The Best Moment, PHX Version

I love an ah-ha moment — it’s one of the main reasons I like attending and organizing events. Conferences are (hopefully) full of those moments during the day, the times that you perked up, laughed, understood something clearly, got a fantastic new idea, or really connected with someone.

I had a number of those moments at Press Publish Phoenix on Saturday. The one that sticks in my mind was when I was listening to Katherine Fritz speak in the opening session, and she said something about how her blog made her feel less alone. I empathized strongly and found myself nodding my head, and happened to see another attendee nodding too. Our eyes met as we nodded, and there was this great moment when we were connected, listening to a speaker talk about connection online… and it was really great. I even choked up just a little — because I am a big softie, in case you did not know — thinking about how blogging helped me feel less alone too, and how connected I felt right at that second with the person on stage and the people in the audience too.

What was your favorite moment at Press Publish Phoenix? Share it with us in the comments!

Phoenix Writing Clinic: What to Expect

As a story wrangler on the editorial team at Automattic, I read a lot of writing published on, discover new blogs and bloggers every day, and am always looking for great posts to feature on Freshly Pressed, The Daily Post, Hot Off the Press, Longreads, and our new, soon-to-launch destination site called Discover.

At Press Publish Phoenix, I’ll be leading a one-hour session called Writing 201: Clinic, where I’ll talk a bit about what makes a great post and what catches my eye, and then open up the discussion to conference attendees who have specific questions about their writing or would like feedback on a particular piece, whether previously published or not.

The bulk of this session focuses on sharing storytelling and self-editing tips and offering peer-to-peer feedback with one another, pulling from our own writing experiences as well as the ideas and techniques from our Writing 201: Finding Your Story workshop-style course on Blogging U. If you’re interested in attending this workshop, you’ll benefit the most if you come to the session with a draft in hand or in your dashboard — but please note that this isn’t mandatory, and all are free to attend, listen, and ask questions.

For those looking for concrete feedback, you’re welcome to share a piece of writing in advance and drop a post URL below in the comments section now. I’ll select a few examples that we can talk about together as a group. I’ll also have a piece or two on hand to discuss if the group is more interested in observing and talking about other examples of writing.

Looking forward to meeting you and chatting about writing!

Perfectionism and Blogging

Perfectionism is a tricky flaw to have. It makes me want to do everything perfectly – and doing a thorough and awesome job at something can bring on the accolades, which in turn makes me want to be just as perfectionistic the next time.

But striving for perfection is stressful. And sometimes it stops me from doing anything at all.

Take my blog, for example. After not even having a blog for many years – especially embarrassing considering my profession, first as a web designer building custom WordPress sites and later as a WordPress Happiness Engineer – I finally launched one in late 2013. But I’ve only published 26 posts since then! I want each entry to be special and memorable, whether it’s a gallery of images I’ve taken, a story I tell, or an experience I’ve had.

Other bloggers I follow talk about their kids, or their cats, or even stuff they found in the garbage. Why can’t I lower my standards and blog more, even if it’s not going to be the ultimate, perfect post?

Are you a perfectionist? Has perfectionism ever stopped you from blogging? Has it affected you in other ways?

Speaker Spotlight: Katherine Fritz

Katherine Fritz
Katherine Fritz

If we had high school yearbook-style titles for our featured blogger speakers, Katherine Fritz’s would be Most Likely To Succeed At Starting A Blog On A Whim To Tell A Story That Was Too Long For Facebook And Then Go Viral About A Month Later. It’s a coveted category, and Katherine pretty much owns it. She might have invented it, in fact. I’m 95% certain she created the Satirical Feminist Fashion Blog genre when she started ladypockets.

Stay on-trend with Ginsberg, Steinem, and Goodall by reading
Stay on-trend with Ginsberg, Steinem, and Goodall by reading

When asked in third grade what she wanted to be when she grew up, Katherine answered “a movie star or someone who puts the makeup on them.” Almost at the same time that she discovered she was (in her words) “a lousy actor,” Katherine also learned she was pretty great at costume design. When she graduated college with a double major in English and Theater, she received one of six internships with the Arden Theater Company, and went on to become an award-winning costume designer who lives and works in Philadelphia. Katherine is the only non-actor member of the Philadelphia Artists Collective, and she’s also worked as a guest lecturer at Temple University and an autism outreach instructor through Theatre Horizon. Somehow, in her completely-not-very-much-free-time, she also mentors high school and college costume designers.

