Since 2011, Emily Austin has built a loyal readership at The Waiting, her blog on parenting and motherhood. Emily’s personality and humor have helped her carve out her own corner of the web among thousands of family blogs. Through blogging, she has built a community of readers and colleagues, and eventually landed a position as a paid blogger and social media manager — transforming a hobby into a full-time career. I chatted with Emily about the evolution of The Waiting and her growth as a blogger.
What were your goals when you launched your blog?
Am I allowed to say that I didn’t have a goal other than to post once a week? I wish I had some inspirational story about how I had planned to write my magnum opus and find a cure for cancer by blogging, but I don’t. I just wanted to write. I don’t have a stellar track record for sticking with things, either. I have a thrice-played guitar, an unused set of fancy watercolors, and an ungodly amount of half-read books to prove it, so I didn’t know if the whole blogging thing would last more than a few months. Much to my surprise, it did. Blogging just works for me. If I need to step away from it for a period of time, I can always come back and pick up where I left off.
How have you (and the blog) evolved since then?
The Waiting was born when I found out I was pregnant. During my pregnancy and the first year or so of my daughter Cee’s life, many of the posts I wrote were exercises in teasing out order in the unknowns of my life. My blog was a space where I could process the concurrent feelings of happiness and misery that I experienced as a new parent. Reading them now, those posts seem a little unpolished, but I love them because I was essentially writing for myself. The folks reading my blog weren’t an audience; they were friends.
Everymom perspective: “I try to write posts that are relatable. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded when they read my blog. My philosophy is that even though we may choose to raise our kids differently, we all hurt the same when we step on a Lego in the middle of the night.”
I learned a lot about myself during those writing therapy sessions. While I still write soul-searchy posts and “grandmother posts” — named after the only people I can imagine would be interested — I now focus on writing from the Everymom perspective. This works well for me because as my readership and my daughter have grown, I’m a lot more guarded than I used to be about sharing the details of my life.
As we grow as bloggers, we learn that blogging isn’t just about publishing posts — it involves being part of a wider community. What were the first steps you took to build your online presence and expand this into something more?
There are oh-so-many people out there giving “advice” on how to blog and how to broaden your digital bandwidth. If you have a year or so to kill, you should totally search “blogging advice” on Pinterest and then take in the vast array of things you a) should NEVER do, b) must start doing ZOMG now, and c) should have started last year but didn’t so haha your blog sucks and will never recover from last year’s negligence.
Not sure what to say? Here are tips on commenting on other people’s blogs.
But the one piece of advice I believe we can all take to the bank is to leave genuine comments on other blogs and to take the time to respond to comments on our own. After all, this is social media. Being a conscientious commenter has become more difficult — I’m eagerly anticipating the 26-hour day wherein I can comment on every post I read — but when I was building my online presence, I found that kind, authentic, encouraging comments were the best means to forging relationships with others who may or may not have a lot in common with me. We may call each other bloggers, but in the end we’re all just people who want to be heard and understood. Compassion and camaraderie go a long way, both in blogging and in life.
We may call each other bloggers, but in the end we’re all just people who want to be heard and understood. Compassion and camaraderie go a long way, both in blogging and in life.
You’ve returned to work full-time as a blogger and social media manager. How did blogging lead to this opportunity?
I really am the luckiest blogger on the block: I was able to land a paying gig because of the things I learned while I was a stay-at-home mom. But I shouldn’t use the word “luck” so flippantly because, honestly, I put a ton of work into my blog, my writing, the marketing of my writing, the design elements of my digital space, and the relationships I formed during that time. A few things I did to bolster my hireability:
Read more about widening your circle with guest bloggers on The Daily Post.
- Guest post, guest post, guest post. If someone asked me if I would write a post for their blog, I baked them a cake with pink frosted roses on top that spelled out YES! and I wrote the heck out of that post, pouring as much thought into it as I would a post for my own site. Writing for other blogs shows that you can bring the goods to an audience that might not know you. The guest post route goes both ways; I’ve invited other writers whose work I respected to post on The Waiting and multi-author blogs I was involved with. In doing so, I’ve honed my editor and content curation skills.
