Thursday, November 13, 2014

In the blink of a post: Interview with Ashley from Forever Ashley

A few months ago I connected with Ashley, the woman behind the blog Forever Ashley, while promoting my first novel to book bloggers. I liked the honest approach that Ashley took when writing her reviews, so I sent her a review request. That turned into not only a review of my book, but also a request from Ashley that I write up a post for her Women at Work series. Since then, I’ve enjoyed following her blog posts. One of the things I admire is her willingness to share her personal experiences in an effort to inspire others. From what I could tell, her blog had a steady following of loyal readers who engaged regularly in comments.

In early October she posted Why Your Crush on My Husband is Not OK. Again, I had admired the way she opened herself up honestly. A few days later, I started seeing that same post being shared on my personal Facebook news feed by some of my friends. I became curious and went back to her site to have a look.

Wow. In the blink of that post, Forever Ashley experienced a tremendous surge in page views, shares, comments, and followers. I, along with others, viewed that post as the sharing of a personal experience to help other women understand why they should not express their crushes on married men. Others found support and encouragement from Ashley’s words after having been through similar experiences, and they were happy she put voice to their own feelings. Others used it as sounding board to voice their own stories, some much worse than what Ashley had experienced. Unfortunately, there were also those that took it as an opportunity to say some unpleasant things, about the post and about Ashley herself.

I continue to follow the blog and have been inspired by the way Ashley handled the situation. That inspiration prompted me to reach out to her for this interview. It’s something that can happen to any blogger—a dramatic change in the blink of a post—and I thought it would be great to hear about the experience through Ashley’s perspective.

Hi, Ashley! Thanks for spending some time with me today on Across the Board. I think it would be great if you could first tell everyone about what inspired you to start your blog, Forever Ashley.

Hi Carrie!  Thanks for inviting me to Across the Board.  I'm so excited!  So, what inspired me to begin Forever Ashley?  If I'm being honest I'm not sure what inspired me.  I've always been a writer, at least for as long as I can remember, but I'm not a novelist like you and I couldn't write something like Kingston's Project.  I'm a storyteller but not in the fictional sense.  I had a public diary when I was in high school and I've had various blogs before this one but nothing personal.  When I started Forever Ashley (in June, 2014) I just needed a new place to write.  I was going through a lot of major life changes (a new career, moving to a new city in a new state, we had just lost our first pregnancy) and I needed an outlet.  I thought to myself, "So much is changing.  Everything feels so different.  I'm not even the same person I was a year ago." As I reflected on who I had been and who I am now I realized one thing - that no matter how much changes around me I am still ME.  I'm still Ashley.  I may be a different version of Ashley but I'm always Ashley.  Forever Ashley.  So I bought a domain name and began to blog. 

In your post Why Your Crush on My Husband is Not OK you comment that you debated for a while whether or not to share the experience on your blog. What ultimately tipped the scales and prompted you to write the post?

Oh, I did debate with myself!  I thought about it for weeks before I wrote it.  I wanted to write about it but it just didn't feel "right."  I didn't feel like I was able to tell the story properly and, honestly, I felt like I was over-reacting.  When her crush on my husband first came out I brushed it off but it didn't stop there.  The messages continued (and were ignored) but then one night she was inappropriate in a message to him and I lost it.  I was really upset that night and I said quite a few things out of anger that I really regret now.  Then I felt bad.  I felt bad that it had escalated to that point.  My anger was never directed toward my husband but he saw me in that negative light and I regretted that too.  I said to him, "This is why she shouldn't have even expressed the crush.  This is why it shouldn't have come up.  This is why that's best kept to herself.  Nothing good comes of it, surely she knew that, right?  What was she trying to accomplish anyway?"  That's when I realized how I could tell the story.  When I understood I could explain why it's inappropriate and speak from a place where I felt in control of my emotions I decided to share it, and so I did.

As the post when viral, did you see it coming gradually over the course of a few days, or was it kind of like waking up one day and looking out your window to see OZ rather than Kansas?

It was a little bit of both.  My traffic has steadily increased every week since I first began in June so I was used to seeing little increases.  I've had a few posts get more attention than normal so when I noticed the traffic doubled in a day I just smiled feeling happy it had resonated with some people.  Then that traffic doubled.  Then the next day it was about 10 times normal and I realized something really crazy was happening.  Then I started having trouble even getting into the backend of my site to write new posts because it was beginning to crash.  I called my host and they said my traffic was exceeding my allowance and I had to upgrade to a new package that could handle a 6-figure number of visitors per day.  That's when I realized I wasn't in Kansas anymore.  After I upgraded to a new package the traffic went really crazy and I assume that's because it wasn't crashing anymore and people could finally read it.  Even now, a month later, every single day it's my most visited post.

What has been the most rewarding thing for you as a result of publishing that post?

This is kind of hard because there are three possible answers to this but since the other two also fit in the next two questions I'm going to talk about the Pastor.  I had a Pastor message me and tell me that he volunteers and councils couples who are going through troubled marriages.  He said that these couples are often facing troubles because of infidelity (physical or emotional) and it's hard to explain to one spouse how the other may be feeling.  Apparently he felt like I put those feelings into words well because he wanted permission to print, and copy, my article to use as a handout during his sessions to provide perspective into the feelings that accompany infidelity.  While my husband did not cheat, the feelings are similar. I was overjoyed at the idea of my words helping others gain perspective into their spouse’s feelings and potentially help save marriages.  It's amazing to me to think of that post going so far beyond the boundaries of my little blog.  He asked if I would grant rights for reproduction without compensation and of course I agreed.  It's not about the money and I'd feel ridiculous asking for payment over that.  

