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Elan Morgan

Elan Morgan is a blogger, designer and consultant, and speaker who blogs and works from schmutzie.com, spreads gratitude through the graceinsmallthings.com social network, celebrates quality blogging with the canblogawards.com, and speaks all over. She has been seen in the Globe & Mail, Best Health and Woman's Day magazines, TEDxRegina, and on CBC News and Radio. She believes in and works to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.

A Very Happy 12 Years of Blogging to Me, In Which I Answer Your Questions

As of yesterday, which was August 25th, I have been at this blogging thing on this very blog for TWELVE YEARS. 12 years! I started back in ye olden tymes of 2003. That seems impossible, but my automatically generated archives page doesn't lie.

This is me in a cab looking at the wrong part of my phone, which gives me that distant, but pleasantly clueless look.

This is me in a cab looking at the wrong part of my phone, which gives me that distant, but pleasantly clueless look.

For my 12th blogging anniversary, I decided to let you guys tell me what you want to know, so here are a few of your questions and my (hopefully coherent) answers (because I wrote this at three in the morning).


They had blogs 12 years ago?
  —BlueCerealEduc, Blue Cereal Education

Yes, smartypants. I was on a site called Diaryland back then, though. In those days, most of the internet was really ugly, and I had to use HTML to add italics and bolding, and I could only upload these tiny pictures via FTP through my phone company, because anything larger used up bandwidth. It was the equivalent of my father claiming he had to walk uphill both ways to school when he was a kid.

I want to know about your writing process, because I am tempted every year to try for an MFA just to make my words flow like yours.
  —Alexandra Rosas, Good Day, Regular People

I'll just quote myself here from a piece I wrote about a week ago, because I covered exactly this topic:

  1. Write with the intention of writing well. Concentrate on quality while you write. Your first draft doesn't have to be perfect, but continually publishing posts that have poor grammar, poor spelling, and a lack of attention to formatting will alienate readers and distract from your writing's goal.
  2. Edit your writing. It's one thing to throw up an easy blog post, but it's quite another to throw up an easy blog post presented as a one-sentence, 25-line-long block of text that abuses the uses of theirthey're, and there. Editing is where the majority of writing happens, and it will lend your voice clarity and authority. Learn to embrace it, because it will bring readers back to your yard.
  3. Read your writing out loud when you edit. If you stumble over anything while you say it out loud, edit it, even if you love, love, love that line like it were your first born. When you speak your writing out loud, things like clumsy sentence structure and missing or extra words will leap out better than when you do a visual scan of your words alone. 

Write it. Speak it. Edit it. Be awesome.

Of course, there is a lot more than that to writing a piece, but this is what takes my writing from a gormless mess to something I can publish.

Was there ever a moment when you sat down in front of the computer, clicked in to your blog, and thought "Holy crap"? If so, what was that about?
  —Jocelyn Pihlaja, O Mighty Crisis

All the time. I felt that every time I posted anything for the first two or three years I was blogging, and I continue to feel that whenever I post anything I think is either funny or serious in a vulnerable kind of way, which is several times a month since 2006.

The internal psychological warfare that goes on just to press publish is fairly ridiculous. It's incurable, at least in my case, but I wouldn't cure it if I could, because I have found that the "holy crap" thought is often a sign of good work. It's that shot of adrenalin that tells you something important is afoot. 

Were there any big turning points in the development of your blog? Either in terms of your perception of what you were creating or in terms of creative direction.
  —Ingrid Froehlich, ingridf on Flickr

I don't think I really understood the depth and meaningfulness of online community until I was diagnosed with cervical cancer over two-and-a-half years into blogging. I wrote about my experience with that a lot over several months in 2006 and 2007, and the kindness of the people in my computer was incredible. People sent me gifts and care packages to remind me that I was strong and that they were with me. They wrote me emails and checked in with me. The strength I drew from people all over the world carried me through a lot of dark days.

It was then that I knew for certain that what we write matters, even when it's the silly day-to-day stuff, because it was all the writing I did over the previous two-and-a-half years that brought that wonderful community into my life. I wasn't sure I was being heard or seen in any effective way, but in 2006 it became clear that I was, that a lot of us were.

