One of the best things about being a content creator is doing what you love. But at a certain point, we all hit a wall and have to ask ourselves:
How do you stay passionate when your hobby becomes your job?
Digital content creation offers the opportunity to share our passions with the world, which is deeply rewarding, but just like any job it has its pitfalls. Clients don’t pay on time; internet trolls leave mean comments; and sometimes, the content you work so hard on barely catches an audience.
Over time it can start to feel like, well, work. Sometimes it feels overwhelming. What should you focus on? What’s the best way to divide your time? How can you tell what’s important and what’s noise?
At the Mediavine Influencers Conference in Austin back in 2019, Andy Dehnart of reality blurred took the stage and tackled this very topic. In this episode of Mediavine On Air you’ll hear all about Andy’s strategies, techniques, and tools to help you center your focus on what matters most.
Check out the episode below!
MUSIC PLAYING I just feel so good, good, good. I just feel so good, good, good. I just feel so good.
ANDY DEHNART: Oh, welcome everybody. Thank you so much for coming to this session. I know that the competition is Pinterest, which is basically the– I don’t know. That’s tough competition. So thank you all for rejecting–
–the Pinterest cult for a moment, at least. You can go back to pinning things in the next 45 minutes. But I’m excited to talk to you today about passion in our lives, and how we work the most effectively, and how we can improve on the stuff that trips us up sometimes.
My name is Andy Dehnart. I publish a site called reality blurred. As the title maybe suggests, it’s all about reality television. And I’ve been publishing it since the summer of 2000, so 19 and a half years of blogging now.
That was back in the days before there were blogs. Or we called them web logs– two words– as I heard someone say yesterday. And most of them were personal diaries, not really about a subject.
So I’ve seen this industry change, and grow, and shift over time. And it’s been really exciting to be part of it and really, ultimately, a beautiful experience at first to take my passion for reality television, turn that into something that I create myself, that I control. I’m kind of a control freak. So I love to make everything mine and look exactly like I want it to. And it’s amazing.
And then also, sometimes, making a little bit of money from it, too, and being able to discover– and that was in the BM days, before Mediavine was the– a little bit of money. And then now, obviously, it’s become more sustainable and more than just something that can pay for itself. So yeah, all really good, and really exciting. And I think it’s such a privilege to be able to do this kind of work and for all of us to be able to share what we care about with the world.
That said, over the 20 years– probably over the time that you’ve been doing this, however long that’s been– sometimes the storm clouds come in. Sometimes there is an occasional lightning strike or two. So my goal today is to talk through some strategies, tips, techniques, tools that have helped me weather those storms– if you’ll excuse the cliche– over those 19 and a half years.
So let’s just talk first about the stumbling blocks and then get those out of the way. So these are basically the things that come up over time and that just trip us up. Maybe they’re actually weeds that we need to get rid of. Maybe they’re actually beautiful flowers that we think are weeds, and we still have to get over the fact that they’re not just weeds that we need to pick out. So let’s talk about some of those and what they’ve been, for me, over time.
The first is this idea of expectation and obligation. At first, when I started publishing, it was so exciting. I could just do this whenever.
And then people started showing up and reading it. And I’m like, oh, now I have to do this every day, where I set a set a schedule? And now people are expecting me to– when they go show up at work on Monday morning at 9:00 AM, there better be a new post up for them. And if I’m five minutes late, they’re never going to come back, and the whole thing is going to collapse– not that I’m prone to thinking in that kind of disastrous way. I am.
So also that sense of obligation, maybe– that now it’s the thing that’s controlling me, instead of me controlling it. Back to the control freak thing, I want to be in charge at all times.
The failure to keep up with everything and everyone. I have seen this, definitely, over these two decades or so. But even just in a few months or weeks, there is new ideas, new technologies, new things that people are trying, new ways of thinking about the work that we’re doing. And it’s like, how do I do all of that in addition to what I’m already doing?
And it’s like, I can never keep up with all of it. So how do I decide what to do and what not to? And that’s what we’ll talk about today.
Perfectionism– I’m a perfectionist. Any other perfectionists in the room? Ooh, there is a lot of us. Yes.
And I think perfectionism, for me, goes hand-in-hand with procrastination. I procrastinate a lot, so I can definitely set myself up for failure, so I don’t have to be perfect. And then that just creates a miserable cycle that is no fun for anyone, including me.
