I was one of the guests to speak on the Writing Online panel at Offset’s Creative Arts Festival this past Saturday. As I’ve talked about this blog, and my writing/upkeep of it, a fair bit over the years, I wanted to make this talk a little different. It’s a pretty personal story and I’ve never really gone into it before. Still, I hope it helps – either for those in the room, or whoever might read this now. I’ve copied it below.
photo by Lisa Dempster
Perhaps what the other panellists and I have to say may overlap in terms of identifying what works or not, and I’m proud to be here to discuss and represent the ‘personal bloggers’ out there and how we manage to find our way.
My talk will be a little different to others I’ve done in that I’ll be going into the back-story as to how I got started writing online in the first place before moving on to some more concrete pieces of advice from my years of writing.
Okay, so here goes:
Ten years ago, I was twenty-three years old. I’d finished my Masters, moved states and had managed to land a full-time job as an events coordinator, where I was organising conferences, courses, corporate lunches and breakfasts in the finance sector. It was intense work, but I somehow managed to arrive at my desk every morning at 7am to write for one solid hour before starting my ‘real’ job. I was working on my first novel, and was putting a lot of pressure on myself to be productive. However, this all caught up with me and (among other reasons) I had an emotional breakdown and quit for health reasons while I sorted myself out. I like to think of this time as the ‘Quarter Century Crisis That Came Two Years Early’.
So what did I do to help my recovery? Apart from talking way too much to my friends on ICQ, I began an online diary at ‘Diaryland’ that only a handful of people knew about where I talked about random stuff like cats and vibrators. Looking back, I wouldn’t necessarily call it an overly therapeutic exercise – more like a distraction.
My current blog – Miscellaneous Mum – the one I continue to write at today, was begun after another difficult period in my life, when my second child was born. In those brief years between blogs, the blogosphere had begun to develop, widen and innovate. The software was more and more user friendly, and in that time I’d begun to get some freelance writing of my own published.
I didn’t really know what I was doing, but then again, in 2006, not a whole lot of people could probably say they did either. Blogging was a curiosity; something often regarded skeptically or outright dismissed. But I loved it, I kept at it, and in return it has helped me in the ways I hoped it would – and more.
Now you know a little more about me, I’d like to share with you some things I’ve learned.
1. Developing your voice takes time.
I’m talking to a room full of writers here, so I’m sure you already have a pretty good idea about what I’m going to say, but I am constantly surprised at bloggers who, after blogging for six months, maybe more, maybe less, are frustrated they haven’t been ‘discovered’ yet and their blog is floundering in obscurity. Sometimes this is due to general inexperience, but others it’s because they’re forcing their writing, tailoring it according to the perceptions of what they ‘should’ be doing, or haven’t identified the nuances of the niche in which they’re writing. To that I offer my sympathy: you need to wait for the sun to rise before you can cast a shadow, and once you do, you’ll want to be doing so for all the right reasons instead of the wrong ones.
2. Make it matter, because it does matter.
I am an advocate about the worth and quality of online writing – how it can change a writer’s (and reader’s) life. I remember talking to a writer back in 2009 when I had begun compiling Miscellaneous Voices and he likened putting ‘good work’ up online as being a ‘complete waste’. This person since, I’ve noticed, has embraced the idea of blogging a bit more, perhaps more out of a promotional sense more than any other. I stress I mention this – and not unkindly either – because I once felt a little the same way.
My ‘blog’ was over one side in its compartment; my ‘writing’ was in another. I didn’t find a way to integrate the two until 2008 when I was producing my first book and I invited my readers join me through the journey. They did, and it was so exciting to feel their excitement – particularly on days when I really needed encouragement.
Never be afraid to extend an invitation … letting yourself be open to new experiences or admissions. It’s a lot like what Brene Brown talks about in her TedX lecture on The Power of Vulnerability.
Since then, writing markets have opened their doors – somewhat – to re-publishing or re-featuring blog work. I’ve had a blog poem republished over at Overland (online) and another in literary journal page seventeen. Another post will be coming out in an ebook in the next few weeks. Crying in the Car has blog posts.
I was even able to provide an opportunity when I published Miscellaneous Voices in 2010.
3. Be known for your blog, but not ‘just’ for your blog
This is somewhat similar to another saying that gets around which states something to the meaning of ‘make money because of your blog, not simply on it’. In other words, spread yourself around. I won’t talk about the money-making aspect of blogging today, but the idea of diversification, getting your name out there, guest posting, review writing, keeping your hand in, is important. It sounds like a lot of work and, yes, it is.
That’s the life of a writer in these times. Welcome. It may not be ‘conventional’, but this industry is evolving. You have to pay attention.
But it can be fun too. And I wish you all the very best of luck.