Since then, I have worked to remain mindful about what I write, why I write, and how I write, because this stuff sticks to people's hearts and minds in ways you cannot imagine.

I'm saying goodbye to my readers and followers in less than two weeks as I lost my passion and interest for my niche blog. Have you ever had a blog that you either were no longer passionate about or that just seemed to run its course for you? If so, what did you do with the blog?
  —Nillin Dennison, Derby Frontier

This blog right here is the first one I ever wrote. I did start others, but I realized they were merely subcategories of this one and eventually absorbed them into this space. All of my blogging, save for one blog, exists here in continuous archives dating back to 2003.

The one blog I stopped updating but that still remains online is the Canadian Weblog Awards. I ran the Canadian Weblog Awards for five years, and I loved them dearly, but they required more unpaid man hours than I could continue to justify. It was worth every bit, though, and I'm glad they existed.

What is your line for personal (what you're willing to share online) versus private, and how do you keep the personal interesting? 
  —Melissa Price-Mitchell, hellomelissa.net

I have two lines:

  1. I try not to share another person's story in a way that assumes their perspective or usurps their voice, because I am not an authority on any event and, even if I dislike a person, I can't steal a right from them that I grant to others.
  2. I try to share stories that might be beneficial to others, which means I avoid sharing unhappy or unsavoury things when the only real value is that they are unhappy or unsavoury.

Keeping it interesting can be hard, especially when life is slow or I'm just not in the mood to do it. I find having a couple of themed weekly posts helps to keep me active, which in turn keeps me motivated. The first is Five Star Mixtape, a weekly roundup of community-nominated blog posts, the second is Grace in Small Things, a weekly gratitude list, and the third is 10 Things I Liked Enough to Show You, a usually weekly roundup of non-blog content I liked over the previous week.

What's your funniest blog-related happening so far?
  —August McLaughlin, Girl Boner

I don't know if this is the funniest thing, but it amused me a lot at the time, and it still does when I come across reminders of it. In May 2007, a couple of months before I was scheduled to have a hysterectomy for cervical cancer, Neil Kramer sent me this picture in an email as encouragement.

Be strong like the rooster.

It made me laugh, so I shared it on my blog, and after that people started sending me rooster-related gifts, and even duck-related gifts when they couldn't find roosters. I have a little rubber rooster figurine, a rooster necklace, and a tin wind-up duck wearing a propeller hat, among other things. Finding one of my roosters works on my mood every time. Thanks, Neil!

Why did you start blogging in the first place, and what's surprised you about it?
  —August McLaughlin, Girl Boner

I started blogging for two reasons. The first reason was that I had been too afraid to share any of my writing for 20 years, and I knew I was never going to get better at it if I didn't learn to get over myself. I didn't want to be one of those people who talked about writing as something they used to do.

I also started blogging because Aidan had started blogging almost seven months earlier in 2003, and he got me into reading a few other people's blogs. I think I started out with luvabeans (only her profile on Diaryland remains) and mimismartypants (her present blog lives here).  I recognized that they were doing something new in writing. There was something happening specifically with personal writing online that I had never seen before, and it tasted good.

Blogging also felt safe. Writing online in 2003 didn't feel nearly as public as it does now. People had never heard of the word "blog" before, and almost no one would search you out online to find out if you had one, so it felt like there were maybe a dozen of us writing and reading each other.

What really surprised me is how wrong it turned out I was. I went to my first ever blogging conference in 2008, BlogHer '08, and so many people told me they had been reading my blog for years. Years. I suddenly felt more naked than I ever had in my entire life, but I also felt powerful and empowered. I wasn't taking part in the secret, hidden world I had imagined it to be. I was part of a much larger and not strictly online culture. I had found my people.

What are your favourite posts, and who else do you love to read?
  —Laurie White, Laurie Writes

I make a point of adding my favourite posts from my own blog to this Best Of Schmutzie.com list every month. It's a good cheat sheet for new readers, it lets me show off a bit, and it's a great way to find inspiration for new posts when I'm running dry.

I jump in and out of reading so many blogs that it's hard to keep track of all the ones I check in on, but a few of the ones I keep returning to are:

That's a short list of 10, but after 12 years at this blogging thing, there are tens more I could add.

