I haven’t blogged for several weeks. I tell myself it is because we have experienced problems with internet connectivity, but the real reason is I am questioning the wisdom of having started a blog and, therefore, my commitment to it. This is partly because I’ve yet to establish a solid, regular writing habit and partly because being a blogger is not just about writing; it involves reading and responding to other blogs, particularly if the blog is to make its mark in the blogosphere. In other words, running a blog is hard work and I’m not sure I’m up to it.
Originally titled Reflective and Therapeutic Writing the original purpose of this blog was to share my research into, and experience of, therapeutic writing. Early this year, however, I decided to rename the blog Elixir: Creative and Reflective Writing and try focusing on my creative writing. Unfortunately, this didn’t help; the blog languished and my motivation waned. What to do? Maybe focusing on the shared element of both titles; Reflective Writing, and applying the technique of reflection to the situation might help? To do this, I have adapted Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle as my model.
As I imagine most new bloggers do, I eagerly threw myself into the fray. After searching for blogs similar to mine and finding only a few and reading books, and blogs, about blogging, I wrote the first post and launched my blog. What I didn’t realise was the degree to which bloggers need to network, that is, read and respond to other blogs. This is how a blogger builds a following. It makes sense, but it is hard work, particularly if, like me when I started, the blogger is employed. Frankly, I don’t know how most bloggers work, have relationships, relax, read other blogs and research and write their blogs but I certainly admire their work ethic (especially that of my clever daughter-in-law whose blog can be found here and here).
How did it feel?
Once I got over the initial euphoria of, ‘Yay, I’m a blogger,’ I started to feel like I was drowning in a sea of words and believe me, I love to read. Instead of moving with the current I nervously headed back to the shore. I imagine it becomes easier with time, but time was something I didn’t have and I very soon felt overwhelmed by it all. While Blogging 101 offered by WordPress is excellent, it didn’t help me. I don’t blame the course; it provided sound advice about networking but I’ve never been good at it. I do think, however, there could be a warning; like Alice in Wonderland when she eats the cakes labelled ‘eat me’, networking is something that should be nibbled at rather than swallowed whole. In my experience a network can very quickly become huge and I simply don’t have time to read all the sites I subscribe to.
What went badly, why, and what were the consequences?
So, trying to read the blogs I had subscribed to became a chore rather than a delight; making comments on the blogs I managed to read was fraught with indecision and, the worse sin of all, I failed to respond immediately to the kind and perceptive comments other bloggers and the general public made about my blogs.
A second problem was my perfectionism: my blogs had to be pristine; the punctuation and grammar flawless; my sentences sparkling; my content interesting, relevant and well argued. How I envied those who seemed capable of churning out a blog every couple of days (while knowing that they probably agonized over their grammar, punctuation and sparkling sentences as well). My need for perfection taxed my editor, my partner, who did a sterling job under pressure from an anxious, fussy writer. This meant the blog also became a chore rather than a joyful experience. That was why I decided to inject new life into my blog earlier this year and rebrand it. This meant, however, that the original blog ‘disappeared’ from the intertubes and I lost some readers. One of them found me recently and gave me my first pingback. (Thank you, Calensariel).
It also became quickly obvious that writing a blog was NOT the same as researching and writing a PhD. For a start there is no supervisor or thesis advisor to consult with, to support or push the candidate along. A PhD also has an ultimate word count but a blog is eternal. I don’t mean individual posts, but the life of the blog. How long can a blogger keep saying what they want to say? Is starting a blog like having a baby? If so, it needs to be held and fed and changed daily (and nightly) for three to four years. Does a blog experience the ‘terrible two’ tantrums? What about the primary (elementary) school years, when it gradually grows more independent? How does a blogger deal with their blog’s fraught but invariably interesting adolescence? Does a blog ever grow up? Can it be taken on a holiday? What will happen if it has a sibling?
What went well?
It was not all bad, of course: Blogging 101 helped me connect to some amazing bloggers and taught me how to set up and tweak my blog pages and posts. I wrote some blogs I am proud of and confirmed the advice given by Blogging 101 that the blogs which attract the most attention are those that came from the heart. I also learned a lot about myself as a writer, and about what I want to spend my time writing about.
What could I have done differently?
For a start, I should have waited until I had time to properly nurture this baby, nor should I expect it to be perfect. I should have asked my new blogging friends for advice and (gently) encouraged my non-blogging friends to read and share my blog. When other friends said, ‘I’ve been meaning to read your blog, I must get onto it,’ I should have immediately emailed them the link.
A writing routine and a deadline is crucial; even a self-imposed deadline can be put off if one’s confidence is low or energy ebbs. Planning my writing, editing and posting times would have helped too. I also needed to reflect, at the very beginning, on what a ‘good readership’ meant to me. Did I really want 1,000s of readers? This goes back to my original intention: why did I start a blog; what did I want to achieve; who did I imagine would read the blog and how did I plan to give them what they want?
What have I learnt about myself during this experience?
I love to write because I love communicating with people but I’m still discovering what, as a writer, this means. I have a tendency to become very enthusiastic about a project, then lose the momentum when things get tough. My PhD, however, was something I saw through to the end, so I do complete projects. Is this because I managed the PhD workload well or is it about motivation? I started a PhD because I wanted to hone my writing skills and this is why I started the blog; it was not so much about sharing my research as sharing my writing, my thoughts, my ideas, my feelings. I also learned that, despite thinking I’d overcome my perfectionism, I haven’t.
Where to now?
While I don’t want to overdo the metaphor of ‘blog-as-baby’, it is a useful way of thinking about it. At barely six months old, this blog’s world is still limited. Its personality is still being shaped and its impact still to be felt. As for networking and reading all the blogs I have subscribed to, what mother spends more time looking at other babies instead of attending to her own?
Writing a blog has helped me understand who I am as a writer. Most writers do this in private, sharing their work with a few carefully chosen friends. The problem with blogging is anyone can read, deride, stalk or even worse, ignore a blog. The risk is an inherent part of the venue, the vast multiverse that is the blogosphere. Maybe I’m playing it safe here in my little corner, maybe it’s just right or, on reflection, maybe it’s not up to me to decide.
I’d love to hear about your experience. What did you struggle with and why? What did you learn in your first twelve months of blogging? What could you have done better? How do you cope with networking and reading other blogs?
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning By Doing: A Guide. Birmingham, UK: SCED
See also https://www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/services/disability/service/Using-Gibbs-Reflective-Cycle-in-Coursework.pdf