Cathy Thinking Out Loud (CTOL) was born July 5th, 2013, but it was conceived much earlier. Like my children my newborn blog did not come with an instruction manual, and in its infancy demanded huge chunks of my time and attention. As a new mother I relied on my friends, family and the "What To Expect" books to guide, support, and lend a helping hand when things got overwhelming, and the same held true for CTOL.
The Newborn- Weight Gain:Like with all newborns with the joy also comes the worry. I worried about CTOL gaining and maintaining weight. By weight I mean gaining followers and readers, impact, and reach, and ideally not losing followers and readers. I worried about the quality of the weight, and that gains weren't just from empty calories of boring posts, or all product reviews and giveaways. At first I agonized over every unfollow, but soon learned that some fluctuation both up and down is normal, and started to focus my attention on longer term maintained gain rather than daily fluctuation.
I started to manage the things that were within my control, like diet and exercise. I try to feed CTOL a healthy mix of quality content and meaty posts, with sweeteners like giveaways in moderation. Regularly exercising my writing skills and regular postings help to ensure a healthy and happy CTOL. Fluctuation is normal but I have learned it is important to monitor it with regular check-ups (such as Google Analytics).
Growth Spurts- 3 Weeks, 3 Months, 6 Weeks, 6 Months:Most of us have heard that saying about the times when the “baby” has sudden spurts of growth. Just like my kids, my blog seems to grow in leaps and bounds of growth (stress) and then the growth plateaus off (worry). These spurts can be due to sharing, giveaways, joining networking groups, or just organically. Just as I finally seem to settle into a routine ... surprise! there is another growth spurt.
It is exciting to see the growth but with sudden growth in followers and readers I feel pressure to produce more “feedings”. My production of “milk” aka posts hasn't always increased at the same rate as the demand (real or perceived). Producing quality posts is more important than the quantity of posts, so I try to remember to feed myself, not just my blog, and think about my longer term goals for CTOL.
Sleep Patterns, Routines, and Schedules:Sleep patterns of the young and the restless – aka sleep deprived and the desperate. Often it feels like this, with posts and deadlines, and other life and family responsibilities. Sleep is good, no denying that, and routines and schedules definitely help to manage my time. Sometimes writing comes easily and other times I literally lose sleep over it. Some fussiness is normal as patterns are established, but learning to self-sooth and have confidence in my writing ability is a must. Of course established patterns can easily be disrupted by “teething”, travel, or any number of bumps along the way, so sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
Before I had kids or a blog I used to map out in my head elaborate detailed down to the minute schedules. Making schedules and lists helped me to manage my stress and uncertainty of what my future held. Once I had kids and a blog I found many (okay most) of my schedules were unrealistic, and lacked flexibility to adjust to changing demands. Being more flexible and transitioning well is a work in progress, but a blog is fluid and my routines and schedules need to be as well. If my schedules don't take into account the time demands of both my family and my blog, their main purpose seems to be simply to mock me.
Experts agree that routines keep the day and blog predictable and provide consistency that readers come to expect. They count on regular posts and having a schedule for when I post makes this easier. I now call them guidelines and aim for some consistency or pattern in my posting, rather than strict rules. I set up a framework with a limited number of items: writing times, posting days, social media engagement and sharing, administrative items. I add, subtract or modify one item at a time so I can see the impact of each change, and avoid the temptation to throw the "baby" out with the bathwater and scrap the whole framework.
My readers guide the schedule of when and what I write about through their feedback and comments. At first I would stay up till 3 am to get a post scheduled for Wednesday posted on time. I do try to keep to that schedule, but every now and then I miss a self-imposed deadline, and surprise the world does not end, in fact few probably even notice.
Developmental Milestones: Reaching and TrackingOne of the milestones babies reach in the first year is the ability to reach and track moving objects. They learn to see objects further away, and once they see the object there is incentive to reach for it, and track it as it moves. One of the milestones in blogging is reaching and tracking my blog object(ives) or goals. Each day I learn to "see" and understand the “objects” around blogging and gain the confidence to reach for them. Each success builds my confidence and gives me incentive to reach for bigger object(ives) that are further away. I track my goals using reader feedback, engagement and tools.
I try to remember to enjoy each new milestone and celebrate it, for each one almost always required that I step outside my comfort zone to achieve it. I have blogged for one year and in that time I have written 175 posts, that is impressive and deserves celebration.
Crawling Walking and Climbing:Most of us learn to crawl before we walk, but the pace at which we learn and number of styles of getting around is as varied as the blogger. I try to remember not to compare myself to others too much, and that there are many ways other than a straight line to get from A to B.
Learning to climb can be tricky. There has to be a balance between recklessness and safety becoming stifling. For me planning is my best safety net, and helps me to make learning to climb the metaphorical staircase of the upwardly mobile blogger less hazardous. I am not fearless, but neither do I want to let fear hold me back, so I take "baby" steps. Knowing I have the support of my friends and network to catch me when I fall, and keep me balanced gives me to courage to climb.
Birthday CelebrationThere is a lot to celebrate as I look back over Cathy Thinking Out Loud’s first year. After twelve months I can hold my head up, stand tall, hold onto what is important, make myself be heard and understood, step up, and get back up when I fall. I can’t wait to see what the toddler years will bring!
Yep, just me Cathy thinking out loud about CTOL's first year!