“What if I never become successful?” I asked my husband at half past eleven pm, after staring into the screen of my computer for a few hours in an attempt to finalize a recipe for rhubarb ginger jam. He stared at me for at least a minute, then… said nothing. And I said nothing.
My husband is the one person who believes in me and supports me in every crazy endeavor I suggest: from starting this blog five years ago to organizing food tours in Sri Lanka to raising a kid together. My grandma still asks if I am going to find a real job. My husband never once did.
But there’s a moment in one’s life, when cheerful “You can do it!” doesn’t really do it anymore. The words lose any meaning. Because what if I won’t become successful? What then?
Success can be measured on many scales: the number of page views, the total of likes and follows on Instagram, the amount of money you make monthly, the nominations for prestigious awards. Success can also be a sole message from someone who read your post and said: “You just described me, thank you for writing this”.
I recently made a folder on my phone where I save screenshots of such messages. The folder is called “Read when uninspired”. I turn to these kind and uplifting comments from readers when I need motivation to keep writing.
This is, in fact, the only scale of success where I feel like I am advancing at all, if slowly. The rest of them — the numbers, the likes, the money — are not only not growing, they are rolling backwards. After five years of hard work on this beloved project of mine, I am back to square one.
I wrote annual posts on my blog’s birthday — that happens to coincide with Thanksgiving Day — every year, except for 2019. The first year was simply about surviving. I wrote about overcoming my fear of writing in English, my second language, and of dipping my toes into the world of blogging, of which I knew exactly nothing at the time.
The main achievement of the second year was Saveur Blog Awards nomination. I didn’t win, but to be recognized by such an important magazine was beyond motivating and inspiring. That same year I finally started to learn SEO and my blog numbers grew several times over. I also became a contributing writer for a local website about Austin, Texas. Working with an editor helped me to improve my writing immensely.
In the third year I was nominated for Saveur Blog Awards again. Didn’t win again, which was a lot more frustrating than the first time around. I did rebranding and changed the name, logo, and website design. This blog used to be called The Foodie Miles at its start. The best part of the third year was starting my food walking tours of Colombo, the best job I’ve ever had.
There’s no post about the forth year, because it felt strange to write an annual post about achievements when I was nine months pregnant and about to meet the main achievement of my life face-to-face. So I thought I’d write it after delivery, but those first months of motherhood were such a whirlwind that that never happened. In short, the fourth year was the very first when I took a break from blogging. In the first trimester, I could barely stay awake for a few hours a day, let alone work.
Nevertheless, my numbers kept growing without me lifting a finger. I was finally able to start ads on the blog and earn some money. Seasoned travel bloggers like to tell newbies that you shouldn’t expect any money for at least a year or two. Two years, I thought! Whaaat! Well, it took me three and a half.
And just when my earnings started climbing up and I thought I finally cracked the code, 2020 has arrived. With borders closed and travel plans cancelled, no one searched for the best places to eat in Venice and must-try Sri Lankan foods. I watched the numbers drop every day until in May I had about 20% of my normal traffic. Ad earnings, not surprisingly, went 80% down too. And that’s how in the fifth year of blogging I found myself back where I started.
Seeing that I don’t make money anyways, I wrote more for the sake of writing. Which is how two of my favorite monthly posts were born.
Motherhood posts have been the highlight of 2020. Everything that goes through my head during this new, difficult, amazing period of my life finds its way to the blog: be it sleep problems, trying to find balance, or even accepting that my boobs are never going to be the same anymore.
Turned out, when you describe your weirdest quirks and most random thoughts, a lot of people can relate. I’ve got more private messages and comments about my motherhood posts than about any travel-related content or recipe.
I’ve also set up a Patreon account for those who want to support my writing. My motherhood posts have zero advertisement, as it felt weird to have ad blocks in between paragraphs where I pour my heart out. Thanks to patrons I get to write what I love. If you’d like to support my work, you can do it here.
Seasonal eating posts are a whole different story. Not that I didn’t eat local and seasonal produce before, but in 2020 I became more intentional about it. I am a decent cook, but last year I definitely stepped up my game. It didn’t quite come to sourdough, but I did bake dozens of German Christmas cookies, prepared venison for the first time, and cooked my way through several cookbooks.
That is all to say that in the hardest year of my blogging career — if I may call it that — I wrote more than before. To think that I’ve been doing it for five years without much monetary reward is both amazing and crazy. Boy, do I like to write! Pouring hundreds of hours into this blog simply because I love what I do. Isn’t that the dream? So many people can’t find what they are truly passionate about, and I have.
But despite my best attempts to look on the bright side, I often find myself wondering if I’ll ever earn from this blog. How did this one criteria of success become so dominant?
In the post for my first year blogging anniversary I shared a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. The book was a huge influence on me and, at the time, was instrumental in helping me overcome the fear of writing in English.
Five years later, I am scared of expressing myself in a foreign language no more. However, I have a whole new set of unproductive beliefs that make my creative life difficult. If writing doesn’t make me money, then what kind of writer am I, right?
