A few weeks ago, I got out the pile of old paper journals I kept from when I was 11 years old until … well, until I started blogging, basically.
I’d had some vague ideas about going through them, and maybe typing up some of the more amusing entries, with the aim of publishing some of them here, as I did with this one. I quickly abandoned that idea as soon as I started flicking through the diaries, though, because oh my holy hell, what a horrible person I was back then. SO much drama. SO much angst. I mean, you think I’m dramatic NOW, you should read my journals from high school. By which I mean you SHOULDN’T read my journals from high school, obviously. No one should ever read my journals from high school. Not even ME, actually, because when I say, I “flicked through them”, I mean that literally. I couldn’t bring myself to actually sit and READ much of it: it was just too painful. GOD.
But it got me thinking.
Although many blogs started out as “online journals”, and some of them still describe themselves that way, blogging is nothing like journalling. Not even a little bit. This is why it always confuses me when people say they blog “for themselves”. “Why do you publish it on the internet, then?” I always want to ask them. Because as soon as there are people reading the things you write (even if it’s just one or two of them), it becomes impossible to TRULY write “for yourself”. Or at least, it does for me. Those old paper journals? I wrote those for myself. That’s why I don’t ever want anyone to read them: because the kind of writing you truly do for yourself is painfully, embarrassingly honest, in a way that the writing you do for an audience rarely is.
No matter how hard you try, when you know someone might read what you write, you start to make allowances for that. You omit details that are too personal, too humiliating, even just too boring. You don’t write about your job, because you could get fired over it. You don’t write about your friends and family, because they might not want their business published on the internet. You don’t write about things that you’d rather keep private, because… you’d rather keep them private, d’uh.
So your writing changes. You probably don’t intend for it to happen, but it does, and the bigger your audience becomes, the more you start to subconsciously (or sometimes even consciously) cater to it. I’m sure there are some bloggers out there who start to gain readers, and manage to stay 100% true to their “writing for themselves” aim: who continue to share all of those “warts and all” details that writing for yourself is about. I am not one of those bloggers, though, and I don’t think many people are, if they’re really honest. As my blog has grown, I’ve found that I’ve censored myself more and more, purely as a consequence of realising that, hey, people are actually reading this thing, so:
a) I need to be careful what I say, so I don’t offend anyone.
b) I better try and keep these people entertained, and to give them what they expect.
A lot of people would argue that the second point is silly, and that you should never let your audience dictate your content. I’d agree with that, but I’d also have to concede that while you can’t allow your readers to DICTATE your content, they do, to some extent, INFORM your content. I don’t have readers telling me what to write here, but I do occasionally get people responding to posts saying they liked the item I’ve featured, but that they “don’t really think it’s blog worthy”. Or that they, “don’t understand why this warranted an entire post,” or something along those lines.
There’s a lot of talk in the blogging world about what is and isn’t “blog-worthy”. I see it in the comments of my own blog (NOT THIS ONE, I hasten to add: I’m honestly not writing this to try and make anyone feel guilty: it only happens to me very occasionally, and mostly on my other, more commercial sites), on other blogs, on forums, on social media. Outfits are deemed “not blog worthy” because who DOESN’T wear jeans and a sweater sometimes? Cooking posts are “not blog worthy” because we ALL know how to make that dish, don’t we? Lifestyle posts, meanwhile, are “not blog-worthy”, because, really, who even CARES about whatever it was the blogger decided to write about that day? Why did they even post that?
Why am I showing you these shoes? This is a post about blogging! Who cares what my stupid shoes look like, anyway?
Who gets to decide what is and isn’t blog-worthy? Well, no one, really. The problem is that everyone has their own opinion about what they like to read, and sometimes those opinions will be contradictory. I have some readers who are only here for the fashion posts, for instance, and others who couldn’t care less about fashion, and just like reading about the random acts of stupidity I frequently commit. Other readers only click through on foundation reviews, and wouldn’t care if those were the only things I ever wrote. A smaller number of readers don’t really mind what the post is about, but most have their preferences.
