Slower, Better, Realer, Less: What to look forward to at The Happiest Home this year.

writing picture- MeaganI’ve been very active online for almost two decades now, and over the years, I’ve dealt with my share of annoyances, drama and disturbances in this virtual space. But through it all, there has never been a time that I’ve questioned the value this technology has had in my life – or the role I play in it.

Until recently.

Today, I spend more time than ever sitting in front of my computer, interacting with other people via the magical information superhighway. This is both by choice and by necessity: as a professional blogger and (mostly online) writer, I have to be here (my blogs), and there (my preferred social platforms) and, some would argue, everywhere (all those other social platforms I halfheartedly engage in because I’m “supposed” to.) 

The Internet is where my professional contacts are, where my readers are, and where people I’d like to be my readers are. And for so long, it’s been my place, too.

But over the last six months or so I’ve been feeling more and more apathetic and annoyed, and less and less inspired by what I’m reading online.

Not only that, but I’ve felt less and less happy about my own contributions to this space.

Between click bait, constant outrage, more news (both bad and good) than I can process and more relationships than I can manage, it’s just all too much. And I’ve found myself feeding into that constant urgency, feeling like I always need to be doing more, saying more, posting more, setting more goals, investing in more apps and systems. More, more, more.

As I am wont to do, I poured out my troubles to Sarah, and as she is wont to do, she listened, reflected back to me, made some suggestions, and said she’d back me up no matter what I decided. And during our conversation, the initial path became clear: take a break. From the content calendar, from expectations of myself, and from feeling like I had to “have a plan” moving forward.

So, as you may have noticed, I just sort of…disappeared for a while. I purposely didn’t make any grand statements about what I’d be doing or how long a break I’d be taking; I just didn’t “do blogging” for a week or two or maybe three. I don’t know. At some point, I lost track.

In the meantime I didn’t write some of the things I’d meant to. I was the lead in a holiday musical, but I never got around to telling you all about it. I had a great post about simplifying holiday wrapping and making it more enjoyable all outlined, but I just never wrote it. I was going to do a post about New Year’s goals, but I haven’t even made any yet, so…well, never mind.

So here I am, my head a little clearer, and ready to think seriously about how I want this space to evolve in the near and further future. And while the details haven’t come together just yet, there are definitely some clear themes emerging:

1. I’m craving more real connection.

One of my favorite parts of my theater experience this time around was the half-hour or so after the show, when other cast members and I would head out to the lobby to greet friends and family who’d come to see the production. 

schooner1

The Twin City Players production of The Christmas Schooner – that’s me, playing the role of Alma Stossel.

Along the way, we’d be stopped multiple times by excited audience members who just wanted to let us know how much they loved the show. It was an imperfect, amateur community production, but people were just so grateful for it, and so glad to share their appreciation. I shook so many hands, looked into so many eyes, and got so many pats on the back. The feeling of connection and community was thrilling and wonderful. 

Not only that, but there is something about the process of being in a live production – all the people I was interacting with every day, the backstage bonding, the nerves and energy surrounding each performance. Every single time is a little different, a little uncertain, a little raw. It’s happening right in front of you, and it’s very, very real.

It made me realize that while I love the way this medium allows me to connect with thousands of people all at once, it can also feel pretty lonely at times. There just isn’t the kind of one-to-one feedback that you get when you read a long email or shake a real person’s hand. I haven’t worked out yet how I’ll do it, but in 2015 I will definitely be seeking more opportunities for that personal touch and realness, both in my “real,” local life, and in my interactions line.

2. I’m at my best when I focus on my strengths.

As a writer, I’ve become skilled at handling many different kinds of content, and I’ve even grown halfway decent at business strategy and marketing. But just because I can do something reasonably well doesn’t mean I have to, or that it’s necessarily the best use of my time and talents. 

I sat down in late 2014 and made lists of the things I feel most drawn to do, that others seem to appreciate most, and that I’ve had the most success with in the past, and tried to pick out the common characteristics. As it turns out I am most “in the zone” – productive, happy, and satisfied with my work – when I’m exploring big ideas in writing and having in-depth conversations with interesting people.