The fear that it will all suddenly fail and fall apart– you look at your Google Analytics one day, or your Mediavine numbers, or your traffic. And all of a sudden, it’s a little lower than the day before. And it’s like, it’s broken. What happened? I can’t do this anymore. I’m not going to be able to feed my cats anymore.
This is the end of this experiment. It just feels like, is this real? Is what I’m doing held up by anything? And that’s true, again, even after almost 20 years.
What I call the black hole of advice– how many of you have done this, where you see something, or you Google something, and then you find someone who has advice? And then you follow. And then there’s another person, and they suggest this.
And then you can buy a course for that, and then buy this workbook. And then, all the sudden, now you’ve spent $3,000 in six days. And you’re like, and what did I learn out of this? And even when it’s not that dramatic, it can still be– there’s a lot of advice out there in the world.
There’s also, oddly enough, a lot of people out in the world giving advice about how to teach other people to give advice. So now we have this weird tail-being-eaten-by-the-head situation where it’s like, if we’re all just learning to give advice to each other, what are we actually learning? So that can be a problem, too.
And then, finally, what I call the perils of popularity, which is the sense that, once you have readers– and what popular is for any of us is going to be very different, depending upon what you read about, how long you been doing it, et cetera. But when you have people actually reading, now there’s this sense that, oh, I was doing this thing that interested me or that I thought would resonate. It has resonated. But now I need to serve those people, and they are going to tell me what they want to see. And I need to make sure that I’m doing everything everyone needs.
This can manifest– someone sends you an email with a complaint about something. And you’re like, oh, no, I need to fix this. I have screwed up. All my audience is going to hate me.
Or a negative comments can trigger this. Or it’s just the sense that, what does my audience want? What do they want? What can I do to serve them?
And– at least for me– I found that, the more I chase that, the less successful I am. I’ll be like, oh, everyone’s going to love this. It’s going to be great.
And then it doesn’t go anywhere. And then the thing that I’m just interested in and do for myself– that can sometimes get a lot of traction. So the perils of popularity can you leave us being pulled and pushed in various directions.
So this is a picture of me on location with Survivor in 2008. I was rehearsing a challenge, which the press got to do. This is something I got to do as a result of blogging and writing my website.
You’ll notice here that I’m tied to other people. That’s me hanging off the end of this. And that’s a camera filming my butt–
–dangling there. And this is kind of how I feel sometimes– is stuck, and just like, I can’t move. I don’t know what to do. Are other people holding me back? Do I need to cut the rope? What are we going to do when we’re in this situation where we feel like we are just dangling.
So I have advice, and emojis, and a line for Mrs. Doubtfire– shout out to Mrs. Doubtfire. So let’s talk about some solutions, breaking these up into various categories. And have some resources, and tips, and websites, and stuff to share with you along the way.
Let’s start with leading with your strengths. That’s a photo of me on my dad’s lap, playing with our Commodore 64. Anyone have one of those?
Ooh, nice. Awesome. And you’ll notice that it worked with cassette tapes. I don’t actually know what I was doing there– probably writing about reality TV, or Sesame Street, or something.
I was at a workshop recently where the person leading it said, think back to your childhood, and think about the thing that you did when no one was asking you to do anything. No one was requiring you to do it. No one was telling you how to spend your time. And then see, does that connect all with what you’re doing today?
And so I thought about that for a moment. And I was like, no. When I was a kid, all I did was sit around, and watch TV, and read the life section of USA Today, and create newsletters for my family.
I’m like, oh, wait. Holy shit, that’s what I do now.
That’s my actual job. I have turned the thing I loved all along into a day-to-day occupation career thing that actually helps support me and those aforementioned cats. So leading with your strengths is all about knowing what you’re good at, and then doing more of that, instead of doing more of what you’re not good at. So I have a piece of advice for how to figure our way through this.
The first is StrengthsFinders, the book on the right over there. This is from Gallup. And basically, you buy the book. It’s $10 or $15 bucks on Amazon. And it comes with a code to take a quiz online– takes about 30 or 45 minutes.
And at the end, they give you your top strengths out of a group of 34. So instead of Myers-Briggs, where you’re I of 16 categories, here you’re one of several million possibilities. And it’s saying, here are the things that you’re best at.
