Every Monday morning I wake up excited as I face the potential of an entire, uninterrupted day of writing. After a weekend typically spent away from the computer, I feel refreshed. Enthusiastic. Inspired. Ready to lay thousands of words out onto this very space, and other online mediums that I contribute to. Despite having zero professional training as a writer beyond basic pre-requisites in college, I truly enjoy writing. I love telling stories, sharing knowledge, and simply having a platform to let all of the (many) thoughts swirling around in my head physically escape through my fingers into written word. It is cathartic.
But over the last few months, it seems that the enthusiasm has been waning. For shortly after I sit down at my desk, I’m finding myself inundated with aspects of this blog that feel more like a chore than a creative release. Google analytics, page views, hashtags, forced reader engagement, Facebook click-throughs…I could go on and on.
What a lot of people don’t realize, especially when they say things like “how can I get free shoes to review” or “why didn’t I think of starting a blog so I can go run races for my ‘job’?” is that this hobby of mine, of many bloggers, is a lot more than sitting around on Facebook and Twitter all day: it’s a ton of freaking work. Brainstorming topics. Researching specs for reviews, or fact checking and finding reputable peer related research for more in-depth topics. Editing photos. Writing, writing, and more writing. Editing said writing. Social media promotion. Working with editors and PR points of contact. A post that takes you 5 minutes to read may have taken a blogger a total of 8 hours to compose into its final, published version.
As I sit here, I briefly contemplate if it is safe to say that I’ve poured thousands of hours into this website, without sounding like I’m exaggerating. But a quick little calculation of how many hours are in a work day, multiplied by how many years I’ve had this blog (seven and a half) and I realize that “thousands of hours” is by no means a stretch.
I often joke that this is my third “baby”. This website is a labor of sweat, tears, stress, and love.
But the difference between a standard 9-5 and this one is that this work is more often than not really hard to force. At least for me. When my creativity is waning, when I’m frustrated with a post, or a topic, or a product, I have a really hard time faking my way through it. Other writers have the ability to force their way through, some do it well, some do not. As a reader, I can feel the lack of passion in a writers voice when you can obviously tell they have forced their way through to meet a deadline. I’m sure my editors (in other outlets) would be much happier with me if I could “fake it” more often, but to me, it feels so…contrived.
I can tell you exactly how I fell off of the solid ground of “writer for pure enjoyment” into the rabbit hole of mediocre, semi-professional blogger.
It all started a few years ago when a PR group I was a part of opened my eyes to the idea that I had the ability to not only get free product (think, shoes, clothing, race entries) in exchange for a blog post, but that these companies were willing to pay me to do so. I was no longer a “reviewer”, but instead a paid “brand influencer”. Of course with this came subtle changes to my writing, as well as strict expectations that were easy to accept when I was suddenly given a closet full of product AND a few hundred dollars to write a blog post. Like it or not, what was once a genuine, unbiased review, suddenly became influenced by money. It became a contractually obligated post, complete with legalese forbidding any sort of disparaging remarks. If I didn’t like a product, sure there were ways around it, ways to break of the relationship with the brand, but that also meant the loss of time put into testing, the loss of a potential blog post (and therefore, the almighty page views) and of course, the loss of a paycheck. And I guarantee you that this is the norm in the blogging world these days.
At this point in my rambling, you’re probably thinking “What is the problem here? She’s getting paid to talk about protein powder. Some people clean toilets for a living. Have a reality check, sweetheart.” Trust me, I know, I’m a lucky son of a barnacle to be able to do what I do. But lately, I feel like a sell out.
There, I’ve said it. Sell out, sell out, sell out.
This is not to point fingers to the rest of the blogging community, nor to throw accusations around suggesting that everyone else is selling out too. Some people are really good at what they do in the world of blogging, social media, and brand influence. Some people choose to only partner with brands and companies that they genuinely, whole heartedly believe in. But as a little fish (aka me) in the big blogging sea, you often take whatever you can get to try and GET to the point where you can be incredibly discerning with your “influence”. Ironically, in turn, this can totally hurt and diminish your influence. It is a very tricky, fine line to walk, and some days my balance isn’t so great.
Of course I still turned down opportunities that blatantly didn’t fit my personality, beliefs, or this space. But I did open myself up to countless other opportunities that were…let’s say…a stretch. I tweaked topics to try and desperately make them fit, like a square peg into a round hole. And as a result, my writing feels strained, phony, lacking substance. While I’ve always managed to make it work in the eyes of the brand, I can just feel my readers seeing right through it.
