In the spring of 2005, I discovered blogs.
I was working a desk job and had lots of free time to burn, and I quickly worked my way through the entire archives of several blogs, learning every detail about their lives that they were chronicling online.
The idea of an online journal wasn’t new to me, although the term “blog” was.
In high school, all my friends and I had LiveJournals, and we all posted on a very consistent basis, commenting on each other’s journals, sharing cryptic updates and sharing random quiz results like “what Disney sidekick are you?”
When I went to college, my roommate also had an online journal and soon several friends on our floor, plus my boyfriend and his roommate and a bunch of other friends were all writing on our goofy little LiveJournals too.
But reading the blog of someone I didn’t know was new territory.
For the next year, I read blogs on a daily basis and in turn, I’d regale Bart with details of these strangers’ lives and he’d listen with impressive interest.
After a few months of this, he suggested, “Why don’t you start your own blog?”
I was 100% dismissive and told him I didn’t have anything to say.
But for three or four months, Bart kept casually bringing it up, suggesting that since I loved reading other blogs so much, I might enjoy starting a blog of my own.
I finally started to warm up to the idea, but I knew I didn’t want it to just be a new version of my LiveJournal. I knew if I was going to start a blog, I wanted it to have some theme so I wouldn’t run out of things to write about.
It was right about this time that I was finishing up my last college classes and for the first time in years, I had a lot of time to read for fun again. I was visiting the local library at least once a week, picking up new books and remembering how much I loved reading.
After weeks of deliberation, I decided that my blog would be focused on reviewing the books I read and in late October of 2006, I published my first post on Everyday Reading (it was a review of Baby Proof by Emily Giffin).
I used a standard template on Blogger, and I didn’t know the first thing about html, photography, or pretty much anything blogging related, but I jumped right in with the goal of reviewing one book per week.
It only took a few months for me to want to write things other than straight book reviews, and I started writing about random things I was thinking about, like this deep and very thoughtful post about movies (by “deep and thoughtful” I obviously mean “completely inane”).
Because I was reading the blogs of so many strangers, I never started my blog with the intention of only my friends and family reading it, so it was never weird to me to have readers and commenters that I didn’t know.
At the time, very few blogs were making money. The year I launched my blog, I remember a big kerfluffle over bloggers adding sidebar ads to their blogs in the hopes of making a little money to offset their time and cost of blog hosting. Now I think few people think twice about ads in the sidebar or footer of a blog, but at the time, there was so much outrage about bloggers selling out.
Facebook pages for blogs weren’t a thing, Instagram hadn’t been invented yet, Pinterest was still years in the future, and the idea of optimizing your site for SEO or taking professional-quality photos was very unusual.
I’d just get on to Blogger, pound out a post with no pictures and press publish.
Over the next four years, blogging started to become more mainstream and my blog continued to get new readers, although I couldn’t tell you now how many page views I was getting back then.
About three years in, I discovered Amazon Affiliate links, and started making a teeny amount of money on those (like . . . three or four dollars a month teeny).
In 2009, I wrote a post about Ebates (a cash back site) and I made $100 from the readers who signed up through my link. You would have thought I won the lottery, I was so excited over that $100.
Bart, seeing me act like it was Christmas morning over this, suggested that I might start trying to make money through my blog – I had a decent-sized audience, but I told him I wasn’t interested in monetizing. I just wanted to write on my blog because I loved it.
I had zero entrepreneurial interest and I didn’t know anyone personally who was making money on their blog, so it seemed completely unlikely.
Then Ella was born and my blogging time quickly dropped off. I still continued to write at about the same pace I had, but now that was one of my only hobbies because my free time was so diminished.
About this same time, a couple of blogger networks reached out to me about working on some sponsored posts, including the BlogHer bookclub where they’d pay me to participate in their monthly book club (I could write whatever I wanted about the book so long as I disclosed that I was being paid and that I used their special link so they could track how much traffic my post drove to the book)
Since I’d quit my full-time librarian job to stay home with Ella, I wasn’t working for the first time in almost forever.
I’d gotten a job at Cold Stone Creamery when I was 15 and worked through high school and two jobs during the summer. I didn’t work my first year at BYU, but after that I always had at least one job and sometimes as many as three jobs at any given time.
It felt completely foreign for me not to be working or going to school, and suddenly the idea of being able to work while staying home with my baby had a lot of appeal.
The money I started making off the odd sponsored post or through my sidebar ads or affiliate revenue basically paid for us to go out to dinner once or twice a month, but it felt so exhilarating to be a financially contributing member of the family again.
Then Bart started talking seriously about going back to school for an MBA.
