An Interview with Elan Morgan on Schmutzie.com's 10th Anniversary
I celebrated 10 years of blogging on August 25, and I decided that my 10th blogging anniversary deserved an entire WEEK, which is why I'm still writing about it today. As a way to celebrate, I crowdsourced interview questions, and I picked ten to answer below. When I made the request, I thought it would be easy to answer what you asked, but it turned out that I underestimated you guys. You made me dig.
I'd like to know what made you decide to start a blog.
The Palinode started blogging with his first entry on Diaryland in January 2003, and I would hear him laughing over people he called mimismartypants and
luvabeans and shutupmom. I started reading, and I was hooked.
Back then, no one was telling anyone how to blog, and it felt like the one thing you could do that had no consequences, like the internet was in a separate room from reality, so I took it as an excellent opportunity to get back into writing in August 2003. My first entry was about why you shouldn't swallow your own tongue. I obviously thought no one else was on the internet.
How do you stay inspired to blog and to find your next blog post?
Truly, and this isn't very helpful if you're looking for how to stay inspired, I keep blogging because I feel compelled to do it.
I am not a big believer in the power of inspiration. In fact, I group realizations and
inspiration together. Both bloom from short term puffs of energy that are quick to fade and are easily forgotten. For staying power, I suggest turning whatever you want to do on a regular basis into a habit.
On the matter of finding my next blog posts, all I can tell you is that they're everywhere. Everything from the small — how do you make your favourite breakfast? — to the large — do you believe in God? — pop up constantly in your life. Approach the things that you do or that happen around you as though they are posing questions you can answer, and then answer them.
Have there been times when you wanted to quit blogging? What keeps you going when it gets tough?
There have definitely been times when I wanted to quit blogging. I wanted to quit after I went on television and came out as both a blogger and an alcoholic, after I gave my TEDx talk, after I wrote a really mean pop culture piece (I've since reformed) and was told to drown in a pool of blood, after I started working full-time from home and struggled with having both my work and home lives online together, and when I feel depressed or anxious every couple of weeks. Basically, I think about quitting whenever I feel particularly vulnerable.
What keeps me going is logic. I have to make a mental list of what are feelings about blogging and what are facts about blogging. I might feel vulnerable and frightened in the moment, but, when I look back at the history of my time here, I can see that I have grown so much in life-changing ways that it doesn't make sense to quit because one unqualified critic made me feel insecure or my own inner critic is having a tantrum.
How do you navigate the stress that results from not wanting to write and knowing you must write? What is the thing that gets you over the barrier of self-doubt and into joy of the words tumbling onto the page/screen? Were you always comfortable with your voice, your style, your point of view or did you develop it as you went along?
First, The only kind of writing that must happen even if you don't want it to is writing you are being paid for that has a deadline. If you don't want to write, that's because work isn't always fun, but you are a grownup, so suck it up, buttercup. Set the clock, sit down, and write absolute crap if you have to that you can edit later. Take up yoga or meditation or find a good therapist if you can't bootstrap your way through five paragraphs because you have feelings.
If you have personal writing that you would ideally like to commit yourself to but haven't, then either do it or don't do it. Waffling and worrying without committing action is what is causing your stress more than the writing you're not doing. Plus, you wouldn't be stressing about the writing you're not doing if you didn't want to do it. That thing about sucking it up, buttercup? It applies here, too. Work on your coping mechanisms, because your stress is not about typing words.
Second, almost nothing gets me over my self-doubt and into the joy of words tumbling onto the page or screen with the initial draft. One of the worst ideas new or idealistic writers have is that words should just fall with some kind of spirited abandon onto paper, as though writing is some kind of unconscious joy. That's ridiculous.
I struggle, I hem and haw, I power through, and then I find myself in the editing stage, which is where the joy can happen, sometimes. The first drafts are the labour, and the editing is the love and conditioning that grows my work into a proper piece of writing.
Maybe some people can write with tumbling joy on a regular basis, but they're high.
Third, I was not always comfortable with my voice, style, and point of view, and I'm not always comfortable with them now, because life is change, and I'm always changing. When I started blogging, I don't think I had much of a voice or style. Anything I did was accidental at best, and I had no real sense of what I sounded like.
The more you write, though, the more you start to cultivate voice and style, and the more you are able to hear yourself come through. Your voice will become as another limb, one that you employ as naturally as you do your fingers when you do up a button.
What have been your best/worst moments in blogging?
My best moment in blogging was actually something that came about because of my online presence, and that was being given the opportunity to deliver my TEDxRegina talk on self-doubt and the power of personal narrative. I felt like I came into my own on that stage in a way that I never would have predicted.
