"Opening yourself up to things you don't expect ends up feeling so much more real."
Kristin Tennant has decided to tell Steven Covey to take a hike.
Instead of figuring out a way to become more organized or find more hours in a day, Tennant's New Year's resolution is to become less intentional.
"I think that if you're the kind of person who knows what they want to do and how to get it done, looking strategically at something and making it happen is a really wonderful way to be," Tennant says. "But you also get into this trap of laying out every step and every strategy along the way."
I sat down with Kristin, who writes the blog Halfway to Normal, a couple days ago at Caffe Paradiso, and as Johnny Cash's American IV cascaded out of the speakers, she talked about being open to surprises and unexpected turns.
In her writing, Tennant enjoys turning ideas like effectiveness and normalcy on their head. "It's a blog about my life not turning out the way that I expected it to, and being pleasantly surprised and enriched because of that," she said.
A Michigan native, Tennant moved to Champaign-Urbana in 2001 with her now ex-husband. She's since remarried and is raising three daughters. She had a hard time at first, like many other marginally-willing transplants to C-U. "I've met a lot of people who've just decided that they're going to be miserable here," she said. "I spent time wallowing in that, and realizing that just because this isn't what I envisioned doesn't mean it's bad."
She's a copywriter by trade, and when she decided to write a book in 2007, Tennant started a blog as a discipline. "I just thought if I had this platform where I wrote and I hit publish, and I knew it was there and maybe two or three of my friends who knew it was there could look at it and give input," she explained. "I wanted to write a book, and it was my exercise to be writing regularly and have a place to write."
But once she prepared the book proposal, the blog was left by the wayside. Until, one day, "I had an editor say that they really loved [the book proposal] and were interested in it, and they wanted to know what my author's platform was," Tennant remembered. "And I was like, 'My what? I don't have any idea what you're talking about.' "
Little did she know that she was expected to provide her publisher with a ready-made audience to which to market her book. So she set about building an audience, and her blog was revived in July 2008. She's been going strong ever since. "I don't always have time for it, but I always have energy for it," she says. "I always have the next idea, or the next five ideas. There's no shortage of desire to write. That's what I do."
Her three main categories on the site are "Belief — doubt & hope," "Culture — ideas and paradigms," and "Love — family & community," all of which are regularly populated with new entries. She's careful not to be pigeonholed. "I don't want to be the mommy blog, and I don't want to be the local blog, and I don't want to be the Christian blog," Tennant insisted. While that kind of variety is wonderful for her dedicated readers, it can make establishing her "brand" difficult.
She got a boost last month when she was featured as an under-appreciated blog on a well-read national site run by Chuck Westbrook. "My readership jumped quite a bit during the two weeks I was featured," Tennant recalled. She's pretty established now, with a regular audience that is no longer just her friends and family. "I always have over 100 unique readers a day. On the really good days, I'll have 350 or 400 pageviews. I have right around 100 people that have subscribed. To go to that from nothing feels really good."
Tennant enjoys the positive responses from her readers, but she hasn't figured out exactly what themes resonate with her audience, yet. "I think it's usually a combination of storytelling and a bigger idea that people latch on to," she related. Sometimes, though, the posts she most enjoys writing don't evoke as large of a response as others. "I really like the one that I wrote about how life imitates craft. I wrote it about a knitting project that I had, and I tied in each stage of the knitting project to life and the way that life works.
"I thought the concept was clever and I liked how it turned out, but nobody really [responded]. ... So I don't trust my own judgment about my writing, because I don't know what people are going to respond to."
While some posts may get a stronger response than others, she's certainly figured out the formula for reaching readers: clear, well-written entries on universal topics. Add Halfway to Normal to your morning routine, and you'll never see normal the same way again.
There are many tremendous bloggers in Champaign-Urbana, and this column will recognize them one blog at a time. Every other Tuesday, we'll shine a light on a different outstanding local blog, explaining how they got started and revealing what keeps them going and where they’re headed. If you know a local blog that you’d like to see profiled in this space, send me a tip at joelgillespie [at] smilepolitely [dot] com.