On Freedom & Blog Comments

Posted On: 12.03.12

So. One week ago, I was dragging. Full of doubt. I was also a puddle of exhaustion after an early morning flight home from South Carolina. Last Monday, I published a tricky post, about a decision I made not to respond to a particularly troubling blog comment, a decision that I continue to think about, and doubt. The bottom line: I found myself at a decision point. That decision? Whether (1) to walk away from blogging and its concomitant stresses; or (2) to change my approach to blogging to make it feel fresh and fun again.

It didn’t take me very long to choose. As you may have noticed, I’m still here. More so than ever, actually. Yes, things look and feel different at ADR. I’m posting more. In addition to words, I’m using photos to tell small stories, stories about my life. I’m mixing it up. And it feels tremendous. And here’s the really cool thing: There are more of you here reading than ever. A lot more. And I know that this is largely because of an incredibly exciting mention over at Stroller Traffic. To be in such company continues to make me smile. But. This is not the only explanation. I think that there’s more to it. I think some wonderful new readers are clicking over from the Huffington Post, but also? There is simply more going on here at ADR (and on Facebook, and Twitter and the aesthetic wonderland that is Pinterest.) I think you guys can feel my momentum; I’m getting my bloggy mojo back. Yay!

Here’s the plain truth: I’ve been blogging for almost four years. And this is nutty to me because four years? That is a long time. And I know that most bloggers burn out before that. And, believe me, I’ve felt the fizzle. But I’ve decided, again and again and again, that this place is hugely important to me, professionally yes, but mostly on a personal and existential level. And so. I will keep at it. I must.

But. The weird thing is that I’d fallen into a rigid schedule of posting. For some reason, I got it in my head that I had to post five times a week at 5am. This is weird because no one told me I needed to do this. I put all the pressure on myself. And it was beginning to feel like icky, standard-issue pressure. Last week when I hit that wall and I really forced myself to rethink all of this, I said to myself: This is my place. I have the freedom to do whatever I want here. And this simple realization made me smile, and I began to buzz.

I can post deep, thinky posts and short bits about my girls, my days, my city. I can post once a day or six times a day. I can talk about candy or grief or writing a novel or identity or Kindergarten or buying a Christmas tree. Anything goes. I can use this place to be happy and to be sad and to be deep and to be light and to to be a mom and be a person and to be a philosopher even. I can use this place to ask questions, to feel less alone, to be bold, to share snips of fiction, to memorialize my tiny moments with my babies that would otherwise wash away in the sea of Time. I can do what I want.

All of this felt, and feels, immensely empowering even if it should have been obvious all along. Of course this is my place; it has my name in big, bold, egocentric letters up top. Of course I can write what I want to write and do things in my own way. Somehow, someway, I lost track of these simple truths. Now I have them back. And I feel inspired. And free.

But a dilemma lingers. And that dilemma is about blog comments. I love your comments, especially the really thoughtful, human, meaty ones. I love when you make me think in new ways or answer one of my serious and silly questions or tell me that it is okay that I am confused or fearful. Days when real conversations unfold here are really wonderful days for me; I’ve said this before and maybe it’s odd, but for me happiness is conversation. This past June, I wrote a post about how important comments (even when they consist of only a few words) are to me and to so many of us.

But. There are a few things to consider. Some more logical, some less so. First, there is the emotional component and if you are a blogger, this will probably make sense to you. When I write something, particularly something vulnerable and heartfelt, and I get very few comments, I often get sad and feel insecure. I shouldn’t, but I do. After almost four years in this gig, I still feel icky when I don’t get the comments. Alas.

Second, if I am posting all the time, I can’t really expect people to keep up. It’s one thing if I post one piece per day, but if I am publishing several bits per day, there isn’t as much time for people to read and weigh in. And admittedly some of these posts (pictures, quotes, drive-by links and questions) won’t necessarily be the kinds of things people feel compelled to comment on.

So. The big question would be to keep comments on or to turn them off entirely. I read this fascinating post on Think Traffic last night about this very debate that I encourage you all to check out, but the gist was that there are really strong arguments for allowing comments and also for turning them off. Simply put, comments enable interaction, the formation of a community and of conversation. Turning comments off minimizes the stress and time-commitment of the blogger.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do, but I do want to know what you guys think. Many of you have been here reading for a long time and I know you have opinions and they matter to me. Some of you are newer and I’d love your take, too. My gut is to take the middle road; to allow and encourage comments on more thoughtful/personal posts and then to disable them on more token posts. That way, I’d preserve the sense of conversation that has in many ways been the heart of ADR, but also focus that conversation where I think it should be.

