BlogHer '12: A Totally Meta Recap

I could have titled this post, Karen Went to BlogHer and All She Got Was Some Creative and Possibly Existential Angst, but a) that wouldn’t be entirely accurate, and b) if I learn nothing else from social media conferences, it’s that SEO seems to be really important, and there is exactly none in that title.

I went to my second BlogHer – it would have been my third but I had to ditch on San Diego at the last minute because we decided to move to the country on a whim that month – and it was very different from my first BlogHer experience in 2010. I knew it would be, of course – same city, same hotel, but that’s about all that’s remained the same since 2010. I have changed, and blogging has changed. And BlogHer has changed.

In 2010, I was a Voice of the Year keynote speaker – pretty amazing, and pretty insane for my first BlogHer experience. I was 100% completely dedicated to the conference – to being on that stage, to attending the sessions, to wringing every last ounce of bloggy goodness I could out of the experience. I barely noticed I was in New York City, and I came home inspired, motivated and enriched as a blogger.

Two years later, and I am not that same blogger. And BlogHer was not that same conference for me.

In the past two years, my writing life has changed. I have given up my full-time copywriting job to be a freelance writer and to finally write a novel. We moved to a small town partly so that I could do this. I am dedicated to this pursuit, and work at it everyday. To the detriment of my blogging.

Or perhaps my blogging is to the detriment of writing.

BlogHer was supposed to help me re-establish my passion for blogging, or at least, to help me reconnect with it. In one way, it did – I am completely nourished by the social density of BlogHer.

Many will complain that BlogHer was too big this year, and logistically, I suppose that argument could be made: I didn’t make it in to several sessions I wanted to because of capacity crowds; line-jumpers at the Martha Stewart lunch set off my heated sense of injustice and Canadian do-goodism; the literal heaving of the dance floor at Sparklecorn had me moving into slight panic-attack territory when I thought the whole place was going to fall crashing to the second story below it. But otherwise, I am ok with crowds, and more people at the conference meant more people to meet, more friends to see again or for the first time.
I am a people person, so the volume of people was not an issue for me.

But while it was easy to find friends and meet new ones, it was decidedly more difficult to find sessions that I wanted to attend. Crossing one session after another off the list, I was confronted again and again by the feelings that have been brewing for the past two years: I am at a blogging stalemate.

I’ve been blogging since the end of 2005. I’m a veteran, but I have never moved into celebloggger status, happy to bob along in my anti-A-type way. I know a lot of people because I’ve been doing this a long time, but I have never aspired to any sort of status as a blogger beyond being known as a decent writer.

I don’t want to win the internet. I want to win a Pulitzer.

To that end, I am a writer. Is blogging writing? That is a question for another post, but going to BlogHer, I was looking for something to help me enrich my writing, not just my blogging stats. The first session I attended was Blogging for the Love of It, which is all I’m doing, seeing as I am totally non-compliant with SEO rules in my personal writing, I have no ads on my blog and have never thought of myself as a brand (barf).

But is blogging for the love of it enough?

I used to say that I started my blog because I wanted my own personal editorial column in my own personal magazine. I do let bare my soul in this space, but I measure my words carefully, for effect and intent. I have had positive feedback and many opportunities have been born out of blogging.

I have been told many times that I am a good writer, and I have loved it, believed it.
(I don’t have to make the disclaimer that all bloggers are narcissists, do I?)

And then, earlier this summer, I attended an intensive writing workshop with some of Canada’s best and most accomplished authors, and some of Canada’s best and most promising young writers. And I had to rethink everything I thought I knew about myself as a writer.

I learned that I needed to murder my darlings; that I needed to put every word on trial as if for its life and that I desperately needed to invest in the economy of language. In order to be a successful writer, which is all I really want, I need to basically stop doing everything that blogging allows, encourages and rewards me for doing.

Try writing a blog post with no adjectives. It’s bloody hard.

Yes, blogging exercises the writing muscles, and even my mentor at the workshop told me not to stop, that all writing is good, but all writing will not lead me where I ultimately want to be.

Blogging is completely self-indulgent. We do not need to edit, we do not need to carefully control our language, we do not need to agonize over each word in order for it to be ‘good enough.’ We receive praise, heaps of praise, because we relate and do not critique. We encourage and support and that is important, that is so unbelievably important for therapy and for community and for our heart and for our soul.

But is it good for writing? For my own writing and my own writing goals?

I was desperate for sessions that helped me deal with my meta angst and looked for them among the plethora of choices. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find the session entitled, Why Am I Still Doing This? but I’ll suggest it for 2013.

I ended the conference with the #Blog2012 session, which was about as close as one could come to answering such a question.

In the end, I enjoyed BlogHer ’12 immensely. Felt privileged, even as a Canadian, to be addressed by President Obama; enjoyed unapologetic Martha; was part of the collective uncomfortable cringe when Malaak Compton-Rock froze onstage; met and reconnected with seriously amazing women.

Was that enough? I’m not sure. Tickets go on sale for BlogHer ’13 in a month’s time. I’ll see what I’ve figured out by then.



  1. I have not been able to make sense of it all yet but I can say that I enjoyed seeing you again.

  2. I'm not a writer, but I think the most valuable part of blogging for an aspiring author is to build your platform (either to attract a publisher or to self pub). To hone your writing? Not so much.

    And you know I'm pretty cynical about blogging conferences these days! :)


  3. This is the perfect wrap-up, really. I'm a messy writer, a worse blogger, and I don't think I actually care any more. What I do know is that I connected with some great people, got to see you (even if just in passing), and realized that I'm really ok with where/who I am.

