I'm just going to admit it. I'm not really a blogger. I launched Curbly ten years ago, and somehow, amazingly, it has developed into a successful blog (and business). But in that time I've written maybe a handful of things that would even qualify as blog posts.
Our tagline is 'Love where you live', and I care deeply about that mission (I wrote it, after all). But somehow I feel like my voice has gotten lost here.
I went to school for writing (journalism). I like writing. I love writing, actually. But also, I hate writing, so, so much. Or, not so much the writing, but the part that comes before that: figuring out what to write about. This is my problem.
When a topic flutters into my head that I care about, or find funny, or interesting, I can whip out a blog post or an essay in no time. But for some reason Curbly has never felt like the right forum for my words. And so it was rare that something came into my head that I both wanted to write about and felt like was a good fit for Curbly.
Right from the beginning, Curbly wasn't meant to be about me. Curbly was envisioned as a social network (remember those?) for people who were into interior design, DIY, and home improvement. It was supposed to be a sort of proto-Houzz, or a Facebook for design-y people.
But that part never panned out. Instead, I discovered I could pay freelancers to create content, and monetize the resulting traffic through advertising. Say what you will about that business model, but it allowed my family to have a comfortable lifestyle, and helped dozens of bloggers get their start online or grow their profile, or even just get paid for a few months. I was always really proud of that: Curbly worked as a business.
Along the way, that turned me from a writer into a publisher. From someone who puts words together, into someone who puts a business together.
And most of the time, that was just fine with me. To be honest, being a blogger is a much harder job (thank you, wonderful, amazing Curbly contributors). To be a professional blogger, you have to create stuff each and every day, and put it out there on the wild, sometimes-nasty internet, and hope that people respond to it.
It takes incredible vulnerability.
Because most of the time, your work just drops into the giant bucket of the internet without so much as a splash. You put stuff out there and ... nothing. Most blog posts generate very little real, authentic feedback. And for someone whose job is being creative, that's a really hard thing.
So for me, it has always been easier to sit back, behind the scenes, and worry about things like server configurations and ad network optimization and lots of other boring business stuff.
So why is everything changing now?
Well ... because ... I don't really know. I'm not sure.
I'm 34, I've been running Curbly for ten years, and while I'm not sure about a lot of things, I am sure that I don't want the next ten years to look just like the last ten.
Not that the last decade was bad! It was great!
But you hit a point in life where you realize that if things are going to happen, they're going to have to happen now. And I know that carrying on as before isn't the way to make things grow or change.
So as I go into the second decade of Curbly's life, and with an eye toward the new year just around the corner, I have a few big (for me) changes in mind:
I'm going to commit to being much more present, as a blogger, on this blog.
I'm going to publish something once a week. And guess what? Since it's my blog, I'm going to write about whatever I feel like! Whether I think it's a 'good fit' for Curbly or not. Curbly is whatever we make of it; there are no rules about what type of writing we can publish here, so I'm going to free myself of that false constraint.
I'm going to push myself.
I'm going to take risks and do things that feel completely, totally crazy and out of my comfort zone. This one is inspired in large part by something amazing my wife did last month with her friend Molly (and I'll write more about that more next week). (UPDATE: Here's that post)
I'm going to push everyone here at Curbly to produce incredible content.
Content that's worthy of being read, saved, and re-read. Photos that don't look like photos you see anywhere else. We're going to cut back on the amount of content we put out, and focus intensely on making stuff we're proud of. Every. Single. Time.
I'm going to fail.
This one is probably the one that scares me the most. I'm naturally risk-averse, and hate doing stuff that doesn't work out. But I know that some of the things we do in the next year or two are going to be failures. In fact, if there aren't some big failures, then I'll know we're doing something wrong. Not trying hard enough. Not taking enough risks. Maybe blogging less and blogging better will make me feel great, but won't be viable as a business. Maybe writing a blog post every week will turn lots of readers off. Who knows. But I've got this one chance; I'm going to take it.
