The State of Zannaland 2014 – Lessons Learned

Hello, Faithful, or Casual, or even Never-Been-Here-Before Reader. I am about to embark on something I haven’t done for quite some time here on Zannaland.com – write. Sure, there have been updates, some fun photos to look at, videos to watch, and of course, purses to scramble for, but it has been ages since I actually sat down and shared my thoughts in this format, with you. What follows is me, totally raw, honest, baring my blogging soul. You’ll either learn something about me, or fall asleep trying.

Zannaland

Almost 5 years ago, I began this journey of “blogging.” I instantly wanted a better name for that act, but I haven’t found one yet. When I started out, my heroes were The Bloggess and Dooce. After sharing my family adventures and antics, triumphs and tragedies on LiveJournal from 2001 on, I wanted to do it publicly. I’m witty, I thought. My kids are cute, I thought. My life seems like one April Fools joke after another some days, I thought. Surely *I* can do this too. Well. I did. Back in May of 2009, I decided to write up my frustrating experience at a Bath & Body Works. Hilarious, I thought. I felt pretty proud of myself. Even if no one read it but me. Then, I started to do some research into blogging. I saw blogging networks that The Bloggess and Dooce were a part of and figured that’s how I had to go about things to be a success. I joined quite a few in hopes of getting my site out there and getting more views. Most importantly, I discovered that I needed to write product reviews, to, well, get more products to review. Maybe they’d send me a car to drive! Maybe a new set of kitchen appliances! So I reviewed something I bought on my own, to get started. What did I choose? Shaving cream. Genius. I’m not sure why the free offers weren’t piling up in my inbox. Then, nothing happened. I didn’t have anything else funny to say. I felt such pressure to come up with witty, interesting, shareable things to write, that I got overwhelmed and let the site sit while I continued with caring for my then 7-month old, 8 and 9-year old and, our Chihuahua.

During this time, I discovered the Disney twitter community. Wait, there are other people as obsessed with Disney as I am? I thought. It was true. I followed and followed and read and discovered that there were even – get this – Disney BLOGS! People that wrote exclusively about Disney, or theme parks. The giant pixie-dusted light bulb flashing in my face was spotlighting the obvious. I should be writing about Disney. I already had “land” in my blog name, it made perfect sense! (Believe it or not, I’ve actually owned Zannaland.com since 2004, when I first wrote a self-published ‘zine’ and later made jewelry and sold it through the site. It had zero to do with Disney back then, but it’s as if the site name was just waiting for its true purpose – I think all of this is in my About section, but I am reminiscing here, so cut me some slack.)

I got back on the blogging saddle and wrote my first Disney-related post about this revelation I’d had. Then, Michael Jackson died. It hit me pretty hard, being a child of the 80’s that grew up with his posters on my wall and a painters cap full of buttons with his face on them. Realizing the Disney connection with Captain EO, I wrote up another post, through tears, sharing my memories of Michael. And from there, I took off. I shared my memories as a Cast Member, I wrote about my obsession to be on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (Now the Disney Parks Moms Panel) and other experiences here and there. But the most important part was I was writing about me, my thoughts, opinions, and experiences. And for those of you that have been with me from the start, I think that’s why you’ve stuck around. You can get Disney news anywhere. You can get instant photos and videos from those in the parks every day. Rumors, sneak peeks, I’m sure you know where to find those. But I got into this because I loved to write, and I loved Disney. I wanted to share that love with anyone that felt a connection enough to keep reading.

Main Street Electrical ParadeThen somewhere along the way, I got lost in the shuffle, as did my original intent for this site. I branched it off into a second site (Main Street on Zannaland -now absorbed back into the main site) to cover non-Disney things, recipes, family stuff, etc. I quickly realized that wasn’t for me and it was way too hard to promote two different sets of posts to the same people. Everyone told me to just be me, do what I love and not worry about the rest. So I kept trying. I also got chosen to be on the Moms Panel, so that dream was fulfilled. I was a part-time panelist, and my time didn’t start until I believe October of 2010, so I just kept blogging away. Soon, I got invited to my very first Disney event as “media.” It was the Summer Nightastic Preview. This was probably because of the Moms Panel connection, but other friends who had since gotten into blogging too were invited as well, so who knows. I was just thrilled at the opportunity. And thus began the double edged sword that is being “local media.”

