Thoughts on a name

On Monday I changed my Twitter name to @SusannahConway. This might not sound like a big deal but, strangely, it felt like one. But it’s less about this happening on Twitter and more about me stepping into my name. I’ve been easing into this since I started blogging under my own domain last year. That felt huge. When I first started blogging in 2006 I only ever used my first name and was always worried that “someone” would find my blog. I couldn’t tell you who that someone actually was — it certainly wasn’t a real person — but for some reason i wanted to retain a smidge of anonymity in my online dealings.

Obviously that didn’t last long :)

I bought my own domain name back in 2005 — a friend had suggested I make a website to showcase my journalism and it’s thanks to her foresight that I snapped up susannahconway.com when I did. I was still swimming in grief back then, but putting together that site was my first step on the internet highway and gave me something to focus on when my days were aimless, tearstained and, more worryingly, unemployed. A few months later I stumbled upon my first blog and the rest, as they say, is history.

So now here I am, more visible on the internets than i ever thought possible.

When I first joined Twitter it was just for fun– i had no idea that i would ever actually a) understand why anyone would bother with the site and b) come to enjoy it myself. @photobird was my user name and an alter ego of sorts. I tweeted as myself, of course, but i quite liked having a nickname i could use in different ways.

When I’d finished writing the book I figured it was time to tweet under my own name, being an author and all… but the name was taken. The account wasn’t being used, and I could tell the ‘other’ Susannah had it — the one who lives elsewhere in the UK and is also a photographer (what are the odds?). It took me a while to build up the ovaries to contact her. But I am so glad I did because she was LOVELY and was happy to let me take over our name (thank you, hon!)

So now I’m out on Twitter. And it feels good.

Do you guys feel comfortable using your name on the internet?

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Tomorrow I’m going to show you something else that bears my name… the cover of my book!

Why I show my knickers online

magnolia bakery NYC
When I first offered Unravelling online in January 2009 I had no idea that I was also creating a creative business that would still be supporting me to this day. I’d only been in Bath a few months, and even though the move had been the right thing to do, I had no proper income, a stalled photography business that I’d just set free (read: closed the doors when I realised I wasn’t cut out for it, personality-wise) and a growing panic that I wouldn’t be able to support myself.

After my love died in 2005 I’d been unable to work and had had to live off credit cards; by the time I felt ready to write again, most of my journalism contacts were out of date. Those years were fraught, as I searched for ways to support myself with the skills I had; there were many job interviews that I was either over- or under-qualified for. I didn’t blog about most of this at the time because, frankly, i was embarrassed. I was (and still am) a single woman in my thirties, and to be in such a mess felt shameful; writing about grief and my emotions was so much easier than sharing about how I couldn’t pay my electricity bill.

I’ve no doubt mentioned how blogging saved me many times here over the years, but it’s so true; I found community, i found my voice again and i refound my camera.  My years as a journalist were good to me, but there was always something missing; blogging not only gave me a way to combine my words and images together, but i found a reason to dig deeper with my words; I didn’t want to write about fashion and “lifestyle” anymore — I wanted to write about what really mattered to me, and as it turned out, my life was about to unravel and help me find out what that was.

Bereavement brought many gifts into my life; that that would even be possible still blows my mind. There was a lot of healing that needed to be done, and by leaving first my love gifted me with the chance to heal and remake my world — and to truly find my place in it (even writing that still makes me teary). I often have moments when i sit on my sofa wondering how it managed to come together so marvellously, because none of this was planned — far from it, in fact. What would have happened if i hadn’t found that first blog and fallen down the rabbit hole? Or I hadn’t taught that first evening class in Bristol? Or Jo hadn’t suggested I share the course online because she couldn’t make it to class on Tuesday nights? (thank you, Jo x)

E-courses and online biz is all the rage these days, but when I started I didn’t know what i was doing and had to figure it out as i went along. Over time I discovered more and more biz and marketing blogs, online gurus and mavens who sold their wisdom in courses and books. Some of the information was useful and seemed quite intuitive…

But not all of it felt right to me.

The reason I’m sharing all this today is to tell you about a live call* I’m taking part in on Monday June 6th with some really excellent people — Fabeku Fatunmise, Alexandra Franzen, Chris Zydel, and Lisa Baldwin. It’s called Transcendent Sales and we’ll be chewing the fat about how to promote your stuff online without the ick. (and we’re not selling anything — it’s just a conversation we wanted to have and put out there. You can join us on the call or download the recording if it’s of interest to you :)

Because my biggest learning curve has been figuring out how to let people know what i’m doing in a way that feels right to me. When I wised up to the fact that YES I have a business and it’s okay to help it grow, I started paying attention to what the “experts” were suggesting I do (cue lots of panic and comparing myself and feeling inadequate). Anything to do with marketing and promotion always looked so sleazy and yuck to me, so I’ve learned to just take the bits that make sense to me, discard the rest and trust that by sharing my knickers online, aka being honest and authentic and as real as i can be, the people that I can most help, and who’ll truly dig what I’m doing, will find me.

So that’s what I’ll be chatting about in Monday’s call — i hope you can join us!

* I’ve never done a live call before, so it should be interesting ;)

The many flavours of blogging

I’ve really enjoyed reading through the comments on Thursday’s post — sweet Sylvia made a very good point in her comment that I wanted to follow up on. She said:

“i don’t believe there is only one recipe for blogging

people keep their blogs for different reasons {not necessary to write honestly about how their lives suck ;)}

some blogs are just pretty, or funny or have a great content, and some… don’t

can we just let them be as they are… without judgment?

after all, blogs are our own creations and we bloggers choose what we want to share.”

