It has always seemed natural to me that I should have a blog. I’ve kept a diary since I could hold a pen and my mind seems to host an unending stream of thoughts, feelings, and straight-up visions demanding expression. I have always wanted to write, talk and share ideas for a living, even if I’m still figuring out exactly how I mean this. So, when I learnt that blogs were a thing, in simpler times (sweet 2012), I was very excited to try one.
Back in the good ole days I used to write all the time. I created said blog and I would also submit lots of articles all over the place and I didn’t realise what a productive member of society I truly was. My post about a Shrodinger’s cat cake I made got a hundred thousand hits in Russia, my piece about uni rejections was re-published in the Telegraph, and my verdict on accepting a St Andrews offer saw a storm of angry ex-students blow up the comments section on accounts of ‘blasphemy’ (I said the town was kinda small and far from stuff). All a bit weird but just about fits a liberal definition of ‘success’, in my book.
I haven’t used this blog or written much for a while, now, partially since I was focused on making it out of university alive. This wasn’t the main reason, though: beyond my life being completely hijacked by deadlines, breakdowns, job apps, charming privately-educated men, mania, whatever else, I underwent a bit of a disillusionment with social media and lost clarity on my place in the online world.
Getting disheartened and very confused
Before university, I didn’t really understand what a blog was or how to write one but I didn’t particularly care. I just came online to declare my every crush, lament my every downfall, and confess to each of my daily mishaps with cringe-inducing honesty down to the very finest details. Responses combining concern, amusement, and, most frequently, compassion poured in on the reg, and I gained a steady following of a few folk who seemed to genuinely connect.
When I arrived on campus, though, this changed. Alongside a whole range of personal revolutions following my discovery that I knew absolutely nothing about anything (birthed as much by new peer group as lectures/readings), came a doubt in my online presence and the way I’d been using my site. What I had thought a ‘blog’ was suddenly felt extremely outdated as I met others in on the hobby in such a vastly different way. The first few ‘bloggers’ I met at uni showed me feeds with jaw-dropping photography, flawless selfies, and highly refined themes, whilst I was still all-over-the-place and throwing whatever I felt like sharing at the screen like verbal paintball.
Blogging was, in part, already evolving rapidly, by this time. So, it’s hard to judge what was my fresh perspective and what was just the scene changing before I’d had time to adapt. Also, of course, by university a lot of people stop considering what you do in your spare time a cute side project and everything instead becomes a line on your CV or a potential stepping stone to a serious career. Suddenly, there was this added pressure: my blog had to be good, and it had to be good by standards I didn’t really understand.
So, I checked out tons of books and read thousands of articles and watched loads of videos on how to be a blogger in 2016, most of which just deeply confused me. Everything seemed to confirm my fear that what I had been doing was no longer advised, professionally unviable, and on the whole just not what anyone wanted to read. Pretty much everything focused on photography and graphic design, rather than writing, and an earth-shaking shift seemed to be occurring from websites to social media, to a point where most ‘bloggers’ didn’t actually have a blog, anymore… (beckon in the era of ‘influencers’.) Everything focused on creating ‘the kind of content people want’, and polishing your overall theme, which seemed a backwards strategy, to me. It’s always been the case for me, with whatever medium I’m working in, that you start creating, revise and refine as you go, and see where you end up – I would then solicit some sort of marketing and advertising advice afterwards. It seemed like selling the product had overtaken creating the product, to the point where I couldn’t even tell what, exactly, the product was, to begin with. Blogging seemed to have become just Marketing but without anything beneath that was actually being marketed.
It seemed very important that I pick a niche and important I learn to position myself within one market effectively (God help us all, I can’t order a coffee without spending 3 minutes bewildering a barista over which syrup I may or may not like). It suddenly seemed very important what I looked like and that this be relentlessly documented (I don’t have an insta husband or consider myself very photogenic so this didn’t particularly appeal.). Worst of all were hoards of suggestions to learn ‘visual storytelling’ and ‘curating a personal brand’ which, essentially, to me, just seemed like fancy phrases for lying, and all very efficient ways to fast-track me in the opposite direction to what I’d originally wanted: real connection with other people.