Once again, Elizabeth Gilbert came through. I came across her post on Facebook about the relations between creativity and money (here abbreviated):
“Dear Ones –
I always wanted to make money out of my art, I always strived to make money out of my art, and now I do make money out of my art, and I am grateful as hell.
But for the first ten years of my creative journey, I did not make a single dime out of writing. And for the next ten years of my creative journey (which included the publication of three books) I always kept alternative day jobs — always made sure I had other streams of income to rely upon.
I did not quit all my other jobs until EAT PRAY LOVE became a crazy bestseller, you guys. And EAT PRAY LOVE was a freak of nature.
The reason I always maintained other streams of income was because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the task of providing for me in the material world.
I do not believe that Creativity comes to us from the material world, and therefore she has no concept of what it takes to survive in the material world. Creativity is a timeless little playful disembodied weird other-worldly goddess. She doesn’t need to eat, she doesn’t need a roof to sleep under, she doesn’t need to go the dentist. (WE DO, but she doesn’t.)
Creativity just wants to engage with us (or not, sometimes!) in her own crazy and unpredictable ways, but she never promised to provide for us. I adore Creativity. I love her. I have devoted my life to her, because she brings me joy. But I do not suggest relying upon her to pay the oil bill. She is not very reliable.
Creativity has no idea what the words “oil bill” even mean. Creativity doesn’t give a damn about your auto insurance. She just wants to dance with you, and then sometimes dance away — on her own schedule, on her own strange rhythms. This is why I made a promise to my writing life when I was about 15 years old. I said to writing: “I will never ask you to provide for me financially; I will always provide for YOU.”
I was willing to work hard, in other words, so that Creativity could play lightly. I have seen so many beautiful creative souls murder their creative process because of this relentless insistence that they are not real artists unless their art pays the bills. When it doesn’t work out (and often it doesn’t, because, once more, Creativity is a FLAKEY AND WEIRD airhead goddess) these people become angry, bitter, stuck, bankrupted, and — worst of all — they often quit creating at all.
Let me tell you what makes you a “real artist”: Are you making art? Then you’re a real artist.
Creativity owes us NOTHING in exchange for our devotion to her — except the gorgeous experience of getting to work with her at all. You know how they say, “Jump and the net will catch you?” Well, not always. Jump off the cliff on Creativity’s watch, and she might be polishing her nails at the moment of your leap, and she might forget to catch you. Because she’s a FLAKE. Nothing is ever promised, nothing is ever certain. Those are the terms; that’s the contract.
This does not mean that you should not take creative risks. But know that they are risks. Creative endeavors are always freaky casinos. You cannot go into any creative field expecting or demanding satisfying worldly rewards. (You can want it, and you can strive for it…but you cannot demand it. You do not get to set terms and conditions upon which Creativity delivers rewards.) The joy and strangeness of the creative process itself is your reward — MUST be your reward…
How is this woman so wise? Can I be more like her… in that I realize that creativity owes me nothing (and she understood that at fifteen?), but also in that I write a book that becomes an instant international bestseller? Somewhere down the line, maybe?
Reading this post didn’t instantly switch off my desire to earn from this blog, but it made me ponder. “You can want it, and you can strive for it… but you cannot demand it.”
Never once in the course of the last five years did I want to quit writing altogether, despite not making any significant amount of money. And when someone says:
“Honestly, you crack me up and your words resonate with me so much that I actually believe you think of me when you write”.
“Thank you for taking the time to write about a sensitive topic and keeping it real. Your post helped me calm the nerves”.
“You write in such a refreshingly casual way about the real stuff. Made me smile”.
“You are so comforting and a positive part of my day. Thank you for everything you do!”
I pretty much run, hopping and skipping, to my computer to write more. So if you have something good to say, do comment or send an email or write a private message. At least until I start making millions, ok?
Best posts of 2019 and 2020
Since I missed my 4th year anniversary post, I am going to include my favorites from both 2019 and 2020 here.
The most controversial and talked about post — Enough with the Evil Russians — Stranger Things Made Me Write It. If you watched the third season of Stranger Things, you’ll know what I am talking about. I was so sick and tired of seeing Russians portrayed as villains that I wrote this piece simply to vent. Turned out, there are a lot of people who share my opinion. The post has over 150 comments, which — given that on average my posts have 10-15 comments — is nuts.
My favorite post about motherhood — J Is for the Boob Size. Never thought I’d write two thousand words about my boobs, but here we are. Runner-up is Can I Be My Son When I Grow Up? that I wrote for my son’s first birthday.
My favorite recipe is My Mom’s Pan-Fried Potatoes. It took me at least a dozen tries to perfect them and I want to think that the story is funny.
Favorite post about seasonal eating is Seasonal Eating in June: Very Little about Actual Cooking and a Whole Lot about My Hate Of Gardening. I hate growing things, and I explicitly state it in this post.
The one post I wrote on the topic of the global pandemic — Strawberries with Sour Cream: a Recipe Updated for Pandemic.
An oldie, but goodie. A post from the start of 2019 — On Realities of Being a Bilingual Writer (or Trying to Be One).