On Trying and Failing (Thank Goodness!) to Become an Online Influencer

Hey! I haven’t written anything here in forever! I’m kicking it old-school with a stream-of-consciousness blog post.

It was 2008. I was 23. I’d been married for three years, I was just wrapping up my MA in English lit, and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.

I wanted to be a writer. I’d always wanted to be a writer.

I was also a very “on fire” Christian, and was specifically interested in being a Christian writer, like breakout star Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz), or maybe Jonathan Acuff (Stuff Christians Like).

But how did one even begin to break into something like that? So I did what any millennial in the late aughts would do: I googled it.

I stumbled upon the CEO of Zondervan (the most prominent publisher of Christian books), who had a whole online business teaching people how to get into the Christian writing scene. He advised that if you wanted to get into the business, you absolutely needed to have a social media presence. At the time, that meant you needed a blog and a twitter account.

So I devoted myself to blogging. I dabbled with a Blogspot blog, but soon made the move to WordPress. I knew I needed a niche, so I decided to focus on the topic of Christian marriage. I thought I had a unique perspective, having married at 20 before I even finished my undergrad degree.

Over time I did manage to get a little bit of momentum. My readership grew to include people I didn’t know IRL. It was exciting.

After a couple of years I grew dissatisfied with my chosen limited topic, and eventually started a different blog exploring topics that were becoming more interesting to me: the ethics of being a follower of Jesus. I was especially interesting in such areas as caring for the earth, gentle parenting, and radical nonviolence. I was interested in how to be a good person, not just believe the right things. More than a little bit of self-righteousness crept in as I started to get involved in minimalism as a lifestyle, zero-waste living, and “natural” living. I wrote about organic cooking, sustainable shopping, and the like.

I had my first child, and I had less time to devote to my writing, but I tried to still post a few times a month.

My readership continued to grow evvvver so slowly. I was collaborating with other bloggers. I had a modest Facebook page, with a few thousand followers there. I was starting to contemplate bigger projects.

And then Felix was born. And absolutely everything fell apart.

My family, my faith, my confidence in myself and my work. The little bit of free time I’d had for creative expression was completely obliterated as all my energy turned towards keeping this fragile creature alive.

One crisis followed after another. Just as he was recovering from treatment for his life-threatening disease, his other disabilities became more obvious, demanding more and more time and attention. Therapies, assessments, appointments, mobility tools, you name it. Caring for him took over my entire life. The trauma I experienced also completely mangled my ability to create.

And since then, I’ve just…never recovered. Not after six years. I’ve never recovered my vision. Never got back into the groove of creating content.

Meanwhile, the Internet changed. Blogging all but died. Facebook changed, and the page I’d diligently built up became basically useless. Instagram increased in prominence, and I found I like the platform better, but it’s not suited to long-form writing, and I never managed to get much of a following there.

And so here I am. Still no closer to being a writer than I was 13 years ago.

And honestly? In some ways, I’m GRATEFUL.

I knew so little about how the world worked, back when I was dispensing advice. But I was so confident. I thought I knew stuff. I was healthy and thin and had read a lot, and I had a healthy, smart little girl. Surely I must know stuff? I was still in love with my husband of eight years. I cooked everything from scratch and I was killing it at minimalist and zero-waste living. I was in a position to be a guru, right?

Looking back on my smug little self, I’m so glad no one gave me a massive platform to share my tiny, limited perspective. I would be so ashamed now of everything I would have put out into the world in my twenties. It would have all been tinged with misogyny, ableism, white supremacy, homophobia/transphobia, snobbery, and ignorance. Thank goodness that never got released into the wider world.

I honestly have very little confidence in my own wisdom now. I wouldn’t dream of advising other people how to live their lives. I know nothing. In fact, I’m rather allergic to anyone giving life advice en masse. I have no faith in self-help books any more, especially if they’re written by privileged people like me.

So while a part of me (okay, a BIG part of me) still craves the validation that a real writing career would (theoretically) give me, I’m kind of glad I never got one. I did not (and probably still do not) have the wisdom to use it well.

Postscript:

Okay, in all honesty though, while everything I said above is true, I still struggle EVERY DAY with feeling like a failure in life because my writing career never took off. Many of the other bloggers my age who started out around the same time as me now have multiple books published, are hosts or regular guests of podcasts, have flourishing email newsletters, and tens of thousands of followers on social media. I have absolutely nothing to show for my early work. I still make zero dollars, which is something I joke about regularly, but actually makes me feel like garbage.

