What I’ve Learned Since Dropping the Business of Blogging

While comments on my post about dropping the business side of blogging were pouring in, I was plunging into my new life.

Sofia carrying Mark after picking grapes and apples at Homestead Farms

I transformed our cluttered playroom into a cozy family area, took the kids and met a friend at a festival downtown, made three batches of lasagna including one for our school’s soup kitchen, convinced the girls to babysit so Enrico and I could have a candlelit dinner together, handed out flyers to our block party, got a trim with the boys at Supercuts (adieu to those high-end haircuts!), bought a set of shelves to organize our new coat closet, started mixing chocolate chip cookies to send to my dad, and had a group of neighborhood families over for dinner. All that in one weekend.

Not every weekend has been this intense (thank God, I can hear my husband muttering), but I know I am on the right track. I’m stopping at the right stations, and the mix of familiar scenes and scents along the way make me realize that I’m heading home. But there are still a lot of things I haven’t figured out.

It may have been easy to re-embrace a life centered around family, home, and community, but it has not been easy letting go of all that so I can hug my writing too.

Raising four children, running a household, managing the finances, fixing up an old house, staying close to my husband, and forging relationships with friends, relatives, and neighbors in a new city could easily fill all of my time.

Yet, a few readers of that post (including my mom, who raised me and my sister alongside an art career) urged me to keep exercising my writing muscles. Given my obsessive-compulsive personality, however, “just a little” is hard to do.

Is a Blog a Vocation or a Hobby or Something In-Between?

Mark at in my mom’s studio, painting “the Whole World”

Then there are overarching questions that I’m not sure how to answer. If I can no longer call my blog “work,” then is it just a hobby? If so, then how much time does one dedicate to this kind of hobby?  If I allocate an hour per day to work on the blog, what happens if I don’t get the work done?  Am I allowed to write at night, on the weekends?

For a while I’ve said “no” to letting my writing spill into those more personal spaces. And that is why you haven’t heard from me in a while.

Freedom Requires Incredible Self-Discipline

Quitting all my freelance gigs and giving myself permission to stop competing in the mom blog madness has been both a gift and a liability.  I have more time and I am the ultimate boss of that time.  But with freedom comes a heck of a lot of responsibility.

I needed to spend a little more time on email (actually reading the school newsletters would be a good start), but I shouldn’t spend all morning on email, for example.  I should make our house more cozy (and deal with that pesky mouse), but I shouldn’t spend hours poring over fabric swatches.  (Or should I?)

So when I’m not at Luke’s co-operative preschool wiping noses, cleaning bottoms, sweeping crumbs, and drying tears, I’m often across the street in an old movie theater café with my laptop, fighting with myself over what I should be doing.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve succumbed to Parkinson’s Law, where the work expands to fill the time I give it.  Does it really take this long to write a manifesto on slow blogging, or is it just that there is no station master with a clock, caring if I arrive on time?

Deadlines Make Us Do the Hard Stuff

Writing and finishing something is hard.  It takes courage because every time I hit publish, I am exposing myself to the world.  I am being vulnerable and allowing people to see me, to judge me, to say, “Hmmmph!” and hit delete.

I have lots of pots on the stove, but none of them are good enough to serve.  As stressful as external deadlines were, they made me finish things.

It’s much easier organizing hand-me-downs or chatting with the electrician.  Writing something means turning oneself inside-out, and sometimes writers would rather do almost anything else — even cleaning a bathroom!

Deadlines eventually conquer fear and perfectionism.  But they demand my full-on attention and usually tip my teetering balance out of whack.  In order to get this post up to my standards, I had to work late last night, and this morning (when I was supposed to be dealing with the household), and here I am still editing and rewriting and taking out paragraphs and adding others and rewriting again.

Technology Must Be My Tool, Not My Master*

Working is complicated these days because, for so many people, much of it can be done on a computer.  To me, a laptop equipped with Wifi is a gorgeous monster.

I may convince myself that I’m going to work on that post for just 30 minutes, but I well know that wrangling words will get tough and then I’ll be checking email, looking at my Twitter @replies, and browsing Colonial Revival door styles on ThisOldHouse.com.