What’s really cool about the book is that it says, if you have this strength, here’s how to interact with the world, and also how other people can interact with you. So it gives you a good sense of how to deal with your strengths and what to do with them. That’s very much about strengths based on skills, whereas the VIA Character Strengths Survey, which is the second bullet point there– that’s all about the strengths relating to your character, to your personality, to the way you maybe interact with other people.
I mean, that’s definitely a part of StrengthsFinder, too. But it’s getting us a little bit more into the personality zone, instead of the skills and output zone. But both together will give us a lot of good information and tell you, here is the stuff that you’re really good at.
With StrengthsFinder, they actually lock the strengths off into four different categories. And it turns out that my top strengths are in a category called ideation, which means just coming up with new ideas. That’s where most of my top strengths are. And then I have one in the communication category. I don’t have any in the executing category–
–which is totally me. I would love to sit around and think about ideas all day. And then, when I actually have to do it, it’s like, ugh, OK. I eventually will do it and find a way to do it. But I can realize that my strength is actually in thinking about these things and trying to figure my way through ideas.
It’s also fun to do if you’re in a group, or in a project with other people, or with your team, especially if you graph it there. It’s so fascinating to see, oh, we have no strengths in executing. That’s going to be a place that we’re going to really struggle, so we’re going to need to figure out how to do that. Or here’s where all of our strengths are. And how can we align people based on that?
The last resource that I recommend here is a book called The Four Tendencies. Has anyone taken The Four Tendencies quiz? What’s your tendency?
AUDIENCE: Well, I know that my husband’s a rebel. That’s what I remember.
ANDY DEHNART: Yes. Yes, the rebel. So Gretchen Rubin divides the world into– or divides people into four categories based on how we deal with expectations– internal expectations, and external expectations. I’m a questioner, which means that expectations, for me, are all about trying to figure out. I have to do the research. I have to ask questions. I have to spend time figuring out what all of my options are.
There are obligers, people who will absolutely automatically do what other people want them to do. Rebels will do what no one wants them to do, including themselves. They’re the most challenging to deal with. I know some rebels, so I feel for you.
Honestly, taking this and figuring this out has revolutionized my way of thinking about relationships in my life, both professional, and also personal. Once my husband and I did this, and we found that he is an obliger and I’m a questioner, it made everything make so much sense all of a sudden.
When some family member says, do you want to do this this weekend? He will say, yes, immediately. And I will say, what? No, hold on, brake pedal. We have to look at our calendar. We have to think about this. What about–
I have to look at all of the options first, and know, and feel comfortable. And that’s just my tendency come on into play. So it’s really useful just to think about, how are you going to deal with expectations? Do you need external motivation? If you’re an obliger, it’s going to really help you to have accountability partners in the world.
By the way, obligers don’t really have good accountability partners with their significant others or spouses. They become merged in with who you are. So you’re not going to be obligated to yourself. So thinking about where those expectations are– or if you’re somebody who questions, just build that into your schedule, that I need time to plan to do research.
OK, the next– embrace who you are and what you want. And there’s a unicorn picture there. I guess that’s a unicorn.
So the idea here is that I want you to start thinking about what you do and what you want out of this. When you started your site, what was your goal? Where is it now? Is it changing? Is it going to be changing in the future, or something like that.
The best framework for this that I have come across is– Liz Gilbert’s framework for what she wrote on Facebook– how we spend time in life. She’s the author of Eat, Pray, Love, and several other books, including one we will talk about in a moment. But she breaks down our work and how we spend time into four categories. And I bet you will notice that your blog, your site, falls into one of these categories.
First, hobbies– hobbies are just the things that we do that give us joy and pleasure. We might not be good at them. They might not give us anything externally. But they give us some internal satisfaction, and we do them, and they’re fun.
Would anyone say that your blog or your site is a hobby at this point, so something that you’re doing? One person? That’s OK. And maybe that’s just because people, traveling here– you might think of it as something a little bit higher than that.
The next category is jobs. Jobs are the things that pay us money that we need in order to pay our bills, in order to get food to pay our cats– or I mean, to feed our cats.
It’s basically the same thing though, right? They are demanding, and they want it.
Jobs– some people have multiple jobs. Some people have one job. And sometimes, it’s good to think, is your blog a job?
Is it something that just brings in money for you? Or is it a career? Is it a job that you love? Is it the thing that really does give you fulfillment?
And I’ve noticed that, over time, my site and reality blurred is switched between these two categories sometimes and felt like– some days, it’s kind of jobbish. And then, some years, I think it’s definitely moving more solidly in that career direction.
