Not difficult as in mathematics homework difficult, not difficult as in ‘pleeeaaase don’t make me do it’ difficult. But difficult as in unless I have a spare 40 hours a week to dedicate to it (which I don’t), I can’t keep up. While the enjoyment is still there (for now anyway), the act of blogging has started to become this all consuming task, and one which sees me constantly chasing an impossible result.
I know I’m not alone in my thoughts, as I’ve read many great posts from fellow bloggers with their thoughts on the subject. Elizabeth recently wrote about losing her motivation for the blog she has cultivated for years, Zoe’s discussed her need to re-brand and revamp her blog last year and one of my favourite writers and bloggers, Poppy, has hit the nail on the head with this post about why she’s getting back into writing on her blog every day.
It’s seems a pivotal time for those of us who have been in the blogging game for more than a few years and it’s very interesting to look at the journeys of the blogs I followed back in 2010 when I first began. Some have flourished, some are no more, some have gone in completely different directions. But one things for sure, none of us are using our online space in quite the same way.
Why? Because the game has changed. And quite significantly so. Now more than ever that shift is palpable. Ask anyone who began blogging in 2010 or earlier and I’ll guarantee that somewhere along the line, probably fairly recently, they’ve started doubting themselves and that blog, it’s direction and purpose.
I guess you could put it down to that current buzz phrase – creativity vs commerciality. Blogging, now like any other successful medium has become a commercial space. So for those of us who began when this wasn’t an issue, it has meant a lot of decisions about what we want our own little online spaces to become. What might have started out for many of us as a hobby, an online diary where we spouted nonsense about our days to anyone who would listen, is now expected to be something much more, and figuring out how to grow without losing the essence of your blog that made you passionate about it in the first place can be quite tricky.
It was a decision I wrestled with a lot when I first went freelance and one which I still don’t have the answer to. Did I want this blog to remain a hobby, my release at the end of the day, or did I want to start justifying the many hours I spent on it by getting something back? After leaving my full time job, over time I found myself spending more and more time on my blog, taking it more seriously and even accepting jobs that had come through the blog. As a freelancer it is certainly hard to ignore an avenue that can potentially bring you more income or expand your career offering, but at the same time I struggled with whether I wanted to make the changes necessary to turn myself from someone who happened to own a blog, to being a ‘blogger’. If I’m honest I’m still not there yet with an informed decision about what I want this blog to be or how big a part I would like it to have in my freelance business, but along the way I’ve made changes. Changes that happened naturally, but changes that have resulted in a different type of online space all the same. I re-designed the blog to make it a more professional space, I started thinking much more about the type of content that would raise my game, I posted a lot less of the truly personal in nature rambles, I started being much more stringent about the quality of pictures I placed on the blog, and I began monetising the space through affiliate links, sponsorship and even the odd sponsored post. Although my freelance work still certainly takes centre stage, somewhere along the line (perhaps without me even realising) the blog has become ‘work’ and I’m not quite sure I ever agreed to that.
It was Poppy’s blog post, and one particular quote, which really struck a chord for me;
“I was at Subway the other day and felt like I’d absolutely NAILED my sandwich choice. “I should blog about this brilliant trip to Subway,” I thought, whilst stuffing my face walking along the Fulham Road like some demented greedy guts who shouldn’t really be somewhere quite so snazzy. “No, I guess I can’t. I don’t blog about sandwiches so it will just be weird.” “Yes but if it’s something you enjoyed, shouldn’t you share that with your readers so that they can have the chance to enjoy it too?”. “Yeah but a big post about Subway in between shoes and face creams will just look like a non-declared sponsored post and then people will judge me.” “But you could start with a joke about how it should be sponsored but it isn’t? Just write about the sandwich.” “SHUT UP I’M NOT GOING TO BLOG ABOUT SUBWAY IT’S NOT FASHION FRIENDLY AND YOU CAN’T BUY MACARONS THERE SO IT WON’T WORK.””
This pretty much sums up exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. Scroll the early archives of this blog and you will find posts about true nonsense. I once dedicated a whole post to the fact that I’d got a free chocolate bar with my morning coffee at Starbucks that day. It was a one off promotion they were doing and it made my morning that much better that I thought it would be worth sharing that promotion with my (extremely small) set of followers so that they too could get a free bar of chocolate with their morning coffee.
