Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Five Things I Learned From My Blogging Sabbatical

I'm back!

I spent the summer in New York and in Vermont, where I have family. It sounds like a vacation, but it was really more of a working vacation--and I had to take a lot of client work with me. Of course, I wanted to carve out time in my schedule to have fun, spend time with loved ones, and even relax a little--that's what summer's for, right?--and something in my regular routine had to give. I couldn't give up the client work.

Most Probloggers would say it's blogging suicide to leave your blog dark for a month. I say it's not the end of the world. Here are a few things I've learned from my extended break from blogging.

Even the best laid plans don't always work out. You know how this is supposed to go. When you take a break, you need to write posts to cover that break. You need to timestamp 'em, turn off comment moderation, and lay low. If you do it right, your readership will never notice while you're away.

Of course, writing almost two months' worth of extra posts was way more work than I could've handled, even weeks before I left on the trip. And originally I thought I'd just continue posting as usual during the summer. It didn't work out that way, and sometimes things just don't work out the way you think they will.

Remember: you have a life offline. When I first started this blog, I had one rule: if it grows too onerous, it's OK to back off. I didn't want to commit to posting every day, not see enough return for my effort, and have blogging become a burden. But when I got started, I realized something: blogging is addictive. And I became a junkie. Before I left I had become addicted to checking my traffic, reading my comments, surfing other blogs, seeing who was linking to me. My blog was my way of connecting with others in my business--and I loved it. I still love it.

But when I was away, I realized that I had to spend time with the people who love me in person. And I had to spend time on real-life things that I love to do. No matter how much is at our fingertips online, depending on it too much can still reduce our world to the size of our laptop screens. I had developed tunnel vision and hadn't even realized it, and believe it or not, I needed the break.

Sometimes a break is good for your creativity. I was having a little trouble before I left thinking up great new blog posts. Sure, I was still enthused about my blog--but I was starting to feel like I'd written everything there was to write already. This blog is barely a year old, and I wasn't ready for burnout yet. But I was getting there. This break has recharged my creativity, and I've got a lot to talk about here in the next few weeks.

Your readers are more forgiving than you realize. I just checked my traffic scores on Feedburner. As expected, I saw a big drop in traffic in August. But I didn't expect my subscriber list to actually increase, which it did. My regulars stuck with me, and it looks like I even picked up a few new subscribers while I was gone as well. If your writing is good, people will stick around.

Traffic drops? There are ways to get it back. Regular posting will help. Commenting on other people's blogs will help. I'm going to go out of my way in the next few weeks to let people know I'm back and posting on a regular schedule again.

On a successful blog, you're supposed to post regularly every day. But that can take a toll. If you have to take a break, take a break. Tell people when you'll be back, and try to jot down a few ideas as they come to you while you're gone. When you do come back, you'll have some worthwhile things to say.


Anonymous said...

Here, here! While you were away I discovered your blog and had a great time reading it - lots of informative posts to help those of us struggling to make it hapen as freelance writers. I will definitely be back for more.

Mark Wiehenstroer said...

It's good to have you back and we do forgive you. ;) As you mentioned it's the RSS feeds feature that gives us a heads up on new posts. I definitely agree that taking breaks and experiencing life outside the virtual world does much to enhance your creativity and give you a fresh perspective. Look forward to your upcoming posts.

Lillie Ammann said...

Welcome back! I'm glad you had a great summer and look forward to reading more great posts from you.

Genn said...

Its really fabulous to see you back. I've missed your posts and fabulous advice. I completely understand the need to escape the virtual world.

Susan Johnston Taylor said...

Welcome back, Jennifer! I took a short working vacation a few weeks ago and things went a little haywire. Even with wireless internet and cell phones, you can't always be plugged in when you're on the road, as I discovered.

Anonymous said...

It's good to see you back! I think it's very important to take a break when possible. I also don't think it's necessary for blogs to post every single day. If you post quality content (like you do) then readers will come and thanks to RSS we'll come whenever you post new content so it doesn't matter so much how frequently you do it.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Jennifer! Hope you had a lovely summer. (I love Vermont -- we're actually headed up there at the end of the month!) Glad you enjoyed some time away from the blogosphere; looking forward to hearing more from you in the coming weeks.

Anonymous said...

You warned people you'd be away. Right there, you were upfront and honest with your regular readers, most of whom are sane enough to know you have the right to a life offline.

The blogs that drive me nuts are those that just lie dormant for months and then whine that no one's leaving comments when they occasionally deign to post.

scheduled breaks are important to ongoing creativity. Good for you.

Jennifer Williamson said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! It's so good to see you here again, and I appreciate the support. Hope you've all had a great summer!

Anonymous said...

Again, you hit the nail on the head (darn, I hate cliches but they're so useful!). And you know, declines in readership aren't necessarily a result of the blogger's actions. Take me for instance. I've been following your blog for the better part of a year thought I rarely comment. I admit to not checking my RSS feed (of your blog) very often the last two months or so. Rest assured, it has nothing to do with you. I go through spats where I'm more interested in one thing than another. I guess it's very much like what you said, that taking a break adds to your creativity. I've found that taking breaks from the blogs I read most often helps me really digest the information vs. skimming through it to make sure I haven't missed anything. So, I agree with what you said—am offering a slightly different perspective.

Unknown said...

Welcome back, darlin'! Soon as work clears up here, we have a shoe date! :))