Lessons Learnt

The last post I wrote was one of my favourite posts on my blog this year. As was my birthday post. They are my favourites because of the enjoyment I had from the act of writing them. Yet, they were definitely not my most popular ones. I actually checked my stats properly yesterday in preparation for this post – doing research on my own blog, ha! My most popular posts tend to be ones that have pretty pictures that are re-blogged on tumblr or Pinterest, without the context of the words I wrote to engage with the images. This is a rare exception, which surprised the hell out of me. You’ve heard me talk about this before, I won’t repeat myself. The unspoken message is clear though: my blog is a useful repository for images for many, and that’s all. Not to mention the steady emails I get, along the lines of: ‘I only visit your blog for the images, I don’t really read anything’. If you think I’m kidding, I’m not.

I also get emails from writers seeking advice about how to build a blog. If you think I have simple answers for you, or that I’m ‘successful’, you are deeply deluded my friends. I also sometimes get the feeling people want me to give them a falsely optimistic notion that they can realistically build a wildly popular writing blog, similar to the many Design, Fashion, Home and Lifestyle blogs followed by many. With the current blogging trends, I don’t see this happening. Popularity is built on image – quite literally. Writing blogs are considered more ‘niche’ or ‘literary’; with ‘literary’ apparently being the kiss of death for blogs, as I was told. I know I’m speaking in generalisations here and there are obviously exceptions.

Throughout this year, there has been a growing disconnect between the writing and freelance work that I do ‘behind the scenes’, and the way I see myself fitting into the developing blogging culture – or rather, not fitting in. My work with editors and various publications has been growing. I published a book this year! I tend to stupidly ignore that achievement as if it didn’t occur, or doesn’t mean anything. This growth is occurring against a backdrop of my increasing alienation from dominant blogging trends and the dominant blogging culture.

I guess I’m writing this both for myself and in response to people who have asked for my honest opinions. Too many of these conversations about blogging occur in private, and I really have to wonder what the hell we’re so scared of in discussing this in public. There are far more scary and important things in life to be wary of! The good things about blogging as a writer for me have been meeting fellow writers, having an outlet to write that is a little wider than my private notebooks or my group of editors/writer friends, and having my blog as a constantly updated ‘portfolio’. That’s all been really great. Editors have reached out to me because of this blog, and I’ve been able to figure out what I can do. I hope I’m improving as a writer as a result.

But if you’re looking for popularity, an income, mass audiences, stop right now. You will hit a glass ceiling. My thoughts about how little writing is valued in the indie blogging community haven’t changed since I wrote this post with Jane. I’m saying this with full knowledge that the internet is a big place with outlets for everyone. But if your aim as a writer is to replicate the blogging model of career fashion, lifestyle and design bloggers, I think that’s unrealistic. Their mass ‘success’ is dependent upon a vastly different system of creating content than that of writers. If my own motivation to blog was based on gaining their kind of popularity and mass readership, I would have closed down my blog a long time ago.

Another lesson learnt: there really isn’t a big, all-encompassing blogging ‘community’ as such, or a willingness to engage with critical thought on the whole. The ‘inclusivity’ is quite selective, and there is a general reluctance to engage with ethical concerns in blogging practices that don’t directly affect a blogger’s income or popularity/readership/traffic. This is a mirror to life I suppose. I have met some wonderful people through blogging. They are my friends, and I say that honestly. But the idea of an all-embracing indie community that welcomes diversity and difference and offers an alternative to mainstream media trends has been debunked for me throughout this year. From an objective and research-mode perspective, I’ve noticed that the blogs that are wildly popular and receive attention from the mass media and readers (resulting in the kind of popularity many bloggers crave) replicate the mainstream media, allowing the status quo to flourish. And bloggers themselves often replicate one another (intentionally or unintentionally), blogging about the same people and things, in the same style. Once again, I know I’m speaking in generalisations here, there are of course exceptions.

I like blogging. I’ll continue to do it until I don’t like it anymore. I’ll continue to be motivated by the act of writing, being better, and writing posts on feminism and other important subjects. But my focus has shifted this year. I’m no longer looking to a large (and perhaps non-existent) blogging community, but to a handful of blogs, friends and writers I admire and respect. I once quoted this advice from Zadie Smith on one of my blog posts, saying that perhaps we should extend it. But I now agree with her completely, with no annotations: “Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.” And this is also true: “Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.” I’ve told the truth as I see it; others may agree, or disagree. The only way I can summarise my own feelings about blogging at the moment is by saying that if a blog helps you practice and test your craft as a writer, it’s a worthy enterprise. Everything else is background noise.