I still kinda wish I was a successful writer.

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Comments

  1. Jana Hoffman says:

    I’ve followed you for years and years, and my life’s trajectory has many similarities along the way…

    I find myself really resonating with you here. I hear you and am greatful for your authenticity. However intermittently you may post, i enjoy the validation i receive in my wanderings thru this messy world through your words.

    Be well, internet strangerfriend.

  2. Oh! A blog post from you!

    I always look forward to reading what you have to write. :)

    And I identify with a lot of what you said here. In my 40s, I think I know so much less than I did in my 20s, despite being twice as old.

    I often shudder to think what my blog would have been like had I started it in those know-it-all 20s, actually. Yikes!

    Now I really just feel more comfortable saying things like, “Hey, this is working well for me, so I’m sharing.” and I think in my 20s I would have been so much more dogmatic.

    • Thanks so much, Kristen! I love that about your writing — you never come across as feeling superior or offering advice, but I learn a lot from you. I’m so glad for the connections we’ve made on this crazy internet.

  3. You are a successful writer! I rejoice whenever I see a new post! Don’t underestimate the value of what you have to share – so many people resonate with your stories. Maybe success is measured by how much we grow and not by achieving a certain goal at a certain age. Think about all the brilliance you could share if you were to have the time to write right now. I believe that if you truly aspire to write a book, it will happen!

  4. Yumin Sun says:

    Thank you for sharing. I am so happy to see your update. “Looking back on my smug little self, I’m so glad no one gave me a massive platform to share my tiny, limited perspective. I would be so aschamed now of everything I would have put out into the world in my twenties. ” Amen to that. I have failed miserably when I tried to launch my own business. I felt ashamed and devistated about it for a long time. I thought I “knew” stuff .
    Now ,after being Christian for 10 years, I can finally say I am thankful, that God didn’t make me successful back then. He gave me problem to protect me from BIGGER problems.
    Finally humbled a little, for my own good.
    What you are going through is much harder. Hang in there. May God smile upon you and provide for you. May HE enable you to live to the full and bring Him glory.
    p.s I love your writing. will pray for you , hopefully one day I will have your book in my hand .
    Blessings

  5. Daniel Imburgia says:

    Many blessings in your journey. _/\_.

  6. I do agree with all of the concepts you have presented in your post. They are really convincing and can certainly work as an Influencer, so many people resonate with your stories. Maybe success is measured by how much we grow and not by achieving a certain goal at a certain age. Thanks for the post.

  7. I have followed your blog for many years, we had many things in common back then and it’s funny how life made us both learn things the hard way. Realising that my son was autistic, and losing a lawsuit that took all our savings kind of made me step back from minimalism and organic living, now I realise what a huge mental load I was putting on myself by trying to live up to these standards. I am always happy when you post an article, and always read it. You still have many years to become a writer, things will get easier when your children grow up.

  8. Ahhhh! I don’t know that I can adequately tell you how much joy your writing (always) brings me. No matter the topic, no matter the frequency. I also know I’ll miserably fail in trying to fully articulate how much admiration I have for you and your willingness to grow, change, and evolve — all while being open and honest and vulnerable. You’re just so darn good at it. I could use more of that for myself.

    Other things:

    – How wild to be reminded of that weird in-between time when Googling was a thing, but social media just meant Twitter.
    – Your ease writing these words: “More than a little bit of self-righteousness crept in as I started to get involved in minimalism as a lifestyle, zero-waste living, and “natural” living. I wrote about organic cooking, sustainable shopping, and the like.” As someone with a fair amount of self-righteousness to contend with, it just bowls me over.
    – Same with, “Looking back on my smug little self … “. Your writing so often holds a mirror up for myself.
    – I have so many thoughts about the sentence “I know nothing” … but mostly I keep reflecting on how standard toxic-positivity culture would view that sentence, versus a Buddhist perspective of simply coming face to face with what is and embracing radical acceptance of what happens when we pull back all the illusions we give ourselves. “I know nothing” just sounds about right. I just think it’s true.
    – Your postscript. That you struggle with it, that you wrote it, that you shared it in general, that you specifically attached it to this post. It’s just so REAL. Which is why your writing always resonates with me so much. I could read a thousand more of your words on just that struggle.