If I let the glowing screen swallow me up, then I lessen my chances of being the well-rounded, thoughtful, present mom, wife, and citizen that I want to be.

You Can’t Aim at Two Bullseyes at Once**

Looking at groundhog tunnels at the Farm

Running a team blog, writing occasional posts, and chipping away at a personal essay is going to be probably all that I can do well right now.  So once all the new contributing writers take a turn introducing themselves (aren’t they awesome?), I will jump in and start posting in alternate weeks.  That means that I’ll still be the main voice here, but Frugal Mama will only be updated once every seven days.

Given the current publishing frenzy, I consider this pace to be an example of slow blogging and I plan to take a stand on it (when I can get that manifesto and logo finished…)  Producing one well-presented post can take several days of free time. From production and editing to image sourcing, promotion, and social media response, blogs can be consuming, and as a producer, I realize that I am unwittingly contributing to everyone’s Information Overload.

Quality of Life (For Me) is Related to Simplicity of Life

Edible borage flowers atop a kale salad

Despite my continuing struggle with balance, slowing down was 100% the right decision for me. Family and friends notice that I’m more relaxed and happy, and even though some probably can’t believe that I gave up TLC for the chance to organize the fifth-grade Halloween party.

I love walking to and from school in all of nature’s moods, getting my house just the way I want it project-by-project, and being purposeful of my newfound time so I can be generous with it — bringing dinner to a friend-in-need or throwing a party.

Making friends boosts my mood, but I’ve also noticed that giving comes back to me. The neighbors we carpool to the farm-share came to check on us when they saw a random police car in front of our house; a friend who we invited for dinner offered to drive Virginia to and from a birthday party; and my kids are more likely to help me with Luke because I am barking less and talking sweetly more.

Saving Money is a Job Too — with Great Benefits

Conserving money and sharing resources sometimes means aching backs, dirty fingernails, and a few mini-dramas. But in contrast to making money online, which felt like climbing a mountain that was always growing taller, organizing a block party is totally doable and finite, and it helps make my neighborhood a friendly, safe place where people share garden tools and watch each other’s children.

My family is better off, and ironically, I think our bank account will be too.  I may have been terrible at making money, but I’m not so shabby at saving it.  I think I’ll keep this job.

* “Technology serves as a tool and does not rule as a master.”  Love this mantra by Nancy Sleeth in Almost Amish
**  I couldn’t remember where I saw the idea of aiming at one bullseye at a time. I loved it and I’m sorry I couldn’t give credit where it’s due.

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21 comments

  • Beth December 26, 2012, 9:09 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Balance is so elusive. I’m still looking for mine. I am glad you are still writing every so often, I love reading it.

  • Sarah @ Family. Food. Fiesta. October 26, 2012, 8:20 pm

    I have to give you props for remembering to do what you love, even if there’s questions involved. I definitely have to agree that sometimes it’s easy to fall into that realm of “Technology Must Be My Tool, Not My Master.” But finding that balance is great and if you have to switch things up to get there. It’s all good. Thank you for continuing to write, though. I do love your posts and outlook on life. It brings a smile to my face.

    • Amy November 7, 2012, 1:51 pm

      Thank you, Sarah. I’ve been absent for a while, but I’ll be back soon.

      – Amy

  • Deb October 13, 2012, 7:12 pm

    I agree with Pat (above)! If writing makes you happy, keeps you sane, helps you empty out the clutter in your brain (like it does for me), then why not write in the evenings occasionally? And why not write a quick, short, silly post about something that happened while you made lasagna (wow, four trays – I’m impressed)?

    I’m really interested in following you on your new/reimagined path. I’ve just become a mom, just started blogging, just started writing for money (a pittance compared to my old life, but it’s what I love). I agree that it is sometimes drinking out of a fire hose. I’m hoping to strike the right balance.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    Deb

  • Pat October 12, 2012, 1:06 pm

    Why label activities as “work” or “hobby”? Aren’t they part of a whole–your life? Each of us has to determine proper proportions so that our life is the way we want it. If, at a particular moment, writing is what makes you feel alive, go for it. But also listen for those times when making lasagna is important.