What has been the most difficult?

The people, definitely.  In total I've received over 620 e-mails and Facebook messages from women responding to that post.  I replied to each and every single one of them.  Some asked for prayers and I recorded them in my prayer journal to pray for nightly before bed.  Some I still e-mail and message with as they give me updates on their lives and their marriages.  Some poured out their hearts talking about the brokenness and worthlessness they feel after watching their marriages destruct because of another person.  It was heartbreaking to hear about the childhood sweethearts torn apart, the children who've suffered because of the infidelity, or the loss of trust in a marriage because of someone's deceit.  Even in the marriages that were saved, things aren't the same and it's been hard to read sad story after sad story.  I just pray continuously for these hurting people.  I try to remind myself that even though it's hard on me, emotionally, to hear these stories, God is using me to be there to share encouragement and show love when they need it.

How about the most surprising?

The most surprising was finding my blog being discussed on My Fox DC!  I had a comment from a reader that started off with, "I first heard about this on the news..." and I was convinced he was mistaken.  Then I saw a tweet from a reporter out of Washington DC that said she had done a story about my post and hoped I liked it.  She had included a link and I was terrified to click it.  Turns out she had gone on the streets asking people if they felt it was ok for a woman to express a crush on a married man, then back in the studio they talked about it.  Hearing my name, and my blog's name, said out loud on a Washington DC news station was absolutely shocking.  I would have never imagined that. 

If you had known that the post would receive this level of response, would you have done anything differently?

I don't know.  Sometimes I think yes and other times I think no, it all depends on the day.  Right now I'm thinking that no, I wouldn't have done anything differently.  I wrote the truth and expressed my feelings which is really all I can do.  Changing something would mean either holding back the truth or hiding my feelings and neither of those are good things.  I once said if I had known it would get this kind of response I wouldn't have even written it.  I said that after reading 60+ sad story e-mails and shedding tears over each one of them.  I immediately regretted that too.  Obviously that post touched a lot of people and affected a lot of women.  I repeatedly heard (or read) that they finally felt like someone understood their feelings and me being sad over e-mails is worth them feeling validated.  I'm glad I wrote it.  I'm glad it's out there.

Has the response to that post shifted what you share on your blog, or how you share it?

It did at first.  I was full of anxiety because I suddenly felt like I was in competition with myself, as though I had to top that post.  If something new didn't get the same kind of traffic I felt like I was failing or if it didn't get a lot of comments I felt like people didn't like it.  There was suddenly this pressure that hadn't been there before and it was overwhelming.  I usually write every day but I didn't publish anything for 4-5 days because I just felt like nothing was good enough anymore.  It was just like, "Where do you go from here?"  Then very suddenly I just realized that post resonated because it was written from my heart.  I realized people connected with that post because they had connected with me so I went back to writing like I write, sharing my heart, and hoping that people continue to like it.  If they don't, there's nothing I can do.  If that is the only post of mine that they ever read I hope it resonated with them in some small way. 

How do you push past the negativity you’ve received and stay focused on the positive aspects of what you do?

How do I push past it?  Who says I push past it?  It affects me greatly and it's really hard on me, that's a curse of being a sensitive person.  I'm in a few blogging groups and I've asked them for advice.  I'll re-read positive comments or thank you e-mails.  I'll read a book, watch a funny movie or just let it out in one big cry if I feel like I need to do that.  I try to consciously think about the positive things and force myself to focus on writing about that.  It's tough though because if I receive 100 positive e-mails and 1 negative e-mail it is the negative e-mail that will stay with me and bother me.  As I said, it's a curse of the sensitive but I just try to pray and move forward.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a blogger facing this same type of situation?

Connect with your new readers!  If someone takes the time to e-mail you, Facebook message you, tweet you, or comment on the post then take the time to respond.  It means a great deal to them and these are the people who will become followers, who will return, who will connect on social media so make sure they know they are important and valuable to you.  That's the big thing although there is the other stuff...make sure your server can handle the traffic, don't let it change your blog, don't try to duplicate it, etc.   

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions for Across the Board! I wish you the best of luck with Forever Ashley and look forward to your future posts.


Unknown said...

this is a fascinating post, Carrie and Ashley! It's so scary putting yourself out there like that, but you're helping so many by doing it.

Leandra Wallace said...

I couldn't imagine a post going viral like that! Super cool, and super nerve-wracking, too, being in the spotlight suddenly. And having a news station pick it up is awesome. It's nice to meet, Ashley, and I wish her continued success!

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

Great interview! Sometimes I find it so hard to be so open when I blog because it's hard for me to put myself out there, but then you hear about a post such as Ashley's and you realize that people value the honesty. It's so important.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much Carrie! I loved your questions and I'm so happy to be featured here on your site. <3

Brianna Lebrecht said...

Wow! Great interview! I understand what Ashley means about the curse of the sensitive and I'll be honest, it's something I take into consideration when posting anything. It's something that's even shaped the things I'm willing to share on Facebook, which is a huge change from how I used to be. But publishing a blog post about such a topic so close to your own heart? Ashley sounds like a strong woman, as being sensitive should NOT be seen as a weakness. Glad I read this interview :)

Jonathan Schramm said...

Great interview Carrie! And thanks for stopping by Ashley! A big congrats on the increased readership. Sounds like you were able to put a lot of people's thoughts into words. Sometimes all we need to be empowered is for someone to say what we're thinking. Being able to say it well doesn't hurt either... Best wishes for continued success!

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