    I think (?) my last thought is just that I’m so grateful for your sake (and for ours!) that you had the time and mental space to be able to write this post. You are a writer.

    • Thank you SO MUCH for always being such an empathetic listener. I can always sense your care and attentiveness. I appreciate you so much. Thank you for listening and supporting me.

  9. Yours is actually the only blog I read and have followed you for a while (maybe seven years or more I’m not sure). I’m a Anglican clergy spouse from the UK, I have a profoundly disabled adopted sister and I also earn 0 Pounds even though I have a degree. Totally my choice to help my husband and make art in my spare time but occasionally I let it get to me that I could do more (the voice of society). I really enjoy your honesty and sincerity. You have been super inspiring! Thank you!

  10. Emily Wieland says:

    I still remember your “no poo” post about using ACV and baking soda instead of shampoo and conditioner. I’m dying to know if you still do that?! I tried it for awhile…now I just use Beauty Counter. ;)
    I too CRINGE at some of the stuff I said on my blog in my 20s but oh well, it’s beautiful to look back and see growth.
    My husband has a professional writing degree but eventually became a web developer because starving writer doesn’t really work with a family…but he still diligently works on novels and I can tell he longs to someday feel like he succeeded at writing. I related to you through him.

    • Oh man, my no poo days. I actually did stick with it until very recently, when I got pregnant and was SO tired and nauseous. I feel better now but I haven’t picked it back up! Maybe I will yet again.

      Maan, it’s rough to have artistic dreams in this culture. I wish your husband the best, hopefully he will someday see his artistic endeavours make it in the wider world!

  11. It was an wonderful post.Very intresring to read.Thanks for sharing.

  12. Thank you for a beautiful and honest post. I’ve enjoyed and related to your writing before Felix and after, despite that I’m a divorced, secular Jewish Californian without any children! :) As a long-time journaler, I too sometimes find my past thoughts and opinions cringe-worthy, but I try to remember that this was all a part of making me who I am now. Whether you continue to write on your blog now, as able, or whether you end up finally writing a book at age 70, either way I hope to continue reading you for many years to come! You are still a writer, whether it’s something you do every day or once a year, whether you get a fat book advance or never publish outside of the blog. You’re a writer!

    • Thank you so much for your words, Lauren! And I love how sometimes we just feel connected to some people, even if our life circumstances don’t have much in common. One of the best friendships I’ve made through my blog is a childless-by-choice vegan atheist. :) Thank you for being able to see through the differences to the shared humanity. I appreciate you being here.

  13. I know nothing about writing, but I love your blog and your perspective, and would definitely buy any book you wrote. I hate that your lack of “success” makes you feel like garbage! Because you are NOT garbage. You inspire me often!

  14. I still remember when I signed up for your Project M blog so many moons ago. I got excited when I saw those blogs come through, and I still get excited when I see a post pop up in my IG feed. The growth you’ve illustrated through your grief and suffering, and your courage-despite-not-feeling-courageous… all things that make me so grateful for you. You inspire through your honesty and vulnerability and real-ness. On some levels I can relate with what you have written here. I saw a tweet once that said “Hell is just having to spend time with the version of yourself from 3 years ago.” Yep, that about sums it up for me. :-)

  15. I was led to your blog long ago after googling (ironically) something that brought me to your post about the beet colored cake frosting instead of using red dye. I’ve been following since. I even have the blog link saved as a favorite and randomly checked it today and here we are. Based on the prior comments, everyone agrees – 1. you definitely are not garbage (haha), and 2. you really are a great writer!
    I truly love the way you keep it real – and it’s nice to see that in a world of filters with people sharing their “highlight reel”.

  16. Brookivy says:

    Found you tonight via your crochet t-shirt blanket, and feel moved to tell you something I had to remind myself of often. after my second was born and we finally (finally!) got her home from the hospital… We may not have accomplished what we wanted, but we successfully (with a whole lot of help) fought for a life. Some children come with a lot more sleepless nights attached. They are worth it. That you spend your time and energy supporting your family in no way means you are not “good enough” for anything else. Your worth is priceless, not valueless. I know you would tell your best friend this. It’s okay to tell yourself, too. =)

    May we all keep becoming better versions of ourselves.

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