My worst moments have always been when people I know locally and personally have used my blog comments section to vent their personal frustrations, using me as a target. I have seen a couple of permanent ends to friendships this way, and it is unfortunate, because they were due to misunderstandings we couldn't sort out. I have never regretted writing the posts in question, though, and the rifts were due to larger issues for which the posts merely acted as catalysts, so I keep at it.
How has blogging changed you over the last 10 years?
Oh, my. This is huge. Blogging has changed so very much for me that I don't know what it hasn't changed.
Blogging gave me a space to discover writing and design and speaking skills I didn't know I could cultivate, it moved me to quit smoking and take on sobriety, it allowed me to quit a non-career I hated to dive into one I love, it brought in so much support when I had cancer, and, alongside all of those things, it has moved me toward greater mindfulness and empathy and a true sense of hope where I once had none.
In short, blogging changed my whole life and probably saved it more than once.
Do you think it is beneficial to blog often in order to help an online shop/business? I try to mix blogging about me and my shop, but it's a hard balance.
I do not think that it is necessarily beneficial to blog often for an online business. I think it is best to blog well and with energy less often than it is to force it and push out a bunch of mediocre posts, because no one is that interested in reading about your business three times a week. They just aren't. You probably aren't, either.
Of course, this doesn't apply to every business. If your online business is blogging itself, then a regular and more frequent number of updates is probably a good idea to stay current, but if your online business is selling baby onesies, there is only so much people want to be actively engaged with baby onesies.
Judging by my own blog stats, I have found that people are less interested in hearing about my actual work, so I blog primarily about myself with a work update about once a month, and my job isn't suffering. Take a look at what posts gain more interest and blog accordingly. It might surprise you to find out that you draw more people in for business than the business-specific posts do.
What does someone need to have in mind when they ask for a web redesign, so things get off to a fast start.
- What are your goals for the site? What do you want it to do? List three goals.
- What changes should this redesign create?
- What feelings do you want the final design to express? Do you want it to be lively, fresh, and clean? Or do you want it to be serious, scholarly, and journalistic? List at least three descriptors.
- What do you want your readers/customers to do once they get to your site?
- Do you require a design that easily allows for incorporating planned site growth?
- List sites that have elements you like or that you would like to see on your own site.
- Create a list of all the parts you want included in your site, including everything from navigation links to individual pages to sidebar ad space. This will change as the design happens, but it will help to inform and focus the design.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
I have never been good at pointing at 5, 10, or 25 years in the future and saying what I'd like that time period to look like. I have no idea.
When I was 7, I was going to be a writer. When I was 11, I was going to be a prophet of God. When I was 15, I was going to be a glamorous junkie who died young and with great dramatic effect. When I was 19, I was going to be a librarian. When I was 30, I was going to be a writer again. When I was 34, I was going to have a cushy union job with a solid retirement plan.
Only two of those came true. I'm a writer who rarely gets paid for writing, and I hated that union job so much that I ended up having a nervous breakdown. In ten years? I'll be where I am.
As someone who has teetered on the edge of the abyss with alcohol all my adult life, I would sincerely like to know, was getting sober the hardest thing you have ever done, or was staying sober the hardest part?
This is hard to answer. In some ways, it is the day to day of staying sober that I want to say is hardest, because I am here doing the work of staying sober every day, and it isn't always easy. Sometimes I look ahead and realize that this is the rest of my life.
What's true, though, is that I struggled hard within myself for 10–15 years prior to becoming sober. I grappled with deep depressions and burning shame that lasted for weeks on end, I suffered through the health consequences of several drunks a week with frequent blackouts, I isolated myself by missing work and social engagements in favour of drinking, and I lost belief in my own value and in my ability to achieve anything of import.
I may have days during which I fight hard to avoid drinking and the habits of thinking and behaviour that will lead me most assuredly to hide out in a dive bar drinking at two in the afternoon, but my sober life now is so much greater than all those days of struggling fruitlessly while drunk.
My life at present is worth every last hard thing I went through to get sober. Staying sober is a privilege. It demands that I become more mindful and empathic, more thoughtful and careful. Active and conscious sobriety holds the possibility of your becoming greater and more fully human than you knew you could be.
For me, getting sober was harder than it is to stay sober, and I would do it all again, even though it took me through some of my darkest times.
And with that, I thank you for ten years! You've seen me through a lot both professionally and personally since that hot August day in 2003, and I think I'll stick around for a while yet.
Maybe another 10 years? Sure, why not.