Let me begin this section of our story with a huge, mammoth, giant, flashing-with-sirens-DISCLAIMER: I am so unbelievably grateful for every.single.invite I’ve ever gotten from Disney and every other theme park, resort, and restaurant. Seriously. The fact that people with the power to bestow the gift of a special experience, or hotel stay, or meal look at my little blog and say, “yes, let’s invite her” is mind-boggling to me. 6 years ago, I was a boring stay-at-home mom who’d taken to working at Starbucks to fill my time. If you googled my name, you came up with the acknowledgements page in my (now ex-)husband’s technical books, nothing more.  I’ve gotten to do, go, and be a part of amazing things. Amazing. If I had to give all of this up tomorrow, I’d be content in the unforgettable journey I was able to be a part of. I am in NO way about to complain about being a part of the “media” (which I will continue to put in quotes because I acknowledge that I am not a legitimate member of the professional media).

All of that said… my voice, my thoughts, my opinions, started to get lost in the shuffle. Over the course of the next 3 years, it became increasingly easier to upload the pictures, give a little description and hit post. I actually thought that maybe that was what people wanted. No one cares what I think, I’d tell myself. They just want the news or update.  I was trying to be everything to everyone, and make sure all of their stories got covered by me. It was a very rare thing when I would actually sit down and write something. It got to the point where I was posting lots of press releases and I felt any real posts I was doing got lost in the noise. That’s when I created my “Favorite Posts” section on the main page of the site. That was me trying to justify doing what I was doing. Over the past few years, people would come up to me and say “I love your blog!” and I’d be embarrassed, wondering if they’d read it lately. I wanted to quit and give up the blog altogether many times.

And at the same time, despite knowing I wasn’t living up to my potential, I would get frustrated when I wouldn’t get invited to something I really wanted to cover. And let me tell you, when you get to that point, embarrassing doesn’t begin to cover it. I never wanted to feel entitled. I never wanted to whine about what I wasn’t invited to. But as any blogger (I think moreso Disney bloggers because we are such a tight-knit community) will tell you, it’s hard not to compare and want what other people are getting to do. There, I said it. Sure, if everyone got to do it, then it’s not special or report-worthy any more…but these are tough lessons to learn. I struggled with getting labeled a “mommy blogger,” with trying to be legitimate enough to cover the events news sites were, and with still being a personal blog. Yes, I’m a mom, and I blog. But I don’t always want to talk about my kids. Sometimes I want to talk about theme park history or a really great adult beverage, or a weekend getaway. Where do I fit in?

Fortunately, I’ve met some of THE most amazing people along my 5 year journey. Some I consider my closest and dearest friends. Others, I’ve been lucky to work with and share their information on my site, but they’ve become friends too. I’ve gone to them for advice, they’ve given me support, we’ve shared a drink or a cupcake along the way, and they are now a part of my life. But, unlike many of my friends, I didn’t get into blogging to make a living at it, or even a profit. You won’t see 42 ads on my site, or linked words, or sponsored posts or paid product endorsements. I never wanted that. Sure, I could’ve gone a different way and done it. And there is nothing wrong with the sites that do, more power to them; they made a true success of their site and brand. But I always just wanted to share my thoughts. I know that sounds cheesy and simple, but it is completely true. On my site right now, you will find one google ad, one Disney Store banner, affiliate links to the Disney Store on my purse posts, and Amazon on my movie reviews. The banner at the top is there because my day job is with them, I make no commission or fee from that. That’s it. I didn’t start a blog to get paid for it. Yeah, that would be a cool side-effect, but it’s just not what my goal ever was. However, I realized that by not sharing me in my posts, I’m selling out just the same.

If someone reads a blog about something I experienced at a theme park or restaurant and goes there to do the same thing, because of me, then that is payment enough for me. Sharing common experiences, good and bad, commiserating with other moms trying to get through a day in a theme park with 3 kids…figuring out what a picky eater would enjoy at a particular place…experiencing the joy on your child’s (or your) face when you see something so magical, you just have to share it with the world…knowing you’re going through the same tough time I am, and isn’t it great we can talk to each other about it…that’s why. Not for page views or follower counts or RT’s or shares. Because I wanted to share me, with you. Whoever you are. I  now know that I can’t be everything to everyone. I’ve learned that not everyone is going to like me, my blog, what I write or how I write it. They may think my photos are silly or I talk about my kids too much or not enough. All those old sayings about pleasing people are old sayings for a reason. They are true.