Anyway, the upshot is that I’m really excited and so thankful you are all here, reading, listening, witnessing my as-ever insecure, but also very real, evolution. This place is growing and changing. And isn’t that we all want for ourselves and our babies?

Do you feel a sense of freedom in your personal or professional life? As a blogger or blog reader, how do you feel about blog comments? Do you enjoy them or find them extraneous? Do you have any thoughts on what I should do with comments here at ADR? Do you always read comments on blogs? Does the nature/amount of said comments affect your impression of the blog or its author? {PS – This is one of those posts where I’d really like comments; no need to leave your two cents on the holiday photo shoot post that’s coming up later!}

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29 Comments for: "On Freedom & Blog Comments"
  1. CT

    I really like the feel here over the past week and your clear excitement. I don’t know what to say about comments other than that you should do what your instinct tells you to do. As long as you keep blogging, comments or no comments, I will keep reading.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, CT. Yes, so much of this comes down to instinct. The tricky thing is that I am really conflicted on this one. I really do love comments and the conversations (like this one) they engender, but it does add stresses/time to the whole endeavor. I can’t imagine I will do away with comments entirely and if I do it would be a temporary/experimental thing. We shall see!

  2. Comments add a lot more to my life as a blogger than as a blog reader, although there are exceptions to that rule and I do enjoy reading the comments here. I permit comments on all my posts, and I try to respond to them all, but I think there comes a level of busy-ness where you just can’t do that any more. A billion comments under a post, particularly the in-depth ones you get here, says very positive things to me about the blog author.

    Hope that helps!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Yes, this helps. Thanks, Yvann. And you raise another important aspect of this debate, namely the interaction between author and reader. In an ideal world, I would respond to every single comment and note I get and sometimes, I manage to do this. But then there are times when I am just too stretched and it is truly impossible, but it still feels icky to not respond to someone who has taken time to say something. Alas.

      Really appreciate your perspective here!

  3. AS

    I think it all comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish with your blog and how often you want to deal with the emotional pendulum presented by the comments. If the goal is foster conversation and open dialogue, then I think you’re obliged to keeps the comments open no matter what. But then you’ll have to deal with whatever comes — alarming or reassuring — and chalk it up to the inherent risks of being a writer in the public eye. If you put content out there, people will comment, regardless of the medium. So perhaps you might want to filter what you put on the blog to only those posts with which you actually want to create a dialogue. For other posts, whether they are cute family pictures, a passing fancy, or especially those that leave you emotionally vulnerable and needing the external validation of others, perhaps consider posting them somewhere else and/or limiting the audience. I think your comments decline with the more personal posts because people who don’t really know you don’t really know what to say – they lack sufficient context and history to offer a thoughtful response. So they say nothing, or something token like “how awful” or “how interesting.” But if you were to have the same conversation with a smaller circle of friends, I’m sure you’d get the kind of helpful, insightful comments you are probably seeking. So I think you have to understand and accept the reasons you’re seeking input from others first, then decide whether or not the ADR blog is the right forum.

    Speaking personally, I enjoy your blog very much but confess I don’t read all the posts – just the ones that catch my interest when time allows. And I rarely rarely comment on ADR (or anywhere online) because it’s just not my style or comfort level. But I think your writing is grand and I think the blogosphere is made better by your presence, so definitely keep posting somewhere. Just don’t let other people’ issues (or your own expectations, per above) ruin all the fun. Life is too short and those girls are too wonderful!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Wow. Thanks so much for this incredibly thoughtful comment, AS. Selfishly, I wish you would comment more! I think you raise so many important points. What am I trying to accomplish with my blog? You’d think I’d know the answer to this after almost four years, but the truth is I don’t. Obviously, there are professional goals here. I hope to write books that people read and love and so, yes, this is a platform for my writing, and future writing. But the reality is so much more complex than this. Truth be told, if this was all about audience and selling future books, I wouldn’t be so entrenched in these dilemmas. All of this is about so much more – about who I am as a person, as a mother, as a citizen of many worlds (real, virtureal, etc). This is about getting bits of my life down in one place so I don’t lose them. This is about feeling like I have a place to come to and be any iteration of myself.