Since Katherine inadvertently became a very popular blogger, her words have been published by the Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, and MTV Style. The New York Times also published a small piece of her writing as part of their “First Crush” series. She also finally told her mother about her blog.

Katherine will be flying in to Phoenix from Philly this week to speak at Press Publish on April 18. Her talk Also, My Blog Made Me Happy will include her love story with blogging and the blogging community. In the meantime, you can learn more about Katherine by reading the interview below:

Katherine FritzQ. What made you start blogging on I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read This Blog?

A. I wish I had a really impressive-sounding answer to that question — that I carefully thought about it and started a blog because I wanted to experience the world in a new way, or that I had a deep need to tell a certain story, or that I wanted to challenge myself as a writer and a creator. The truth is that I got really drunk, accidentally dyed my hair orange, and wanted to share the story with my friends… except it was too long to fit on Facebook, so I started a blog. In my kitchen, nursing a massive hangover, entirely on a whim. I still can’t believe that something that I thought about so little managed to completely change my life in such a significant way.

Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?

A. Because I love it! Because there’s this deep place inside of me that just wants to experience and understand and process the world around me, and I love using this platform to start a conversation about the things in my life that I am experiencing. We’re also constantly evolving, us human beings, and I love having the freedom to experiment with format — to ask some tough questions or to talk about social justice, but also to share goofy doodles I’ve drawn, to try to make someone laugh, to trying my hand at satire.

Q. What are a few of your favorite posts, and why?

A. I have a few favorites! I feel proud of my work on “Race Ya,” an extremely popular and occasionally polarizing piece I wrote in response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri. I have this secret soft spot for a post called “I’ve Lost My Red Umbrella” — I was experimenting with form, and it’s really a simple little explanation of loss, but communicated entirely though pictures and metaphor. My all-time favorite has not been my most popular, but it’s the one that speaks to a very important part of me — a post I wrote called “For Reuben,” about the death of my friend Reuben Mitchell.

I just realized all of my favorite pieces aren’t the funny ones, which is interesting because those are my favorites to write, so let me include my first “Inner Monologues of the Urban Outfitters Models” post. I’m not usually so dopey as to admit that I crack myself up, but when I invented Mr. Chicken … it still makes me giggle. And obviously, Ladypockets is an entire category onto itself … Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still my favorite.

Q. Tell us a bit about your writing process: do you keep to a set routine? Do you edit a lot or not at all? Do you have trouble finding time to blog?

Katherine Fritz having a great time blogging.A. I’ve been experimenting with this for awhile, to be honest. At one point, I set myself to a strict “once-a-week at minimum” schedule, and I found that the quality of my writing diminishing when I was just trying to meet an artificial deadline. I really prefer sitting down to write because I have a point to make or a story to share. A friend recently told me that she stops everything when she sees my latest post in her email because she knows that if I’m posting something, it’ll be worth it — it was such a huge compliment, although frankly I think it’s gotten inside my head somewhat. I mean, that is a lot to live up to!

I try to edit as I go, and I revise constantly. Inevitably, I catch two typos in the moments immediately after I press ‘publish’ … the worst!

I do sometimes find it difficult to find time to blog — my other life as a costume designer and a teaching artist is extremely busy, and those are both jobs which require my full focus to be in the room with other people. On the other hand, I find that those parts of my life feed into my blog completely — there’s so much rich material to draw from.

Q. How have readers responded to your writing?

A. I’m so fortunate in that most of my responses have been extremely, extraordinarily positive. So many women on the internet are not so fortunate, and I feel really lucky that I’ve never dealt with anything that comes close to a legitimate threat. Some of my readers are truly incredible people, and I’ve loved getting to feel like I know them intimately through the comments they leave on my blog. Every now and again, I can feel my ego getting a bit puffed up with all the love and admiration that is thrown my way, and it’s really useful sometimes to take all of that in, to smile and be grateful, and then let it all go and get back to work.

