My First Month with a Blog
I don't know exactly where the time went, but it's been a month since I took a dive and actually started a website.
I had gotten more into writing recently as I started working on a book. But a book can be a huge endeavor, and with the majority of my writing being business writing, I thought it would be good to work frequently on personal writing, hence the blog.
A few months after I started to make some moves on the book, I happened to be helping a friend in reaching out to lifestyle bloggers. She had just started a business, and was looking for influencers who would be interested in trying out the product and giving it a review for their followers on various social media accounts.
I had always loved decorating my home, cooking nice meals, reading good books, travelling, and doing all kinds of holiday crafts. I lived for hosting dinner parties. My Instagram was slowly gaining followers; a fun, colorful, joyful, profile creating a creating a positive vibe. I had read that people who are depressed tend to post black and white photos, and I wanted my social media presence to be something that would add color to someone's day as they scrolled.
It was really important to me that my profile be upbeat and friendly. My feeling was that nothing on the internet is truly private. I could set my account to private, but anyone of my followers could screenshot what I posted and share it anyways. My account could be hacked and shared on any and every social media platform. So I decided from the beginning to make my account public, and remove any false sense of security that what I post doesn't have any impact. Not that I planned on posting anything harmful, but I think it made me actively conscious, knowing that anyone could see it. Almost like an exercise in strengthening my social media filter.
Despite the growing number of followers, I didn't think of myself as an influencer. So when my friend asked for influencers to reach out to for her new company, I sent out tweets asking for lifestyle bloggers, I posted on Pinterest communities, I asked friends who were more active on social media. Bloggers were interested but some weren't the right fit. Others could have been the right fit, but they didn't have much of a following. For each one, my friend ran a search to see how much traffic their blogs had, she scanned each website to learn about the influencer's interests and niche markets, and how they wrote their reviews.
As she flipped through the bloggers she commented that many of them were not very good. Some had very little content on their websites despite having had it for years, and as a result they also didn't have a lot of traffic.
She ended her comment with, 'Jaspreet I've learned more from you than I ever would from any of these bloggers.'
Note, from my list of childhood and current dream jobs, that influencer is not on the list. But I love to learn, and then help others learn. I was happy to hear that one person felt I was good at that.
That was the final push I needed. I started to think about it more seriously. I had been posting about the things I make and the things I read, why not post the recipes, and reviews? If I wanted to inspire people to feel that they could make life beautiful in small, every day ways, why not show them how?
I made a list of the things I could put on my site; book reviews, recipes, travel itineraries, and all the pancakes Greg and I were making for the Year of the Pancake. I realized, I actually had a lot I could share. So I took the leap, and in the first month, I've learned a few things.
In trying to set up the site, I knew I wasn't the most tech savvy. Despite my years at the IT Help Desk at Rider, I could do some basic trouble shooting but wasn't confident in my ability to do much else. I didn't see how my expertise in Excel would help here. The idea of managing a website seemed awfully time consuming and I was unsure of how quickly I would pick it up. After doing a little research, I decided Wix was the platform for me. I had read it was good for those who need a little hand holding compared to Wordpress, and I have to agree. I had tried a blog on Wordpress years ago, and it was bland, not eye catching at all, and I had no idea how to make it more interesting. With Wix it was easy for me to pick a template and start to build the site. Adding pages, pictures, links, etc. all felt intuitive. There is a cost to the convenience, but knowing my own abilities, I was willing to pay a little more upfront to have a properly functioning website.
One of the other major reasons I decided to use Wix, is that there is assistance if needed. With Wordpress you have to search through a user created database of possible fixes or issues. I didn't want to put in too much of my own time to figure out the site. I wanted someone to help me if something went wrong.
If you don't already know, SEO is search engine optimization. It's a way to help people find your blog and for it to gain visibility from people who might not even be specifically looking for it. I didn't quite understand them, just that they were important if I wanted traffic on my site. Luckily, Wix has an SEO checklist that helps you get your site to tip top shape in regards to SEO's. Aside from the fact that I love lists and crossing things off, it helped someone like me who doesn't know much about building a site or how visibility on search engines works, to quickly check a ton of boxes that would help make my site more visible on Google. From there, it was a matter of posting consistently, and trying to get traffic to my site by letting people know that I had it!
I had been posting food, books, various craft projects on Instagram. I had even occasionally posted pictures of an outfit I thought was cute! Despite my hesitation to be in front of the camera, I had started making Instagram stories, and showing people step by step what I was up to in the kitchen. So when I started the site, I was surprisingly comfortable letting people know that I had a website. I started making it a point as I caught up on adding pancake recipes, to make an announcement on Instagram that it was up! People had commented before they needed the recipe, and now I could actually give it to them. I was less comfortable on other platforms.
On Twitter, I stumbled my way into the Writing Community. The hashtag is a way to find, follow, and engage with tons of other writers. There's also Bloggers Wanted, to connect with other bloggers. At first it seemed great! One follow thread and I went from about 60 followers on Twitter, to over 250. It felt like I was being welcomed into a group, where we were all just trying to make it as writers but quickly turned overwhelming.
Follow trains never seem to end, and after the first two I decided I don't really want to participate. Of the almost 200 new followers I gained from the first follow train, I interacted with very few. Most didn't like or comment my posts, even though I had been making an effort to comment and like theirs. Many of them actually didn't ever post themselves. They weren't taking an interest in me, and they weren't offering any information for me to get to know them. Anyone who complained about being in Twitter jail made me a little suspicious of what they were trying to get out of the community. Twitter jail is when you follow 5,000 accounts, but fewer than 5,000 follow you. In order to be able to follow more people on Twitter, you need to increase your followers. I can't imagine anyone interacts with all 5,000 people they follow. I would just unfollow the people I don't interact with so that I can follow people I do interact with. But that's just me personally, and I've learned that my thresh hold for content overload is lower than most.
