This time five years ago, when my husband was out one night and there was nothing on TV, I cranked up my ancient laptop and googled “How to start a blog”. I’d been thinking about it for a couple of months at that stage, but fuelled by a quiet house and a glass of wine, I finally typed the words and pressed the button. As the first post (called Is there anyone out there?) flew into the ether I sat back and wondered if anyone would ever read it.
(I had no idea you’re supposed to have Facebook and Twitter accounts – that came later, thanks to lovely Joanna who found me floating aimlessly and talked me through it. We’ve never met – she’s one of many lovely people I’ve been lucky to encounter online in the last five years.)
But the thing was, I didn’t mind whether anyone read it or not – I just knew I’d loved writing it. So a week later, I wrote another one, and another one after that. I don’t think anyone read those either, but oh, the letting-it-out was bliss. The discovery of free therapy, the realisation that taking words out of my head and putting them down on virtual paper was cathartic, and more than that, it was fun.
As the posts built up, increasing in volume and frequency, and having discovered social media, I started to get to know others in Ireland’s parenting blog world. I was anonymous at that stage, so relied on virtual contacts for interaction. I made true friends among those bloggers I met back then, and we’re still great friends today, chatting in real-life occasionally, and online daily.
Over the years I wrote about everything and anything – parenting and kids and loneliness in motherhood, work and guilt and the kinds of conversations we have about them, first born mistakes, second child fairies, third child syndrome, the once-a-week mum, and how to get your child to sleep through the night in 24 simple steps.
The nice thing about blogging is that you can write about anything that comes into your head, which is how I’ve ended up publishing posts on saying goodbye to our couch, Ijustcant plus other emotions you can’t explain, and parenting by cream crackers. (I once almost wrote a post about scones – not a recipe – just how much I like scones, but happily for readers, I didn’t.)
Then when my job came to an end (how inconvenient to start a blog called Office Mum, only to find yourself made redundant from said office) and blogging evolved into freelance writing, I decided to give it six months, and three years later, that’s still what I do for a living.
Some time after that again, a blog reader (who unbeknownst to me was an author) suggested I try writing fiction, and three years later (long story short) The Other Side of the Wall was out of my head and on bookshop shelves.
And through all of that, I’ve had consistently lovely support from blog-readers, on social media and by email (and sometimes even in person!)
So yep, five years on, blogging has definitely, definitely changed my life. Completely. My redundancy would have happened either way, but without a doubt, I’d have taken redeployment or looked for another job in the funds industry. Now I’m self-employed (a mixed blessing, very mixed) and I get to collect my kids from school every day – a huge privilege and one I try not to take for granted, even on the crankiest, rainiest of days.
And in all the years of blogging, I’ve never written about blogging itself, despite it being this game-changing part of my life. So if you’ve ever thought about starting a blog, here’s my two cents:
Do it. But do it because you want to try writing, or you love writing, or you have thoughts in your head that are better out than in. Or you’re tired of shouting at the radio, or you need free therapy when you sit down after a long day of work or kids or both. Do it because you have something you’d like to say even if nobody ever, ever reads it. Do it because it makes you feel good.
Don’t do it for free stuff! When I started blogging, free stuff wasn’t even a thing – or at least, my friends and I who all started out together didn’t know it was a thing. If you start a blog with the express purpose of getting freebies, it can be a slow and soul-destroying road.
Think about your blog name – a really, really long name might annoy you eventually (typing it out takes ages) or a very niche name may limit you in terms of readers and topics (having said that – it’s your blog, so you can write about anything you like, regardless of what you name your website).
When choosing a platform, check out Blogger and WordPress – I started on the former then migrated to the latter. A little bit of extra googling this time five years ago would have saved me the migration and the temporary disappearance of my site when I tried to do it myself. (I still remember the guy from the web hosting helpdesk saying “Just talk to your IT department.” My what?)
Set up social media accounts if you’d like to have interaction with readers, but try not to obsess over follower-figures. They can be slow to build, but if you keep writing, they will come.
A tip – consider waiting until you have a bank of posts built up before you tell everyone you’ve started a blog. It could be disheartening to do a big announcement, then spend the next six months apologising that you haven’t had time to write a second post.
Make sure you don’t use other people’s images – the easiest (and most enjoyable) way to do it is to use your own photos. There are also great sites offering free images – my favourite is Pixabay.
There are guidelines out there about not writing too much, and I heard once you should always edit down by at least 10% no matter how happy you are – I think that’s good advice (with fiction too). But really, there are no rules – it’s your blog, write as much as you like.
Blogging is also a great jumping-off point for other kinds of writing – for practicing different styles, venturing into prose, into fiction. It’s all working the writing muscle, and it all helps build confidence.
Of course, you don’t ever have to try any other kind of writing, or gather followers, or get on a PR list, or go to an event – a blog can simply be a quiet corner of the internet that’s just for you, a space for letting off steam. But don’t let it fool you – a blog can change your life.