Q. Why did you choose to blog with WordPress?

A. On the advice of my friend Zach! He’s extremely funny and no longer has a blog, but it was hilarious while it lasted. I trust him with most things, and he definitely didn’t steer me wrong here.

Q. If you could go back to when you were getting started blogging and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

A. Does it have to be just one? Because I can’t really pick between all of these: Relax. Breathe. Calm down. Enjoy the compliments and the attention, but don’t let it get to your head. Let go of your expectations. Trust yourself. Write. Write. Keep writing.

My Small World Story

Sometimes when you’re blogging it can feel like you’re talking into space. Not every post has lots of people interacting with it and, when you do have interactions, so often they are people that you’ve never met in real life. For some people this can be a very liberating medium to work in, but for others it can feel a little like broadcasting to no one.

But it’s not always like that.

Many years ago, when my mother and I were both blogging regularly, we had a subscriber in common. She found my mother’s blog first and began to follow mine as well, striking up interesting conversations in the comments as we discussed the ins and outs of our daily lives. Then one day she told us that she lived in New Zealand. My aunt lives in New Zealand and so my mother replied with the usual exclamation expecting the usual response:

“My sister lives in New Zealand!”
“New Zealand is a big place. I’m afraid I don’t know her.”

Except that’s not what happened. It turns out that my aunt had been her teacher while she was working on her graduate degree at the local university. We have since met her in person and keep in touch to this day (thanks to the wonders of social media), but there is a surreal “what are the odds” sort of quality to the whole situation.

Have you ever started a conversation with one of your subscribers only to discover later that you had friends in common? Or better yet, have you ever thought you knew someone based on their blog and later found out you were right?

Come to the Writing Clinic in Portland and Get Some Feedback!

Mark and MikeLongreads founder Mark Armstrong and I will be leading a one-hour writer’s workshop where we’ll be giving some tips and constructive criticism on how to improve your writing.

The two of us have spent several years editing writers with a wide range of experience, and here’s your chance to get some one-on-one time with us. Having a second pair of eyes on your work will help you become a better writer. No writer is perfect — the majority of your favorite writers have editors who make sure their copy is clean and that their work is structurally and narratively strong. We’ll do the same for you by looking at grammar, tone, style, introductions and endings, and how to write concisely and avoid meandering.

If you’re interested in attending this workshop, you’ll benefit the most by preparing some writing for us to look over and critique. Have a specific blog post ready for us to look at, or better yet, drop a post URL below in the comments section now so we can prepare some critiques in advance. We’ll also have a piece or two on hand to go over as examples if you’re more interested in observing.

Either way, we’re looking forward to seeing you and your work!

Get Happy, Get Swag

Oh, Portland. Do we have some great stuff in store for you this weekend! “Yeah Andrea,” you say, “we already know all about the great speakers and sessions on the schedule. What more could we possibly need?”

Two Happiness Engineers at a desk
photo credit: Marketing Melodie

Why the Happiness Lounge, of course! 🙂 At Press Publish Portland on March 28, one great big room will be staffed all day by real, live Happiness Engineers, ready and waiting to help you, personally, get the most out of your WordPress site. Bring in your questions, doubts, and idle musings about using WordPress, and get advice from people who help people with WordPress as their full-time job.

Got a problem with your sidebar, footer, or donate button? Trying to figure out how to get your blog to do that thing other people’s blogs do? Need advice on Jetpack, Polldaddy, VaultPress, themes, or plugins? They can help you with all that and more!

mugwpNeed a new t-shirt, water bottle, battery pack, coffee mug, or sweatshirt to help you show off how much you love WordPress? We’ll have a swag store, too, where you can buy WordPress apparel for kids and adults. Need a new Gravatar? We’ll have people with some great cameras on hand to shoot a spiffy new picture of you!

And if all you crave is a little quiet time to relax, charge up your phone, and maybe have a cup of coffee with your fellow bloggers, the Happiness Lounge will have a charging station and plenty of space to gather, chat, and rest.