      Ultimately, I think I need to just not worry so much about comments. I know people are reading and I know I love writing and these are the things that matter at the end of the day. Perhaps I should come to view each comment as a rainbow sprinkle on my ice cream cone… Each one is a happy extra, but the ice cream is certainly delish without them too. Not the most amazing metaphor, but hey :)

      Anyway, thank you so so much for these words. Particularly because I know you don’t feel entirely comfortable commenting, this means that much more.

      xox

  4. Meg

    Personally, I would feel sad if you turned off comments — but that’s entirely your call, of course! :) That element of interaction is important to me when visiting a site. Because of my wonky computer settings, I can’t always comment on others’ blogs — for technical reasons — and actually find that I visit them less often because of that. The content is good, the posts interesting — but without that connection, I’m less compelled to stop by.

    As a blogger myself, I can certainly appreciate what you mean about comments. The posts I seem to invest a lot of energy into creating, especially personal ones, sometimes fail to ignite a commenting spark . . . and that’s disappointing. But at the end of the day, I’m thankful folks are reading at all — and I try to remember that, first and foremost, I blog for me. If other people stop by, that’s wonderful — and I really look forward to comments/emails. But if they slow (and they have, especially at certain points in the year), that’s okay.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thanks, Meg. I am always so happy when I see a comment from you. I think I really need to adopt your attitude re: commenting. I think I need to just appreciate the ones that come in and not worry too much about the ones that do not. That said, there is something tempting about eliminating these questions altogether by turning them off, you know? But then I wouldn’t be doing this – engaging with you, having an interesting conversation. So much of the fun of this for me is about the conversation, the interaction, and I know I’d miss it. Alas.

      It really is about connection, no?

      xox

  5. As you know, I’ve been blogging for about three years. So I am well acquainted with the emotional ups and downs of comments. I see your comment dilemma as an opportunity to change the way you are affected by them, rather than an opportunity to perhaps change whether or not they are available.

    Like you, I have written several posts I loved that garnered few (or in some cases no) comments. This is hard to take, but it is an opportunity for me to remind myself that I blog for myself – to cultivate my mind, explore new ideas, and enjoy the process of writing. Comments and discussion are a huge bonus (and make the process markedly more rewarding), but they are not the purpose.

    With that said, I would encourage you to leave comments turned on. I hate to think that you might miss out on some sweet, or thoughtful, or funny contribtuion by a reader just because you wanted to avoid the sting of low-comment posts. You’re getting your bloggy mojo back, which is a wonderful thing. (Can you pass some of that mojo on to me? Mine has been flagging lately…) So let it work for you and try not to worry so much about the comments.

    The hard truth of blogging is that not all posts are winners. If it was a post that got lots of comments, then it was a winner. If it was a post that mattered to you, then it was a winner whether or not it got comments. And everything in between is just par for the course.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you, Gale. Oh how you are always the voice of reason for me. And I am realizing that turning comments off would mean that I wouldn’t have that voice or so many others here. You are right; I need to just stay strong on why I do this thing. I do this thing, this writing and wondering and processing thing, because I love it and because it adds tremendous meaning to my life. I do it because it enhances my everyday and allows me to tuck away moments that might otherwise flee. I need to really see comments as gravy, and oh they are.

      I do hope my mojo is contagious :)

      Know that I love your blog, mojo or no!!

      xox

  6. Well, I don’t think there is one answer here … I personally don’t feel obligated to respond to every comment (though I often do, it’s almost always by email directly to the commenter) so I don’t totally understand why people turn them off. But I’m sure there is a good reason! Whatever you do, I’ll be here reading … And I love the new energy I sense here, the increased focus on the little sparkly moments in your day to day life. xoxo

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Little sparkly moments… yes. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway? Sure, the grand, philosophical questions are fantastic, but it is the tiny bits – the gems in the rubble – that make life so amazing. I think I learned that, in part, from you. xox

  7. PS I second what Gail says, too!!

  8. I’m a new reader – found you through Stroller Traffic – and I love the little snippets of your life just as much as I love this post, which is what I would call more substantive or meaty prose :) I have no idea what to tell you about blog comments, other than as a blogger myself, I feel the exact same way RE: writing something vulnerable and not hearing from anyone via comments…so my gut reaction is a middle-of-the-road venture like you’ve proposed here.

