target audiences {and other sources of paralysis}

posted in: on being a captive set free | 0

weddingstalking the competition

When I teach photography classes, I always tell aspiring photographers to avoid stalking their competition. It was advice I was given from a photography mentor and it changed my then-business. I would spend hours scrolling through pictures of people in my market, looking at their prices and their level of busyness, and at the end of my stalking session I would be a crumbled heap on the floor, totally unmotivated to go after my own clients and edit my own images. I could never shake the “I suck” feeling. After lamenting about my inability to live up to the competition, the mentor challenged: Why are you wasting your time doing that?? It was a great question. Her advice? Only look at photographers who leave you feeling inspired. So I did. And my business took off. Because I stopped focusing on what everyone else was doing and started to figure out what kind of photographer wanted to be. What was my style? What kind of clients did I want? The competition became irrelevant because I began to see myself as contributing something unique to the market. I trusted that as I developed my skill and my style as a photographer, clients would come, referrals would spread, and my business would succeed. And that’s how it happened.

Of course, I quit while I was ahead to become a full-time stay-at-home-mom, a decision I never regret. I have no doubt the photography market has changed quite drastically over the past few years, and the weight of photography-as-business is finally starting to wear off to the point where I can pick up my camera and enjoy photography-as-hobby once again.

But the lesson lingers.

oh, to be original

I have always been a writer. I’m sure I started blogging at a variety of times for a variety of reasons, but the primary one is that I’m a verbal processor. I think as I write. I can take in all kinds of information, but until I regurgitate it to someone in some form or another, it hasn’t sunk in.

Blogging has changed a lot since the launch of my first Xanga site. (Does Xanga even still exist??) What used to be an avenue for sharing thoughts and updates with family and friends has become a full-fledged online community. “Mom Blogs” alone probably number in the hundreds of thousands. Where being a “blogger” was once a little nerdy and under-the-radar, it is now a self-proclaimed title of many a housewife.

This is of course hard for me, because I am a) secretly competitive and b) obsessed with being original.

So imagine my dismay when I stumble across a blogger who writes like me. Or who writes the post I have been writing in my head for weeks. Or who frankly is way better at {fill in the blank} than I am.

The paralysis sinks in. The “I suck” feeling settles close and familiar. The self-doubt and the despair and the “why bother”–they make their home in my heart and mind. I become bitter and grumbly every time I read a post that could be inspiring. Instead of finding community and comfort in encountering like-minded people, I am crippled by my envy, angry that I didn’t beat them to the punch. Instead of enjoying well-written books by smart, beautiful, Jesus-loving women, I search for flaws and try to find reasons to roll my eyes.

It’s not pretty. I’m not proud.

But this blog. It’s still here. It doesn’t have to be and I’ve wondered if that’s the answer. Exchanging this public forum for private pen and paper. Emptying my blog reader, perhaps. But as I found when I tried to give up facebook, the problem isn’t the blog. The problem is me. 

So here I find myself, once again, confronted by the ugliness of my sin, running into the unflinching welcome of my sweet Savior, who reminds me, once again, that He is at work in the mess. God has sweetly granted me this outlet and this ministry, and I think he plans to use it in my heart even if in no one else’s. This blog is an avenue for me to remember what he’s doing and to celebrate his many blessings.

target audience

I went through this “blog planner” and one of the exercises was to think through your target audience. Who is my target reader? I began to ponder and make notes. My target audience sounded a lot like me. As I read on, the author explained the difference between a blog as an outlet vs. a blog for a niche market. “Each one has their place,” she remarked, “but you have to know which one you are.” I paused. A niche market makes sense if I’m ever to be one of those stay-at-home moms whose blog takes off and suddenly her husband can quit his job and the family gets to travel the world and go on all kinds of adventures. Let’s be honest, that sounds fun. Or a book deal–that’d be nice.

But while I don’t think there is anything wrong with those aspirations, I realized it wasn’t me.

I am writing for myself.

I can’t write to win you over. I can’t frame my thoughts in 140 characters or less so you can quickly tweet them with ease. And while “going viral” sounds really good for my ego, it doesn’t sound really good for my heart.

I closed the blog planner. My blog-as-outlet descriptor hanging in my mind, speaking release and hope and a big deep breath. No one to impress, no one to buy what I’m selling. Just the freedom to process as the Lord teaches; to celebrate as the Lord gives; to declare His goodness when He takes away.

It’s time to stop wallowing at the competition and instead to find the writer that I want to be. It’s time to find my voice. Time to give up on being original. Because the truth is, “original” is so loaded. Really, it turns into trying to be like what “works,” which is not actually original at all.

It’s time to be comfortable in my own skin, with my own words, with my own story.

Even if it sounds like someone else’s.

Or even if no one else gets it.

Jesus is teaching me so many lessons about all that. I didn’t know there was so much insecurity hiding in my heart. Why my sin continues to shock me is truly baffling, but God in his grace won’t let it stay undisturbed. I have much to process but had to overcome this paralysis first.

So I’ve been playing around with making my blog pretty and fresh because I can and it’s fun and I want it to reflect me. Which might change next week or next year or never.

And one of these days I’m going to stop writing about writing and just, well, write.

the truth about comparison

A good friend points out that comparison is a mirage. When we look to others and think, “I suck,” it’s because we don’t see the whole picture. I want to start looking for the whole picture, because I think that will foster compassion instead of envy. I think that’s when I’ll begin to see God’s grace at work in others instead of being bitter of the ways in which I’m certain I fall short.

I do fall short. We all do. Every last one of us. We all stand at the cross together, humbled by our need and celebrating His gracious provision.

And while I think I’ve got this figured out, I know it is probably only moments from my next battle with pride and envy and bitterness. My flesh and my heart fail.

But God.

God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

So I can take pictures and I can write and I can live to the glory of God, because I live my life before the face of God (and not the face of you, whoever you are).

This is that refresh I’ve been craving. 

Soli Deo Gloria