But it’s good to know. It’s OK to have a job that you don’t love, as long as it’s giving you money and giving you the thing you need. And then you can spend your other time on your hobbies, or your careers, or on– the last category– your vocation.
Vocation is your calling. It’s the thing that you will do no matter what, no matter what anyone else says. You’re going to always do it.
For me, I think that’s writing. Obviously, you saw me writing on a keyboard before I knew what letters were, probably. And that’s the thing that’s going to always be there. It doesn’t matter if someone never publishes another word that I write. I’m still going to be doing it.
So thinking about, what is that in your life? What’s the thing that you’re here to do? And how does that make you feel? And does it connect it all to the work that you’re doing on a day-to-day basis?
So in addition to Liz Gilbert’s post on that– which is right here, if you want to go read the full thing for yourself. That’s a short link. I highly recommend her book Big Magic. The subtitle says it all– Creative Living Beyond Fear. It’s basically a great book for anyone in any kind of creative profession about how we get over the stumbling blocks that really do prevent us from moving forward or from doing the things that we really want to or we really care about.
And it’s just a wonderful reference to pick up and read parts of. You can read it all the way through, or you can return to it over time. She just has, I think, advice that feels like it gets right into the core of who I am and the problems that I sometimes come across.
For anyone doing any kind of writing, I highly recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. The subtitle, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, is one that I think undersells the book. It’s so beautifully written, so engaging, so fun to read.
But she also gives you some incredible specific, pointed advice for writers, including– and I think this is the one that I’ve taken away the most– is to give yourself permission to write what she calls a shitty first draft, to allow yourself to just do it, and let it be bad, and then go through and do editing. Then go through and make it better– because sometimes, if we try to make something perfect right away, it’s not going to be that way. That perfectionism thing is going to get in the way. So just allow yourself to try a little bit.
So those are the two resources there. So let’s move on to the next category, which is identifying what’s important. What’s really important is Schitt’s Creek, the sitcom.
If you haven’t watched it, that’s your homework for when you return. It’s on Netflix. If you don’t have Netflix, it’s also streaming for free on Pop TV’s website. It’s amazing. It’s just wonderful, charming, and everything that I need in life– also just a constant source of wonderful gifs.
So when we think about what’s actually important in our lives, there’s some questions that I want you to think about and ask. First, if your blog is a job, here’s some things to think about– or if it serves job-like functions in your life. Number one, what’s my minimum viable audience?
This is a phrase that comes from Seth Godin, who talks about this idea of thinking about, what’s the smallest group of people that I can address and really meet their needs? And the reason you do that is because, if you try to be everything to everyone and as popular as you possibly can immediately, you’re going to fail at that, because that’s impossible. But if you really target, and think about that niche, and think about, what’s that audience I need to be viable, to produce the revenue that I want to produce the kind of content that I want– what is that?
And what’s going to happen, once you actually reach that audience, is that it’s going to expand. They’re going to tell other people. Other people who are peripheraler, periphal– I can’t say that word right now– that are related to that, that come in from the periphery, it will grow past that. But that’s the egg. That’s the seed in the center. And you have to think about that first.
Next is, am I getting work done, or am I wasting time? Especially if this is a job for you, if this is something that’s just about making money and really just producing some revenue behind the scenes here, think about that. What am I actually doing right now? Is this something that is work that needs to be done, or am I wasting time?
And a great question to ask as part of that is, what makes me money? This comes from Paul Jarvis. I will recommend his book and newsletter in just a moment. But basically, the idea is, if you’re going to do something, do it because it’s going to make you money, not just because it’s there to be done.
Pinterest, next door, good example– not that I’m still jealous of them, and all of their popularity, too. But Pinterest is great, if it works for you, and if it’s making you money. I’ve tried it. I’ve played around with it. It just doesn’t drive any traffic for me. It’s not worth the time or money.
And maybe I realized that it’s not my strength. Maybe I can learn a little bit something about it. But is it making me money? Is it worth that time? If not, let it go.
If your blog is more of a career or connects to your vocation– some questions to think about here. Why did I create this in the first place? Why is it there? How does my vocation manifest in my work? And how can I make it manifest there more?
If you’re deciding what to write, maybe write something that really does feed your soul, instead of just feeding the Google search engine or the keywords that you think need to be met. You can still find the keywords for the thing that meets your soul needs. But you can connect those two things together.