    • amycardensuardi October 12, 2012, 9:34 pm

      Hi Pat,

      Good question. I guess labeling helps me form a structure onto something that has no structure. It gives me boundaries and guidelines, because if that’s the thing that makes me “feel alive” as you word it so well, then everything else might get second shrift.

      Amy

  • mom October 12, 2012, 10:25 am

    An artist colleague once said she was either painting or feeling guilty that she wasn’t painting. And how could can we feel differently if we set a lofty goal for ourselves and know the enormous effort it takes to get there?
    Once I decided to marry and then to have children I knew that the goal would be diluted. But I could still make a contribution, still have a career. It’s the self-discipline that is key, as you have noted. I found that one of the simplest devices was to divide the day; devote mornings to household business, spend afternoons in the studio. Evening and weekends were for family. There would be exceptions, of course, but at least it was a working template that reduced the angst and allowed me to say no.
    .

    • Amy October 12, 2012, 11:03 am

      Hi Mom,

      Sadly, I’m glad to hear that others feel the same inner conflict and guilt about working or not working. It makes one feel like not such a freak.

      I really like your simple division of time — mornings for household, afternoons for the studio. As usual, I could have saved a lot of time and agony if I had just asked you first!

      Love, Amy

  • Juanita October 11, 2012, 11:18 pm

    I love how you are voicing support for and taking a stand with the idea that just because something is good doesn’t mean we must experience it daily or on demand whether it be chocolate, a great blog or time with a good friend. It is refreshing!

    • Amy October 12, 2012, 9:53 am

      Hi Juanita,

      I like how you put it. We don’t have to overload on good things. And sometimes they are cherished more when there is less of them, right?

      Amy

  • Melissa October 11, 2012, 9:32 pm

    So lovely and well written. I am truly happy for you. Balance…. That must be the goal. My life is certainly completely out of whack as I fight so hard to be heard, seen, make it.

    • Amy October 12, 2012, 9:53 am

      Dear Melissa,

      Balance is hard for everyone, everywhere, so you are not alone. Believe me, I know how much harder it can be when your goals are high and the competition is tough.

      Hang in there,
      Amy

  • Tsh @ Simple Mom October 11, 2012, 7:59 pm

    Beautifully said, Amy! I love hearing you think out loud, so you keep doing it. ;) I’m glad you’ve found what works for you, and it sounds like you’re enjoying it more. Good for you.

    • Amy October 11, 2012, 8:46 pm

      Hi Tsh,

      Yes, it was a little like thinking out loud, wasn’t it? I think it’s important to show how people struggle with balance, decisions, and deciding what’s right and wrong. I don’t have many answers, but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.

      Amy

  • Stefanie October 11, 2012, 3:07 pm

    Hmmm, while I completely understand the approach/avoidance relationship with writing, I can’t say it would drive me to clean my bathrooms — but then that’s the chore I hate most!

    There’s a quote from some writer, can’t remember who, who when asked if he liked writing, answered, “I like having written.” That sums it up for me.

    So glad you’re still writing; enjoy the rest of your time :)

    • Amy October 11, 2012, 8:29 pm

      Hi Stefanie,

      I love that answer, “I like having written.” It perfectly expresses how writing — or anything creative or productive or good-for-you — is difficult, but rewarding.

      Thank you,
      Amy

  • a reader October 11, 2012, 2:30 pm

    You say you want simplicity–but your brain runs a million miles an hour! You think way too much–about everything–including relaxation. Chill, girl! Life isn’t rocket science.

    • Amy October 11, 2012, 2:40 pm

      Ha! You’re right: I am my own biggest obstacle. I have to keep the rest of my life slow because my energy is always running over. But I do think it’s ok to think and analyze. I really do want to be a better person, and I don’t think that comes naturally.

      And why write about it? This quote from Joan Didion is one reason:
      “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

  • Stephanie Precourt October 11, 2012, 2:18 pm

    Love love love. Your wisdom is astonishing to me. Thank you.

    Steph

    • Amy October 11, 2012, 2:26 pm

      You’re so sweet, Stephanie! I’m honored by your words.

      Thank you,
      Amy