For years, I wondered what my life’s purpose was. I felt (and still feel) drawn to many different endeavors – journalism, creative writing, audio production, music, even musical theatre – and wasn’t sure how to meld those together into one cohesive career.
But something clicked when I started this blog, almost five years ago. As I tried out different types of content and developed my style, I slowly realized that running a blog could combine my passions in any way I wanted. Now, my days of “blog work” are comprised of writing, editing, social media promotion, taking and editing photos and videos, corresponding with readers, and rustlin’ up sponsors – all tasks I adore and didn’t think I could meaningfully combine, let alone earn money from. How dreamy!
I wouldn’t be where I am today without my blogging mentors: people whose blogs I’ve admired for years, whose instructional and personal content I’ve read and re-read, whose guidance I’ve taken to heart and put to good use. Here are some of those blog heroes, and some of the valuable biz-‘n’-blogging lessons they’ve taught me…
Gala Darling (galadarling.com)
It’s okay to overshare… selectively. Gala grew up during the height of LiveJournal‘s popularity (as did I, sort of), so her writing has always been tinged with tropes of the online-diary format. In the LJ days, it was commonplace for folks to divulge all sorts of glamorously mundane details from their lives: the music they were loving, the perfume they currently adored, the absurd adventures they’d recently gotten up to. These details were (and are) simultaneously banal and fascinating, when shared in an engaging way by someone in whom you already have an interest. Reading Gala’s work is instructive in striking that balance between “too small to be interesting” and “too showy to feel intimate.” Personal details invite your reader into your life, and – when shared tastefully and artfully – create a delicious connection between writer and reader.
Picture, and know, your “ideal reader.” Gala co-founded The Blogcademy with two of her blogger pals (including Kat, who I’ll tell you about in a minute), and one of the central lessons they impart on their “Blogcadettes” is the importance of vividly picturing your ideal reader in your head when you write. If you know who you’re writing for, you’ll automatically have a stronger sense of purpose and of what kind of content you should be producing. My “ideal reader” is a mental composite of actual readers of mine I’ve met and a younger version of myself. It’s an image that keeps me on-task and helps propel me forward when I’m feeling stuck.
Above all, be kind and loving. Gala’s brand centers an optimistic, adoring attitude, and I’ve always admired that. She is the human embodiment of the tenet, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It’s not that she never speaks ill of anyone – it’s obviously valid to call out people/companies/entities who are being shitty! – but she doesn’t engage with cruel trolls or petty gossips. Instead, she mostly just directs positivity and love at her readers. Her blog, brand, and persona are cohesively focused on optimism and integrity. When I’m doing that really well, I see it mirrored back at me, in the form of equally positive and sweet readers – which is exactly what I want!
Kat Williams (rocknrollbride.com)
Treat your blog like a business. Because, spoiler alert: it absolutely can be. Mine certainly is. Kat’s been blogging full-time for years, so she does this magnificently. She’s methodical about her emails and other blog admin tasks, and as a result, she’s able to post fantastic content EVERY DAY (sometimes even more than that!). Depending on your life circumstances, it’s not always possible to pour time and energy into your blog – but Kat inspires me to approach mine more professionally and purposefully, in order to get back professional and purposeful results.
Write kickass, valuable sponsored posts. When I first started writing sponsored posts, I felt super gross about it. How could I possibly get paid to write about a company without coming across like a promotional sleazeball? But bloggers like Kat have set the gold standard for what a sponsored post ought to be: authentic, fun, and valuable to your readers. I don’t accept sponsored-post assignments unless I genuinely feel I can make them fun and interesting for both myself and my readers. Otherwise, the posts would just be an empty sales spiel, and nobody wants that.
Alexandra Franzen (alexandrafranzen.com)
Set clear, loving policies. My policies page quotes Alex’s, because she’s brilliant at this sort of thing. Boundaries are crucial, both personally and professionally. Having crystal-clear boundaries in place makes you appear more professional to potential clientele, plus it helps you weed out stressful bullshit and focus only on the projects that actually align with what you want to achieve. I feel like such a badass bosslady when I fire off an email that begins, “Like it says on my policies page…”
Underpromise and overdeliver. Alex says the secret to success is just being really, really, consistently good at what you do. There’s no point making outlandish promises about what you’re capable of; just get super great at blogging, and over time, the readers and sponsors will flock to you, even if your social media and SEO and all those extras aren’t especially on-point. Content is king, and good content – well-written, engaging, valuable content – will build you a devoted audience faster and better than anything else. So practice your writing and try not to stress too much about the other stuff.
You don’t “find” your voice, you create it. Your “voice” as a writer is something you should purposefully craft, not magically stumble upon. Alex taught me that shaping your writing style is a conscious, deliberate act. How do you want your reader to feel? What do you want them to experience or learn as they read your work? What do you want them to take away from your writing? Get clear about this stuff and you’ll find your “voice” gets clearer, too.
Never shut up. Lilly is notoriously critical of shady sex toy company practices, toxic materials, and awful toys. This conflicts with my earlier point about being a positive and loving blogger, but I think they’re two sides of the same coin: being a positive force in the world means radiating love most of the time but busting out the big guns when you encounter something worth destroying. Bloggers have the power to change the world, and that is not a responsibility we should take lightly. Fuck shit up, make change, punch up, and dismantle systems of oppression in any way you have access to.
Build community with other bloggers. To be fair, this is important to all my blogger babes, not just Lilly. But she vocally supports blogger solidarity, and adds so much value to my life in doing so. Creating community with fellow bloggers is fantastic not only for social reasons but also for professional ones: you can consult with each other about setting rates, dealing with difficult clients, crafting tricky posts, and any other blogging snafus you might encounter. Since befriending tons of other sex bloggers, my work not only makes me happier and more fulfilled but also brings in more money and feels like more of a professional pursuit.
Get paid first. At companies’ behest, I used to sometimes write and publish sponsored posts before receiving payment for them, with the understanding that I would get paid after publication. I see now how risky that was, and how much it signalled those companies’ lack of respect for me and my platform. “You should not have to do work you weren’t even paid for,” Piph told me. “No need to lift a damn finger until they put the money in your pocket. Fucking insist upon it.” She is always reminding me, through her words but mostly her actions, that our work is worth money and we do not have to put up with rude, unprofessional clients.
Never apologize. Okay, apologize if you fuck up. But never apologize just for being you in a way you’re worried might not be to others’ taste. I can’t count the number of times I’ve written/said/thought some form of, “I’m sorry if this post is really rambly,” or “I’m sorry this post is so personal and emotional,” or “I’m sorry I have so many feelings about frivolous femme shit.” Piph’s writing is unabashed and unapologetic, and I think that’s part of what draws people to her website in droves. As a blogger, your personality is your brand; it’s what your readers are there to read. Stop playing small, stop denying your greatness, stop papering over your glorious quirks and start showing them the fuck off. Your people will find you, but only if you’re being your real, whole, amazing self.
What lessons have you learned from bloggers you admire?