Blogging

How I Started My Blog

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.

It took me a year of encouragement about starting a blog to make the leap and I'm so glad I did!

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.

One was for Brightly, Penguin Random House’s blog for parents about books and reading for children, and one for Conde Nast Traveler about living abroad.

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.

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24 Comments

  • Reply Fleur March 16, 2018 at 2:17 am

    Thus made me realise how long I’ve been a great fan!! Love your blog. Thanks for giving us such awesome reading

  • Reply Jamie March 16, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Janssen, I really loved this post and learning your “origin story.” I also really appreciate your sharing the struggles and wanderings of your career. It’s so easy to get disheartened when you hit the bumpy spots in the road of your life or when you’re not sure what your next move in your career will be, and I think sharing the stories of those moments and normalizing them is so important in today’s world. Thank you also for sticking with your blogging and for being open and brave in sharing your talent/life/family with us all!

    • Reply Janssen Bradshaw March 16, 2018 at 10:41 am

      It always looks so much easier from the outside, doesn’t it?

  • Reply milo March 16, 2018 at 9:00 am

    <3 thanks for sharing this for newer readers! So glad you choose to blog!

    • Reply Janssen Bradshaw March 16, 2018 at 10:32 am

      I’m so glad it was interesting! Thanks for taking a minute to comment and I’m so glad you’re here!

  • Reply Paige Flamm March 16, 2018 at 9:03 am

    I seriously loved this post. It’s been so fun to get to know you over the last several years, and watch how you, and your entire brand has grown. I’ve always admired how much dedication and authenticity that you’ve brought to your online space. I’m also grateful that we met and that you inspired me to monetize my blog. Literally thanks to you, and me silently watching what you were doing, I’ve been able to help financially provide during some seriously rocky and scary times for our family. I’ll always value you as a person and as a blogger in this online space. You’re just the best.

    • Reply Janssen Bradshaw March 16, 2018 at 10:42 am

      Well, this made me a little bit teary – thank you for your kind words and letting me know! It’s been so impressive to see you grow The Happy Flammily and make it such a great part of your family’s financial stability. You are amazing!

  • Reply Suzanne March 16, 2018 at 9:31 am

    Such a fascinating post! It is crazy to think about how much time has passed! And it’s been so enjoyable to see your blog change and grow over the years.

    • Reply Janssen Bradshaw March 16, 2018 at 10:31 am

      Isn’t it wild? And thanks for being around so long – I always love seeing your name pop up in the comments!

  • Reply Erin C March 16, 2018 at 10:54 am

    What a fun post! I have been a longtime reader (from when you lived in texas) and it is so interesting to see everything that went on in the background during all those years. Thank you for not giving up! Your blog is my favorite and the one I have consistently been reading the longest.
    My husband has always thought it was strange that I would religiously read strangers blogs (and now follow strangers on instagram) but I have learned so much through “strangers”. While we often think of the negativity that can be found online (and it is for sure there) I love finding positive and inspiring communities as well.
    Keep on blogging!

  • Reply Liz March 16, 2018 at 11:09 am

    This was pretty cool to see how your blog evolved–not having a blog myself I never really knew how blogs “got big” or “monetized”.

    I love your book recommendations, especially for kids–my kids are 3.5 and 5–and I always come here looking for recommendations for them. I’ve read your blog since before I was a mom and I’ve definitely modeled their quiet time and reading activities with my boys with ideas you have shared here. I’m not a huge audiobook person but my kids are– I never would have tried those out without someone suggesting it to me.

    Thanks for sharing this cool background story! I’m glad you enjoy what you do–it definitely adds to my life as mom.

  • Reply Alysa March 16, 2018 at 11:28 am

    ❤️❤️❤️

  • Reply Natalie March 16, 2018 at 11:36 am

    What a great post! Thanks for sharing your story. It’s so interesting to learn how careers can transform and adapt. Kudos to you for giving us a glimpse at the hard work that has to go along with following your creativity and passion. You’re an inspiration.

  • Reply Sarah Chapman March 16, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    I’ve read your blog almost every day for at least seven years. That’s crazy to think about! I found you through Merrick’s blog, who I found through a Google search about modifying clothing. I have always loved your writing style, and I especially love that your ad posts never, ever feel like ads. I even occasionally check out a book you recommend! (Most of my daily reading is limited to four blogs.) Your blog is inspiring, and I have ventured into my own blog, but I don’t know how you keep it up with so many littles! I can’t keep a coherent thought in my head most days. Thanks for your time and consistency.

  • Reply Karen March 16, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    I loved hearing your story! I’ve always worked at least part-time (as a CNA, LPN, and RN), and it’s so funny and interesting how careers evolve! I never would have guessed 10 years ago that I’d be working the job I do now–but I love it, and it’s the perfect fit for me and my family! I found you around the time you moved to North Carolina. I don’t read very many blogs religiously–but I ALWAYS read yours. You’re an excellent and interesting writer, and I love reading what you have to say on just about any topic! As blogs have gotten monetized and Instagram has grown, very few blogs are still genuine and producing quality content. It’s just not worth my time to read them! You incorporate sponsored posts better than any other blog I’ve read–and it makes me THRILLED that you get paid for doing what you do, instead of irritated that you “sold out.” Thanks for helping me find great books for me and my kids, great shoes (those pink Vans and Urban Outfitters nude ballet flats), great recipes (Thai Green curry meatballs and banana blueberry muffins, among many others) and great ideas for how to stay sane and happy as a young Mom. Keep up the great work!

    • Reply Janssen Bradshaw March 16, 2018 at 2:11 pm

      Karen, this is THE nicest comment on the planet. Seriously, I can’t tell you how much this means to me and how much I appreciate it. And your happiness for me is just the kindest thing; I want to be like you when I grow up!

  • Reply Diana March 16, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    I don’t know how long I’ve been reading yours…3ish years maybe? I loved reading your whole back blogging story! I’d like to think if we lived in the same city we’d be friends (I say that in a totally non-creepy way!), talk books and how to make our houses pretty and organized and all that. I’m glad you’ve kept with it for so long!

  • Reply JoLee March 16, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Gosh, I feel like I’ve been reading your blog forever, but it turns out I’ve only been reading it for a little over half of your blogging life. It was fun to hear about how it all began.

  • Reply Elaine Doolittle March 17, 2018 at 10:57 am

    I really enjoyed reading about how you began blogging since one of the first things I learned about you when you were starting at our schools was that you had a blog. I had only just begun learning about blogging and figuring out how I could teach the kids about them. It is fun for me to stay in touch through this medium now that we are so far away from each other. What makes me happiest is that you can have a satisfying career and still be the primary caregiver for your adorable little girls!

  • Reply Debbie Adams March 17, 2018 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you for sharing your blogging journey! Looking at your blog now, it would seem that you always knew where you were going with it and you were always a professional at everything. It’s kind of surprising (and relieving!) to hear that might not be the case.

    Question for you: It seems that your career developed right along with the blogosphere. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a blog for a long time now, but I am so not ready to be in the big blogger leagues, monetize in any way, or even commit to daily or weekly content. Do you think that there is still room for starting small, even though the blogging world is so big now? I feel like I’d be such a small fish in a huge ocean that I’m not sure it would be worth it. Where might you suggest starting?

  • Reply Maria John March 19, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    Wow! Eleven years!!!
    And i can’t believe how many posts you were cranking out at one point! It’s amazing to think you were able to cope up with that stress.
    Here’s to many many more years of your blogging career!

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