Do the Marie Kondo thing. What sparks joy for you? If it sparks joy, you keep it. If it doesn’t, you thank it, and throw it away forever.
Sparking joy– whatever. You can replace joy with another word, or define joy however you want. But just think about it like, it’s essentially what works for you. If it doesn’t work for you, stop doing it, by all means.
Just one more thing on the questions– so in the workbook, I have an entire page on page 31 of questions and reflections to think about. I suggest doing this by writing it out by longhand, just because that changes the way your brain processes information. It slows you down, but it just gives you a chance to reflect on some big-picture ideas. If that is useful to you, use them. Maybe come to one or two of those questions once in a while when you need a little bit of reflection.
So the next tool here I’m going to talk about is this friend, the Eisenhower Matrix, or the Eisenhower Box. How many of you encountered this before? Oh, a couple of you. Great.
It was developed– I don’t think Eisenhower himself drew this box. But there’s a quote where he talked about doing things that were important and urgent. And then someone created this template out of that.
The idea is to think about, in your life, what are the important things, and what are the not important things? And then, what is urgent, and what’s not truly urgent? There’s a copy of this also in your workbook that you can use to actually write in. I actually don’t sit down and actually write things out in this, although some people do, and it can be really useful. But I just like to keep it in the back of my head to think about, what exactly is useful here, and what am I doing?
So if something is really, truly, important and urgent, that’s the thing we’re going to do right now, because– and is it truly urgent? I think that’s a question, though, that we need to ask ourselves often. Is this urgent, or does it just seem urgent? Because things can seem urgent, especially in our era of notifications and dinging bells all the time.
If something is not important but it’s urgent– so it’s demanding attention, but it’s really not important– that’s the thing to delegate to yourself or to your team. When I try to delegate those tasks to my team, they just stare at me and ask for more cat food, because they’re not a great bunch of co-workers. They’re just really demanding.
So my team is me, and me alone. I don’t work with anyone else. But I can delegate something to myself and say, I will work on that next week, or I have a block of time this Saturday when I will work on that. But if you have a team, think about giving those tasks to them.
If something is not important and not urgent, why are we dealing with that? Let it go. It’s bad. It’s that brown color. It’s yuck. We don’t need to even pay any attention to it.
And if it’s not urgent and it’s important, that’s something that you really need to make time and space for, and to really just give yourself those moments, to think about what– these are usually the things that really matter to us in our lives and that we really want to be doing. But because they’re not urgent, they’re not going to get our attention. And that can be frustrating.
Sometimes, that can even be something as simple as just going out for a walk to clear your head. And it’s like, I don’t have time to do that right now. I have to do all this other stuff. But those walks can be extremely important. I’ll come back to that in a second with some resources.
So this is the Eisenhower Matrix. I just created a another version of it that’s also in your workbook for you. I switched the axes to make us think a little bit differently. But I broke it down into things that must be done for your site, and things that are optional, and things that you love to do, and things that you dread doing.
So breaking it down into these categories can help us think about, what should I actually prioritize? What should I give my time and attention to? What should I delegate to my cats?
If it must be done, and you love to do it– amazing, yea, win. Let’s do that. If it’s optional, but you love to do it– that’s probably where creativity and vocation really lie– go for it. Enjoy that. Embrace that creativity. And find time for that.
If you dread doing it, but it must be done, that’s– again– the time to delegate to your team, to yourself, to external people who know how to do this, to experts. And if it’s optional and you dread doing it, just say no, and let it go. And don’t proceed past go.
OK, some recommendations here– so I mentioned the idea of just going on a walk for a second. I highly recommend Manoush Zomorodi’s book Bored and Brilliant. The subtitle is, How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.
She talks so well and just in some fascinating ways about how we have essentially cluttered our minds full of things to do. And as a result, we don’t have time or space to be creative in the same way that we used to be. And so she gives us a lot of good advice there. This was born out of a podcast that she did called Note to Self, which I still highly recommend to go back and find it, and to listen to the episodes about being bored and brilliant. She works through some different exercises there.
I also recommend Paul Jarvis’s book. He was the person to asked that question, what makes you money? That actually came from his Sunday Dispatch. He writes a once-a-week newsletter that goes out to people who subscribe to it. And he’s really great at talking to people like us– to solo entrepreneurs, or people who are individuals running small businesses.
