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The Problem With Personal Blogging

Posted on 8 min read

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 blogging
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.

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“the problem with personal blogs is that, the bigger they get, the harder it is to keep them truly personal…”

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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.

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“when your blog is essentially your diary, it sure makes social occasions a touch more awkward…”

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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.

blue retro-inspired nautical dress

[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.

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“How do you write honestly about your life, when almost everything of interest is going to offend, worry or upset someone?”

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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…

P.S. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on blogging for a living, and how I got into this very strange, but totally wonderful position where I write about my life and get paid for it, you might want to check out my new book, which available now from Amazon.

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18 Comments
  • Louise McDonagh
    July 31, 2016

    I totally get you on this. My blog is a hobby, I work full time in an office and I know some of my colleagues, possibly even my boss reads it. I sometimes have to think how posts will reflect on my professional life too; will I appear frivolous? Should I say anything about that funny work situation etc etc. It’s a minefield.

  • Roisin
    July 31, 2016

    Yes, I completely understand. I like blogging about my life – it’s what I started out by doing, before I veered into sewing – but over the last year or more I have been a lot more general when talking about my personal life and I think I have shared a lot less of the random funny stuff too. As Louise has said, above, it’s partly because I know that a lot of my colleagues know about my blog now so I don’t them to think I’m weird (or any weirder than they already think me). Also, because my job has changed and I have a lot more responsibility now, I don’t want to be seen as unprofessional. Which is stupid, because it’s not unprofessional to have a life outside work and a silly sense of humour…but last year, one of our suppliers (with whom we have a reasonably difficult relationship anyway – and by that I mean on an organisational level) tried to use the existence of my blog to get me into trouble with my manager. They were googling me (presumably looking for dirt) and then sent the link to my manager to say “Look how unprofessional Roisin is!” when they weren’t getting their way in a negotiation. My manager quite rightly told them to buzz off – although I talk about my job, I don’t share details of what it is I do or where I work. My blogging about sewing with the occasional reference to my life (“I’ve been in meetings all week at the offices of a supplier and the meetings all were in a basement”) presents no risk to the reputation of that supplier, which is what they alleged. Ugh. But yes, it has definitely made me a bit shy in a way that I didn’t use to be!

    Anyway…long story short. I get it. I still love your blog. You have to go with what feels right – obviously I love reading about the more personal stuff, but you’re such a talented writer that everything you share here is engaging and enjoyable.

    • Amber
      August 1, 2016

      OMG, that’s absolutely awful, Roisin! How totally vindictive of them! Thank goodness your boss was OK about it! I once had my employer find my old Livejournal, and even although it was anonymous, and I didn’t even name myself in it, let alone the company, etc, they did NOT take it well – it was a really awful experience, which truly DID feel like someone had read my private diary (It was a friends-only journal, so it hadn’t been written with the expectation of anyone other than the handful of people who had access to it reading it), and it made me SO wary about what I wrote after that. Not saying I’ve never slipped up, because I’ve said things I genuinely didn’t expect to be controversial, only for them to blow up in my face, but even on my private Facebook etc, I’m really careful not to ever say anything that I wouldn’t want people to read. I basically take the stance that NOTHING on the internet is truly “private” – I think it’s safer that way. That’s why it frustrates me so much when I see people snarking on pro-bloggers by saying their blogs would be so much more interesting/relatable if they got a “real” job: I can guarantee that if I got a “real” job now, my blog would suffer for it, because I would feel so constrained by the thought of colleagues etc reading it, and I wouldn’t dare to mention ANYTHING about the job itself at all!

  • Allegra
    July 31, 2016

    I totally feel you. My blog is just of the hobby kind, but even so it looks like every single person I have ever met is reading me there (and making their own assumptions, no matter we haven´t spoken since high school or I´m quite selective about what to write), which truly shocks me, as I never think of myself as a person of interest for long-forgotten acquaintances… So I can´t imagine how hard it is to deal with your visitors/readers flow, except that it must be really stressful to be soft-spoken.

    But of course you do have the right to post about whatever you want (and it is good for your feedback too. After all, readers can feel when a blogger is motivated, and true to his/her colours!) Also, I personally appreciate when bloggers transmit something else than a perfectly magazine-like-edited impersonal version of themselves (not your case, anyway. Your sense of humor is the main reason why I come back here with my coffee every morning). So to sum-up: go, go girl! Whatever you decide to do, we will avidly read you! 😊

  • Heather
    July 31, 2016

    Aaaaand this is one of the many reasons why I would never be able to make my blog my career because then I would actually have to tell people in my real life that I have a blog. I have actively avoided that, ha.

    Whatever direction you take this blog, I will read it because your writing style is fun and entertaining. I understand that blogs morph and change as time goes by because people do the same thing. I do like reading posts like this, where it is personal, and you do try to explain your inner monolog, so you may feel like you aren’t being as real as before, but it still feels real.

  • Myra
    July 31, 2016

    I haven’t read a single blog that I haven’t enjoyed reading (of yours, I mean).
    One of my favs is when you give your dresses names and personalities, but I also love the childhood diaries and your teen years, particular with your unique writing style and funny reflections. Keep on writing anything you like.
    PS I love the blue outfit, royal blue really suits you. The hat is fab, I love hats.

  • Minna Lee
    July 31, 2016

    This article hits the nail right on the head! There is an inevitable censorship that happens, because of how you start to think it might offend or affect someone in your personal life. Many times, I have not written about something that would have definitely resonated with my audience, for fear of oversharing a personal experience that involves someone else. But I love this pledge you’re taking moving forward– I am striving for that too! Go Amber!

