Maybe blogging will be like learning to drive and I’ll get it right, this time, on my 7th attempt. (Hopefully with fewer squirrel casualties.)
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, partly as I was focused on making it out of university alive, mostly due to a disillusionment with social media and a loss of 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 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, came a doubt in 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 What I had thought a ‘blog’ was suddenly felt extremely outdated as I met others in on the hobby in such a different way. The first few ‘bloggers’ I met at uni showed me feeds with jaw-dropping photography, flawless selfies, and highly refined themes. None of them seemed to express any deep or unsavoury thoughts or emotions, whilst I was baring all soul. Comparing these examples to my own blog 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.
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. 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 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.
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.
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.
Luckily, I did keep on writing, in other forms. After deleting my blog I started 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 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.
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 kind messages and continued support.
So, 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, or an anti-blog, if you will. This is anti-institutional to social media in the same way that the urinal was to the art world. Not to overstate my importance but yes, I am basically 21st-Century Duchamp.