How do you feel your blogging success has changed you and the way you relate to your audience?
  —Tammie Booth Willis

When I started blogging, almost nobody used their real names, and I quickly settled on Schmutzie. It turned out that this Schmutzie person was a little braver and more outspoken than my offline self, and for a time I felt like I was two distinct people: Elan and her superhero alter ego, Schmutzie. Now I am Schmutzie, who is very much like Elan but stronger and braver and louder. Of course, my legal name is Elan Morgan, but inside I'm Schmutzie.

I know I sound like a crazy person, but I feel good about it.

How does this change the way I relate to my audience? It means that, to the best of my ability, I try to tell the truth at all times, because within that bravery and outspokenness is a strong attachment to ethics and ethical behaviour. It's part of why I let Schmutzie happen, I think.

You've marked some big personal milestones on your blog (moving away from pseudonymous blogging, talking about sexuality and gender identity, alcoholism, for example) - what did you learn, from those revelations, that you wish you'd known earlier? With the benefit of hindsight, is there anything about the process of such public disclosures that you might have handled differently?
  —Catherine Taylor, @cathesaurus

This relates to my answer to the question above. In breaking out of pseudonymous blogging and writing so personally about vulnerable topics, I learned that I had more strength inside than I had previously thought, and I learned that I could use that strength to affect real change in my life.

It was my earlier writing about gender and sexuality, cancer, and depression that gave me the courage to quit drinking, that made me believe I could follow through with it, and I did! I DID IT. I am five years sober this month, and it is truly blogging that made me start down this road to sobriety.

I really don't think there is anything I would handle differently about my public disclosures, looking back. Some people have felt hurt when I disclosed things online before coming to them, and it can be awkward having certain people in my offline life know so very much about me, but I would not have come to the place I have in my life had I done things differently.

Do you think you would ever stop blogging?
  —Julie Coffee, Coffee With Julie

I honestly can't envision it. I have 12 years of continuous archives here, and it feels like another limb to me. You could cut off all my fingers, and I would use voice-activated software to get it done. It has become the tool by which I work out my mind; it is the math that unknots me.

If you were trapped on a deserted island and could only have one kind of cookie, what would it be? Please include a recipe.
  —Brian Thomas, The Cheek of God

If I were trapped on a deserted island and could only have one kind of cookie, it would be a dark chocolate cookie with a dollop of peanut butter butterscotch swirl in the middle and lightly sprinkled with sea salt after baking.

I just invented this cookie, so I don't have a recipe to share. Please forgive me.


A very happy 12 years of blogging to me!

If I do say so myself. And I do. Oh, yes.

Grace in Small Things No. 944

Apple wireless keyboard
  1. Our far-too-hot weather has given way to an unseasonably cool week, but I've decided that I'm happy about it. It's a relief not to be slick with sweat 24/7.
  2. Because of the colder weather, we hauled out our duvet, and there is nothing like snuggling down under the weight of duvet with cool air coming in through the window.
  3. I got this Apple wireless keyboard a little while ago, and I love it. I use it when I elevate my laptop on a box so I am not always hunched over to look down at the screen. It's identical to my MacBook Pro keyboard, so I don't have to alter my typing habits to work on it.
  4. I am thankful for the genius who invented the Flapjacks keyboard cover, because I have no self-control and am always eating at my computer. I have another cover on my main laptop keyboard also, and it saves the thing from all my crumbs and minor splashes and sneezes. It won't save you from an all-out liquid spill, because it is built to lift off easily for cleaning, but it keeps all the dust and food from building up under your keys.
  5. I ordered a few boring things like vitamins and soap on the internet, so I have small packages dribbling in all week. Even getting boring packages in the mail feels like little presents.

Wage a battle against embitterment and take part in Grace in Small Things, a community for acknowledging and growing gratitude. Join us!

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Elan Morgan

Elan Morgan is a blogger, designer and consultant, and speaker who blogs and works from schmutzie.com, spreads gratitude through the graceinsmallthings.com social network, celebrates quality blogging with the canblogawards.com, and speaks all over. She has been seen in the Globe & Mail, Best Health and Woman's Day magazines, TEDxRegina, and on CBC News and Radio. She believes in and works to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.