whistlestop caboose

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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Internet and blog burnout: hold still

In the past few days I've seen messages from several people on flickr, the photo group, as well as on blogs, saying something to the effect of "Sorry, folks, I'm just burning out, have to take a break - I'll be back posting and looking at your stuff soon." Some of them mention extraordinary numbers of web sites and blogs and photos they look at on a daily basis. I'm not surprised they're crashing.

Last February I met Robert Scoble, who introduced himself as "Microsoft's most famous blogger," which was not boasting - it was accurate. He was speaking at a blogging conference. I started to read his blog and suddenly realized that my small foray into the blogging world, looking at a handful of blogs every day and writing one personal one, was pale stuff. There is a frenetic, frenzied world of people connecting to each other constantly. I soon learned why, as I learned more about blogging: the more people you link to and who link to you, the more visitors your blog has and the more quickly you become known in the blogging community. If you're trying to make money, you have a better chance because your traffic goes up.

At about the point I decided that I did not want to live like this and that my personal blog would be for my pleasure and, I hoped, the pleasure of as few or as many people who care to visit. I'd already spent too much time working in nutty situations that threatened to eat me alive. Basta! (translation: enuf, enuf).

I visited Robert Scoble's blog again after a lapse. Most of his readers, and there are thousands, are more technically-oriented than I am and only some of the discussions interested me. His mother was very ill, however, and I appreciated what he posted about that and dealing with it. Soon after, he decided to reduce the amount of time he was spending blogging. Even Scoble could get burnout, I saw. His co-author for Naked Conversations, a book about blogging, soon posted that he was trying to write for three blogs every day and it was too much. I just read Shel Israel's post from yesterday, which ties in with this. I also just read Robert Scoble's again, as long as I was adding a link here, and got pulled into visiting a site he mentions about school design in Livingston, Montana. Typical good blogging connecting!

So the warning signals are out there, but it is very easy to get pulled into doing too much and to panic because you know too little. Too much: on the Internet in general, and too much blogging or photo-posting. Too little: because not all of us who do this are techie whiz kids, or want to be if we think about it.

The problem lies in the very nature of the thing that makes it all work, which is connecting to other people. They visit you and you visit them and soon you're feeling obliged to visit 100 or 1,000 (hey, in some cases 10,000) sites and make comments so they know you've been there. It's easy to test the system: don't visit anyone for a week, then leave comments on 20 sites and you'll promptly see they have been to visit you, if you look at your site statistics.

People often ask me how I do so much. I manage a community service blog-based web site (minimum 6 hours a day), I write this blog (30-60 minutes, 3-7x a week), I write a blog called "Hats off!" for the Geneva, Switzerland newspaper Tribune de Geneve (30-60 minutes, 3-5x a week) and I write two blogs for GenevaLunch, one about gardening and the other whatever seems suitable (30 minutes, 2-4x a week). I post photos on flickr, and the time varies from an hour a week to a few hours, if I'm on a photo binge. I do other editorial, writing and lecturing jobs, but these are irregular. I have a family, with a son who just finished his final year of high school with a heavy exam schedule and who is now off to college in Canada. I have a very handicapped daughter, who is not at home during the week but she's non-stop work during the weekends.

Clearly, if you add up the time, I don't sleep or eat and I am totally unsociable. Add another detail - I make virtually no money at the moment.

The problem is, like most people who enjoy the sociable side of the Internet, I like to eat, sleep and socialize. So, how to do it all? How does one manage and remain a pleasant or better yet, a nice human being? What do you do about the niggling other problem, cash in pocket?

You can set up elaborate management programs for yourself, but I find that even a simple list takes time to calculate and, like diets, they last only a day or two. I prefer to set a couple priorities, make sure I manage those, and live with my inability to achieve everything else. If I cannot manage the priorities then I reassess, which I do about once a week. I try to find the problem and I try to be realistic. I remind myself that I'm supposed to go for a walk at noon, and that's a priority because it makes me more efficient and keeps me saner. I also often see interesting things.