Even if it wasn’t so much that I was unnerved by what I was being told I should put in to my blog… I was very uncomfortable with what I kept reading I should definitely leave out. It seems that the rules of online presence have just been grafted straight from our etiquette in the real-world public sphere. We’re expected to behave on social media how it would be proper to behave in public. So: showing flaw, admitting to moral corruption, deviating in any way from what’s deemed ‘normal’ behaviour, bearing soul, or – heaven forbid – having emotions, is all deeply inappropriate and embarrassing. People talk a lot about social media being rough on their mental health in terms of comparing their own to others’ success, physical appearance, or relationships, but for me the downfall was much more a case of: why do I have so much emotion if no one else seems to? All these crisp photographs of gorgeous interiors, perfect friend groups, and beautiful people in love with other beautiful people didn’t so much bother me in their aestheticism or narratives of achievement, but I found myself scrutinising the captions with the intensity of a Free Britney campaigner in search of any evidence of inner mental states or underlying feelings (especially the unpleasant ones). Comparing my own blog to these examples made me feel like the drunk aunt at a respectable family wedding confessing to having slept with the groom, announcing bizarre political beliefs, and falling, gracelessly, into the water fountain.
I researched possibilities of a middle-ground: was there such a thing as recommencing with a marketable ‘honest blog’? Whenever I did this, though, I frequently returned results that confused me even more – blogs that seemed to be essentially the same thing – more prim and polished feeds – only claiming authenticity with a lot of hashtags and visual tricks… but never really risking true vulnerability, facilitating genuine intimacy, or refusing, in any big ways, to conform. There seemed to be a lot of accounts alleging self-exposure, confession, and imperfection, but the things they were saying weren’t, in my opinion, actually that embarrassing or hard to admit to. I also discovered endless examples of wellbeing account militantly insisting that ‘IT’S OKAY TO *everything under the sun*’, and I appreciate these, in doses… They fall a bit flat for me, though, without any actual examples of people doing these things and the result being, as promised, ‘okay’. There’s also, of course, the Comedy scene, online, in the way of videos, memes, jokes, you name it, which admit fault, display mistake-making, and express unwanted emotion. In most of these cases, though, (at least in 2017) the creator was rarely revealing anything specific about their own life: they were usually sharing an image of someone/something else with a caption about a more general issue lots of people can relate to, or performing as another character. This doesn’t make them any less amazing, but I think it doesn’t quite fill that void for people who share their unfiltered personal life.
Either way, I thought I’d give the pro-blogger suggestions a go, for a bit. I do have some visual skills and I convinced myself it might be possible to strike a middle-ground between writing as I had been and simply packaging and promoting it in a way that was a bit more in-demand. Lots of ‘Lifestyle’ blogs seemed to balance a few personal columns against snaps of outfits so I guessed I could try this, myself. It seemed stupid to keep writing the way I used to without anyone reading it, particularly as the years went on and I grew increasingly nervous about employment prospects (I kept being handed job specs demanding a broader business-based skillset including SEO, social media strategizing, and other such buzzwords that make you sound like you’ve joined a cult). Serious concerns over whether the content I had been sharing would be deemed socially outrageous or inappropriate seeped in and I felt trapped in this catch-22 where employers seemed attracted by ‘content creation’ but repulsed if the content posted said, well, anything at all (would I still be allowed to work with children if I spoke about my personal life online? Would a prestigious gallery reject my application as ‘non-respectable’ if I’d hinted at sexuality?). So, I made my site far more photo-heavy, I downed the wordcount, I shared only the most self-flattering of anecdotes and never confessed an even close-to-crossing-the-line sin.
The most disheartening thing about this was that it worked. I did pick up more traction, I did get more professional interest, I did receive a lot of positive responses. Whether these were sincere, or not, is of course up for debate, but either way it never really sat right with me. I missed being honest online and I felt this strange consistent embarrassment and guilt. I was never really sure if I was technically doing anything wrong… (thoughts about others’ mental health and self-image played on my mind) but I just knew, deep down, it wasn’t something I wholly agreed with. It wasn’t honest. It wasn’t me. And I seem to have this deep-seated need to tell everyone the truth, whether they asked or not, that I haven’t been able to lift since childhood.
So, anyhow. I gave up. I got really sick of it. I got sick of creating pretentious posts and posing in bikinis and putting on a performance. By the time I’d deleted my blog (2018) I was utterly bewildered whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to do, in life, or offered me web-related career-advice. The scope of what you can be, now, all in seemingly the same arena, is at once exciting and liberating… but immensely confusing, too. Am I a Digital Creator? An Influencer? A Content Producer? A Blogger? A Photographer? An Interactive Journalist? Who even knows, at this point? I then start to wonder why I was doing all of this, in the first place, again. I thought I wanted to be a professional Writer… not a professional Influencer… this was meant to just be writing practice, wasn’t it? I can’t even remember.