Some days, it feels dirty. Look up the definition of “shill”, and tell me that’s not the direction a lot of blogging has started to take.
More often than not, I find myself waiting until the last minute before a deadline, then carefully posting it at an odd time of day (or weekend) hoping it is sandwiched between two posts I did enjoy writing, so it may get conveniently overlooked by my readers. Yet I continue scrambling around, trying to find these opportunities, despite the fact that they don’t feel authentic, to help fill the paycheck void between personal training clients and freelance opportunities that I do enjoy. Because I’ve created this space, so I should use it. Because it almost seems like a waste not to.
Last Friday the huge news that rocked the blogging world was that Mode Media, a huge publishing and advertising agency, abruptly shut their doors and closed their company. Having been with Mode for a few years now, I can honestly say that I did indeed see this coming. Payments have been late multiple times over the last few months, with vague excuses and promised dates of when they would “catch up” on those payments. While the declaration of bankruptcy from Mode isn’t official quite yet, we’ve been essentially told to kiss those expected payments goodbye. Some of my fellow bloggers are out tens of thousands of dollars (I even read close to $150K from one publisher) for completed work that they had not yet been compensated for. Those numbers are devastating. That is someone’s livelihood, just gone, in the blink of an eye. I personally am out just shy of $500. Again, small fish, big sea. But in my mind that $500 had already been allocated to various bills, so the meager loss hurts none the less.
Much of that money came from the advertising that ran on this very blog. Advertisements that always made me cringe, that always felt invasive in this space. Advertisements that often left me wondering if their presence caused me to lose credibility from readers. But the money put groceries on the table every month, and this family of ultra runners and growing kids LOVE to eat…so the advertisements won every time. Even if they were for things like giant chain hardware stores, diapers, or makeup…all things that have absolutely zero connection to this blog. Not to mention, I am at a point in my life where I am truly trying to stray away from materialism and commercialism, yet I’m accepting money for advertising what is essentially unnecessary, wasteful “stuff”.
So needless to say, having lost what is a good chunk of change for work that I was never 100% comfortable with doing in the first place almost feels like a double punch to the gut. But as the universe always tends to do, this “life lesson” could not have come at a better time.
In the grand scheme of things, I’ve come to a place in my life where other people’s opinions of me and my life choices do not matter to me. What matters to me is doing what I believe to be right in this world, while treating the world, other people, and of course myself, with respect. Authenticity has always been so important to me. Bringing real thoughts, opinions, and ideas to my readers. Writing real thoughts, opinions, and ideas, for myself. And lately, authenticity here at Relentless Forward Commotion has been diminishing.
Maybe you’ve noticed. Maybe you haven’t. I suppose it doesn’t matter if you’ve noticed, because *I* have, and I hate it.
So the ads are gone. I briefly toyed with the idea of finding a new advertising company to work with after Mode went belly up, but halted the search almost immediately. Further, I’ve decided to take a step back from the “influencer” world as a whole, and try to truly find *my* voice again. My voice, independent of money, of page views, of Instagram followers, of all of that. This isn’t to say that I’m stepping 100% away from sponsored posts: if the State of Oregon knocked on my email inbox and said “hey, we’d love to fly you out here to run around in our beautiful forests and write about it”, I can assure you without a doubt I would not turn them down (Hey there Oregon. Wink, wink). It’s just to say that I am ready to write more about my adventures, to ramble on about my dreams, to vent about my training, to share with you products that I really, truly, DO enjoy…and even tell you when I find something that you should avoid at all costs.
To do what I came here to do in the first place, when I started this blog back in March of 2009: to write. If people read what I write? Cool. If they don’t? That’s fine too. But ultimately what I want in this space is for people to come to hear my voice, a completely real, unbiased voice. This entire post so far may feel incredibly unprofessional, a literary “biting” of the hand that “feeds” me . But for the first time in a long time, I feel relief to say what I’ve been feeling about this blog, completely uncensored.
Conveniently, I’m also starting a new job in the coming months that will allow me to further pursue my passion for running. An in person, face to face, scheduled hours and paycheck sort of job, that will allow me to take some breathing room from desperately trying to grasp at freelance opportunities. The universe has a funny way of working out just the way it is supposed to.
This isn’t a goodbye. It’s just a hello to Relentless Forward Commotion 2.0.