to be popular and have huge numbers for those things to happen, but you don’t. And I want to make sure that someone who needs to know that can know it.

I love my blog. It is me. It makes me happy. It makes my life better. It makes me a more fulfilled human being. That there are other people who enjoy it and even care about it is still astonishing. That it has done something small for a few people is more than I’ve ever asked for. It is, frankly, the best. And I just can’t quit.

Why I Unfollowed You on Twitter

First off, don’t feel bad. This doesn’t say anything about our friendship. I’ve been unfollowing a lot of people and it’s not because I don’t like you. 

Here’s what you need to understand. I like Twitter. I’ve been there for years. And it’s the social network I care about the most. For a long time I followed everyone I was friends with and everyone I thought might have something interesting to say.

As time has passed I’ve realized that a lot of you don’t like Twitter the way that I do. I want to have conversations there. I want to learn things there. I want to enjoy myself there. So I have a new rule: if you’re not making my life on Twitter better, I’m unfollowing you.

It’s not personal. Promise.

In all likelihood, I still follow you elsewhere. Probably multiple elsewheres. And you’re awesome in those other places. 

There’s no need to make excuses. I know that there are a lot of social networks and you can only invest so much time into them. If Twitter is the one where you’re automating, that’s totally fine. But it means that those of us who Twitter our asses off aren’t going to follow you. 

Reasons I might have unfollowed you:

You Auto-Tweet

By far this is the biggest one. Auto-tweeting has become the norm. But it’s really obvious you don’t pay much attention to your feed when you auto-tweet things so constantly that it gets annoying. You’re on a pinning spree and every single pin auto-tweets. You auto-tweet your posts as they go up on your blog. Even worse, you auto-tweet everything on Facebook. You’ve got automation so far stretched that I’ll often see you tweet the same thing 2 or 3 times in a row from different automated sources. You use triberr or one of those other things.

Auto-tweets aren’t a death knell, but if I see one I’ll pull up your profile. And if all you’ve been doing is auto-tweeting, I know you’re not on Twitter the way I’m on Twitter. I know we won’t have a conversation here. So that’s that.

You Self-Promote

We all do it. But if all you tweet is links to your posts, I can get that from other places. You aren’t here to hang out. So that’s that.

You Sign Up for Programs That Tweet For You

I don’t care how many people unfollowed you today. I don’t care who your most engaged followers are. This is stuff for you, not for me. And if you’re tweeting this and not hanging out, that’s that.

You Share Inspirational Quotes

Personal pet peeve. They bug me. I won’t ding you for one, but if that’s all you’ve got, I’m out.

You Tweet a Lot of Ads and Twitter Parties

I know you can get paid to tweet. I tried it. And I quickly quit. If you do this too much, you’re taking up my feed and that’s that. I’d rather hang with you in a place where I don’t see your ads.


The bottom line is: we all use the internet differently. And following you on Twitter isn’t an endorsement of you as worthwhile. It’s a decision I make about what I see. 

So if I unfollowed you, no hard feelings on my end. I hope there aren’t any on yours either. Feel free to say hi on Instagram, Facebook, email, or in real life. 

And if you want to join the conversation, then just @ me and start a talk and when I realize I’m not following you, I’ll rectify that. 

A Study in Contrasts

I’ve always been a bit of a study in contrasts. 

I love rules. I often break them. 

I love organization. I tend to be messy.

I crave science and data. I yearn for creative expression.

It’s just how things are. I’m pretty used to it.

Last week my post on the snow in Boston went a teeny bit viral. Viral in the sense that it spread almost exclusively on social media, mostly Facebook, and that almost everyone who read it or shared it is from Boston. (How many people that I met on OkCupid found that post and recognized me and told me so? 3. I’m assuming many more just didn’t send a message.)

The blogger rule book says I should capitalize on this, being every so briefly dubbed the Voice of Boston. But I won’t. Thanks.

Because I never want to be blog famous and that post reminded me why. I don’t want to have to moderate comments when people are fighting. I don’t like internet fighting. I spend a lot of time on the internet, but I also carefully control what I see and unfollow liberally. I can’t imagine what that would be like if they were fighting about me.

It’s funny, but I kinda hate conflict. Yes, I know, I used to be a lawyer and made my living fighting in a courtroom and I hate conflict. Like I said, contrasts.

There’s more reasons I won’t keep writing about the snow. Not because it’s any better. (We got another foot or so over the weekend.) But because I am trying really hard to hold on to any bit of grace and kindness I have left. I’m at the end of most of my ropes and it’d be great if I could hold on a little longer.

That post I wrote about banding together after divorce and treating each other with grace? I really meant it. But I’m not particularly good at it. It’s more about what I want to be and not what I actually am. 

I need to work on that. And writing about all the stuff that’s making me angry isn’t going to help.

Just a few days after I wrote that post I read a post by two divorced women and instead of feeling connected and full of grace, I felt resentful. I thought then that they really didn’t get it because they both fell into new relationships and got into them quickly and how could they understand the loneliness that I’m dealing with when they pretty much skipped that part?

It was a stupid thing to think. Luckily my own post talked me out of it. 

It’s not that I feel the need for this blog to be constantly positive. That is so not my jam. My jam is being the other side of that a lot of the time and not being afraid to talk about things that people won’t talk about. 

But this is a little different. It’s something I’m working on. Actively. And I have to nudge myself a bit. Just a bit closer towards grace.

I can’t promise there won’t be venting on social media (there will be) but I feel like I’ve said my peace and it’s time to tell a new story.