I agree that there definitely isn’t only one recipe for blogging, and thank goodness for that!

I’ll admit there was probably a wee bit of judgement in my post as I wrote it from an emotionally triggered place (I literally clicked away from the blogs and immediately bashed out my post in fifteen minutes flat) but on the whole, when it comes to the blog world and how i view it, there is no judgement — rather, there’s just an acute awareness of my own reactions.

Having made it to the other side of my bereavement journey (at peace with what happened while still honouring and cherishing the memories of the past) I’m now pretty self-aware, and I know that any time something out there causes a reaction in me — other people’s actions, words, events etc — it’s because there’s something in me that’s asking to be looked at. A reaction to a blog post about the bliss of being in love isn’t envy towards the blogger and her love life, but rather the recognition of a tender place inside me I’ve been pushing down and trying to ignore. The blogosphere — and the world at large — tends to hold up a mirror to what’s really going on inside us; the trick is to look inward to heal rather than outward to react.

On the other side of that, as I touched on in my last post, I find I’m sensitive to personal blogs that seem to have a particular agenda behind them — perhaps the blogger has reached a level of fame that means her blog reads more like a magazine, and her voice has changed as a result — and that’s not me being judge-y, simply being observe-y.* Blogs and bloggers evolve, and their reasons for blogging evolve too; we all have our different reasons for blogging and having the means to be able to share our stories is a gift I know I take for granted these days.

But I’m not just a blogger, I’m a blog reader too. The longer you hang out in the blogosphere the more finely attuned your blog radar becomes and you know the sort of blogs you resonate with and those you don’t. I subscribe to a lot of blogs in my Google Reader and read widely across the internet — I follow design blogs and business blogs and everything else in-between; there are blogs I enjoy visiting for quick shots of inspiration, and others that share a slice of life that I don’t experience myself. I follow friends and strangers, and love the richness and diversity i discover in my Reader every morning.

When it comes to personal blogs I appreciate the ones that have shades of grey between the black and the white, that acknowledge the ups and the downs in a way I can relate to. That’s how I like to write my own blog, so it makes sense that’s what I also like to read. And as so many of you mentioned in the comments, it’s all about finding the balance; this is a topic I’m really digging into for the guidebook, so I’m going to take my time to really do it justice — if we feel called to share aspects of our personal lives on our blogs, how do we do that in a real and authentic way without sounding whiny or spilling beans we probably shouldn’t?

As Sylvia noted, people write blogs for many different reasons, and there is something for everyone. Because blogging, really, is just like ice cream — there are so many different flavours to choose from. You might like butterscotch and caramel, while I prefer mint and cherry; they all taste good and sometimes I don’t mind a smidge of butterscotch, but mostly I prefer the mint. Some ice creams have too many sweet toppings on them — but some people like them better that way. And that’s cool with me — we don’t all have to hang out at the same gelateria.

Sometimes vanilla is what we crave; other times it’s double-whip-fudgetastic-marshmallow surprise with chocolate sprinkles.

Most of the time, though, I stick to mint.

* If you can name that pop culture reference then you’re as big a geek as me ;-)

Can we just be honest?

NYC

I’m having a moment of impatience with the blog world. I’ve been clicking around, reading a few posts, checking out what’s been going on in my virtual ‘hood, and i’m left with a racing heart and a horrible feeling of being less-than. I’ve blogged about the PR version before, how bloggers tend to share their bestest most shiniest selves on line and hide the stuff that will sully that projection — and I understand why they do it. It’s very tempting to turn our blogs into an on-going affirmation of what we want our lives to be like, hoping that if we share only the good stuff we can make it real. But it can leave the onlooker/reader feeling deflated.

I try and put a positive spin on the lessons life chucks at me, but even I get tired of reading the happy skippy posts that are rife in the blogosphere. It’s not even that I’m envying the bloggers who have the sun shining on them every day — i just find it exhausting to read and yearn for a bit of self-deprecation once in a while. I find it hard to swallow the my-life-is-so-awesome-i-am-so-grateful posts (and don’t even get me started on the all-you-need-is-love posts*) — they just don’t connect to my understanding of the world: that there is rough as well as smooth, that sometimes rain is just depressing and grey rather than an opportunity to don pretty wellies and splash in puddles before returning home for hot chocolate and laughter with cherished loved ones — i go home shivering with limp wet hair only to discover I left the bedroom window open and now my rug is soaked through.

I guess I like my blog reading to have a bit of grit in it. It makes life more interesting and real. More relatable. It makes me feel less alone.

I’m as guilty as anyone of avoiding this space when I’m feeling down — that’s when I have no energy to string words together and would rather be watching Buffy Season Six with a blanket over my knees. And I’m certainly not suggesting we only blog about our ingrowing toe nails and credit card debt; I just think it’s important to keep it real here, to share a realistic slice of what my experience of the world is like. Considering I spend most of my time alone at home working, I hope i manage to be somewhat entertaining (maybe I should throw in a few knock knock jokes?)

I’ve been thinking about blogging a lot recently, as you can probably tell. I’m chipping away at my Blogging from the Heart guidebook and it’s making me dig deep into my own motivations for blogging; the blogosphere has evolved a great deal in the five years I’ve been writing online and it amazes me that when I started there was no Twitter or Facebook and Etsy was only a few months old. The internet felt smaller, somehow, and more cosy — yet now there is so much opportunity for connection and growth. I feel quite proud to call myself a blogger — it’s a really important part of my life.

Who’d have thunk it, eh?

So how does the blogosphere make you feel, generally? I’d love to know what you think…

* might be time to detox my Google Reader again…