I can’t believe I’ve been doing this nine months already.
But yep, the other day I tipped over the 100 followers benchmark, and that seemed like a fitting time to reflect on my blogging journey so far. I want to talk about how things have changed and what I’ve learned since I started this in February.
February. That seems like another lifetime now. It was before we were even worried about coronavirus, but in many ways, I was more miserable then. Tensions were high, I was doing my cat’s medicine multiple times a day at ridiculous hours before she passed away, I was pretty stressed about the state of the world and my situation. I hadn’t had any steady work for weeks, and with all the responsibilities that had fallen on my shoulders since moving back home, I couldn’t see an easy path to building a career or future for myself. My time was being absorbed by other things.
In many ways, it was another lifetime. And it shows that change can be good.
For one thing, Rollo wasn’t a part of my life then. Now I can barely seem to get away from him. (He’s literally running around the garden right now as I write this on the patio, looking for birds to bark at.) The hours I’ve spent walking and playing with him have brought me a kind of childish joy – he’s there and ready to run and play games all the time. It’s been a real high point of lockdown.
Despite the lockdown and coronavirus, I have more control over my life now. I’m getting better at staking out a working day for myself and asking others not to interrupt me – they get to work at work, after all, why can’t I work at home? And I have freelance work again, which gives me purpose and structure to my day, as well as that confidence you get from actively doing skilled work – I have more organisation and sense of direction in my life now than I did before lockdown.
I’ve tackled some fears, too. Some really dumb ones, like being afraid to even talk to other people about the things I’m working on or what my opinions are. I’m not sure where that one came from.
My twitter account was barely beginning back then. In February, according to analytics, I tweeted 400 times and had 500 mentions. Last month, I tweeted 1,900 times and had 4,300 mentions. It seems cold to break it down into numbers like that, but for me, it quantifies how the twitter writing community has grown in my life – and how I’ve grown with it. Like most of us, I started re-engaging with the writing community with hashtags and writers’ lifts with my attention solely focused on building a platform for my own work.
But it has become something much more. For one thing, I’ve realised that those follow trains and empty self-promo things are not only depressing, they’re completely useless. I’m still digging through my ‘following’ list to root out empty accounts from back then who, realistically, neither of us have any shared interests or reason to communicate.
But it’s also given me some great friends. And yes, everyone says that, but it means a great deal to me. After moving back home and being sucked into family life, I was pretty isolated – I had fewer friends than I’d had in years. Lockdown could have made that soo much worse, with us losing the ability to go anywhere. But I’ve met some amazing people on twitter – people from all walks of life and all corners of the world, with very different outlooks but one thing in common: empathy. I’ve never seen a group so mutually supportive than the people I’ve found in the writing community, and I’ve had some lifechanging conversations with some. I feel much more confident in myself again, just being able to communicate with so many great people on a daily basis. I know I’ve made some lifelong friends here.
I’ve also made great progress in my writing. I’m so used to it now, I can barely remember it, but back in January I was afraid to start writing fiction again because I feared I’d forgotten how. I wrote a lot before 2018, but for a couple of years it kind of fell off, especially as I ended up freelance writing. I’d stopped writing fiction, and this year was about recapturing that. And I did it. I’ve written more this year than I think I ever have before, thanks in large part to being stuck at home, I suppose. It feels perfectly natural again, and I’d forgotten just how much I need this outlet to feel at ease with myself.
I also want to talk about blogging.
I’ve blogged on and off for years on various different platforms, starting in 2014, but this is my longest-lived and most prolific one. As an intermediate blogger with a steady support base, I have a few tips for you.
First off, only blog if you can do it. I have so much to say. My brain rarely turns off; it likes to turn ideas over and explore them in arguments almost on autopilot. I come up with ways to argue things or frame them in articles for fun. I think this goes back to my history degree, because while I was at uni, I came to appreciate the skill of putting theories and arguments forward in an elegant way, reinforced by good evidence and facts. That was where I started musing over things in that way for fun, and I’ve never really been able to stop it. I’d have all these things blog posts floating around in my head anyway, whether I wrote them or not, and I find writing them out helps me settle on an opinion and clear that argument from my head. Which leaves room for more of them to creep in…
Blogging isn’t what it was ten years ago. It’s not an easy way to build a platform, and it takes a lot of work. If you’re hoping to do it for reasons other than the sheer joy of blogging, I would say don’t. Try to teach yourself how to vlog or do videos instead, because those mediums are much more popular. I’m a habitual essayist, so I have no choice. That said, if you’ve never tried blogging before, I’d always encourage you to try it. You might like it. I found it was a good way to maintain a routine through corona-times – my weeks revolved around my wednesday and saturday publishing schedule, which is now down to just once a week. Just don’t expect to make any money doing it.
If you want to build a big blog, though, how do you do it?
This tip might seem counter-productive for a member of the writing community, but: don’t write about writing advice. I started off trying to do that, and they’re always my worst-performing posts. The internet is literally overflowing with writing advice, and the people who want it tend to gravitate towards big-name authors, people with lots of experience and an established brand, to find theirs.
Instead, write about your writing experience. People seem to love that. Write about how much writing you’ve done this week, the things you find easiest or hardest about writing, the techniques you’ve developed to smooth out the creases. If you’ve successfully completed any of the steps on the writing journey – drafting, editing, submitting, querying, publishing – write about your experience of it and what difficulties or worries you faced. There are a hundred articles out there on the abstract theory of writing, but only you can write about your particular experience of it, and those kinds of things tend to do much better.
Next, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend writing longer pieces. The advice used to be that to cut through the crowd and really do well in SEO, you have to write long, well-written posts about your topic and google will rank you higher. In my experience, search engines don’t work like that. In fact, unless you really nail your particular niche, you won’t get many views from search engines at all. The vast majority of mine come from sharing links on platforms I’ve already established myself on, especially twitter. And when people are on twitter, they’re expecting short, sharp consumption, things that are quick to read – because they’re often just taking a break between other tasks on their phone. Shorter posts of a couple hundred words are much more likely to actually be read the whole way through.
And I realise I’ve competely ignored that advice myself here, as this post drifts past 1400 words. So take all my words with a pinch of salt. 😉
But, yeah, what a year it’s been. Thank you for walking beside me through all of this. I’m sure we’ll remember this year very vividly when we look back on it. So I’m happy to have shared this particular part of our journey with you.
Next week, back to the history stuff. ❤
If you enjoy my more personal posts like this one, you’d probably enjoy my newsletter. It’s a short email, more like a letter to a friend, really, and I send them out every few weeks to update you on what’s going on in my life and share the occasional observation or bit of advice. You can find the link here. ❤