An Exclusive Interview With 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards Winner Andrea Tomkins Of A Peek Inside The Fishbowl

photo credit: Kym Shumsky of Le Mien

Andrea Tomkins authors the 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards winner A Peek Inside the Fishbowl, which placed 2nd in Lifetime Achievement.

Why blogging? Why did you start blogging, and what drives you now?

I was at the right place at the right time. Looking back, I realize that a number of things intersected, notably, that I was a new mom with a journalism degree and web skills who needed a creative outlet. I could make my own website! I was really happy to discover this interesting and cool way to share information.

I actually started the blog because many of my friends were far from having children of their own and I didn't want to foist my baby photos on unsuspecting (and perhaps even unappreciative!) singles. Writing was a total catharsis, and when I installed comments I realized how many people out there could relate to what I was going through and offer support and advice. It was amazing.

The word "weblog" was pretty new and I felt like it referred to something different than I had going on at the time, although in hindsight I realize now it's always been a blog. A weblog in 1999 was an aggregator of online news, not really a journal. The site I created was a hand-coded chronological diary of my life as a new mom. And surprisingly, it grew. My friends started sharing the link with their friends, and soon I had total strangers reading about my ups and downs and our adventures as a family. (Which I found odd at first, but I got over it soon enough.)

I love the little corner I've carved out for myself. I wouldn't have been able to keep it up this long if I wasn't truly passionate about it. I've met so many fantastic people, and had so many interesting job opportunities as a result of the blog... I couldn't put the brakes on now, even if I tried.

photo credit: Kym Shumsky of Le Mien

You've been keeping a weblog since 1999, which means that you've been blogging since the last century, which makes you an internet dinosaur. What are some of the most notable changes that you've seen take place within blogging culture over the last 12 years?

Ha! No kidding!

Blogging — and social media in general — has not only changed the way people communicate with each other, but it's also had a huge impact on how people get information about the world around them. I've had someone tell me that my blog was the only way they get their news. (I found this kind of scary because I don't actually write a lot about politics or current events.) But I do write a lot about what's going on in my neighbourhood, and big media outlets aren't able to get the same kind of coverage like hyper-local blogs like mine do. People want to know what's happening in their own backyards, and they often can't get that kind of information from traditional news media.

photo credit: Kym Shumsky of Le Mien

On your life list, you crossed off "ski down an Olympic run and not kill myself". Tell me how and why. (And thank you for surviving, by the way.)

The Olympic run in question was at Axamer Lizum near Innsbruck in Austria. I was a teenager on a weeklong trip with my high school German class. I was a newbie skier who somehow found herself on the side of a mountain, surrounded by moguls, without really having paid attention to how she got there. Suffice it to say that it took me a long time to get down. I'm happy I didn't kill myself either.

Where do you find ideas for your content? If you are feeling less than inspired, where do you look for inspiration?

My blog is very much a reflection of what I'm thinking about at any given time, which is why my content is so varied. I write about social media one day, development in my neighbourhood another day, and post a recipe for granola bars the next. Much of what I write about is specific to family life in Ottawa, and it gives me great joy to help families discover those hidden gems... those fun things to do that they may not have heard about otherwise. I'm almost always mulling over a post in my head. I often post 6 or 7 (or more!) times a week.

When I am uninspired I just stay away from the blog. Some bloggers post things like Well, I don't have anything interesting to say! What's new with you? just to fill the space. I just wait for the inspiration to hit. I know it will. I don't really believe in writer's block as it pertains to the blog. I think of myself as an empty vessel. If the vessel is dry, I have to find a way to fill it up again. It could be as simple as going to the museum, grabbing the camera and going outside, or tuning out and going for a long walk.

photo credit: Kym Shumsky of Le Mien

Are you open about being a blogger? How do people offline react to your online writing?

I'm very open about it, but it can be awkward bringing it up at a dinner party or in the schoolyard. It always comes up when someone asks me what I do. The blog has become a part-time job for me, not just in terms of the amount time I spend on it, but also in terms of the revenue I earn from ad sales... and other job opportunities that have found me through the blog, too. People's responses really depend upon whether they read blogs or not. Some people aren't familiar with any blogs, so they are less likely to understand the appeal of reading or writing. (I would argue that they haven't found the "right" blog to read.) For those people, I like to use the metaphor of the newspaper column. I ask them if there's a columnist they like. Yes? Well, imagine they're on the web and writing every day, and you have the chance to interact with them. That's a blog.

A lot of people in my neighbourhood know about the blog because there's been a quiet a bit of coverage about it in our local paper. Interestingly, offline people sometimes don't like to admit they read the blog, which I find pretty interesting. Apparently they feel voyeuristic, like they're reading a personal diary, I don't know, but I find it kind of funny. I wish they'd just admit they read along instead of pretending they don't!

Which weblogs are your current favourites? Which weblogs have been most influential in the shaping of your own blogging?

I wish I had more time to spend read and commenting on all the blogs I like. My reader is overflowing. A few of the blogs that inspired me in those early days are still around today: Dooce, for one. I really liked the way she wrote about her personal life and made it interesting and funny. And from a crafty and creative perspective, I liked Loobylu. I am a huge fan of Mom-101 and Design Mom. There are a lot of great Ottawa-area blogs too, and I try to keep up with as many as I can. Two of my faves are Capital Mom and Diary of a Turtlehead. Brie and Lynn write so thoughtfully about parenthood. I admire them both very much.

photo credit: Kym Shumsky of Le Mien

What advice do you have for new bloggers?

New bloggers need to try on blogging like a new pair of shoes and walk around in them for awhile so they can see if it's a good fit. If it's not a good fit, dump it. Don't just let it languish. But most importantly, I think a successful blogger writes for themselves first, about a topic they are passionate about. If they can do that, their passion will shine through in their writing and the rest will follow. That being said, it is hard to get noticed. People blog for different reasons, and I know that getting noticed is important for some people. New bloggers really need to get out there — online and offline — and tell people about their blogs. And keep writing!



Other Notables:

2010 CWA Winner:
Andrea Tomkins
A Peek Inside the Fishbowl
2nd in Lifetime Achievement

Elan Morgan

Elan Morgan is a writer and web designer who works from Elan.Works, a designer and editor at GenderAvenger, and a speaker who has spoken across North America. They have been seen in the Globe & Mail, Best Health, Woman's Day, and Flow magazines, TEDxRegina, and on CBC News and Radio. They believe in and work to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.