Okay, deep breaths. Spiralling rant over. Let us start afresh (in many ways).
Luckily, I did keep on writing, in other forms. After deleting my blog I started writing an almost-anonymous column for a student magazine called, ‘Claire Can’t Sleep’, during a particularly bad bout of insomnia. On the whole, it tended to be my deepest, most honest, most self-exposing pieces that generated the best responses, which completely replenished my hope – I begun to realise I had probably been researching the wrong type of blogging / writing / journalism and that maybe my audience was out there, after all. Perhaps I’d just got a bit lost in working out how to find them.
From this, amongst other lifestyle changes that come with leaving home, I developed a fresh confidence and returned to speaking openly and honestly, elsewhere. Without any pre-meditated plan, I found myself gradually sharing musings on my personal Instagram, long after deleting those old ‘professional’ accounts I’d attempted. My number of followers has stayed relatively low, but the replies, compliments, and conversations around what I’ve shared have been so much more valuable than the hits on anything staged and meaningless I used to push. I have felt a huge relief from being my odd, true, flawed self to the tune of, on the whole, kind messages and continued support.
I’m trying to keep in mind what my actual goals are, here, too. I find it all too easy to get swept away with what a lot of people think is desirable, rather than heading for what I actually want. I’ve recently come to the very obvious conclusion that if I really hate creating a certain type of social media account, perhaps a career that requires me to do that isn’t right for me. I’m pretty sure my life goals aren’t to have 100K followers on Instagram, to model, to market, to photograph or to become a professional Influencer (with no ill-feeling to anyone who does want these things), so, for now, I think it’s probably best to just keep chatting and writing openly, since I actually like doing this, and see where it goes. Equally – if I’m worried a certain industry would have an issue with me talking about the topics I care about, maybe that industry isn’t for me – I’ve become much less nervous about the types of jobs that are on the market and realised that the volume that would appreciate honesty on any number of topics is great and growing (Amongst, of course, the truth that the vast majority probably really can’t be bothered to read your blog before interviewing you.).
I’d also add that as the years have gone on, I’ve found far more examples of people who don’t conceal their true selves online. I’m not sure how much of this is down to time going by and the kinds of apps I now spend more time on (this still seems, for example, to be much more the case with Youtube and TikTok than Instagram), or making a conscious effort to leave the rabbit holes I was trapped in and forge new feeds. Either way, on every platform I use I now see a multitude of personalities, behaviours, emotions, and thoughts, which is refreshing and exciting.
So: here I am trying to build all this newfound excitement back into my old/new blog. What I’m going for is a return to old-fashioned diary-style column writing, only digital, this time. This doesn’t mean I won’t still be sharing photos, travel stories, or the odd positive milestone, but I’m committing to keeping these honest, down-to-earth, and a true reflection of my life: a warts n’all blog, if you will.
I don’t see myself as a critic or commentator taking an external stance on any particular issues or affairs, but rather someone storytelling through my own personal lens on the world. What I’m offering is: musings, stories, and anecdotes, rather than information or expertise.
I’ve previously drafted branding for this as an ‘anti-blog’, loosely based on a Dada Art History module I loved. People haven’t been too taken with my proposal for ‘the urinal of the internet’, just yet, but what can I say, not everyone appreciates Art. All I really mean, in this sense, is that I’d like to keep going with the same tone I’ve been taking on Instagram: absurdist and sarcastic humour framing a hearty dose of ugly, gritty, unmanageable reality. I don’t think I’ve got a whole lot of uber-profound advice to offer, but my main message is usually just that, against the current of most of what you’ll read online: my life isn’t perfect and neither am I. This is anti-institutional to mainstream social media in the same way that the urinal was to the Art World. Not that I am overexerting my talents but yes, I am basically 21st century Duchamp.
My hope is that the effects of this are a combo of entertainment and comfort – ideally, I’m someone you relate to, someone who makes you feel less alone in nothing going to plan, but also someone who gives the realistic-optimistic impression that everything will work out, eventually. We can all laugh at (totally theoretical) events like accidentally ironing the carpet, getting stuck on a park fence, or purchasing furniture that won’t fit through the front door… because deep down I have a premonition it will all be okay.
In other ways, I expect this will very much become the Sia album of blogs, a place I splash the thoughts no one else will publish under their own well-recognised names. So, I’m expecting it to get quite full.
Also: In case u were wondering wtf I am on about ~ Brief Dada Art Sum