    Best of luck, and I can’t wait to read more of your writing!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Thank you, Sara. And welcome :) I’m so happy you found your way here from Stroller Traffic and I really look forward to checking out your blog. I am realizing that I like both, too – the longer and more thoughtful pieces and the tiny “snippets” as you say… Both are really who I am so I like that I am honoring that. Not sure what I will do about commenting, but I am realizing I won’t turn them off entirely because then I would miss out on exchanges like this one and this is what I love so much about blogging.

  9. T

    Oh Aidan, I hear you! I’ve been blogging for over 5 years and, like you, I was publishing nearly every day for a while. I felt like I wanted to connect with readers in the strongest way. In the past year, I’ve whittled down to about once or twice a week but try to keep things active on my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/lifeasaclassroom).

    When I write, I get pretty raw. I’ve made it clear from the blog that I will be authentically honest, no matter how ugly it may seem. Many wonderful comments, tweets and emails have encouraged it. Many people have said they relate to what I write because we all have that raw part of ourselves. But many don’t know what to say. So also like you, when I don’t receive comments to a particularly honest post, I begin to worry and doubt as well. But I still KEEP WRITING.

    I keep writing because I also receive emails much like the one you mentioned. Where someone else wants to be heard or longs for advice or simply wants to connect in a vulnerable way to a stranger that they won’t have to face in their real lives. My advice is always the same advice I offer myself on the blog, over and over again. Search inside yourself. I can only give the answers that work for me.

    There is a seeming responsibility to putting ourselves “out there” but I also have to remind myself that I am no professional counselor. I am trying to figure out my own life! If someone wants to comment or send me an email, I do my best to listen, offer love and let it go.

    Just as a therapist would do, no?

    As a blogger and reader, I love comments. I love to engage with the blogs I read or the readers of my blog.

    My .02.

    xxoo

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I can’t tell you how much your .01 (love that) mean to me… yes, we are all just trying to figure out our own lives. Isn’t that maybe what blogging is really all about – an admittedly-public sifting and sorting and figuring out? I so look forward to checking out your FB page. I have re-fallen in love with FB recently and love that it is such an easy, casual place and thing. And I love your all-caps exhortation to KEEP WRITING. Yes. Yes. Yes. And I plan to.

      So great to see you here, T.

      xox

  10. I am so excited that you’re feeling the “blogging buzz” again. Every blogger should feel it – it’s what keeps us going!! For me, blogging is all about the conversation and engaging with others. Sure, it’s a place for me to write and explore my own ideas, but if I merely wanted to do that, I’d keep a journal. Rather, I want to be able to bounce ideas off others, learn from differing viewpoints and laugh (and cry!) together at the more insane moments in life. Of course, every blogger is entitled his/her decision about commenting and I appreciate where you’re coming from regarding comments and your expectations about them. I will say that I no longer read blogs where commenting has been entirely turned off. It feels very cold, very one-sided, very preachy, very “I’m too important to deal with all of you” and that’s not what blogging is all about for me.

  11. Amy

    I feel almost selfish leaving a comment on this post because, while I understand that you have to do what is best for you and your family, I want you to continue keeping the comments open for people to either write or read. I am an avid reader of your blog, but I have only commented a few times on posts that have struck a particular cord with me. I haven’t always commented when you’ve asked for comments, usually because I feel like I have nothing meaningful to add to the discussion already happening. But, on the posts I’ve commented on, I’ve done so because I feel a specific closeness to the topic you are writing about or the experience that you’ve been through or I feel like we share something in common. I’ve been known to read the comments, also without always commenting, because you’ve posed a thought or question that I’ve wanted to know the answer to and I’m curious to know if a reader might have that answer that I’m searching for, too.

    I’ve enjoyed the changes to your blog. And I’ve noticed that you’re more of a presence on facebook, too, which I am particularly loving. It seems like with the easy stuff (like the names of our Elves on the Shelf), facebook is an easy way to get a comment, but when you want a discussion, then this blog is certainly the way to get that discussion.

    Because of the comments and your responses, I have felt closer to you and that’s what makes me continue to read (and look forward to!) each of your posts. All-in-all, this is my favorite blog, the one I keep coming back to, the familiar and loved cozy sweater, no matter whether we’re talking about a serious topic or fluff. Sometimes especially when we’re talking about a very serious topic (miscarriage) or very serious fluff (I can’t think of an example right now…). Because both sides of you mirror both sides of me. And, at the end of the day, I feel less alone as a fellow writer, mother, sister, friend, etc.