This discovery validates something I’ve been sensing for a while now: that longer-form personal writing and podcasting are my true strengths, and what other people relate to most. Knowing that is helping me develop a plan that focuses on less, but better and meatier content…even if that means it’s a lot quieter around here in between posts. 

At the same time, the exercise helped me realize that I’m not great at – and don’t much enjoy – managing other people or projects with lots of moving parts. So while Sarah isn’t going anywhere, at least not right now (we’re pretty much joined at the blogging hip at this point,) it has helped me clarify that I don’t want to go the route of hiring lots of contributors and creating a magazine-style site – something I have considered off and on over the last several years. 

Instead, I’m just going to continue to do what I do best – think, write, and talk to people – and trust that that’s what will resonate most with with most of you.

3. You all have different needs, but there are still common threads. 

We sent out a reader survey a few months back, and were surprised not only by the diversity of the responses but also some things we didn’t expect! For example, most readers who responded have school-aged kids (skewing older than I’d expected) and 94% are OK with occasional sponsored content (happily, much more than I’d thought!)

Also, while the bulk of respondents most appreciate personal essays about motherhood and family life, you were pretty split in the other kinds of content you appreciate and need most: from self-care ideas to parenting advice to tips on creating a work-at-home business, you guys are all over the map on what kind of stuff you like to read best.

And you know what? Knowing that is actually a huge relief! For a couple of years now I’ve been struggling with the idea that there might be some perfect formulation of topics that would be most helpful to the majority of readers, and I’m finding that it’s just not true.

So instead of trying to make everyone happy all of the time (impossible!) I’m going to work on returning to the kind of blogging I did when I first launched this site: posts based on my personal experiences – because that’s the kind of writing I most enjoy as well as the kind most of you like best! – and focused more on big ideas, since that’s where my brain tends to want to mull, than on details and nitty-gritty tips. We’ll scrap the super-detailed editorial calendar, and feel free to pursue whichever topics are on our minds. 

4. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel.

One particularly unfortunate side effect of the constant-consumption model the internet seems to be turning into is that the rush to create new, new, new can lead to poor writing and badly-recycled ideas that are really just weak copies of an original thought.

I’ve even done this to myself! With nearly six years’ worth of posts here, there is so much great content that is just buried under hundreds and hundreds of newer posts. Sometimes I find myself writing about something and getting this weird feeling like I’ve written about it before…only to later discover my original, often BETTER, post from a few years back.

The only way to prevent this kind of thing is to refuse to get caught up in the rush: to slow down and think through ideas, even if it means I’m responding to a news story a month or a year after it happens rather than during the buzziest time.

It also means rediscovering some of that great older content rather than just letting it wither in an archive. So one of our goals for 2015 is to dig up the best of our old posts, dust them off, and re-introduce them to newer readers and old-timers who may have forgotten they were even there, just like I did. 

5. Better > more. 

Personal essayists have been making the call for slower, better blogging for a while now, and many of them do it very well.

But when you’re writing a blog that crosses the line from journaling into serving others, that can be easier said than done. Not only do service bloggers feel an obligation to our readers and the brands that help keep our blogs afloat, it can be seriously anxiety-producing to watch as other bloggers – not to mention YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest stars! – seem to pull ahead. It’s only too easy to get caught up in trends, anxiety, and fear of missing out…and start scrambling to keep up.

But I’m finally feeling really ready to push those fears aside, calm my brain down, and slow way, way down.

I’m so grateful for every one of you who is reading this, whether you’ve been here since Day 1 or just found me today. And I’m hopeful that you will also embrace the changes we’ll roll out this year, ride out any bumps or inconsistencies while we figure things out, and continue to support the services, products and brands that make it all possible (thank you, thank you, thank you for that, truly.) 

Here’s to continuing our mission to help parents create happier, more satisfying family lives in 2015 and beyond.

You may hear from us a little less, but I’m confident that you’ll love what we have to say more than ever. 

I’ve been feeling itchy to make a change here for a while now, but over the holiday I read several posts from other bloggers that helped me clarify my thoughts and solidify my commitment. Here’s a shout-out to some thoughtful bloggers who have decided to make changes in the way they interact online, even when it seems to go against the grain:

Thanks for the inspiration, ladies! And if you’re interested in pro blogging, you might also be interested in reading about why I decided to stop consuming business podcasts and blogs for a while.

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