Interview: Chrissy Hennessey of The New Me

Christine HennesseyA lot of writers struggle with the pressure to create an online platform — including a blog, which can steal precious writing time from other projects.

You don’t need to be a writer or a blogger, though. You can be both, and you can have fun doing it.

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Chrissy Hennessey, a writer who’s been blogging for over 10 years. Here are her thoughts on blogs, writing, and headstands.

Jaclyn: Writers hear it a lot these days: you need a website with a blog. The New Me began pretty organically back in 2005, before all that pressure. What’s your advice for writers who feel reluctant to jump into blogging?

Chrissy: When I started blogging, it truly was just for me. I didn’t share it with anyone, and I saw it as an extension of the obsessive journaling I did when I was younger. In that sense, my blog has always been a personal history, focused on what’s most important in my life at that moment.

I don’t think you need a blog to be a writer, but it certainly helps. I know some of my online publications have received more views because of the readership my blog brings in, and that’s been really gratifying.

online publications pull quoteMy advice to those who are reluctant is to think of it less as a blog, and more as an email you’re writing to a friend. Don’t focus so much on selling yourself or proving you’re an expert in your field. Be a friendly, authentic voice that’s willing to share the highs and the lows, the big and the small, and eventually the right people will find you.

JP: You now have a big enough readership that you can offer contests and the occasional sponsored post. How did you get your blog out there and establish that base?

CH: Honestly, I have no idea. Well, okay, I have two ideas. The first is longevity: the longer you’re around, the more likely companies are to find you. That doesn’t mean they’re a good fit — I probably post about one product for every ten that are offered to me because I’m very picky about what I’ll endorse.

Two or three years ago, I joined the BlogHer network. I probably make about $2.00 a month through ads, and I get the occasional sponsored post through them. But just like the random companies that contact me, I’m picky about what I’ll accept, so I end up turning most offers down.

freelance writing from blog pull quote

While being so choosy has cost me opportunities, it’s also helped me keep that authentic voice I mentioned earlier. I personally dislike feeling like a blog is constantly trying to sell me something, and I don’t ever want people who read The New Me to feel that way. Having thoughtful, interesting, loyal readers is far more important than free stuff.

JP: Let’s hear a little bit about the nuts and bolts. Do you know how many people read your blog every month? What’s your weekly time commitment for creating posts and moderating comments?

CH: The only analytics I pay attention to are the ones I get through Blogger’s built-in stats feature. I average about 15k pageviews every month. I spend very little time moderating comments because I don’t  get that many. It seems commenting on blogs is not as popular as it once was (at least, that’s what I tell myself) and I interact with people more on Twitter than in my blog comments.

I spend about an hour per post (writing, editing photos via PicMonkey [free!], and revising). I don’t have a regular posting schedule, though I desperately wish I did. I mostly post when I have time and/or something to say. I’m hoping to have more time after I graduate from my MFA program next month. I’d love to get back to posting more book reviews and interviews with some of my writer friends (sort of like this one!).

JP: How intimately linked do you feeling blogging is with your identity as a writer? How do blogging and fiction writing serve and compete with one another?

CH: This question is so interesting! As far as fiction writing and blogging go, I don’t consider them linked at all. My fiction writing voice is very different from my blogging voice.

money-making opportunities from blog pull quote

A few years ago, I started writing more creative nonfiction, a transition made less awkward by all those years I spent talking about myself on my blog. So CNF and blogging seem more linked in my mind than fiction writing, if that makes sense.

As for competing with one another, my creative writing comes before everything else, which means my blog suffers the most when I’m deep in a writing project (sorry, blog, but it’s true). Otherwise, blogging and writing take up two different spaces in my brain, and competition is fairly minimal.

JP: What writing opportunities has The New Me opened up for you? You recently landed a freelance gig writing blog posts. Do you think you would have gotten that job without your long blogging history?

CH: I 100% believe my blog helped me land my recent freelancing gigs. Not so much the content, but the fact that I know how a blog works and how to write for the Internet seems to impress the right people. The world is filled with good writers, but the Internet is sort of its own weird little genre, requiring a different set of skills.

I used to think the blog itself was how people made money. Now I realize (at least for me) that it simply opens the door to other opportunities. I can make money from the skills I’ve learned through blogging without turning my blog into a billboard.

The New Me screenshot

JP: What does your writing and editorial process look like? How do you balance polishing a post with getting it online while it feels timely and fresh?

CH: I struggle with this the most, and it’s why lately I average about one or two posts a week. Having a polished, well written, interesting post is more important to me than posting on a schedule. This is not a very professional way to approach blogging, I admit, but I don’t consider myself a professional blogger.

I write in a stream-of-consciousness voice, then go back a few times and edit out anything that sounds repetitive or too wordy, then add a few pretty photos, and then hit post. My process for creative writing is much more intense and painful, so I try to take a laid-back approach to blogging.

JP: Sometimes it can feel like we’re spending more time on our blogs than on our real writing — the stuff we hope to see in print someday. How do you keep a healthy balance?

CH: I usually have some sort of minimum requirement for my creative writing: 500 words, or 30 minutes, or one chapter. I try to get that done as early in the day as I can, usually before 8:00 a.m. (I’m an early riser and a morning writer). Only then do I let myself do anything else, including blogging.

I’ve tried to draft blog posts in bulk in the afternoons and on the weekends, but that doesn’t really work for me. Most of the time I post because I feel like I have to share something right now, and scheduling posts is not very conducive to that.

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time during this interview talking about how my blog is not a priority, but that’s not really fair. I think about my blog a lot, I jot down ideas for posts, I bookmark articles I want to share and discuss. I try to post at least once a week because I feel guilty if I’m gone for too long, and because I miss my little corner of the Internet. In a lot of ways, blogging is relaxing. It helps me decompress, it helps me sort out my thoughts, it helps me focus on the small and good things in my life. And I can publish my writing immediately instead of waiting months and years, which is nice.

JP: Random last question: how long did it take you to learn to do a headstand?

CH: Years and years! I started out doing them against a wall, and it was probably a year before I felt confident enough to do them without any assistance. I still fall sometimes, but headstand is pretty much my favorite yoga pose now. I’m currently working on handstand, which seems completely impossible. But then I remind myself that headstand used to feel impossible too, and that keeps hope alive.

Chrissy_Hennessey_HeadshotsChristine Hennessey is an MFA candidate and teaching assistant at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she shares a home with two giant dogs, eight chickens, a beehive, and one husband. She writes about creativity, yoga, and homesteading on her blog, The New Me. Her fiction has appeared in several journals, including LIT, Treehouse, and Forge, and she’s currently working on her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter at @TheNewChrissy.