Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Trials and Tribulations of a 21st Century Blogger by Lucy Robinson...

‘Blogs are disgusting,’ I announced. It was 2004. ‘They are an exercise in unforgivable self-promotion. The ultimate depths of vanity publishing. Literary masturbation.’

It’s now 2012 and I’ve been blogging for several years. Worse still, I have a successful writing career because of my blog. The hypocrisy is intense.

Fortunately, I am no longer in agreement with my angry twenty four year-old self. Why shouldn’t everyone have a go at writing online? Who cares if it’s dreadful? Space is not exactly an issue on the world wide web.

I do think it’s rather British to avoid dabbling in creativity unless one is a pro. But I suppose Britain is still under the cultural hegemony of its arts critics. Just. The hegemony is in its dying days though, and the last of the bearded megalomaniacs who once ran it – they of smoked salmon breath and quills of spite - will die of gout soon.

I once lived in Buenos Aires where pretty much everyone takes might classes in art. After the classes end, most students go off and paint for a few weeks. And then they hire a little art space and exhibit their work. Which (while admittedly better than anything I could produce) is generally atrocious. But who cares? No-one’s paying an entrance fee. Everyone drinks free Malbec and updates their facebook status to say they’re ‘At an opening’ and they all get to feel better about their own artistic abilities.  It’s win-win!

Researchers have more than confirmed the psychological benefits of creative writing. A self-indulgent poem here, a poorly-informed polemic there. All easily uploaded onto the greatest exhibition space in the history of mankind. And you can even turn disable the comments box! What’s not to love? Really, everyone should have a blog.

And yet (*pause, sigh*) me and blogs are uneasy bedfellows.

I’ve just launched my own personal blog, on my own personal website, after three years blogging for a major women’s glossy. And the long-awaited freedom to write whatever I want is . . .
. . .Terrifying. I have no idea what to do or how to do it. How do I market myself? What am I writing? Who for? And, most of all, why am I writing the damned thing in the first place? I’m a writer already! I spend all day writing! Why on earth would I want to write more?

Since I first started an online journal in 2006 (for a different women’s glossy - I got sacked for swearing too much) I reckon I’ve done over £14k’s worth of blogging.  I’ve missed out on spectacular mountain climbs because I’ve been trying to upload from some tiny South American hostel, I’ve had readers call me a ‘puerile, selfish loser’ and – the icing on the cake - the C4 exec who commissioned an entire documentary on my blog told me she thought that what I was doing was immoral. (I was writing about my experiences internet dating.)

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. But the cost-time benefit of writing a blog is . . . well, there hasn’t been one for me. Yes, I got a book deal, but I earn less as a novelist than I did in my previous job. So, like the other 92% of bloggers who will never earn enough from blogging to support themselves, I ain’t in it for the money.

Fortunately, another writer took care of the ‘why’ question for me. ‘You should blog because it’s important that your book readers know what a moron you are,’ she explained.  Apparently it delights readers to discover that the person wot wrote their book is just an average, broke girl who still can’t spell omelette and has no interest in owning twenty pairs of Monolo Blahnik shoes.

So that’s the ‘why’ sorted. Leaving me with the question of how on earth to market my fledgling blog. I am one of 42 MILLION blogs (that’s on Wordpress alone) being read by some 329 million people. I am competing against political activists and prostitutes; prime ministers and pastry chefs, peace campaigners and parrots. Yes, even parrots have blogs. The blogosphere isn’t just noisy, it’s a deafening cacophony.

What on earth should I do to make people choose me over the 41,999,999 other offerings?
Write about sex, for starters, I guess. My Marie Claire blog was at its most popular when I wrote about my experiences as an internet dater. I held back little. I was candid about my online stalking habit, about the fact that I once actually vomited with nerves and about the humiliating knockbacks I received. (‘I already have a girlfriend,’ was one of the more memorable ones. ‘I just wanted to sleep with someone else . . .’) No more did I hold back in my descriptions of the dreadful men I encountered. And my readers loved it. They posted message of outraged frustration if I didn’t post a blog within 24 hours of going on a date: ‘IT’S FRIDAY NIGHT AND I CAN’T GO OUT UNTIL YOU TELL US HOW YOUR DATE WENT,’ one shouted.

But I’m no longer internet dating; I live with my partner. Will I start discussing the sordid details of our relationship to get more hits? Of course not.

What else hauls the readers in?
I’ve been pondering this daily.

And have finally come to the conclusion – since I started writing this blog that you’re reading now - that I just don’t care. Not enough, anyway. I could run off and try to get half a million readers but to achieve that I’d have to, I don’t know, have sex with David Cameron or something. (Thank you; I appreciate the offer, but no.)  And I could live online, operating twenty twitter accounts, forty websites and about ten billion blogs like so many people seem to do these days. But I don’t want that either. I want to smell the grass and eat spicy squid and make finger puppets with my boyfriend and get eight hours’ sleep.

The joy it brings me when one of my readers contacts me to say how much they enjoyed my blog/novel/feature is unparalleled. I don’t just smile when I get these messages, I glow. Madly. For hours. And I suppose that’s the difference between me and someone who’s going for the big blog league – I don’t need to get fifty of those emails a day; one is more than enough. In fact, one is positively wonderful.

So I think for now I’m going to stay in the slow lane. Let the power bloggers blog powerfully. Let the mega tweeters twit megally. I’m going for a walk.

Lucy Robinson is a novelist and blogger. Her debut novel, The Greatest Love Story of All Time was published earlier this years and is soon to be followed by her second, A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger.


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