Twenty Years of Blogging
Next year, I’ll be hitting a pretty significant milestone: my 20th year of blogging.
Essays about how and the extent to which blogging has changed are about as common as, well, blogs these days - but I hope you’ll indulge me anyway. For me, what started out as a personal diary has grown into a platform from which I can share where I’m going, what I’m eating and what I’m wearing, the music I love and my mental health story. Along the way I’ve witnessed the explosion in fashion, beauty and lifestyle blogging, and watched as women my age and younger have turned their websites into glossy business empires from their bedrooms.
My blog has led to paid arts journalism work, radio appearances, a magazine column, workshops for teenagers and an invitation to debate Beyonce’s place in the feminist movement at St Andrew’s University. I’ve met some of the greatest people I will ever meet, and made a fair bit of pocket money on the odd sponsored post. And yet, one of the things that sticks out when I think about how best to share my story as a veteran blogger is a comment I got in a Facebook group a couple of years ago:
How can you have been blogging so long but only have a thousand followers on Facebook?
Yes, blogging has changed: but with it, so has our perception of what “success” looks like as a blogger or influencer. Suntanned legs against a blue sea, designer handbags and the ‘frow at London Fashion Week. Hundreds of thousands of followers clicking on our every product recommendation, and days spent working in coffee shops (because, with the fees we can command, we can easily afford a third chai latte today). But with two million blog posts written every day - at least, according to a cursory Google - and some new reality show churning out ready-made Instagram stars every month or so, only a few of us, realistically, are ever going to hit the figures that make for a sustainable income.
What happens to the rest of us? What keeps you writing, consistently, for an audience of maybe 5,000 people a month, for 20 years?
Part of it is simply because I love writing. Whether online, in my journals or in the little plays I wrote for my siblings and cousins to perform over the summer holidays when we were kids, I’ve always been a storyteller. When I was 10 years old, I received a toy typewriter for Christmas. When my mum went away for a couple of days, visiting family, I commissioned my younger brother and sister to write poems and articles for her, and stapled them all together into a little home-made magazine.
My day job is in corporate communications with an international law firm. I take complex legal and commercial issues; source expert-level commentary on why they matter to businesses right now; and turn them into clear, concise news articles and analysis pieces. I love my job, and I’m very good at it, but when you’re writing for somebody else’s audience - and, quite often, in somebody else’s name - you grow to love those moments when you can write for yourself, and for your own audience, about the things that make you smile when you wake up in the morning.
And, honestly? Another huge part of it is those 5,000 people. Some of them have dipped in and out of my blog over the years, some of them have gone on to become close friends. There are some, I’m sure, I have no idea about, but who have taken me to their hearts and have made me part of their internet routines. And, yes, there are some who visit for my best-performing post (a review of a notorious “cleanse” diet, sold by a multi-level marketing company, which is at odds with 97% of everything else I write about) and never come back. I appreciate them all.
Success, for me, will probably never look like suntanned legs and hundreds of thousands of followers, although I did buy my first Kate Spade handbag two years ago when I became the big sister of a dad and a 30-year-old in the space of 24 hours. I don’t see myself ever becoming a full-time blogger: a heart full of clinical depression, chest full of medical-grade anxiety and a head that knows I’m my family’s chief income earner craves the routine - and steady paycheque - of corporate employment.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not successful.
Eighteen months ago, I exercised my right to request flexible working and applied to my employer for a four-day working week. Available since 2014 to all workers who have been with their employer for 26 weeks or more (it was previously only available to parents and carers), the right requires employers to consider flexible working requests reasonably, and to only refuse applications for genuine business reasons.
While I’m sure my employer could easily have demonstrated that it was too difficult to recruit somebody to work a single day a week, they stepped up to the mark - and I now have an extra day a week to balance blog, freelance writing commitments and leisure time, while better managing my anxiety so that I can be the best, most productive version of myself when I show up for my job that I love. It’s hardly full-time Fashion Week and coffee shop working, but it’s something I would never have been able to consider without that little bit of extra income I’ve been able to pick up from nigh-on two decades of hobby blogging.
I’d say that’s something to be proud of, don’t you?