  • Sarah Rooftops
    July 31, 2016

    I get you. I always felt a bit weird knowing that family members and colleagues knew about my blog; it’s awkward every time someone in a toddler group tells me they read it. There are a couple of fairly negative people who read my blog and are always ready to jump in and get angry on my behalf when, actually, I’m just rolling my eyes and laughing about something; I find myself being very explicit about how NOT ANNOYED I am, purely to cut off the ferocious comments they would otherwise leave. But I do enjoy the open, honest posts most – both to read and to write – so that’s what I’m trying to write.

  • Claire
    July 31, 2016

    I totally understand where you are coming from on this! There is recently things I’ve not said on my blog because I know certain people might read it. It feels like I’m keeping things inside and I really hate it. It is a difficult mix – personal blogging and real-life relationships! <3

    Gisforgingers xx

  • Tracey
    July 31, 2016

    Well, I enjoy your blog, whatever you choose to write about. And I have done for years.

  • Harlow
    August 1, 2016

    I completely censor my thoughts and feelings specifically because of the kind of people that you mentioned! I have made it so that the readers of my blog know absolutely nothing about me, other than what I wore on a specific day. I’m not really satisfied with the one dimensional perspective of myself that I show on my blog, but at the same time there is no way I’m giving the Professional Haters the satisfaction of picking apart my life 😀 One of the reasons I love reading your blog is because I relate a lot to your outlook on things so I have a lot of admiration for the fact that you write so openly.

  • Porcelina
    August 1, 2016

    You’ve articulated these issues perfectly – I think unless it’s an anonymous personal blog it’s very hard for a blog to be truly personal at all. (I’m thinking Belle De Jour, she couldn’t have started writing that stuff openly!!) I also find when e.g. a makeup blog starts to be personal and full of lifestyle stuff I lose interest, because it wasn’t really the person that drew me to the blog in the first place. Just give me the makeup reviews!!

  • Chiarina
    August 1, 2016

    I haven’t written on the Internet for a long time, but I had an Internet page in my teens before blogging was a thing and a photo blog of sorts about ten years ago… but I had a really hard time writing stuff friends and family might read. Also, I have been reading this blog for a while and I really like the persona you project on the Internet, and I often wonder how that relates to the real you. I can see how people would believe they “know” you based on it, but I also understand how that can be frustrating for you.

  • Jaclyn
    August 1, 2016

    Oh my gosh, it’s like you’ve delved into my head and pulled out my thoughts lately! I’ve been thinking about this so much over the last little while and actually have a blog post on this very subject in my drafts. I was the same as you – I started my blog very much as a diary and wrote extremely personal posts all about what happened in my day to day life. In those first few months of blogging, I remember writing about an argument with my then boyfriend/now husband and discussing the first time I met my in laws and why I had to have a little cry because they had no shampoo in their bathroom and I hadn’t brought any with me so couldn’t wash my hair one morning. I would NEVER dare write anything about people close to me now as I know they might be reading. Occasionally, even in very lighthearted posts I mention things a friend might have said or make a funny story out of a scenario we’ve experienced and even then that person will say ‘I didn’t say it like that’ and I’m like ‘but I’m a WRITER, I have to write a story and make it funny’. The other side is that when you don’t write about people or specific things, they can get annoyed. I’ve had friends say to me ‘I know you didn’t really like your birthday present this year because you didn’t blog about it’ or ‘Why didn’t you post any pictures from my party on your Instagram? Was it not pretty enough?’ and sometimes we’ll go for a weekend away or stay in a hotel and I’ll see it as a break to be with friends and not think about ‘work’ all the time, and then a friend will say ‘Oh I told the owner you have a blog and you’d do a review for them’ at which point I panic because I’ve taken no photos and have been off duty. I have to explain to people in my life constantly that not every single thing I do makes it to the blog as that would leave no time for actual living, and sometimes, like everyone, I prefer to actually take some time off from work and maybe be present at your party/birthday weekend rather than be the girl who’s on social media all night, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it! I wrote a really personal post a month or so ago, and honestly while it went down really well with fellow bloggers and readers, the guilt I felt after close family and friends read it and thought it was directed at them personally, made me think about whether I should/want to share things that personal in nature again. It’s been something I’ve been thinking a lot about since as those are the posts I LOVE to write but like you said, it’s so hard knowing that so many friends and family are going to be privy to your innermost thoughts. So thanks for writing this, and reminding me I’m not alone in this struggle. I see less and less ‘personal’ bloggers nowadays and I do miss reading those type of posts but I totally understand why it’s gone that way. If you ever come up with a solution, please let me know but in the meantime I’ll be lapping up your writing – however personal.

    Jac
    xxx

  • Cora
    August 1, 2016

    I love your blog! I love reading intersrting stuff and stories. It is an living experience and interaction. I love reading books for the same reason, except interaction.

  • Fifi Friendly
    August 3, 2016

    Love it. Spot on. Sadly we will never please all but your writing please lots of people💚

  • Lauranne
    August 3, 2016

    This is something I have been thinking about a lot recently. I started a blog as a way to make money, I saw a lot of other people do it and thought “why not me” however, the ex I was living with at the time was a very private person (I wasn’t even allowed to share that I was in a relationship with him on Facebook) and so I bloggers anonymously. However, as I started to write I found out that I could be completely open and honest and it helped me work through a whole load of stuff that I needed to do with, but hadn’t been able to before. So the focus for my blog changed. I don’t worry about hits on it. In fact, I work really hard on not caring whether or not it is read at all (although sometimes I do still check out the stats and worry about my Facebook page) but I know, deep down, that the “health benefits” outweigh anything I may have gotten from pushing to monetise and so I accept that I am going to have to stick with the day job.

  • Chandan Kumar
    September 7, 2016

    Great description about the problems faced. I enjoyed reading this blog. Thanks.

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