Two of the OG blogging queens have died in the past year, Julie Powell and Heather Armstrong aka Dooce, which has left me a bit shook. I didn’t regularly read either of their blogs when I was a fellow blogger in the aughts, but their entrepreneurial accomplishments impacted my life a great deal. They were talented writers and I’m glad they’re being celebrated as such, but people shouldn’t overlook what innovative businesswomen they were either.
Dooce was the first person I’d heard of who was making her entire living off her blog. I can’t express how groundbreaking this was in 2004. It would be like finding out your neighbor is making $20,000 a month riding her unicycle around the block every afternoon. Say what? You can do that? And if you were a unicycle enthusiast, you couldn’t help thinking, is it possible for me to make my living on one wheel as well? I never succeeded in living solely off my blog, but there was one year it was covering my rent every month, and Dooce was the one who made that seem possible.
Julie Powell was the first person I’d heard of who’d gotten a book deal from her blog. She’d grinded away for a year not only making every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook, but also blogging about it, which at least double or triples the work involved. The photo editing alone must have gobbled up days of her life. Writing a blog to get a book deal was not a business model that existed before people like Powell pulled it off, and her success made me feel like I could do it too. The fact that the book sold well incentivized publishers to seek out bloggers to produce books, as Seal Press did with me.
Heather Armstrong and Julie Powell showed me it was possible for a young woman who had a love of writing and a bit of internet expertise to earn a living via those skills. They didn’t just inspire us to write; they motivated us to get paid for it. They weren’t ashamed to go get that money and demand what they were worth in a culture where women’s thoughts are often devalued. When I was growing tired of my day job in 2009, I decided to take a mad flyer and freelance full time as a web developer specializing in blogs. I now make most of my money from web development, but the money I earned from my blog those first few years kept me afloat. Most of my first clients were other female bloggers making their living online. People like Dooce and Powell had shown us it could be done, paving the way for a lot of one-woman businesses. I was especially grateful for the freedom I got from being my own boss when I developed a chronic headache condition, something a nine-to-five job would have been far less forgiving of. I have a better quality of life because of Armstrong and Powell.
But hearing that both women passed away in their forties has emphasized to me how fleeting any type of success is. Back then, it was easy to view bloggers like Powell and Armstrong as the center of the world, but eventually their popularity waned as people turned to shorter forms of social media on platforms that made it easier to post. The wheel of fortune turns and runs us all over at some point. In the aughts, it was easy for me to get hyperfixated on how many pageviews my site got and compare that to other people’s stats. I’d love to tell my younger self that she was being silly to focus on any of that. We all need money to live, but what really matters are the small things that make you happy day-to-day, not the number of books you sold or how many comments your last post got. It’s been almost twenty years since I started my blog; I rarely post anymore and I don’t make any money from it, but the one thing that’s lasted are the friends I made along the way. (The after-school specials were right!) Sometimes I talk about the old internet with my blogger friends and it’s the memories, not the money, that have lasted.
I wasn’t friends with Armstrong or Powell, but they were kindred spirits, and I’m sorry their stories have come to an end. All bloggers will someday make their last posts and hop off this world for the whatever’s after. I’m grateful to Dooce and Julie for making the time before my final post so much better than it would have been without them.