What I Learned Doing 31 Days

I have to say: I enjoyed not blogging the last few days. Writing 31 Days of Birthdays was both enjoyable and backbreaking. I'm happy I did it; I've wanted to share my birthday party stories for years. And if I'm honest, I'm proud I did it. I told some friends last week it felt like finishing a 5K (or what I imagine it would feel like to finish a 5K): it took discipline, sweat and hard work, and I'm slightly in awe that I made it across the finish line in one piece. It's thrilling just to end upright.

But I will also say: It was tiring. And narrowing. I learned a lot. A few notables for people who might consider joining in The Nester's 31 Days series next time:

1. Pick a topic that excites you.
As I mentioned in my introductory post, I thought about blogging 31 Days of Birthdays for two years before I officially jumped in. Part of that is due to my ENFP I-hate-to-make-decisions, let's-consider-yet-another-option personality. But it's also because I've learned it's wise for me to think deeply before I commit to something so consuming. In my 20s, I had a tendency to commit to everything and finish very little. (Hashtag ENFP.) I don't do that as much now, because I hate-despise-shudder when I can't follow-through. So taking two years to really mull over 31 Days of Birthdays - do I have 31 days of material? do I really want to write about one topic for an entire month? how would I blog daily even while solo parenting four kids? - helped me mentally prepare for the task ahead. That prep time was invaluable to me. It built a foundation of confidence and determination that I needed to persevere.

2. Plan ahead.
I know not everyone is a planner, but I really think this is makes the difference between a good 31 Day series and a great one. Don't pick a topic and then wing it. Don't hope inspiration will strike you afresh every day. Don't just plan a few posts and then assume the rest will come. If you've truly picked a topic you're passionate about, you should be able to sketch out 31 post ideas before October even begins. I like visuals, so I drew up a schedule on a calendar page, so I could better organize and see at a glance what was coming up.

3. Start strong and schedule wisely.
Because I had a topic that excited me and because I planned ahead, I was able to prioritize my favorite posts. I wanted several of them to come that very first week, when the 31 Days link-ups over Nester's place were most active. Good first impression and all that. I also made sure my best posts didn't fall on the weekends, when we all tend to walk away from the computer. If I had a birthday party I really wanted to share, I scheduled it for a time when I know most of us are available and reading.

4. Solicit guest posts to fill in when you know your own calendar will be full.
When I made my 31 Days schedule, I immediately noticed the third week of October was going to be crazy for me. Not only did Connor's birthday come in the middle of the week, but the kids had fall break immediately afterwards and I had already committed to conferences, a field trip and various church activities. So my first task, after writing my introductory post, was to ask several blogging friends if they wanted to write a guest offering. When they graciously agreed, I scheduled them for the week when I knew I'd be most distracted. It was a huge blessing (overused word, but it's the best one in this case) to have those guests posts waiting in the wings when my life was swirling and my mental capacities were taxed.

And then there were the introspective lessons:

5. Defined topics are easier to write about than nebulous ones.
Writing about a defined, concrete topic like birthday parties was incredibly fun for me. A revelation. And easy, oy. So much easier than writing about feelings and thoughts and opinions. Writing 31 Days, I remembered why I enjoyed writing news for a living: facts, facts and more facts with a literary twist. Deadlines are hard and fast. Write, edit, then move on. No time to fuss. No pensive naval-gazing. Just the basic information. And gosh, that style of writing is my sweet spot.

Does it mean I should do more of that, if I primarily blog for fun? Probably. Does it mean I should avoid writing that causes me to struggle and strain and get frustrated because I can't seem to make the words do what I want them to do? Probably not. I think we need both styles of writing in this world: informational and inspirational. My favorite writers do both, in varying degrees. The thing I need to discover is where I fit in that spectrum. (See: the writer's holy grail, aka finding one's voice.)

5. Writing daily for my own blog eats up all my free time.
This might have been the most surprising thing I learned during my 31 Day series. I'm at a stage of life where free time is a precious commodity. I have four kids, I solo parent a lot. The only me time I get is after all my kids are tucked into bed and asleep, which is well after 10:00 most nights. I might then secret away for an hour and read blogs or watch Netflix or listen to a podcast while I fold laundry. But all that becomes luxury if I've committed to write a blog post every day, because that precious hour of free time is eaten up with writing. I was OK with it in October, because I was committed to 31 Days as a discipline. I wanted the focus, I accepted the limitations.

But I missed my other interests, especially reading and commenting on other blogs. I was depressed to have to spend all my time producing content and none consuming it. I missed that I no longer had the space to read what my friends were writing, to hear what they were learning and thinking. I was disheartened that I didn't have the time to reciprocate attention to bloggers who faithfully cheered me along the way. This community, this camaraderie, it's one of my favorite aspects of blogging. I can't enjoy the blogging life and produce content every day, at least not right now, at this stage of life. Which is why I will now return to my normal schedule of posting 2-3 times a week.

You're welcome. And thank you. Truly. Thank you.

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