The real key, though, is being kind to myself. Occasionally it is all just too much, usually when I haven't slept enough. I hit what I think of as black hole days, where I just can't find the enthusiasm for anything. Not really depression, just a black hole I step into. On these days, I suspend all priorities, almost all obligations, and I let myself drift. I don't chide myself or let guilt seep in anywhere. I'm on automatic pilot for some of my obligations. I go to bed early no matter what is on the books. The next day the black hole has disappeared - it almost always works. The more often I let myself do this, the fewer black holes there are.

If you're not enjoying posting and reading and blogging and all the rest of it, take a break. Make it as long as you need. Go sit on the end of a dock somewhere, swing your feet, eat a whatever (I was going to say a bagel), and just drift. The world won't fall apart while you're gone. Be nice to yourself.

Of course, money is another matter, and I will happily share my upbeat thoughts on this once I have some change in my pocket again. Don't hold your breath, though - I'm not holding mine. Hard to earn money when you're not breathing.


Blogger maki said...

A really excellent post! I have been blogging off and on since about 2000, and I have gone through many bouts of blog burnout. I keep coming back to it though - i t can be a great outlet, and even make some money too! Hang in there...

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Christian Long said...

Hello, Whistlestop Caboose!

Your post (full of great spirit and reflection that gave me pause and confidence, alike) grabbed me on a couple of levels today:

1. I am flattered you made mention to my original post at "think:lab" which Robert was kind enough to link to yesterday. A brilliant experience being with him in Montana not too long ago, as well as following the rabbit down the rabbit hole and meeting Andrew Field as well. As an ex-educator and now someone blessed to work i the school design world, I'm definitely not a techie (as you so eloquently put in your own way in the post about your foray into Robert's blog)...but I find that the best way to re-think your own realm is to visit others and look back at what was once very familiar with a new lens. This is why I wrote about a commercial e-printing business in Montana while hanging out with Robert and tech-guys extraordinaire with an eye on school design (of all things). A pattern forming, rather than answers confirmed. Again, thank you for the visit to "think:lab" and the Google juice as well.

2. I'm having my first child in the next few days...and the 'burn-out' of blogging and work will face the diaper game soon! With that in mind, I am trying to figure out how to run 3 blogs (one for work, one for research, and one for the new baby), while also doing the rest of work, and also staying connected...and doing it with no sleep and many other much more valid priorities. Thanks for the reminder that it's okay to step away for a bit...

3. You were eloquent about the process of being part of a larger blogging culture and conversation. I am humbled to be connected in ways that surpass any hint I could have imagined a year ago this month when I first started the "think:lab" experience. Truly humbling; truly beyond me. And whether its for personal exploration or the 6 degrees of networking or something in between, I'm in it for good...and love the unexpected.

Again, thanks for the link/notice. And even more, thanks for your wonderful post on burn-out and the larger blogging experience. Good stuff all around!

Cheers, Christian

7:23 PM  
Blogger whistlestop caboose said...

Christian, thanks and good luck! I forgot to add that extra toes (parents', not babies') are always useful.

I saw a lovely little exchange about parenting on flickr last night and you might find it enlightening: http://www.flickr.com/photos/adimagnin/226952504/in/photostream/
Ariel is a new blogger on GenevaLunch and an awesome photographer, too.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Vasta said...

Hey Ellen!

This post is quite topical, because I think I may have just hit a small bump in my virtual life where I've hit some serious burnout.

I think this kind of thing just happens, so I think taking a small break will be beneficial to me.

5:57 AM  
Blogger christin m p in massachusetts said...

I guess we've all experienced internet and blog burnout for the same reasons you mentioned -- namely because we forget to sleep enough and to socialize with the people we already know in person.

So, I'm going to get to bed now and get some much-needed sleep.

6:52 AM  
Blogger whistlestop caboose said...

I've just thought of a way to make money. I'll think I might sell pajamas, starting with all of you! I was considering calling them Burnt Jams, but maybe the label needs a little work.

7:09 AM  

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