  4. I hear ya, Karen. I think I shut down my blog recently bc frankly it was getting in the way of my "real" writing, the writing I was inspired to continue with at that same great course you took. There are no Pulitzers for bloggers. For a reason! But if you can do 'em both and enjoy the process, then more power to you. Okay, back to the page...

  5. This is excellent. I left with a lot of muddy feelings swamping around in my head about writing vs blogging and what the hell my goals are. I don't have any answers. Yet?

  6. I sometimes feel like an old school new blogger. I started it to connect with people about things that I love. To make friends, both locally and from afar. To find people who will get the quirky references. To improve mt writing and learn to photograph well.

    I don't have advertising and I don't do sponsored posts. I don't begrudge those who do - many need to earn a living doing this. I do have some freelance writing gigs though.

    I have been to one conference - Alt Design Summit. It's small (500) and intimate and I felt like I had found my tribe. No expo hall. Swag but nothing major or tacky. Made some great friends.

    I specifically didn't go to BlogHer because it's too large for me. I'm not a big party person (extroverted introvert!) and I have no desire to drive a loaner car and blog about it. It just seems overwhelming. I think I'd hide out in my room!

    I do think about branding in so much that if I am consistent then I am more likely to find friends and likeminded people.

    I also enjoy how my bloggy friends inspire me through their work to write and photograph better.

    You just have to be clear about why you are blogging.

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  8. This is an interesting post to me. I enjoyed BlogHer this year, but more for the overall experience. Some of the sessions were good, but I left feeling like something was missing. Something, I finally realized, that was never even on offer.

    I think that will be the last BlogHer for me. If I am going to invest time and money moving forward I also want it to be spent on my writing not my blogging. I have a first draft of a novel and I have to figure out what to do with it now.

    I look forward to reading your book Karen. I know it will be fabulous.

  9. Thank for this, it gives me much to think about.....I have so much to learn. I've only been to one blogging conference and it's taken me almost a full year to process and work through the aftermath! I know nothing about SEO or how to create an SEO-savvy post....and that's apparent in the fact that my audience is made of supportive friends and family - I'm okay with that....I want to flex my writing mind and make connections. I hope I can continue to move in that direction.

  10. How much do I love that you have an SEO spam comment in here? Soooo much. x

  11. I'm sorry you missed our blogging for business pathfinder workshop. Ironically, our big headline was "SEO is dead. Great, meaningful content is what matters."

    I'm also a little sad you feel that the bloggers you read don't inspire your writing. Personally, I read Kate Ingliss, and Alice Bradley, and Eden Kennedy and Doug French and I think holy moly...them's some writing chops. I can't imagine that they don't sweat every word, every active verb (ha).

    Maybe it's okay to have different writers you enjoy for different reasons? Both Stephen King and Harper Lee have a place in my heart.

    Good luck finding what you think you need.

  12. @mom101 - I agree that everybody you named is an amazing writer, and there are many others. They constantly amaze me, keep me coming back and yes, inspire me. I just don't know if the writing that I am doing inspires me anymore. Therein lies the rub.

  13. I'm not sure either - that angst thing runs deep through me. I like what I do, it's enough, but is it a reason to hang out at a conference? On the other hand, there are all the people!

  14. For what it's worth, your writing inspires me. And that's what I love about blogging - knowing someone and then having the joy of reading their writing.

    But you will know what the next steps are and what you need.

  15. I ask myself why I'm doing this every month when my hosting bill comes. Especially this year, when my life got mushed up and I have written less than ever in more than ten years of blogging.

    I think I don't quit because of the other people it's brought into my life, and I keep hoping there are more of those. Though I might push myself writing-wise in a text post, I'm also filling August with pictures, just to feel less pressure to work hard at it. And I have a novel lying fallow right now, although my fingers are crossed that blogging isn't what's put it there.

  16. I'm a non-blogger, non-writer totally inspired by you. Knowing you are working hard at writing even though you're far away and even though life gets in the way makes me want to do things well. It is a connection point. I don't have to relate to your blog content because I can relate to you and your life. Reading this blog reminds me we are whole and complex beings. I feel lucky to have access to a great writer (get my dose) while waiting for the book. your blog is totally worth it. Do I have to make the disclaimer that I am selfish?

  17. Really nice post, Karen. I think this is something all writers struggle with. I know I do. I hope you keep writing, because I really love posts like this. And I look forward to your book, because I know it will be great. Even if it's adjective-free.

  18. We're lob the same wavelength in some respects. Blogging was once good for my writing, but is it still?

    I'm glad I got to even briefly say hello to you at BlogHer '12, and, selfishly, I want you to stay in the community. You're one of the few with a healthy respect for language and good writing, and we need that here.

    1. Excuse the errors in that comment brought on by iPhone thumb-typing.

  19. Love this post. I often ask myself the same question, "is blogging the same as writing?" I thought of attending the writing session at Blogher12, but hit up another one instead. I'll have to make that a priority for next time. Thanks for comparing the 2 conferences that you attended. I find it very helpful to know. Blogher did seem huge, but that's ok. Like you, I don't have an issue with large crowds. I would like to attend again in the future. But, I think the next blog conference for me will be a little more intimate. It's always good to change things up a bit. I've heard of a few that I plan on trying.

  20. I love this. And you. And you've got me thinking ...

  21. I would jump at the chance to be in a "why are we still doing this?" session. Brilliant.