These tweets went in cycles of 'let's follow and support each other' and 'why did everyone unfollow me after I followed them.' I didn't want to be a part of it anymore, and I was happy with the five writers I found myself consistently talking to. About a week or two into my time with the community, I decided I would never participate in follow trains again. Instead, I wanted to focus on engaging with the people I had started to engage with. If I found I was engaging with new writers on Twitter I would give them a follow, but tweets about helping people get to 500, 1,000, 3,000 followers were to be avoided. Now on 'Follow Fridays,' I would give a shout out to one account that I personally engaged with, that I could genuinely say was an active writer within the community. I also provide a fact for 'Fact Friday,' an alternative to the follow trains started by ScienceGeekMel, where writers can share some random fact. This at least gave me a chance to learn a little bit about the person through the fact they were sharing and maybe even follow them because I knew we had something we were both interested in, and not just because someone said they need help reaching a follower goal.
This might sound like a negative experience, but it was more about finding out how I wanted to engage with the Writing Community in a way that worked for me, and didn't feel like I was being overwhelmed in trying to build a large network as quickly as possible. It's about understanding how the community was supporting my needs, and how I could contribute without feeling that it was taking too much time away from me actually writing.
One benefit to the Writing Community on Twitter, is that there are also a lot of editors and publishers and these accounts occasionally drop tips! I've found following these accounts particularly helpful. The use of hashtags is helpful when you have a question to pose, though I personally haven't gotten very much response, I see it helping others quite a bit. My lack of response might just be a result of having a small following in the first place.
When winter starts to feel like a never ending drag of dark grey skies and cold lonely days, I like to add some flowers to my space to break it up. To remind me that it doesn't always have to be this way, and that if I'm missing something, I can find ways to incorporate it into my life.
Despite my roller coaster ride with the Writing Community on Twitter, I do recognize the need for some camaraderie. Many of us have our day jobs until the day we can pay the bills doing what we love. With a full time job that has to come first, it's nice to be able to help each other figure things out.
It's also nice to be able to come up for fresh air and talk to other writers, instead of feeling trapped in a silo where your characters have more of a social life than you.
Having moved to a new place, I was especially under pressure to build a social network that didn't consist of my husband's colleagues; all of whom are wonderful, but still felt a bit like his friends, rather than my friends. We also just had different things going on. I was job hunting, and they were all immersed in their PhD programs.
My go to was to check Meetup.com. I had used the site before, when I first moved out, but was already swamped with my new job. Here in Illinois, I had time while looking for a new job and among the meetups I found was a group for writers. The group, 'Shut up & Write!' was actually part of a national group, and this was a local chapter that met twice a week in some location, like a local cafe or library. Everyone brought their writing tools, grabbed something to drink, introduced themselves and shared a little bit about what they were working on, and then plugged in their headphones and set the timer for an hour to shut up and write.
The idea is that we get a lot done when we commit to something together. And we do! I have written quite a few posts at these meetups. I'm working on this at one right now. It's a nice way to get something done, but also build connections in person and get feedback! My favorite part of these meetups, aside from getting posts done, is the willingness of seasoned writers to help those who are new, and their openness to also learn about new writers' experiences; especially what young writers are working with that may be different.
I know it can be difficult for anyone with disabilities to possibly meet at an outside location. It requires having time, resources and access. If you have a similar meetup in your area, I would recommend reaching out to group organizers about picking locations that are accessible, or about adding new times and locations where writers can meet.
Logistics aside, what did I learn about writing? What was my goal with this blog, and how was I doing with it? Did that goal change?
I wanted to write more but I could do that by setting aside time each day to write. I could do that by looking up prompts and practicing. As you can imagine, posting a pretty picture with a cute caption on Instagram is much easier and faster than writing blog posts. So why make this a public blog?
What I wanted from this blog was to bring to life what my friend told me she experienced. That she was able to learn things from me. I wanted people who came across the blog to feel that they could have that too! Not envious of some staged picture on Instagram.
It was important to me, especially when it came to food, to have recipes that someone who was new to cooking could feel was doable. More than any other type of writing, I've learned in this past month that writing recipes well is difficult. It's also forced me to take pictures throughout the cooking process, not just a staged picture of the end product.
I needed to stop taking for granted everything I knew about cooking and write in detail; what I did, how I did it, and what these different tools are. I felt it was essential to have a Glossary on my site and to link any cooking jargon to a how to video, so that anyone who came across it and wanted to make it for themselves didn't feel defeated when they came across a new word.
Just thinking of my own experiences testing new recipes, I know how ambiguous those directions can be. I edit my recipe posts more than any other type of post I've added to the site so far, because I am so driven to make the recipes clear. If someone is going to put their time, money, and groceries, into recreating something I said was good, I want them to end up with a good meal.
I've also learned that I'm a much slower writer than I thought. I didn't quite anticipate how long it would take me to write these posts. Even the book reviews have taken me longer to write than I imagined. Maybe that will change over time. Maybe I will get more comfortable sharing what's going on in my head, and sharing the creative process behind the posts. Maybe I'll just get faster as I find my 'voice.'
I'm not entirely sure what my first year will look like, but after this first month I'm really hopeful. I ended the month with ten subscribers to this site. This was a benchmark I hadn't imagined. I hadn't even considered that someone would find this site interesting let alone would want to subscribe. My goal had actually been to add a post each day, which was difficult considering I wrote so much slower than I anticipated.
I didn't reach my initial goal for the month of March, but I still ended the month committed to this project, and for that I'm really proud and really excited. And I hope that as I continue to figure this thing out, I can share with you some cool things!