And he just came out with a book called Company of One which, as you can see from the subtitle– Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing in Business. As you know, our society and our push from venture capitalists and from everybody else is grow, grow, grow, get bigger, bigger, bigger. And his thing is, why do that?
Why not just find out what actually works for you, what gives you the kind of money or income, or just makes you feel good about things? And that’s enough. So he has lots of good strategies and tips, both in his newsletter, and in the book.
OK, the next thing is about focusing your attention and awareness. I want you to try to be as focused as this cat is, clearly, because that person– who’s being annoying– is not bothering it at all. I have a thing with cats, as you can see.
There’s several more cat things coming, so I just want to prepare you. So the first thing here is just actually being focused.
I think many of us have maybe read about the idea that multitasking is not real. Our brains are not capable of it. I know this. I’ve read about it. I’ve read the research. I still try to do it. I do it all the time, and try to catch myself when I’m doing it, because your brain is just switching back and forth between things and not being as good at either of those things as it would be if you were just focused.
So how do we actually focus? I will suggest briefly that I think mindfulness and meditation are wonderful, especially for those of us who are staring at screens all day. I used to think of mindfulness and meditation like, I have to clear my mind, and sit in a lotus position, and be zen, which is impossible. So how can I do that?
And then I was introduced to Dan Harris, the journalist from ABC News, who wrote a memoir called 10% Happier about having a panic attack on air and then finding his way to meditation as a way to deal with that. And the great thing I love about his work is that he talked so much about meditation in just a really simple way. And he basically says that meditation has a marketing problem, and that we’re not talking about it well. He now has an app called 10% Happier, and then a new book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics–
–if you are that person, which is very much the how-to book. But I’ll just paraphrase some of his advice, which I think is so, so valuable, which is the idea that doing one minute of mindfulness most days can start to change your brain and change the way that you deal with the world. And what that means is just sitting, focusing on your breathing– just sitting there, your brain will wander away, start thinking about something that you have to do. And then you’ll notice that. And you’ll bring it back and start focusing on your breath again.
And what Dan says that I love is the moment when you notice your brain has moved away– that’s not the failure. That’s the win. That’s us training our brains to be focused to be really on the center line when we need it to be.
A couple other things that I found to be useful for helping my focus– this comes back to knowing yourself. I work really well when I’m around other people. I belong to a coworking space for that reason. So I know I can’t go take a nap, or sit on the couch and just watch TV, because there’s other people watching me. And I am more motivated in that environment.
That can’t always be the case, like when I’m in a hotel room. So this website, Coffitivity, I sometimes pull up. And basically, it makes the sound of a coffee shop come out of your speakers, including people talking and clanking glasses. And I feel like I am now suddenly being looked at by people, even when I am sitting in my hotel room. So that is really useful for me.
If you also like noise, but not coffee shops, this is a fun app called Noizio, where basically you can create your own sounds that will make you happy as you work. You probably can’t see this, but this person has chosen summer night, deep space, a sailing yacht, and blue whale, and mixed those together and created their perfect soundscape for their working. I know that blue whales are motivational to me, so that would be great. And then you can also buy sounds if you don’t want to just mix your own.
If you need just to get the writing done– if you’re like, I just need to do this now, but I need some motivation– this is a great website. It’s called a Written? Kitten!. I’ll show you the web– the URL is writtenkitten.net. I’ll have it up in a second.
Basically, you set a certain number of words. And then you pick either kitten, puppy, or bunny. And every time you get to that number of words, a new picture pops up and rewards you. And it makes you just so–
You’re typing away. Since of course, this is just in your browser, it’s not saving. So just be mindful of that. Copy, and paste it, and save it frequently. But it can be a nice way just to get through. I got to get through this post, so I’m going to get some motivation here.
If you work better with consequences instead of motivation, I have some advice for you– or a tip– which is this website, called Write or Die.
As you can see, you can set various things– a word count, words per minute, a time goal, a grace period– for how long you can pause. If you fail at this, you can set different consequences, like a horrible noise coming out of your speakers, spiders running across your screen. There’s other options. But my very favorite option here is kamikaze mode. If you turn that on, and you don’t meet your own goals, it starts deleting what you wrote–
–backwards, one letter at a time. So there is some motivation.
