Personal blogs have always been my favourite kind.
I know I’ve talked about this before, but, like most people, I’m inherently… I’m going to go with “curious” here, although you could call it “nosey”… and because of that, I like nothing more than to read about other people, and how they live their lives. That’s what got me interested in blogging in the first place, after all, and it’s what inspired me to start a blog of my own: a blog which, no matter what it’s morphed into in the decade since it launched, I’ll probably always think of as an “online journal”. (Because that’s what we used to call blogs, back in the days before the word “blog” was invented…)
The problem with personal blogs, however, is that, the bigger they get, the harder it is to keep them truly personal. It’s easy to write about your life when no-one’s reading. It’s much harder when you have an audience, and it becomes downright impossible when that audience includes pretty much everyone who knows you, from friends and relatives, to casual acquaintances who’ll one day let slip that they know (or THINK they know) almost everything about you, because they’ve been reading your blog.
You’re supposed to be pleased about this, of course, and you are, don’t get me wrong. Blogs are there to be read, after all: the industry has become so competitive these days that every single reader counts, and why would you publish your thoughts on the internet, if you didn’t want people to read them? You know this – of course you do – but knowing it is quite different from being able to deal with it, and when your blog is essentially your diary, it sure makes social occasions a touch more awkward, when you have to walk into a room knowing every person in it has, quite possibly, been reading your “diary”, and looking at photos of you twirling around in high heels and giant skirt.
“the problem with personal blogs is that, the bigger they get, the harder it is to keep them truly personal…”
When you know that, you can’t help but start to censor yourself. You maybe don’t write about that incident with your neighbour, say: because, even although you know that story would get a huge response from your readers, it might ALSO get a response from the person you’re writing about – who probably won’t be thrilled to have their personal business splashed all over the internet, even anonymously. You definitely don’t write about your friends and family, because it only takes one misinterpreted comment, or one ill-timed post for you to realise how quickly that could blow up in your face – and how serious the ramifications of it could be. Not everyone wants to be mentioned online, even obliquely: some people, in fact, are outright horrified by the very idea of that, and will pore over your every word, convinced that it’s all about THEM, and determined to find offence in it.
Even the people who DON’T take offence, meanwhile, don’t always totally “get” the concept of blogging, or understand that your blog is essentially your workplace. Actually, I think a lot of people view blogs as extensions of the blogger’s Facebook page, so they feel obliged to read and respond to your posts, even if the subject isn’t actually relevant to them.
“when your blog is essentially your diary, it sure makes social occasions a touch more awkward…”
I don’t blame people for doing that, of course: I mean, I get it – I publish this… THING… on the internet, so OBVIOUSLY people are going to read it, and OBVIOUSLY they’re going to have a response to it. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the support either, because I most definitely do: it’s just… well, can you imagine what it would be like to have everyone you’ve ever met hanging over your shoulder at work every day? To have them commenting on everything you do there, and wanting to give you their feedback and advice all the time – even although they’re not actually part of your target audience, and don’t really know what you’re trying to achieve? It’s kind of weird, to be honest: and the more people there are hanging over your shoulder, the more you start to censor yourself. My blog isn’t even one of the really popular ones, but every time I sit down to write a new post, I have to ask myself how every single person I know is going to react to it, and wonder if it’s going to annoy them, or upset them in some way.
More often than not, I’ll decide to err on the side of caution, and remove every single thing that might possibly cause offence, or even just make people worry about me (Something else you learn when you start blogging is that non-bloggers will tend to assume that if something was important enough for you to write about it ON THE INTERNET, it must be super-duper important… so that random thought you had in 2014 will be coming back to haunt you for the rest of your life, even when you’ve long-since forgotten about it…). The problem is, removing everything that’s potentially going to annoy someone often means removing everything that’s interesting: and, before you know it, your “personal” blog reads more like a school essay on “What I Did In My Summer Holidays”, than something anyone would actually want to read.
[Really old photo: dress by Fever London, hat by River Island, phone case by J Crew ]
Then there are the readers who DON’T know you in real life. Most of those readers start following your blog because it’s like reading someone’s diary – and when it stops feeling like that, they get annoyed, and tell you they want the OLD posts back: the ones where you just wrote about your life, and all of the funny things that used to happen to you. What they’re not realising, however, is that, back in those days, they were probably the only person who was actually reading – so it was easy for you to be open about your life, and everything that happened it in.
They don’t know about the time you had to call the police when a foot fetishist started to drop hints about knowing where you lived. They don’t know about the family argument that was started by a throwaway comment on your blog, which wasn’t even about the person who took offence to it. They don’t know any of that: in fact, they don’t really know you AT ALL – they just THINK they do, because, hey! They’ve been reading your DIARY! So they start to become a bit over-familiar: to act like they know you, or to make uncomfortable demands which totally fail to take account of the fact that although they’ve been reading your blog for years, you don’t know anything about them AT ALL. Awkward.
They mean well: or most of them do. Some of them, of course, DON’T mean well. Some of them don’t even like you much: but they keep reading your blog anyway, AND they keep commenting on it, to make sure you know just how much they disagree with or dislike you. So you start to censor your writing to account for THEM, too. You think that maybe you won’t mention how depressed you get in winter, because you know you’re just going to get yet another lecture from that person who’s determined to force you to like the same things THEY like – or a dozen entreaties to “just be more positive!”. You don’t wear that dress again, because you know such-and-such a reader doesn’t like that dress, and will want to tell you aaalll about it. Every time you write a post, you have all of these different voices in your head, and some of them are saying, “We really miss the more personal posts,” while others just can’t BELIEVE you wrote about THAT on the INTERNET.
“How do you write honestly about your life, when almost everything of interest is going to offend, worry or upset someone?”
So, what do you do? How do you write honestly about your life, when almost everything of interest is going to offend, worry or upset someone? How do you keep it personal enough to be interesting to your original audience, but not SO personal that’ll it’ll either create real-life drama, or just make you feel a bit awkward next time you have to walk into a room full of people you know? That’s an actual question, by the way: I sure as hell haven’t worked out the answer yet, and I’m not sure there even is one – because the problem with “personal” blogging is that the more readers you have, the harder it is to keep it truly “personal”.
What I DO know is that I’ve been missing writing about my life recently and, in a bid to fix that, I decided to start keeping a paper journal again. I pictured myself sitting down every night with a thoughtful expression on my face and a big glass of brandy at my elbow, and writing down profound thoughts about my day, which would later become the basis for the greatest novel the world has ever known. For some reason, I’m always using a quill in this particular daydream. And I’m wearing that green dress Keira Knightley wore in Atonement. Actually, I think I maybe AM Keira Knightley in this scenario? This… really wasn’t the direction I intended to take this post in: let’s move on, shall we?
Anyway, the point of all of this is to say that I totally failed in my “starting a journal” mission. After years of blogging, I somehow just felt really self-conscious and awkward about writing TO MYSELF (and those future people in the dusty attic), so I’d end up just writing odd, stilted little entries about what I was wearing that day, and what the weather was like. So, just like my blog, basically. Or like it used to be, back when I didn’t worry so much about what everyone was going to think or say about it, and just got on with documenting my life – which is why I started blogging in the first place, after all.
So, from now on, I think I’m going to try to just do that. I’m not saying I’ll write about everything, or that this site can ever really be as candid as it once was, but I’d like to start dotting some more of the old-style diary entries among the outfit posts and beauty reviews again: let’s just see how that goes…