Luckily, the vast majority of readers are happy to just read the posts that interest them and skip the ones which aren’t, but you learn as much from what people DON’T say as what they DO say: you start to realise that certain posts just aren’t popular, and no matter how good your intentions are to “write what you like”, you gradually start to cut down on those posts, and to replace them with ones people DO seem to like, instead.[columns_row width=”two-thirds-and-third”] [column]It takes a very strong-willed blogger to completely ignore their audience, and most of us are not that strong. Let’s face it: if we REALLY wanted to just WRITE, and we genuinely didn’t care whether anyone ever read the things we write about, we’d go back to those old paper journals, wouldn’t we? But we don’t. We publish our journals online because we want people to read them… and we want people to LIKE them. And although it’s wonderful when people DO, it can also be somewhat stifling to know that those people are there.[/column] [column]
It takes a very strong-willed blogger to completely ignore their audience, and most of us are not that strong.[/column] [/columns_row]
One of the reasons I moved from a traditional blog layout to the current, more magazine-style theme, was because the old layout, with everything in chronological order, and the most recent post at the top of the page, had started to feel really restrictive to me. When you have a chronological blog, whichever post happens to be at the top of the page instantly becomes the most important post on your entire site. It’s the first thing new (and old) visitors see, and it has the power to either make them stick around, or get the hell outta Dodge.
Did you know that most visitors to your blog make a more-or-less instant decision about it? That if what they see when they land on the site doesn’t immediately pull them in, they’ll be hitting that ‘back’ button and moving on? That’s always bothered me, and with my old layout, it started to dictate what I wrote about. I got this stupid (or maybe NOT stupid?) idea in my head that the first post on the page always had to be AWESOME, and always had to give the best possible impression of what the site was about. Posts that I didn’t have a great photo for, for instance, didn’t get published. Same with anything that didn’t quite fit the “theme” of fashion, beauty, and all the frivolous fun things that this site normally focuses on.
I didn’t write about the work Terry did on our garden this summer, for instance, because although it was weeks and weeks of backbreaking work for him, I didn’t want the first thing new visitors would see to be a crappy photo of a muddy, rubble-strewn patch of land. I didn’t want them to land on my site and think, “Oh. This is a blog about gardening,” and immediately hit the back button because they’d been looking for a fashion blog, and they didn’t realise that the post about gardening was a one-off, and that most of the other content on the site would’ve been much more to their liking, if they’d just scrolled down far enough to see it.
That wasn’t the ONLY reason for the change of template, of course, but it was a fairly big reason. I wanted to be able to write about more than just fashion, without alienating the people who were JUST here for the fashion. I wanted to have a site with lots of different sections, so that new visitors would be able to see at a glance ALL of the different topics they could expect to find here. I wanted to get back to blogging the way I USED to blog, back in the days of Livejournal, and even Typepad: the days when your “online journal” actually WAS a “journal”, and you’d update it almost daily with posts that were sometimes silly, sometimes serious, but always authentic, and always cathartic, in that “If I don’t write this down, I’m going to explode,” kind of way. Or is that just me?
I miss that kind of writing. I’m the type of person who writes, not because I WANT to, but because I HAVE to. The second something happens to me, no matter how small, I instantly start to write a story in my head. I feel like those things that happen HAVEN’T REALLY HAPPENED until I’ve written them down. Years ago, I’d write them down in a paper journal. Later, I moved on to Word documents, then Livejournal, then Typepad, and now here I am. This blog has always felt like an evolution of those paper journals: when I started it, I wanted to be able to one day look back on it as a record of my life – a memory box of sorts. A few weeks ago, Terry was talking to some friends about what he considers to be his “poor memory,” and he said, “The thing is, I don’t really need to have a good memory: Amber’s blog is my memory.” I liked that: I mean, I’d like him to actually remember things too, obviously, but what he said is more or less what I’d always intended this blog to be.[columns_row width=”third-and-two-thirds”] [column]
[/column] [column]But of course, blogging has changed. We hear that all the time. Everyone talks about how commercial it is, how different it is, how we’ve lost sight of what was once a journal-like medium, in which real people posted real thoughts. Over the last few weeks I’ve read so many posts from people talking about how disillusioned they are, how burnt out, how tired of blogging, and what it’s become. All of sudden, it seems like everyone hates their blog and wants to quit. “It’s not the same any more,” they say. “It’s not the way it used to be.” And they’re right about that: it’s not. But that doesn’t mean it never can be again. Blogging has changed, but the best thing about blogging has always been the fact that it can be anything you want it to be. Yes, it’s changed: but it can always change back. [/column] [/columns_row]
Blogging has changed, but the best thing about blogging has always been the fact that it can be anything you want it to be. Yes, it’s changed: but it can always change back.
For me, I think the thing that’s missing from blogging in its current state is the freedom to write about what you want to write about – even if it’s not the type of thing you normally write about, or even particularly important. Not every post has to be amazing. Not every post has to be “important”. Not every post has to be Pinterest-worthy, or the type of thing people will want to share on social media. Not every post has to be a “greatest hit”, or perfectly in tune with your “brand”. Or it shouldn’t have to be, anyway.
