Alexis Kanda-Olmstead’s moving essay on body image, “Making Friends With This Body,” was the fifth post on AKO Collective — a blog she started in August to showcase her writing. We spoke with Alexis about her blog’s origin story, her inspirations, and Blogging University.
What sparked you to start blogging?
I’m a book lover, so my first experience with blogging was actually in the form of a book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess. Her compilation is interspersed with traumatic and hilarious childhood stories, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has been messed up by their parents, which is pretty much everyone.
While I was laughing my way through her book, I had an unfortunate “bad mommy” moment with my kids that made all of us cry. It occurred to me that my kids might someday write their own version of Let’s Pretend, so I wrote a counternarrative of sorts because I wanted them to understand why my crazy was actually really awesome, how much they should appreciate me, and how desperately they will miss me when I’m dead.
I started writing and writing, for about four weeks straight. (Even though I had never written anything of any consequence before.) I’d write, send my writing to my sister-in-law, whose opinion I valued and trusted, and then write more. When I had over 50 pages, I looked into publishing and realized it was a lot of work with no guarantee. So I took a page from Jenny Lawson’s playbook and started a blog.
To be out there, with my name on something that is my creative work, is quite terrifying. I still find it very uncomfortable. But more than the anxiety, terror, and discomfort was this very strong feeling, a knowing almost, that this was necessary, that it was time.
It was a somewhat rageful mommy blog that’s now defunct because no one read it. I had a few minor hits featured on BLUNTmoms, but it was just too hard to keep up with the whole anonymity thing.
How did AKO Collective come to be?
My first blog was written under a pseudonym for many reasons. First, I didn’t identify as a writer, so I didn’t want to be judged as one. And second, I swear. A lot, actually. And not just tiny swear words. I employ the biggest, baddest ones regularly. So I wrote an anonymous blog to keep my very responsible, high profile job in education. And so that other moms wouldn’t cancel playdates with my children.
It was after visiting a fellow blogger that I realized this “shadow blogging” thing wasn’t allowing me to reach my people via social media, which is very important to blogging. It wasn’t helping me access the truest parts of myself, which is also very important to blogging. So I started AKO Collective, which is a complete departure from my first blog. It’s not about parenting, there are no swear words, the material is much more hopeful in tone, and children are not harmed in its making.
I hit “publish” on AKO Collective in August and almost had a full-blown anxiety attack. To be out there, with my name on something that is my creative work, is quite terrifying. I still find it very uncomfortable. But more than the anxiety, terror, and discomfort was this very strong feeling, a knowing almost, that this was necessary, that it was time.
You’ve got a great introductory section called “Baked Goods,” in which you use baking as a metaphor for blogging. Can you unpack that idea for us?
I wanted people to understand that I don’t blog that often, that it’s really only on special occasions. This releases me from the pressure of having to publish on a weekly basis or more. I don’t want blogging to feel like a job, I want to protect it as my art. Baking is like that for me, so the metaphor seemed to work.
You’re a graduate of Blogging University — how did BU shape your approach to your site?
Visit Blogging University to learn about and/or sign up for our free courses.
BU is brilliant, truly. And I’m not just saying that because you featured me on Discover. Like I said, I work in education, and the way your program is set up follows many of the best practices in experiential learning. BU is a safe space that supports and challenges bloggers to try out new tools, familiarize themselves with WordPress capabilities and, most importantly, PUBLISH.
BU (Blogging U) is a safe space that supports and challenges bloggers to try out new tools, familiarize themselves with WordPress capabilities and, most importantly, PUBLISH.
The community of fellow baby bloggers is like a lovely warm cocoon where you find support and can offer it to others. I made some of my sweetest blogger friends in that space. They gave me my first “likes,” and I gave them theirs. Kind of like a first kiss, it’s something you never forget.
I’ve incorporated so many things into my blog that I learned through BU — widgets and slugs and social media plugins and header images. The whole enchilada. My blog would not be nearly as successful without these additional capabilities and functions.
What advice can you share for those who have been thinking about starting a blog but haven’t yet taken the plunge?
Alexis’ Recommended Blogs:
Okay, I know this sounds awful, but go to the library and check out some books. Or better yet, buy them so you can underline what you love and fold the pages down and basically desecrate it by making it your own. Read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s the author of Eat, Pray, Love. It’s all about creativity and how to get peaceful with the fear that goes along with it. Dive into a collection of fabulous blog books like Carry On Warrior or Love Warrior by the Momastery blogger, Glennon Doyle Melton. Get a copy of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. Seeing all of a blogger’s best work in one place is a fun crash course in blogging.
Subscribe to blogs and get a feel for the type and style of writing that resonates with you. Reach out to the authors you like and ask them for advice on your blog. Three or four bloggers actually did this for me, and it’s so kind. Part of the beauty of the blogging community is that we all get it and want to help.
Share your stuff with a select few at first, and then take a deep breath and blast it out because really, what’s the worst that could happen? People not reading your stuff? That’s going to happen if you don’t publish as well.
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Start a blog. Just start one. You can always kill it and start over like I did. And be sure your social media is synced up to it. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, whatever it is. You must have a social media presence if you want people to find your stuff. I learned that the hard way. Share your stuff with a select few at first, and then take a deep breath and blast it out because really, what’s the worst that could happen? People not reading your stuff? That’s going to happen if you don’t publish as well.
Submit your stuff to a syndicated blog that features other people’s writing. It is so helpful to get feedback from editors and even to get your writing professionally edited. You meet other bloggers that way, too. Magnolia Ripkin from BLUNTmoms couldn’t pick me out of a line up, but I will love her forever because of the advice she gave me.
Of all the platforms you can use to create a blog, why did you choose WordPress?
I’m pretty nerdy, so I read all the pros and cons. I looked into what other bloggers whom I admired were using, and the Cadillac of platforms is WordPress, hands down. The themes are breathtaking — even the free ones! — and all of the supporting infrastructure and information is top shelf. If I do something, I do it right. WordPress is right.
Read more from Alexis Kanda-Olmstead at AKO Collective.