A few nights ago, I re-watched Julie & Julia, which I hadn’t seen in several years. In all its Nora Ephron-y goodness, the story sugarcoats the real-life tale of an early blogger who ate-and-wrote her way through Julia Child’s renowned cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The movie is almost ten years old now, having released in 2009 and telling a story that happened in 2002-03.
Even though the seedier, darker bits of the story are left out, the film made me miss old-school blogging.
Yesterday, I read this piece from Cal Newport. I’ve subscribed to his blog ever since I read Deep Work last year, and though his style is a bit more science-y than my usual taste, he hasn’t failed to effect my work to some degree every time he publishes.
Deep Work changed everything for me, not so much telling me brand new stuff I hadn’t considered, but confirming stuff I suspected was true, both about me and the internet. This book gave me the cahones to stop focusing on social media, and instead, re-focus my energy on creating stuff. It helped me remember what I enjoy doing in the first place (and what I’m better at anyway).
His essay yesterday, part of an earlier piece where he wrote about the difference between social media and social internet, took me one step deeper into missing the internet of yesteryear.
(I’m talking pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-Instagram. Pre social media.)
I appreciated his post, because as much as I loved Deep Work, it left me with unanswered questions: If I want to continue publishing my writing, I don’t see how I can not be on social media — how else will people find my work? What’s the metric, then, of how I/the publisher can predict whether a book will sell? How can I remain relevant?
I wanted all these answers to be not social media; I wanted to find the therefore, do this antidote to the social media machine. But I couldn’t find it. And so, even though I was convicted that social media (especially Facebook) does more harm than good, I felt resigned to keep using it. I couldn’t figure out how not to in my work.
In this new post of his, Cal suggests two options: slow social media, and own your own domain. Instead of completely swearing off social media, use it for the things that add value to your life, and set up parameters so it doesn’t take over your attention and energy. And then, set up your own slice of real estate on the internet.
I did that second one over ten years ago now, at The Art of Simple. Except it grew and grew into this thing, so that now, I still own it, but it’s not really a place for me to share thoughts beyond its brand. Over the past few years, I’ve tweaked the message some, made some publishing changes, and experimented with monetization. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it’s now a beast of its own.

Not in a bad way, mind you — I’ve trained people to expect a certain type of content on that site, and with literally thousands of posts in its archives, its understandable why it’s good to keep that spot on the internet about a certain thing. Even if I don’t have much to say about it anymore.
In light of this, I’ve recently made two moves:
1. I opened up AoS to not only publish regular contributor submissions, but now, reader submissions. Instead of forcing my thoughts into a pigeon-holed topic, no matter how much they protest, I should open the space to let other people share what they’re learning. This excites me.
(Plus, I’m realizing that the longer I do this — and by “this,” I mean earn a living from creating content and sharing it on the internet — the less other people seem to identify with me. I love my unconventional life, but that doesn’t mean everybody has to live my way, and I certainly don’t want that to be the unintentional message on AoS.)
2. I dusted off this corner of the internet, this other slice of real estate I’ve long had, and am going to use it as a place to publish thoughts. It’ll be a place for me to practice old-school blogging again.
I’m not going to create an editorial calendar. There will be no self-induced pressure. Heck, I won’t even open comments for the time being, simply because I don’t want to. I’ll write when I have something to say, or when I want to figure something out.
Regarding Cal’s first point — slow social media — I feel like I’ve already been doing that somewhat, at least in practice, if not internally. So, I want to breathe it in better internally.
I debated starting a new Facebook page because Zuckerberg won’t let me change the blog’s Facebook page name to my own. I feel pressure to create an author page, even though I know statistically these things are less and less important. But I’ve decided to pass on this idea. I really, really don’t like Facebook, and aside from certain Groups, it makes my life worse, not better. I don’t want to add to the noise that’s already insane there.

I’ll keep my personal Facebook profile… for now. Only because I need it in order to keep the AoS page and its companion group, Simple Collective. But I’ve disabled all third-party apps from accessing it (Settings > Apps), I’ve “unliked” all pages, and I no longer read my timeline. I only check in with a few Groups about twice a week. My life has been so much richer because of these small moves. It’s like I can breathe again.
I pop on to Twitter daily, but only 5-10 minutes at a time, 2-3 times a day. And I often don’t say anything. Honesty, this is probably more than I need to. But so far, Twitter still hasn’t caused internal rage or angsty-ness. I’m questioning its usefulness on the regular, though, so this may change.
I only check Instagram a few times a week. I feel like this is where I’m “supposed” to be investing, because many of my friends and colleagues prefer this platform, and I get it. It’s prettier than the other places. It’s simpler. I like the Stories feature. My followers are fairly engaged and positive compared to the other platforms.
But it still causes angst in my life. It’s easy for me to feel discontent there (more professionally than personally), and it was easier to post when we were traveling because my life felt more visually exciting. I don’t feel pressured to post there when I’m not checking in regularly, but when I do, I suddenly feel this weird pressure from who-knows-where to post something, even if I have nothing to show or say. I don’t like that feeling.
Both my podcasts have dedicated Instagram feeds, and while I don’t mind them, they are a chore to keep up with. I’m mulling over hiring someone to help out with social media — those feeds, plus the blog’s Facebook page and group. We’ll see.
I’ve also gone back to reading blogs. Remember those? It’s been enjoyable. I dusted off my Feedly account and have ended my work day reading my subscriptions for 15-20 minutes. I’ll also try to subscribe to people’s email lists, because I understand the power of that communication medium — but I only give them a few tries to compel me to stay on their list. My inbox can get ugly, so I can only stay subscribed to the truly useful. (I’ll write a post sometime on the few lists I subscribe to.)
In all this reflection, it’s hit home for me that my focus should continue to be just that — my email list. At the end of the day, this is the most reliable way I can communicate with people who genuinely want to hear from me. Facebook likes are cheap and mean nothing. Hearts on Twitter are a dime a dozen. But when someone wants to hear from me in their inbox? …The number may be smaller, but that person is more invested in me. (Especially when I don’t give out a random freebie.)
Where am I going with all this? I’m not sure. Eight years ago, I wanted something different in my work than I do now — I don’t have a burning desire to build an online empire or recognizable brand. All I mostly care about at this point is creating work that matters, that sticks with people for a long time, and that changes their lives for the better, even in small ways.
Specifically right now, I’m pretty sure that looks like investing most of my creative energy in Women’s Work episodes, my novel, and my new podcast that’ll live in Patreon (and will unveil in a few weeks, Lord-willing). When I think of ideas I have that fit this bill — work that matters because it sticks with people and changes their lives — these are the things that bubble to the surface.
Not an engaging Facebook page.
Not a fancy Instagram feed.
Not even a long-running blog with lots of pageviews.
Right now, this is work that matters to me: good stories from me and about other people.]]>