We can’t wait to see all you Press Publish Portland attendees this Friday and Saturday!

Who Inspires You?

When I started blogging at Wine Scamp, I had a number of topics in mind. I wanted to write about wines I was drinking, to encourage people to become their own wine authority, and to post about wineries I found interesting. But once I had written about most of those things (a couple times), I hit a bit of a wall. I was a little bored with my topics, I wasn’t getting many readers, and I couldn’t think of interesting new material. Argh!

I’m very glad that I didn’t just throw up my hands and quit blogging at that point. (Lots of people do.) Instead, I did a quick search for “wine blog” and started reading other people’s stuff. I commented on the articles I found interesting or funny. Sometimes a comment conversation would inspire me to write a post. The bloggers whose work I had commented on visited my blog and commented on my posts, too. I’d even make notes about types of articles that didn’t really engage me, and resolve to write about those subjects differently, or not at all.

The more I read other people’s work (like Vinography and Good Wine Under $20, for example), the more ideas I had percolating in my head. And the more I interacted on other people’s sites, the more visitors I had at my blog. I even started to make friends with other wine bloggers, which definitely made blogging more fun.

I don’t blog about wine as regularly as I used to, but reading other people’s work continues to inspire me. Reading the blogs by our fantastic Press Publish speakers (both Portland and Phoenix) has definitely inspired me to post more often on my personal (mostly photo) blog!

What bloggers do you read regularly? What sites inspire you to blog more?


On Blog Comments

Comments from readers are some of the most gratifying parts of blogging. Someone’s reading! Someone felt compelled to send a note!

Even more gratifying is when a lurker de-lurks and identifies him or herself. Those are times when I’ve re-read my post to see what on earth it was about THAT post that got someone to shed their anonymity, and introduce themselves.

It is very much like inviting guests into your home, and making a connection. And sometimes, making very good friends as they return repeatedly for your hospitality, and you in turn, invite them to return for their good grace.

So how do we make our home and blog inviting? And what it is that keeps people returning?

I’ve found that it’s about making your blog safe–and curating the comments, should people disagree and escalate disagreement into barbs. It’s starting a dialogue in your own post, and then facilitating the comments. It’s acknowledging their comments. Saying thank you. Common courtesies, even if you disagree, even if the commenter has hurt your feelings.

Chances are that if people have come around to write something on your blog post, their intentions are good. I’ve found (and maybe I’m wrong) that people tend to be more courteous on personal blogs than on larger sites, for instance

Do you enjoy your comments? What is the best comment you’ve ever had on your blog? What have you done to welcome comments?

Suggest questions for Portland’s Blog to Book panel

Do you ever dream of publishing a book? If so, you’re not alone — getting published is a dream shared by a lot of bloggers (including me!). So I’m especially jazzed to be moderating the From Blog to Book panel discussion planned for Press Publish Portland, considering how many of our featured bloggers either have already published books or have books coming out this year.

Jerry Mahoney, ready to sign his book
Here’s Jerry Mahoney, signing his book Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad.

Mary Laura Philpott, Cecilia Gunther, Jerry Mahoney, Christine Lee, and Ananda Leeke will join me on stage in Portland on Saturday, March 28 to talk about how each of them came to publish a book (or books) and how blogging influenced their journey to publication. From self-publishing to multiple book deals with major publishing labels, these bloggers will share about a lot of the ways books are born in this new age of print media.

I know I’m dying to ask these folks a bunch of things, but I want to know what you’re curious about, too! If you would like to suggest questions for the panel, please leave them in the comments — note that we won’t answer them here, we’ll save it for the panel discussion at the Portland event.

By the way, if you’re in or near Portland, tickets are still available for Press Publish, and they come with a Premium upgrade or VaultPress Backup Bundle — a $99 value!

Get your ticket!

And don’t forget to RSVP for the free Longreads Story Mixer on March 27, so we can make sure to have enough snacks and libations for everyone.

RSVP for the free mixer!

We can’t wait to see you soon at Press Publish!