- Got the word out through social media. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. While WordPress.com has a thriving community of bloggers who are engaged and encouraging, I wanted to write the one blog that people who don’t read blogs would read. And to do that, I had to put myself out there via social media. It took me a ridiculously long time to get my act together and set up a Facebook page for The Waiting, but once I did, I realized I was doing myself a disservice not to connect with my community outside the walls of the blog. I now focus on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. When it came time to interview for my job, I was able to show my organization that I know how to drive engagement and connect with both established and potential readers and customers.
- Got as much mileage out of my work as possible. I was putting in a lot of time creating content for The Waiting, so I wanted as many people to read it as possible. I started cross-posting my work to BlogHer, an online community that empowers women to share their unique perspectives, and submitting to other blogs and websites. I even landed a parenting column in a local print publication.
Get the word out! If you haven’t already, set up Publicize to automatically share your WordPress posts on your social accounts.
As you said, we have many tools within reach to promote our blogs and ourselves. What other things have been valuable to you?
I am a big fan of the one-on-one interaction. I’ve met a handful of my blogging friends in person or via video chats, and those have been wonderful experiences. There is something about sharing a meal, a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine with another person and having a relaxed conversation that inspires me to not only be a better writer but also a better person. We can’t hide behind our heavily edited words anymore. Real interaction also leads to opportunities for collaboration and brainstorming.
Want to meet bloggers in real life? Learn about blogging events and conferences.
Blogging conferences are beneficial as well. You learn a lot and make connections. The downside, for me at least, is that conferences can be overwhelming, especially when you meet people who have been reading your work for awhile. They might expect you to be someone that you’re not.
Participate in one of the many blogger-submitted events at The Daily Post.
I’ve also hosted a link-up called Remember the Time. In a link-up, you write on a certain theme and invite others to do the same. Then, participants read each others’ work. It’s a great way to get to know other bloggers.
I am a big fan of the one-on-one interaction. . . . We can’t hide behind our heavily edited words anymore.
Your personality comes through on your blog, from your posts to your About page. How have you honed your voice over time?
You know the #AmWriting hashtag that people use when they’re working on something meaty but need a little support from the community to tell them not to give up? Well, I #AmFinding and #AmHoning my voice. It never, ever stops. My writing is almost entirely analogous to my life, so if I’m going through a funk personally, chances are, my writing will too. If I’m feeling overwhelmed with my role as a mother, then I’m going to be overwhelmed with writing about it, too. But I always try to look for the humor. My blogging pal Peg said it a lot better than I can:
Everyone has a cross to bear in life. Some are obvious, and some are hidden, but everyone carries one. A smile, a giggle, or a deep, belly laugh is a little bit of grace that lightens the load, if only a smidgen, if only for a short while. I believe that sharing that grace, helping other people to find the funny, is a noble thing.
Even though I’m constantly honing my voice, I’m happiest when I mix humor with the things in my life that I’m most frustrated with. Really, it’s a survival mechanism when you’re a parent. If your child is having a tantrum in the middle of church, the only reasonable response is to get them the heck out of there and then to laugh at how ludicrous you were to believe your two-year-old would sit quietly for an hour-and-a-half.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting a parenting blog?
This is just as much advice for myself as everyone else: make the time to write. Look, I get it: you don’t even have time to sleep adequately, brush your teeth, pour your wine into a glass instead of imbibing directly from the bottle itself — so how the heck are you going to stay committed to blogging? It is a freaking tall order. I’m a working mother who is juggling chainsaws and trying my hardest not to cut my arm off, and now you’re telling me I should write more?
Here’s the thing: it is so incredibly worth it. Just write about your family. Write about the minutiae. Even if you think a post is going to be “boring,” write it: it’s your life and you and your kids will one day treasure that you took the time to record your history. These are your family’s stories and they are precious, even if it seems like you’re writing about all the same milestones as everyone else. Just do it. Ask questions later.