    I hope this makes some sense…

  12. I’ve only been blogging for a little over a year and to me as a blogger and reader comments are important. I get the conundrum though. I think, as a blogger it’s just something you deal with. I often find myself not commenting when I realize that the blog author rarely if ever comments back. It’s supposed to be a two-way street in my mind. I have only been a reader here for a little while but love reading your posts and see the snippets of your life in pictures. :)Good luck on making a decision!

  13. AG

    I am really enjoying the changes and getting a more all over look at who ADR is and the kind of person you are…the serious side, the silly side, the family side, the fashionista side and how they all intertwine into the person you are and the posts you publish- it’s inspiring! Considering this is the only blog I have ever commented on, felt comfortable commenting on and feel like my voice is heard in my comments regardless of a response…I would feel sad if you turned them off completely! I enjoy scrolling through your comments and seeing familiar names and faces with comments and feel like this is some sort of mini-community..even though its full of people I may never meet except virtually!

    I do understand turning them off for some of the posts…you could try it and see how you feel. You may really not enjoy it. I also know the feeling (even though my blog is about dealing with my Mom’s MS) of how you work really hard on something and don’t get many comments and it kinda makes you down. I hope if you do turn them off there is another way for loyal everyday readers like me to still shower you with thoughts and comments and praise for your amazing posts! Thank you for blogging, continuing to blog, and for always being there whether you know it or not as I navigate through my changing life!

  14. Dara

    Our dear friend John August is a very successful screenwriter with a very successful blog and podcast about screenwriting. He sometimes goes commentless, and other times allows free discussion. Personally, I like his blog more when there’s a meaty conversation brewing below it, but I understand that sometimes he wants to post and not worry that he’s going to get mired in negativity. For the record, I read a pretty fair number of your posts and only comment if I have something to say. But I have to admit I’d miss your comments section if you decided to lose it entirely.

  15. Christie

    Aidan,

    I have been following your blog for some time now and truly enjoy the insights into a world very different from my own. You are a welcome distraction to my inbox! Please continue to share:) From my perspective it appears that you are continually distracted by the comments, or lack thereof. You are a writer! Why do you write? Is it for that connection with others or is it a means to express yourself? As much as your readers comments may validate your feelings or happenings in your life, I urge you to not let if define you as a blogger (or person).

  16. Kristen

    I’ve been a long-timer follower and I love the conversations that your open comments ignite. However, I understand your situation given the recent format change. Overall, I like the middle of the road approach you suggested in your post (some posts open for comment; others not).

    As always, I think you’ll make the right decision.

  17. I have loved your blog for quite a few years but only recently have felt that I had anything to add to the discussion via comments.

    Now that I have a blog of my own that I love updating I totally understand the dilemma comments pose. If I don’t get any I think I’m doing something wrong but if I get one that I don’t agree with I get super sad. I also know that every blog has lurkers and not everyone who reads will post a comment simply because they just don’t have anything to add to the conversation.

    It’s a tricky thing, comments, so for my two cents I think your idea of turning comments on and off depending on your post and how you feel about the conversation is a great one! You could even direct people over to your Facebook if they really want to discuss something further.

    Big hugs and I’m so glad you are sticking with the blog! :)

  18. San

    I know it can be frustrating when you write a great blog post and hardly anybody comments and then you write a ‘mediocre one’ (in your eyes) and you get many, many. I find personally that sometimes it’s easier to write a quick comment on something “less substantial”, then really take the time to digest and craft a response to a really deep blog post.
    That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy reading what you have to say… (I hope you get that point).

    I really love interacting with people through my comments and I think it would be harder to write with no interaction at all. Maybe your approach of just opening up comments on some posts and not on others is a good one. Worth trying out :)

  19. Jess

    A thought – why don’t you do a trial period with no comments of say, a week (“a week without comments” :)), and see if it feels freeing or if you hate it? xo

  20. Karin

    Please leave them on because it helps me believe you might care about something I have to say as well. Don’t expect you to comment back every time I respond. I don’t take it negatively if you don’t and am perhaps more I’m surprised when you do knowing your life, like most, is busy. If you leave them on, you can still choose how deeply you want to become involved in our comments. Maybe some days you’ll speed read and some days you’ll actually be looking for nuggets? Heck – that’s the way I read blogs.

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