Lately, I’ve been thinking about content creation, content creators, and what I want to do with my life. I started thinking seriously about these topics earlier this month at TBEX, and, more importantly, at the BlogHouse.
You probably remember me talking about TBEX — the largest travel blogging conference in the world, which bills itself as “the future of new media” — and Navigate Media Group‘s BlogHouse — an opportunity for up-and-coming junior bloggers (like me!) to live with established senior bloggers for three days of intensive group workshops and one-on-one mentoring.
We lived and worked in a castle for three days.
A beautiful, labyrinthine, castle! In downtown Toronto! Next door to a Catholic school, so sometimes there were priests in the kitchen when I went to make myself a cup of tea! So quirky and charming! Many thanks to our sponsor, Flipkey, for providing us with this home away from home.
Over the course of the BlogHouse, we talked about blogging as an industry — from big topics like how bloggers monetize to small details like their favorite social media plugins. Each of the senior bloggers brought different skills and opinions (so. many. opinions.) to the table, which made for an intense and informative couple of days.
Lisa Lubin (of LL World Tour) and Cailin O’Neil (of Travel Yourself) led a session about making videos, Sherry Ott (of Otts World) and Pete Heck (of Hecktic Travels) taught us how to take and edit our photos better. I want to especially thank Sherry for showing me how to use the DSLR camera I was borrowing from a friend after Hawai’i killed my point and shoot, but that’s a different story.
Michael Tieso (of Art of Backpacking) spoke about using wordpress effectively, and Rob Ross from Flight Network (another Bloghouse sponsor) gave us a crash course in SEO. Michael Hodson (of Go, See, Write) gave the newbies some valuable advice about our branding, site designs, media kits, etc. And, let’s not forget Stephanie Yoder (of Twenty-Something Travel) who, along with the aforementioned Cailin O’Neil, organized the entire BlogHouse.
This experience was extremely helpful to me, and I’d recommend it to other travel bloggers who are starting out and looking for a supportive network of people to point, prod, and push them in the right direction.
If I’m being entirely honest, though, I found parts of the BlogHouse discouraging, disappointing, and disillusioning.
Firstly, the talk about monetization laid out all of the seedy ways in which people make money on websites, and I’m sorry to call link sales “seedy” because I know “everyone” does them, and I’m trying not to judge how people make a living. If link sales are the way you make money so that you have time to produce content you care about for your readers, then you should keep doing what you’re doing.
However, I am young, and idealistic, so… I don’t want to join you.
Secondly, the talk about SEO lasted two hours, and everyone else at the BlogHouse seemed to love it. No offense to Rob Ross because he was an engaging speaker, but it’s not a topic I’m interested in. I needed the Sparknotes version — 30 minutes tops.
Because… I’m a writer.
And before anyone gets annoyed with me and says that they’re also writers and they care about SEO, let me explain. Bloggers should have at it with SEO keywords, and there was a great quote at TBEX about how “SEO gets people to your website and storytelling keeps them there.”
But my dream job is not to write SEO-worthy headlines.
My dream job is to write personal essays, creative nonfiction, and travel stories.
And I’m 23, so I’m allowed, and even encouraged, to go after my dreams.
My other dream job is to travel the world filming a webseries with this guy:
So, BlogHouse taught me what I don’t want to be doing with my blog, but it also inspired me to take chances and go after what I do want.
I was lucky enough to sit down one-on-one with Dalene Heck (also of Hecktic Travels, you didn’t think I was just going to mention Pete, did you?), and enjoy one of the most inspiring conversations I had BlogHouse. Dalene told me I’m a good storyteller (a welcome ego boost), and, more importantly, she told me there is room for good storytelling in blogging. There is room for quality content. And we can stand out as bloggers by providing it.
This was a theme, which was echoed at TBEX in Mike Sowden‘s talk on storytelling, and in Jodi Ettenberg and Annemarie Dooling‘s talk on turning your readership into a community. I know some bloggers (I’m looking at you, Michael Hodson) are sick of hearing about “storytelling” and “quality content” because they’re starting to become meaningless buzzwords.
But those meaningless buzzwords?
They’re what I left Toronto feeling super excited about!
Storytelling! Content creation! Travel videos! Taking the time to stop and think and brainstorm! It’s fun, and frustrating, and exciting, and an interesting exercise to try to come up with new ideas. Or different applications of old ideas or new ways to make money on the internet and not “sell out” that no one’s ever thought of before!
Try to think of one new idea right now.
I have no answers yet, but damn, you guys, it’s fun trying.
Most of the people who were at the BlogHouse have been writing wrap-up posts about this experience. And, in these posts, the junior bloggers have graciously been providing links to one another’s websites. (Community building and networking in action!)
So, because I love all my new BlogHouse friends (#bloghousebabes), I’m following suit, and leaving you with some recommended reading.
meganotravels — Check out Megan Smith’s blog for foodie Fridays, tips to stay stylish on the road, and (my favorite) heartfelt tales of transformative travel.
The Kay Days — If you’re a student hoping to travel while you’re still in college, you should bookmark Kay Rodriguez’s blog immediately.
The Mother of All Trips — Read Mara Gorman’s blog if you want to travel with your family, but aren’t sure where to start, especially if you’re interested in outdoor adventures.
Points and Travel — Cindy Maloney’s aptly-named blog is for anyone looking to break into the world of collecting points and frequent flyer miles to help subsidize their travels.
The Traveluster — If you want to read about travel from the perspective of an anthropologist obsessed with international conflict resolution, Lindsay Lewis’s blog is for you.
Paper Planes — Alana Morgan is a 20-something and former expat whose thoughtful blog I’d recommend to every young woman trying to make her way in the world.
Walking on Travels — Looking for tips on traveling with an infant and a toddler? Keryn Means reminds readers that you can be a mom and keep traveling too.
Somewhere or Bust — Noah Lederman is a surfer, teacher, and father-to-be; read his blog if you’re looking for honeymoon inspiration, adventurous travel… or both?
A Nerd at Large — If you’re a history, literature, or sci-fi nerd hoping to visit places you’ve only read about, you need to start reading Stephanie Spencer’s “geektastic travel blog.”
Traveler Ahoy — Check out Alouise Dittrick’s blog if you’re a theater buff who likes lists and Canadian road trips. Intrigued? You should be.
Suitcase and Heels — Melissa Hogan’s blog is for the fashion-forward, value-conscious traveler. Plus, she’s a web designer and programmer so her site is always beautiful.