How you gonna keep ‘em down on the content farm?Posted by Donna Freedman on Nov 21, 2012 | 77 comments
Recently a commenter left this message:
“Donna, is it possible for you to write more thoughtful posts instead? All you are doing is writing simple posts on ways to try to make you money and giveaways.
“That’s nice and all, but the writing quality is really low. There’s not much insight or value added.”
My first response was, “Feel free to skip the stuff that doesn’t work for you.”
OK, that’s a lie. My first, visceral response was, “Feel free to kiss my ass! Even when I’m doing a quick-and-dirty piece the writing quality is higher than you’ll find just about anywhere else on the Internet.”***
My second response? She’s right. And I know it. Not about the low-quality part, but about the fact that I haven’t been doing enough substantive writing lately. That’s because the work-life balance continues to elude me.
Specifically: How do you balance work and life once you’ve gotten a glimpse of what life could be like if it didn’t have so much work in it?
I’ve spent years staggering from deadline to deadline, often working until late at night and always working on weekends. My “flexible” schedule was flexible only in that I could steal a day here and there. But the tasks I put off didn’t disappear – they simply got tacked onto future workdays, which is why I’d be in front of the computer until midnight or 1 a.m. four or five times a week.
I didn’t have balance then and I don’t have it now, and it’s really starting to bug me. Since moving to Alaska last month I’ve gotten that glimpse of what life could be like if I shut off the computer at 6 p.m. I’ve been able to spend a few evenings with friends or family instead of with the Internet.
This has given me a taste for a semi-normal schedule. I find I no longer want to spend my evenings staring at a computer screen. I want to have dinner with a friend, go to a play, hang out with my niece and her boys, and share pretzels and trash talk with my hostess while watching “Mythbusters.”
How you gonna keep them down on the content farm after they’ve had nights off?
Duty calls (as do creditors)
My day job, writing MSN Money’s Frugal Nation site, takes a lot more out of me than I could admit until, well, right now. It’s not the writing that’s tough – it’s the idea generation. Since late February I’ve had to come up with five ideas a week that my boss likes.
I can’t write about my cat (even if I had one), my net worth progress or my rapid debt repayment plan/house fund/early retirement goals. I can’t slap up a “Hey, what’re your plans for the weekend?” post on Fridays or riff endlessly on car repairs/insurance premiums/payroll taxes. Each piece has to have a very specific money-saving point or be an essay about the ways we look at money – and, as noted, each idea must be approved by an editor.
The boss is swell, by the way. I’ve had tremendous luck with editors at MSN Money. But the site is no place for cat blogging, daily deals, product reviews or press releases run as articles (which I’ve seen elsewhere in the PF blogosphere). And since Frugal Nation is a “personality-driven” site (i.e., I’m it), there are no days off.
By the end of the week I’m wiped out, too brain-dead to do much more than housekeeping chores:
- Clearing out press releases (which do occasionally suggest topics/trends for me to research)
- Reading news sites and blogs to keep current with what’s going on out there
- Trying to come up with more post ideas
- Searching for pertinent video and article links for the next post (five and at least three, respectively)
Sometimes I do write Monday’s piece on Friday. Sometimes I merely outline it. At least half the time I am too burned-out to do either one. By Saturday evening I’m twitching about the Monday post and/or the fact that I have only a couple of topics left before I’m out of ammo again. Then I spend part of Sunday writing for Monday or reading the Internet in search of new topics.
Thus my days off don’t feel like days off, and haven’t for years. But I’ve never missed a deadline, even when I was having an organ removed.
The time crunch is particularly acute when other deadlines are lurking. Here’s what I’ve done in the past 10 weeks, in addition to the regular daily deadline:
- Traveled to Denver to present a program at the Financial Blogger Conference.
- De-cluttered my apartment, then packed what was left into a U-Haul truck.
- Drove from Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska.
- Wrote articles for Woman’s Day (three), H&R Block’s blog (two), Wise Bread, the Valpak blog and the Anchorage Daily News (two theater reviews).
For my own site during that time period? Just 18 articles, nine of which were giveaway posts. Sigh.
Understand: I love writing, especially writing that helps others. Getting an e-mail that says “I’m out of debt because of you” or “I’m back in school because of you” is so gratifying. And those extra assignments are valuable in terms of both income and exposure, i.e., the more places I appear the more people I can reach.
This all sounds like quarreling with blessings once more. Yet I can’t keep discounting the physical and mental toll of the additional gigs. Rather than demanding more and more of myself, I should be picking my spots. But once you’re in motion you tend to stay in motion. You’re afraid to slow down, afraid to stop, afraid to lose momentum.
(I did turn down an opportunity this morning: the chance to write a long piece – on a short deadline – for All You magazine. However, I did leave the door open for future work. The editor and I are having lunch next month when I visit my dad for the holidays.)
Try a little irony
I expect that anyone would be overwhelmed under these circumstances, especially if she were a menopausally fatigued, daylight-deprived, about-to-turn-55 woman who’s been on a dead run for decades.
Things would be different if I were in my 20s or 30s, trying to break into journalism or blogging. But I’ve done those things – and therein lies an additional rub. Being in my mid-50s means I’ve experienced a variety of life’s stages and struggles, letting me share knowledge and perspective that were sometimes hard-won and thus really worth sharing.
Yet just when I’m getting a ton of visitors to this site thanks to the work I’m doing elsewhere, I’m too tired or otherwise disinclined to post. As the Cryptkeeper would say: Try a little irony. It’s good for the blood.
I used to be able to just keep going. But now I not only can’t, I don’t want to — I want to hit a movie with my roommate, or go cross-country skiing (assuming I make the time to learn how). I want to read other people’s sites for fun, not because I’m looking for springboard-worthy ideas for MSN Money.
For fun AND profit
Yet I also want to keep this site alive. It’s important to me to have a personal voice out there along with the PF-oriented stuff.
My answer to the comment was to check out “Popular Posts” and/or some of the topics in the tag cloud to find more substantive writing. If you’re a relative newcomer to this site, I hope you’ll do the same.
And if you’ve been kind enough to follow along with me all this time? I hope you’ll keep checking the landing page as I try to balance my desire to write for fun with the necessity of writing to pay the bills.
Don’t expect to see the weekly contests disappear, though. I love giving shit away.
***It’s taken me a long time to be able to say “Yes, I am a good writer.” Better late than really late.