So, hey, ya’ll. If you’re reading this, you might be wondering what’s gotten into me to write two blog posts in two days’ span. Since I moved to Maryland two years ago, I’ve been wildly inconsistent and increasingly neglectful of my website. My bad. Aside from flashes of inspiration and determination, I have been largely unenthused about blogging. I just refuse to let the domain lapse even if the cobwebs gather. However, November 1 kicked off NaNoWriMo and a blogging pal of mine, Arnebya, invited her Facebook buddies to join her on a month of blog writing. (NaBloWriMo actually took place in October, but we do what we want). I had inadvertently written the first post yesterday, so I said, why not? I guess I’m in for a month-long writing challenge. This is day two.
Why did I even start blogging in the first place?
I started blogging for two reasons: 1) because I simply love to write and 2) blogging gives you a platform where an audience can easily reach you. When I first decided to join the hum of the Black blogosphere in 2013 ago, it was a slightly different place. The people who were big-name bloggers like Luvvie, VerySmartBrothas, Afrobella, and others, even then had been in the game for four to six years. Other former bloggers who popped off in the golden age (2009-2013) of the Black blogosphere and Twitter, like Jamilah Lemieux, Tracy Clayton, Gene Demby, Vann Newkirk, and Demetria Lucas D’Oyley traded their anonymity and blogs for full-time jobs at media institutions. or robust freelance careers
It was exciting and encouraging to see them make good on their blogging endeavors. Some of the people who were formerly bloggers have landed book deals and moved away from blogging. They used the platform as an entry way rather than an endpoint. It remains true that blogging is a very accessible pursuit with a low barrier to entry, but the popularity of personal blogging has been waning for years. Nonetheless, I saw their success as a positive marker. If they could do it, and I had at least the desire to write, then I could try. It was better than my non-existent career.
After I got in, I learned that blogging is a weird animal. You have to be mindful of your site aesthetic while realizing that content is king. Blogging thrives on timeliness like much of the 24-hours news cycle. You write for yourself, you say; but when you learn what your audience likes, you feel pressured to deliver it. Caring about growing your audience also means you must become a personal PR ninja on social media.
Then, you learn that blogging really is a business.
What’s better than writing on your own site? Getting paid to write on your own website! Even if you begin as a purist who is all about the writing, to be a successful blogger, you end up obsessing over site clicks and page views and bounce rates and email list-building and monetization and blah blah blah. You need head shots and a beat face because humans are still fickle and flock to pretty people. Better site design, better camera for blog photos, better collaborations and better giveaways. It all costs money. What started out as fun becomes work with the quickness.
And that’s why I quit blogging.
I started Truly Tafakari as a space to write abut “life + race + culture.” I pumped my blog posts full of vim and vigor about every little racist thing that hit the news. And then…I got tired. Writing every other day to defend your humanity is exhausting. I decided to shift focus to write about Black culture that inspired and affirmed me. Blackness is not just pain, right? But that meant I couldn’t be as reactive with my essays; I had stopped writing to the news cycle. I also had to put more consideration into my topics, instead of watching what Twitter watched just so I could riff on it. That got hard to do and keep up page views at the same time.
I probably hit my peak blogging in 2015, which was a difficult year for me. I spent much of that time in flux: transitioning from working from home to going back into the office; trying to sell our house; figuring out where our family was going to move and then live before our relocation; getting pregnant; quitting my job and becoming a stay-at-home-mom and homeschooler; adjusting to life here in the Up South. Somehow I managed to crank out a relatively regular blog schedule, complete with an editorial calendar. I learned back-end tech tricks and I went to my first blogging conference. Even in the chaos, I had clear vision. I still wanted to be a good blogger.
But the birth of my second daughter marked a significant shift in my life. (Real talk: I am typing this with Button sprawled asleep across my lap). It’s not easy to write regularly with small children requiring your attention. You squeeze in writing while they sleep or you give up your own sleep in order to write late. As I struggled with depression, I fell off of writing. That thief has a nasty way of stealing the joy from the things you normally love doing. Guilt pushed me not to abandon blogging completely, but I had nowhere near the gusto that marked my first two years doing it. And here we are.
What I learned about writing after I quit blogging.
At some point, I realized I had not been honest with myself. Concurrent with my blogging, I have been slowly building a freelance writing career. My blog has served as a living site of writing clips where people I didn’t know were checking for me could read my work. Most of my freelance work has come about because someone reached out to me after reading my writing here. I quickly discovered that in shuffling my freelance editing work and my freelance writing work, my blog took a back seat. I’ve since given up editing, but I have not quit writing articles. And to be honest, that’s what I want to do more than anything, full-time.
This year, I’ve spent much of the time I would have used to get my blog on track to develop a reading habit. While trying to be a successful blogger, freelance writer and editor, and a full-time working wife and mother, I was reading hardly any books. I’m proud to say that even though I’m still a slow reader, I’ve not gone a month without reading at least one book. It is making me a better, more deliberate writer.
I’ve recently finished the first season of Westworld, which was phenomenal. In the show, the androids freeze and malfunction when they become aware of their meaningless existence as robots. I had a moment like that back in June. So I posted on my Facebook profile:
I am trying to decide if I want to be a blogger or a writer with a blog. There is a difference, and I don’t think I can be both. ?
You know how you sometimes ask questions you already know the answer to? Yeah. After I wrote that, my friends opined that I was a writer with a blog. I knew that. I was in fact saying that I could not dedicate myself wholly to the craft of writing and the business of blogging. The two aren’t conducive to each other. I couldn’t care less about selling e-books or “becoming the face of my brand” or even landing huge endorsement deals with brands. I wanted to be known as an excellent writer and have greater opportunities to write for bigger platforms.
Hit with the truth about my motivations, I froze. My drive to keep blogging malfunctioned. And that’s where I am now.
But, Dara, you still have a blog. So what now?
I’m a writer with a blog, so the writing can’t stop/won’t stop. I’ve been pitching outlets more to get published in places that don’t know me yet. I hate it. But I do it because it’s really the best way to get a toehold in the career I truly want: writing, not blogging. I just will write here quite a bit less often. I might write things I share with no one, things that require bigger space like books or long-form essays.
Yes, I will miss the small community I have built, but I feel at peace about pulling back while moving forward. If you don’t catch me around here, you can always find me by my byline, Dara Mathis.
See ya’ll around the internet.