With the possibility of him leaving his job for two years, plus another baby on the way, I suddenly felt hugely motivated to figure out a way to help support our family through my blog if it were at all possible.
About this time, Babble was hiring a lot of contributors to blog on their site and I reached out to two of my blog friends (one of whom I didn’t really know well at all) and asked if they would recommend me for a spot that had opened up to write for Babble about pregnancy.
A few weeks later, the Babble team wrote back to say that they’d hired someone else for Babble, but they were launching a new site called Disney Baby, and would I be interested in writing 12-13 posts a month on that blog?
Yes, yes I would be.
For the next six months, I cranked out one post after another and then when I got wind that Disney was opening a new site with bloggers, called Spoonful (basically the online version of Family Fun), I reached out to my editor and asked if I could write for that site too.
I sent along some samples of my food/DIY content and they hired me a week later.
Now in addition to writing 4-5 posts a week for Everyday Reading, I was cranking out 24-26 extra posts a month for Disney Baby and Spoonful, plus 1-2 posts a month for two other smaller sites that had hired me as a freelance contributor.
Bart had started his graduate program by this time and we’d moved to North Carolina with our two girls, and I spent every naptime and evening while Bart was at recruiting dinners or study groups writing like a maniac.
I learned all sorts of things about blogging from these contributor gigs – what sorts of posts would perform well, what the standard of photography was like, a basic understanding of SEO and lots more.
It also just about killed me.
By the time we left North Carolina for Bart’s summer internship, I was so burned out that I told Bart that as soon as he graduated and had a full-time job again, I was done blogging.
I was pretty sure I could manage one more year, but I didn’t think I (or our family) could survive more than that.
Besides, at this point, there wasn’t just the blog – it was Instagram and Pinterest and Facebook and email and it all felt hugely overwhelming.
Then, just a few days later, Spoonful announced that they were cutting their blogging program.
Although it was a blow to lose that money, all I could feel was massive relief that I’d be cutting three posts a week (and the most time-consuming posts at that, since they almost always required photography, long DIY or recipe steps, or collecting dozens of recipes and permission from other blogs to use their recipes in round-ups).
Just as we got ready to head out to a semester in Europe, I picked up two new freelance gigs, but neither of them was even remotely as stressful as Spoonful had been.
Amazingly, going to Europe for four months felt like a reset.
Our tiny flat required much less upkeep than our house in North Carolina had, Bart was around WAY more than he had been the previous year, and with the loss of Spoonful, I could stay on top of my work much more easily.
By the time we got back to the States, I was more enthusiastic about my blog than I had ever been.
Disney Baby also changed all of our contracts to be only 5 posts a month, which felt like NOTHING after the 12-13 I’d been cranking out for the past two years.
I was starting to feel like I knew something of what I was doing with my blog, thanks to all the practice I’d had with these freelance projects.
My photography was improving, I was writing better posts, and, thanks to attending some blog conferences, I had a little circle of blogger pals that I could talk to about all the things I had questions about, from media kits to sponsored posts to starting a Facebook page.
In the past four years, I’ve never again considered giving up my blog.
It’s been an enormous creative outlet for me, and I feel really lucky that I love both the actual content creation and the business and technical side of blogging.
With my workload adjusted, I’ve felt like I’ve had the space to keep trying new things, like launching Raising Readers or starting my book quotes project, plus further develop skills like SEO and photography.
It’s kind of crazy that I’ve been blogging for eleven and a half years and it’s the kind of thing I never would have imagined for myself, but it’s been one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
I love the chance to share the books and other things I’m interested in, it’s endlessly fun connecting with amazing readers all over the country (and world!), and I am incredibly grateful to have a really interesting career while still getting to stay home with my girls.
It’s also pushed me harder than almost anything else ever has. I’ve learned so much about saying yes and saying no, balancing work and family, handling praise and criticism, when to outsource, and how to run a business, which is something I NEVER thought I’d want or have the courage to do.
It’s always constant adjusting to figure out where to spend my time, what projects to say yes to, what partners to work with, and what kind of content is the most useful.
The best part, of course, has been you guys.
I so appreciate your encouragement over the years, whether that was excitement over the announcement of a new baby or a heartfelt email telling me that you’d loved a book I recommended.
Everywhere we’ve moved, someone who has read my blog has emailed to introduce themselves and invite us to dinner or to a playgroup or give school or neighborhood advice.
It feels completely miraculous to have this amazing community of friends that I can ask for advice or share my over-the-top enthusiasm for a new book with.
Whether you’re a reader who has been here since 2006 or 2010 or 2017 or yesterday, thank you so much for being part of Everyday Reading.