I’ve known for a while this blog is ill – sick in the worst kind of way. The kind where you can’t see it happening but like the hour hand of a clock you know it’s moving steadily and inexorably towards the close of day. Choked by expectation, dissected alive by Statistics, Rankings, and SEO scores, it’s become sterile, frozen in a kind of death-bed rictus. You’re probably thinking I’m about to call it a day and declare it clinically dead but that’s not going to happen, and here’s why.
Like the birthday orchid my friend gave me that I knew would die a slow death despite all my best efforts, I’ve felt the awful responsibility for my ailing blog for some time. But no matter how I tried I couldn’t recapture the simple joy of posting I felt in the early days when all manner of everyday stuff demanded I write about it and my poor husband was left alone on the sofa while I bled pure enthusiasm onto my keyboard in the adjoining room. You see, these days my blog posts have to be insightful and watertight; it’s not enough to have an opinion, I have to know what I’m talking about. There must be keywords, a solid SEO strategy, and correctly spaced sub-headings to optimise the readability score. My blog has become a carefully constructed platform to project from instead of the place to show and share it once was. But what do I want to project? Where do I want it to take me?
I didn’t have answers to these questions and that made me feel amateurish and naïve so, to compensate, I had to make my posts extra special. My writing had to be amazing enough to distract you from seeing that I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. Pushing myself to write my best was a worthy aspiration, but one better focused on my ‘commercial’ writing than something that began as a place to hang out in sweatpants and share new experiences with friends. My high ideals made blogging a trial and a chore. It’s six years since Expatlog was born but for the past three my productivity has dropped steadily from two or three posts a week to two or three a month, then once a month and less. So far this year I’ve written a grand total of one and we’re halfway through March already.
This weekend I was at a workshop given by Kerry Clare, a writer and editor who teaches The Art of Blogging at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. I’ll confess, I had some qualms going in. I didn’t want to hear about platforms and content and reach. I was looking for a revised definition of blogging that embraced self-expression and authenticity, something that jived with the kernel of an idea that’s been unfolding in my mind for a few months now.
Happily, that’s exactly what I got.
In a room filled with jaded extant and timorous would-be bloggers, Kerry spoke of the importance of blogging like no one is reading, just like I did in the good old days when I was talking to friends or writing for the sheer buzz of creating something. She shared a favourite quote: “a blog should take the reader by the hand and show him what you love.” Show, not tell. Less of “This is what I think” and more “Take a look at this!”
“A blog needs room to grow and space to wander” she said, and I was reminded how mine had seen me revise opinions and share conflicting ideas as I was reshaped by expatriation, diagnosis and changing perspectives. A good blog is all about process. It’s a messy, moving, changing thing, not a tool or a means to an end but a thing in and of itself. In a world where digital information is currency and that free subscription always has a price tag, people come to blogs for a human voice – something unpolished, raw and wild. It’s about connection and storytelling and being reminded that we’re all flawed, that a capacity for error and limitation and a tendency to go off-key is utterly natural, and utterly necessary.
So it’s time to strip this blog, and my voice, back to its bare essentials. As Kerry spoke I thought to myself ‘your blog should be like the art you buy: you have it because you like it and find it meaningful, not because it’s cool or popular’.
Lately, I’ve been much enamoured with Virginia Woolf. I met Mrs Dalloway years ago and she left me cold (perhaps it’s time I got reacquainted) but I recently read To The Lighthouse and was mesmerised by Woolf’s ability to break down and record the lightning-quick thought processes and complex emotional meandering of her characters. I wanted this blog to be, in a sense, my Room Of One’s Own – a space where I can revel in creativity for its own sake, test out new ideas, examine the undercurrents and motivations of my drive to write, and try to understand on a deeper level where it’s taking me and how I can use it to more fully inhabit my writing, to hone it for a smoother, more incisive stroke.
So here’s to a return to blog posts written in a snatched hour or two, the excitement of sharing, and the triumph of curiosity over fear (I’m already over time with this one, but it’s less than a day and right now that’s improvement enough for me). Here’s to keeping it real.