There were other occasions where I wrote down my thoughts on meeting my in-laws for the first time, or regaled the tales of my weekend through the arguments I’d had with GB. There was no thought to these posts, no time spent cultivating the content or hours labouring over the photos in Photoshop. Most of the time there were no pictures, there was no worry over grammar or sentence structure, and there was no fear over who might read it or what they would think. It was simply the overflow of thoughts that were consuming my brain at the time, that needed to escape onto my virtual piece of paper.
Nowadays I would neither dream of revealing such personal details, or indulging a full post to such frivolous nonsensical happenings. It’s in part to do with a growth in readership, the knowledge that my in-laws now know full well about the blog and may well be reading this very post, and even the fear that a Starbucks free chocolate bar is a waste of someone’s click through to this site and may lose me readers in the process. But I guess it’s also to do with standards. My own standards for this blog have been raised, because the overall standard in blogging has been raised. And there’s a very real and very exhausting niggle at my side, constantly telling me I need to keep up or I’ll be lost. But lost where? And lost how? And does it even matter if I am?
It’s easy to think that those who start blogs today may have an easier journey. That standard has now been set and it’s higher than ever before so perhaps when you start a blog today, you are more aware of what is necessary in order to make it a success. You can go into it with clear intentions about what you want it to be, and cultivate your ‘brand’ from the word go.
Of course you don’t need to do any of that if you don’t want to and I’ve worked in blogger outreach long enough to know that there are many wonderful blogs out there which are written purely for recreational purpose and have no intention of ever making a dime, and that’s ok. I hope that those blogs continue to exist no matter how big the industry becomes. But if you do want a career in a creative industry, fancy becoming a writer, honing your photography skills or working as a stylist, inevitably nowadays your blog can quickly become your portfolio. The window to which you allow potential professionals and fellow creatives to view you and your skills, and therefore it’s natural that you’d want it to be the best it can be. But to stand out in a sea of others requires work. A lot of work. Content must be well thought out and carefully curated. The writing must be great and free from mistakes, and the imagery must be inspiring and professional – all of which is no mean feat especially when managed entirely by one person which is how most blogs start out. Before you know it, that space you loved and developed all by yourself, the space you enjoyed more than any other job you’ve ever had, becomes more time consuming, more stressful, more pressured and far less well paid than any other job you’ve ever had.
Of course I’m not a stickler for the past, I could argue that all of the above is no bad thing. Everything moves on and develops and improves with time and although it can sometimes be sad to see commerciality take over a community that began to act out against that very thing, it is of course a huge sign of success for the blogging industry. We all owe the current state of blogging, the fact that many people can and do make a career and a way of life out of it, to those early pioneers, who paved the way for fair pay and a shot of being taken seriously. Commerciality is unfortunately the way of the world, and eventually anything that proves to be successful will be viewed as a way to make money, and why shouldn’t it be? We can’t expect things to stay the same, and even those of us who started out years ago, must be willing to move with the times.
Most of the time that move will happen naturally anyway. I started this blog when I was 24 and a newbie to the big city I now call home. Now I’m almost 30, and have been living in that city for over 6 years. It’s inevitable that my blog would have changed because I have changed, my life has changed, my interests have changed, my goals have changed and the very thing that motivates me to write on the internet has changed. It’s easy to wish I’d been born in a different era, to wish that I too could have started a blog when I was in Uni, with the intention of making it my career and walk into the world with a ready made brand and a not too shabby income before I’d even started. But everyone’s path is different, and I know that things are never that simple. I’m glad that I started this blog when I did, I’m glad that I still have those early ramblings to look back on and remember that time in my life and I’m glad for the position I’m now in. Even though I only make pennies from my blog at the moment, that’s certainly more than I ever expected from it and something to be proud of. Yes it may not be the same space it was 5 years ago, but it’s still my space and I still always have the freedom to write, do and say anything I want on it.
So while don’t want to go back, and I don’t want to scrap all the progress I’ve made, I do want to remind myself of that progress every so often, and remind myself of where this blog began life. If anything just to tell myself that I don’t need to constantly keep up, that I don’t need to constantly strive for that un-achievable result, and that success can be measured on my own terms.