The fact is, though, that because of the way the blogging world has changed, many of us are in constant pursuit of perfection: part of that is self-imposed, but some of it comes from external feedback, too. It’s a fact that some readers expect every post to be “blog worthy”, and to fit in with what they’ve come to expect from you. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve occasionally had people (mostly on my other sites) react badly to a change in topic or style: “this is a fashion blog,” they’ll say, “You need to stick to that.” On one memorable occasion, someone told me they “couldn’t care less” about my life – they just wanted to see what I was wearing, and I’ve also had people comment that particular subjects “didn’t really warrant an entire blog post,” as if there’s some set-in-stone standard about what IS “worthy” and what “isn’t.”
There’s also an problem whereby the act of writing about something tells people that it’s super-important to you, when, in fact, it could just be a random thought you wanted to put down on paper, or a quick rant you needed to get off your chest. “Why did you even write about this?” someone once asked me, and I was so confused by the question. “Because I’m a writer,” I answered eventually, “And that means I like to write about things.” And I do. Sometimes those things are big, important things, and sometimes they’re not. It seems silly to take on board criticism relating to what I should and should not write about it, but I do, and it has occasionally made me feel completely stifled.
Changing the template helped a lot with that – it gave me the freedom to expand the type of content I publish, but I still sometimes feel I shouldn’t write about certain things, because they just won’t interest people, or be deemed “blog worthy”. (Or because, years later, people will still be referring to that random thought I quickly typed out as if it was a defining moment in my life, because they attach much greater significance to the act of writing about something, and publishing a post about it, than it actually deserves.)[columns_row width=”two-thirds-and-third”] [column]It can be hard to free yourself from those expectations and assumptions, and, in some case, it might not necessarily be a good idea to do it. Not EVERYTHING needs to be recorded, after all. Not all thoughts or experiences need to be set down in writing, and shared with the entire internet.
I think, though, that for blogging to start to feel authentic to people again, we have to give ourselves permission to sometimes step away from the brands our blogs have become, and get back into the habit of writing about whatever interests us. The problem with that, of course, is that, for many of us, our blogs ARE a brand now. [/column][column]
for blogging to start to feel authentic again, we have to give ourselves permission to sometimes step away from the brands our blogs have become[/column]
In my case, my blogs are my livelihood, and filling them with anything-and-everything wouldn’t really be a wise business decision, would it? For instance, when the second mystery gnome turned up in my garden last week, I wanted to write about it – until I realised that would mean that 2 out of the 6 “recent posts” on my homepage would be gnome-related… and that would make my homepage just a little bit more gnome-centric than would really be good for it.
I’ve come up with a solution, though. In the top right of the menu, just under the logo, you’ll see a link to my new “diary” section. It’s basically a blog-within-a-blog: a space where I can write about all of those random things that come into my head, without having to make sure the post is beautifully illustrated, meticulously-planned, and totally in keeping with my “brand”. It’s a place for the stories that don’t really fit with the rest of the content, the outfits that didn’t seem worthy of a photo shoot (but which I wanted to share anyway), the GNOMES… Er, it was all about the gnomes, basically.
The posts I’ll be publishing in this section won’t appear on the homepage, so if you never click onto that section, you won’t see any change: the “diary” is really an added extra, rather than a change in content. Some of the posts will go into the RSS feed, so if you follow me on Bloglovin‘, Twitter, Facebook, etc, you’ll still be notified about them. (Not ALL of them will be promoted in that way, though: not because they’re “secret”, or because I don’t want you to see them, but purely because I’m hoping to update the section fairly often, and just as I don’t want my homepage to be swamped with photos of gnomes and other randomness, I don’t want my feeds to be swamped with them either, and risk annoying those readers who ARE just here for the regular content. So while the vast majority of the ‘diary’ posts will go into the feed as usual, if I happen to publish multiple ‘diary’ posts per day, they may not ALL show up in the feed. If, for some reason, you DO want to see everything that ever goes onto the site, you can bookmark this page, which displays every single post I’ve ever written, in chronological order. The next time someone asks me if I’ve ever considered writing a novel, I think I’ll just give them that link: by my reckoning it’s at least as long as Lord of the Rings by now, except it’s more like Lord of the Shoes and Big Skirts. No one steal that blog name, I’m warning you…)
It’s a place where I can blog like nobody’s following, basically. But, needless to say, I’ll be very happy if you DO…