I'm going to be more honest.
Or not 'honest' exactly, because it's not like I've been dishonest. But open. Transparent. I usually operate under the assumption that a) people don't really care about what I'm doing and b) it's kind of unseemly to talk about yourself too much. I'm not an over-sharer, by any stretch of the imagination. And I don't plan on becoming one. But sharing your work is one of the best ways of learning, improving, and developing meaningful relationships.
Earlier this year I read a bit of advice that really stuck with me:
It's better to speak out and be wrong, than not to speak out at all.
I think, the truth is (if I'm honest and transparent), that for years I've been held back by thoughts like "What will people think?", or "That's embarrassing," or "I look stupid in this photo." I'm not sure why, exactly, but I think I just want to be done living my life that way. As Richard Feynman put it, what do I care what other people think?
I'm going to call it like it is.
You know, when I was starting Curbly, in 2006, lots of people still didn't even know what a blog was. Seriously. I can't tell you how many times I actually had to explain what the word meant. So, naturally, I never really took to calling myself a 'blogger'. But it's more than that: I'm a writer, but I've never called myself a writer. I'm a developer (I wrote the code that runs this site, among lots of other things), but I don't call myself that. I love to play and write music, but I don't call myself a musician. I dream of making art, but would never dream of calling myself an artist.
WHY NOT!? Why are we so afraid to take on a label that describes what we are, and what we want to be? I think it's because calling it like it is is the same as taking a risk. To say, "Yeah, I'm a blogger," is another way of putting it on the line, of being vulnerable, of exposing a part of myself that's easier to keep private.
Well, I'm going to stop doing that. I'm a blogger. Maybe not a very good one (see above, first paragraph), but that's what I am. I'm a writer. I'm a developer. I'm a musician. I'm an artist.
So, that's what's on my mind as I cross the ten-year mark with Curbly. When Curbly started, it was a huge, stupid, crazy, reckless thing to do. But I didn't know it at the time.
Now, it has stopped being huge and crazy and reckless, and has started drifting into the safe, stable, and – just a little bit – boring zone. So my plan is to take it back to where it started. To do what's risky, scary, and crazy.
Let's see how it goes.
Finally, before I wrap it up here, I want to make sure I take a minute to thank all the people who have helped get me, and Curbly, to where we are over the last ten years. The last thing I want is for any of you to think I've taken your work for granted. Far from it; you guys have done the heavy lifting, and maybe this is just my way of saying I finally want to get off the bench and join the team. Here goes:
- Ben Moore - thanks for taking a chance on me at that Ruby MN meetup all those years ago. I'm not sure I could stand hanging out with, much less working with, my 24-year-old self, so I'm grateful you could.
- Dad & Mom - for writing a check, without a second thought, when I needed it, and for believing in me, always.
- Alicia Lacy - for paying the bills when I couldn't, for getting the kids to bed when I had to stay up late fixing bugs, and for letting me stop at an internet cafe in Italy during our honeymoon, while you were pregnant, to get Curbly back online.
- Chris Gardner - for taking a chance and coming through in spades, time and time again.
- JoAnn Moser - for answering that Craigslist ad, and quietly plugging away month after month, with no direction and little feedback, to give Curbly a voice.
- Our amazing crew of contributors who have shaped Curbly over the years: Shelly Leer, Erin Filby, Erin Loechner, Meg Allan Cole, Capree Kimball, Mel Collette, Erin Heimstra, Kelly Bealle, Matt Allison, Faith Towers, Molly Molina, Alexandra Hedin, Brittni Mehlhoff, Lexy Ward, Jeran McConnel, Lidy Dipert, Jennifer Farley, and Stephanie Lee. I owe you guys.
- Deborah, Grisha, Dan S., Ben, Dan I., Josh, Alex, Sid, and all the other friends who've been there, listening and asking questions and looking at me like "No, of course it's not crazy that this is your job ... tell me more." I love you guys.