I might not write in the same way I used to or talk about the same silly things, but I can take some things from that early era of blogging in to the blog today and learn from them. So while I won’t call them tips, or blogging rules or even name this a how to, these are just a few of the personal reminders I’ll be giving myself as this blog progresses. The things I’ll try and remember when I’ve spent three nights working into the early hours for a brand that keeps demanding more and more yet isn’t paying me for my time. You might agree with some of them, you might agree with none of them, and that’s ok. Because blogging is personal, and while we might inspire each other, everyone should and can create their own unique space.
1. Think about where you fit and be happy with that.
The blogosphere is a big old place and there is room for everyone. If I’ve learnt anything from blogging it’s that there are pockets within pockets of communities and there will always be someone who will relate to you, and your thoughts. If you want to talk about world Chess championships online, you will find a community of people who do so, if you want to find other people who have the same food allergy as you, you can, and similarly if you write about one thing, don’t punish yourself by chasing readers from a completely different field. Sometimes I find myself getting down when I see other blogs with massive readerships and endless comments, when in reality they’re so far from the space I’m in, there’s no point in even worrying about it. I might take the odd outfit post here and there to show you what I wore at the weekend, but I’m fully aware I’m no Blonde Salad so c’mon if the photos don’t look the same, that’s because they never will.
2. It’s ok to ramble.
I’m constantly told I write too much (this post is case in point) and while when I’m getting paid for a 1000 word article and I write 1500 that’s ok, edit away, on this blog it shouldn’t matter. If there’s anywhere I can ramble to my hearts content it’s here and sometimes that’s what I miss the most about those early posts – the freedom to ramble. It’s not something I do as often now, mostly because of time, but also because of the worry that no one will read it, there won’t be enough pictures to go alongside it and so on. But who cares? From now on I’m going to attempt to write one true ramble each month, and if my Mum is the only one who bothers to read, that’s ok. This is, after all, a personal lifestyle blog.
3. Goals are yours to be set.
I recently reached 500 followers on Bloglovin, and while for most that’s a tiny drop in a very big ocean, for me it’s pretty great. That was one platform which was kind of lingering for a while, yet drove a lot of traffic so to see the numbers go up and the engagement grow is, for me, a sign that the blog is too growing, and people are enjoying the posts. Similarly I’ve just joined Youtube and hell if I could reach 10 subscribers on there I’d be doing a happy dance because it’s a whole new area for me. Goals are individual markers, positive steps we put in front of ourselves to make us work harder and push further, and that’s all. They are only numbers, numbers which mean very little all in all, and not worth obsessing over. They should be my achievements and no one else’s so who’s comparing?
4. Don’t be afraid to be an amateur.
Blogging is a platform with which you can teach yourself new skills, try new things and share your journey with others in a similar boat, so since when did we all need to be amazing from the off? I love taking photos for the blog now, and photography has become a bit of a hobby for me but I learned along the way. Over the years of posts you can see things take shape, from the post about buying myself a DSLR for the first time to the pictures teaching myself to use manual – it’s a journey that I’m proud of and one which I’m glad has been documented as sometimes when I feel like things aren’t good enough I can just go back a year and look at how far I’ve come. In the same way I’ve just started creating video, and with a camera man for a boyfriend it would be easy for me to enlist him to do it all for me and get his editor friends to make it look amazing, but where’s the fun in that? I want to learn, to add a new skill to my repertoire and to share that learning process with my readers. So I put the shaky videos from fashion week up and the badly edited attempts because that’s where I’m at at the moment and I want to improve. You don’t need to start a blog being amazing at taking pictures, or only be successful if you hire someone to take them for you and you don’t need to be the best writer when you start out. Most people will enjoy reading about the journey, and help you along the way, and you can only ever improve so why not give it a go?
5. Be yourself.
Self explanatory but something that’s equally easy to forget in the blogging world. I spend a lot of time reading blogs, and while most of the time it’s inspiring, sometimes it can be detrimental. I can only ever be me, and this blog can only ever be mine so what others do shouldn’t matter. I need to remember that’s it’s ok to show personality, to write about personal things from time to time or even to write about things that others won’t like. Bumpkin Betty is for me, first and foremost, and if others enjoy it too, that’s a bonus.
How long have you been blogging for? Do you feel like things have changed?