I’m motivated by cats, not by that. But if this will help you, please do use it. So here is the URLs for these various things. 10% Happier, by Dan Harris– he has lots of products under that banner. Coffitivity– Noizio is the app. And then writtenkitten.co is the site, or writeordie.com, if you want to check those out.
OK, a few more things, then I’ll take some questions here. So next is just know that it’s OK to seek out help. At the beginning, I talked about the black hole of advice. And I think that, sometimes, it’s good to just– I’m just going to focus on what I’m good at, and what I want to do, and make it work.
But it is OK also to reach out when you need help from other people and to know when to press that button. It’s helpful to sometimes think of it as a button– you’re actually calling for help– rather than the first thing you do, though. Do I really need to ask somebody else for this? Do I need to hire somebody to do it? Or is it something that I can do? But when you do need that help, reach out. Let experts handle things for you.
And then, finally, give yourself permission to try and to fail. This is probably not a good image to choose for failing–
AUDIENCE: It’s not. [LAUGHS]
ANDY DEHNART: –because I don’t want you to get on a fun ride and then have the chains break. Terrible image– forget the metaphor. But the idea is the same. Give yourself permission to just try things out, and see what happens. And also, give yourself permission to not be good at them and to fail at them, whether that’s the just crappy first draft that we were talking about earlier from Anne Lamott, or just trying a new type of thing on your site and seeing if it works or not.
Over 20 years– both on my site, reality blurred, and just in life– the biggest moments of success that I’ve had have always come after my biggest failures. And I do improv as a hobby– very much a hobby– in that framework there. And that’s something that we practice all the time– is how to fail, and just enjoy it, and have fun with it.
And it’s something that our brains like really don’t like doing. But when we do fail at something, we learn so much. And we can grow from that.
So be OK with the fact that sometimes, you’ll do something, and it won’t work. And then you’ll figure out why, and you’ll do it better next time. Or it will help you. I promise it will.
So that is all I had. Thank you so much for your time and attention.
We have about eight minutes for questions. So I’d love to answer anything– or have any tips or advice, if anybody wants to share, that came up for you as we were talking, I’d be glad to talk about those. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Thanks for the book recommendations, by the way. That’s really helpful.
ANDY DEHNART: You’re welcome.
AUDIENCE: I’m just curious. With your site, as long as you’ve been at it, do you have some examples of things from that quadrant– or things that must be done and you dread to do, or any things like that– that you just personally experienced?
ANDY DEHNART: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it’s changed so much, too. Sometimes, it’s just the– well, since we’re at a Mediavine conference, there’s lots of great advice for how to optimize posts.
I have 15,000 stories, going on 16,000 now. And so just thinking about that, I’m like, that’s important, but it’s overwhelming. And I can’t possibly think about how to do that. So I have to break that down into what really matters. What are my top things? How can I figure out what to focus on?
I’d say that I love the creation part of it. I love writing some stories. I do a lot of interviews. I’m a journalist by trade, also, and do freelance journalism in addition to writing on my site. And so I do a lot of interviews for the site.
I hate transcribing so much. It’s just the worst thing. Thankfully, now, that’s one of the things I’ve found to outsource. There’s a website called rev.com, which– for $1 a minute– will have a human transcribe it. Now they have, for $0.10 a minute, a machine will transcribe that, which is good enough to go through a transcript.
So I just found ways to– that’s the thing I dread doing. I love this interview. I love talking to the person. I can’t wait to share what they have to say with my readers. The middle part is the dread. And so I have to find a way through that.
And for me, it’s just been a tool. That’s totally worth $3 to let a machine transcribe 45 minutes or– my math is wrong there. But anyway, you get the idea. Yes.
AUDIENCE: So I was a food blogger for a really long time as well. The motivation and the process behind food blogging has definitely been changed over that time. I’m assuming it’s the same in the reality TV world, because reality TV has changed tremendously in that time. Is there anything that you keep going back to to keep yourself motivated on the subject matter?
ANDY DEHNART: Yeah. Let me answer your question. I actually think I don’t know what’s going to work really well, because so much of my traffic is driven by what people are asking questions about or looking at. And sometimes, I get surprised. And I’m like, oh, people are interested in that show, that kind of thing.
And there’s just so much TV. And it changes. There is something like 400 or 500 new scripted shows this year. And there’s probably two or three times that many unscripted shows. It’s impossible for me to even cover anymore.
