You may wonder why we bloggers do what we do. Why do we toil in the wee hours of morning and night to match just the right photo to carefully chosen words? Why do we share some of our most intimate and/or humiliating moments? Why put ourselves out there to be judged, or worse, ignored?
I spent last weekend attending BlogHer15— the world’s largest conference for women content creators on social media — and was reminded why we blog.
Only a few of the thousands of bloggers in attendance have hit it big. Winning the blogging lottery can mean different things: building a brand, monetizing with ads, scoring a book deal… but all any of us really want is to be heard.
We want more people to read and engage in our passion subjects.
That’s my takeaway from an amazing weekend of listening to inspiring speakers, meeting real and virtual friends, and taking notes at professional breakout sessions.
The blog is not the thing. Connecting is the thing.
This was my third time at BlogHer and it certainly was the charm. Year one in NYC, I was a clueless rookie, obsessively consulting my session schedule and terrified of missing any events, speakers, or blogging advice. I was all business and just a little fun and I knew like two gals.
Year 2 was in Chicago. I went alone and tried to soak in the experience, but found it difficult to meet people (I’m more shy than you’d think in enormous crowds) and spent evenings with high school friends instead of bloggers.
But this year, I had a writer posse and it made all the difference. I convinced my virtual friend Christine of the popular and perfectly seasoned food blog ChewNibbleNosh.com to hop on a plane from Indianapolis to be my partner in crime for the weekend.
I also strongly encouraged my local friend Jesse, who writes beautifully about family life with a special child at SmilesandDuctTape.com to take the plunge at her first blogging conference. At BlogHer13 in Chicago, I made only two new friends: the always honest and funny Amy of AMyNameisAmy.com–who writes about parenting, divorce, pop culture and being a bossassbitch— and Emily who makes food and her kids sound equally delicious on Em-i-Lis.com. Both those ladies were back for more in NYC this year, and Amy’s hotel roommate, Stacey, who’s OneFunnyMotha was kind enough to put up with us too.
Whether newbies or veterans, we were all a bit wary, wondering what the energy of the conference would be like, and whether it was worth the hassle it requires to leave your family, jobs, and responsibilities back home for several days.
But over several glasses of wine at dinner Saturday night, we agreed it was the best decision we’d made in a long while.
It’s intimidating to walk into an enormous ballroom and find a place at the table– as it were. I’ve found that no matter how many page views you have, everyone wonders if they belong.
But the nurturing environment helped us get comfortable and when we weren’t focused on speakers or mechanics, we laughed a lot. It’s funny how close you can get to people in such a short time when you share this kind of intense experience.
Journalist Soledad O’Brien kicked off the event, talking about her Starfish Foundation, which chooses dozens of girls (who could not otherwise afford college) to financially, emotionally and professionally support through school and career building.
We were inspired to act, to dream, to push ourselves and those around us.
There’s something kind of magical about being in a safe space with creative women peers. And with some, you know their online voices so there’s an immediate familiarity.
So safe in fact, that the embattled Gwyneth Paltrow could wow the crowd during her lunchtime talk. Looking tan and svelte and appropriately fashionable, the actress and goop.com founder talked about everything from building a brand to raising kids in the midst of a high-profile divorce.
Paltrow has been under fire for several comments in the media that made her sound entitled and out of touch with regular folk. She addressed her bad press in an evolved, thoughtful way and came across as relaxed,, intelligent and even funny– quieting many of the haters in the crowd.
“If I read something that stings it’s usually because I’ve held that judgment against myself. So I unpack that and work through it,” she told the attentive audience.
I went to a few amazing breakout sessions to learn more tricks of the trade. I took notes like I was back in college about humor writing, building a brand on social media, and time management. Each session provided at least one nugget of wisdom or spark.
Here are a few I gathered:
–“We women are so hard on ourselves. Make realistic goals. Don’t should all over yourself,” Danielle Faust on time management
–“Ideas aren’t unique, your voice is,” Sarah Maizes on humor writing.
–“Readers don’t want to know the most recent thing you said, they want to know the best thing you said,”–Jessica Woodbury on best SEO practices and setting up a blog home page.
The last two speakers on Saturday evening had great impact on the thousands of attendees. First up was media executive and motivational speaker Tenishia Jackson-Warner who encouraged us to stretch ourselves. “Don’t just follow your dreams, chase them!” she told the eager crowd. Get out of your comfort zone, do things that scare you, be persistent, defy rejection, and don’t give up. Her words made my heart leap into my throat and lingered in my head for days.
I have one particular project I’ve been avoiding out of fear so here words hit a nerve.
“Selma” director Ava Duvernay had us on the edge our seats as she spoke about diversity in filmmaking and empowering women in all fields.
“Women have been trained to ask for what we want instead of taking it. We’ve been indoctrinated in a culture of permission. It’s true for women and it’s true for people of color. But that time has passed,” she said about defining this moment in time with boldness.
The weekend was about connecting–to each other, to our industry, to the larger world– and going after what we want.
You don’t have to be a blogger to appreciate that.
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