Yesterday I turned down an opportunity to make money on my blog.
Ridiculous, right? Isn’t that what every travel blogger wants? Isn’t it the dream that keeps us clicking fingers over keyboards and battling faulty WiFi connections around the planet: to fund our travels through a well-trafficked and heavily monetized blog? Click-throughs, AdSense, commissions. SEO and analytics and Top 100 badges. “Travel Blog Success,” “Monetize Your Blog,” “8 Steps to Building a Profitable Blog that Funds Your Travels.” Purchase an eBook, book a hostel, buy a flight. “Get advertisers contacting YOU.”
Well, I did. Without trying. And I shot them down.
It all happened, as most things do, via Twitter. A travel service that I actually have used and like contacted me wondering if I’d like to be a part of their “exciting new campaign.” “I’m hoping that we can create a relationship in which I email over exciting news, offers and competitions that (nameless company) has over the year so that you have some new content for your blog.” So, um, do you want to place ads or have me write posts related to your promotions on my personal blog? “The latter.”
It would have been easy and relatively painless. And also goddamn boring, both to write and to read. And if I wouldn’t want to read it, why would I want to put it up on my own blog? To improve traffic and make a little cash? I do contract work writing what is essentially marketing content for a trip-planning site. I pour hours into crafting pitches for sellable articles. I fucking wait tables. Why am I gonna compromise on the one place, the one thing, that’s really mine?
It sounds snarky, but that’s really just a defense mechanism for feeling unsure of my direction and a little jealous. Why jealous? Because if your goal is a have a successful and profitable travel blog, the trajectory is much more clear, much more linear: write on these topics, have a couple give-aways and contests, become an expert in something, brand yourself—get in where you fit in and get paid. There’s nothing wrong with that; being self-supporting through a blog is actually pretty bad-ass. It’s just that, when I browse through the most trafficked travel blogs, I realize that they’re (for the most part) not doing what I want to be doing. Which, I’m beginning to suspect, is write first-person narrative inspired by travel.
Trip-planning has its place. When I’m getting ready to go on a trip, I want to know what to pack and what buses to take and Top 10 tips and Top 10 undiscovered gems and Top 10 Top 10s. But that’s not what I want to write, not where my heart is. The travel blogs that I love and read regularly aren’t the most popular ones; they’re narrative-driven, thought-provoking and literary.
My blog is still young, in utero, 9 months old and dreaming fetal dreams of personage. “What kind of readers do you want to attract?” a friend of mine who’s helping me redesign my site asked months ago. “What are people coming to your blog for?” I’m starting to figure it out. And ads and stats don’t have much to do with it.
When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time doing Poetry Slams. The spoken word scene was popping off, Bay Area underground hip-hop was at its height, and every kid who could string a rhyme was taking to the stage. I took after-school workshops with an excellent literary non-profit and performed what felt like once a week. But I wasn’t a Slam poet. I couldn’t beat box, couldn’t freestyle (unless I was seriously faded), wasn’t a performance artist. I read Sylvia Plath and Charles Bukowski; instead of quoting Mos Def in my pieces, I quoted William Burroughs.
I learned, early on in that, to be okay with what I was. And that the kids that got all the applause and won all the competitions weren’t producing work that was necessarily any better or worse than mine—just different. A lot of it was bullshit, and a lot of it was really good. I met kids that weren’t into the scene of it all, but loved writing—kids I still keep in touch with and whose work I still respect. I’m immensely grateful to have been a part of that community, even if my own addiction-drenched lyrical poetry didn’t ever fit in, prompted more raised eyebrows and dead silences than standing ovations.
I’m finding myself again in the same situation. There’s a lot of great travel blogs out there, and I’ve “met” a lot of great writers. There’s really this awesome, supportive community out there, and I’m glad to be a part of it, however tangentially. But again, as usual and as always, what I’m doing and my vision of where I want to go doesn’t align with the dominant trend—isn’t raking in perfects 10s and bringing down the house. And again, I’m learning to be okay with that, and to stay true to myself.
When I was a teenager, amidst all the Slam Poetry woo-hah, I saw a documentary about Wynton Marsalis. He was talking about being a childhood prodigy, how he’d learned some fancy trick that horn players are hip to but audience go nuts for. He did it at a show and the crowd lost their mind and he basked in the thunder of their adoration.
After the show, on his way home, his dad was real quiet. Finally, he said, “Son, if you play for applause, that’s all you’ll ever get.”
I’ve kept that one with me all these years. And I’m still not performing for applause—or writing for advertisers.