So what I have to do is go back to that thing of, why did I get into this? It’s, I love reality TV. I’ve been watching Real World since I was in high school. That show changed my life. Thinking about it, even just being in the city, I’m like, the Real World house from Real World Austin is right over here.
We can go tour it later, and just see if anyone who’s in that restaurant now knows the piece of real estate that they’re actually sitting on and how amazing it is. But it’s trying to connect with that passion again, and just remember, this is the reason that I’m doing it.
And not every story, not every post, is going to be that for me. And I think I often come back to, what interests me? Because if it interests me, it’s probably going to interest someone else. Maybe not, but I’m going to try it anyway.
AUDIENCE: The older– Food Network shows that we reviewed or recapped on Food Fanatic, and we don’t do it anymore. But sometimes, I know that it’s rerun somewhere ’cause, all of a sudden, we’ll get a flurry of comments. And I’m like, what is happening?
ANDY DEHNART: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: That show’s, like, six years old. That actual episode is six years old.
ANDY DEHNART: Yeah, exactly– just like that one, single thing. And I would love to write about more. But there’s also too much, sometimes.
If you tried to– like, this week, Food Network premiered three holiday baking shows. How do you even keep up with that? And that’s on one night. So it’s a lot.
And that’s why I think the prioritizing is really important, and just thinking about what does matter to you. Great question. Over here, and then– oh, sorry.
AUDIENCE: I’m sorry.
ANDY DEHNART: That’s OK.
AUDIENCE: I was just going to follow up with his question –
ANDY DEHNART: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: It was, I’m curious to know, what are the things that you did that 19-year span that really pushed you forward? And I guess I would say, every career has their big spikes and stuff. So what were those for you?
ANDY DEHNART: Yeah. That’s a fantastic question. I think a lot of it tended to be external to me, and then noticing how that affected me.
So I started as just someone who loved television and was just writing about it. I also got fired from another job recapping the Real World. And I wrote about that on my site several years ago. So I just needed a place to do this. And so it started as this one thing.
About eight years into it, I applied repeatedly to join the Television Critics Association– which provides some level of access to talent and producers at events that it puts on– as a television journalist. I got rejected multiple times. And once I actually got accepted, and my criticism and my writing was validated externally, that just changed my own mindset– like, oh, maybe I’m good at this. And so I hate to say that external validation helps, but it does.
And now, 10 years after that, I’m on the board of directors at the Television Critics Association. So I’ve gone from just writing about TV and before-and-after work in my spare time to now helping to shape what TV critics are seeing and doing. And that’s really amazing and surprising to me. So I think that’s been one thing that I found that’s helped.
I think you’re both asking great questions. And it’s hard to pinpoint, just because that time period is so long. And I think I’m so much just focused on sometimes the daily grind of it, too, that I need to stop and step back and focus on my intentions, think about what I actually want out of this. Because even here, I’m like, what’s going up for today?
I have to write my newsletter. I have to do this. And it’s like, when do I have a chance to just actually think? When do I have a chance to be bored and just let those ideas come in?
So yeah, I wish I had a better answer. But I appreciate you getting me to think about this and helping me find my way through it. Yes?
AUDIENCE: So my blog, it wasn’t exactly– I started it from a hobby. It’s DIYs, crafts. But it wasn’t actually a hobby when I started. I started with the intention of hopefully making money off of it.
And now sometimes, though, because– I mean, I love to create. It really is– what drives me is creating. But sometimes now, creating feels like a job. So how do you bring your passion back to your passion? [LAUGHS] Does that make sense?
ANDY DEHNART: Yeah. One, I think, just knowing– one, that if it is a job for you, and you want to turn it into a career, reconnect with the things that got you into it in the first place. What were those things? Some of those questions in the workbook might help you find your way to that. But just, what was it that gave me that spark of joy originally?
What are the things that really got me excited about this? And how can I find my way back to those? Or how can I find new things that do something similar? Or it’s also just being OK with the fact, I think, that sometimes jobs just have parts that suck.
AUDIENCE: [LAUGHS] Yes.
ANDY DEHNART: And that we don’t exactly– and so all of our work is going to be, sometimes, things that are monotonous, or not that thrilling, but are necessary. And just balance those with things that do give you that full spirit and that really do connect with your vocation, passion, hobby, whatever it is.
So I think we’re out of time. Thank you so much. Glad to answer questions in the hall before the next panel comes in. But thank you again.
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