Incredibles maskWhich brings me to my next point. The last two years have been pretty rough for me, personally. Normally, it’s easy to share triumphs online: new jobs, moving, new baby…but it’s harder, or less accepted anyway, to share the failures. I’ve written about my dad who passed away quite a bit online, mostly for selfish reasons, because I don’t want him or his memory to be forgotten, but also because things weren’t always perfect, and if someone else going through what I or my family did can relate, or someone hugs their dad a little tighter because he’s still around, then all the better. Other than that, though, I kept things pretty upbeat in my online life. It’s much easier to hide behind a mask of sparkles and sunshine, than admit you are struggling. No one really wants to post updates like “Fighting with the husband again…” or “Crying in Epcot on the 4th of July…” and no one really wants to read them either. Or so I thought.

When I finally began posting on my personal Facebook page about my marriage being over, the amount of support I received was overwhelming. It’s amazing how many of us have truly “been there, done that…” but kept it inside too. It took many years for me to get to the point of knowing my marriage of 16 years was ending. I went through the motions for years and years, not knowing there was any alternative. But the funny thing about changing your life, whether it’s blogging, going back to school, or just getting a job, is that it opens your eyes to what you are truly capable of. Independence. Confidence. Happiness. We all deserve all of those things, and it took me a very long time to see that. Once I realized it, and knew things were not going to change at home, I still had to spend the next year living together as we’d just renewed our lease. Then came the waiting for the official paperwork to be complete. In that time, I got a part-time and then full-time job, moved out, paid my own way for things, kept my children happy, and yes, started dating again. To say it’s been a roller-coaster of stress, emotions, ups and downs and everything in between is an understatement. But at the end of the day, it was all worth it. During that time, the support I had from online and real-world friends and family was amazing. Working more and making sure everything was taken care of took me away from writing even more, and it’s just now, almost 2 years later, that I’m figuring it all out. I still have a lot of work in the whole balancing act of family/work/blog/social life, but I am working on it, and that feels great.

So with all of this time to reflect on priorities and goals and happiness and what’s truly important, the nagging in the back of my mind to get away from phoning it in and get back to writing from the heart has gotten louder and louder. So this is me, answering that call, opening that door, and letting the real me, the real zannaland, back out to play. It would be so easy to give up right now, to say, there are now 5347 more “Disney blogs” out there than when you started 5 years ago. Many of them that report just the facts, great photos, great videos, no personal input – and people love them. But then I think of the people I’ve met over the years who have said, you inspired me to start a blog…you inspired me to apply to the moms panel…you inspired me to share my story…and I think of me, 5 years ago, and what I wanted to achieve here and why I started at all. And I can’t give up on that lady back there in 2009. I can’t let her down. She’s in for the ride of her life, and I’m not going to be the one to end it.

So now, with tears in my eyes as I finally conclude this epic ramble (to the sound of grateful sighs that it’s over, I’m sure) – this is my promise to you, whoever you are reading this – this site will share my thoughts and words, my likes and dislikes, my triumphs and tragedies from now until there’s just no more to write about, or we ALL have a blog. To the mom looking for opinions or recommendations, I’ll give you mine. To the single person or couple looking for kid-free ideas or opinions, I can do that too. For the purse maven looking for the latest releases, don’t worry, I’ve still got you covered. For the PR person wanting me to share your news, if it’s something I’m passionate about, I’m on it, with all my heart. Wanna geek out over 1980’s EPCOT or Diagon Alley at Universal? I’m your girl. In short, I’m not going to label or limit myself  but rather give you more of the reason you started reading me in the first place – I hope. :) THANK YOU, for being here with me on this journey. It may have changed courses or had extended layovers along the way, but it’s still going and I’m more excited than ever to be taking you all on the next turn.

Sunset





About Suzannah Mitchell

Boston girl living and blogging in Walt Disney World's backyard. Mom of 3, coffee addict, oh and Princess of course!