In the final email, I sent out to newsletter subscribers last year, I shared how difficult I’ve found it to build an audience online.
I’m not writing about this problem here as a way to gain sympathy or vent, but because all writers (tradition, indie, and unpublished) are heavily encouraged to build and maintain an active online presence.
Like many creatives, or at least those who have read Cal Newport’s books or watched The Social Dilemma, my own relationship to social media is conflicted.
Similarly, I’ve been wondering where my blog and YouTube channel fit into this scheme.
Both would be described as content marketing, in that I am producing free content to strengthen my ‘know, like, and trust factors’ with existing readers/viewers, and as a way to introduce myself to new subscribers.
Alexandra Franzen and Joanna Penn describe their respective newsletters, blogs, and podcasts as art projects that form part of their body of work.
I’ve admired these two content producers for years, but I don’t know that I would describe my own blog and YouTube channel in this way.
Some weeks, I am really pleased with what I’ve written, and others I worry whether they are too idiosyncratic or reflective – a bit too ‘digital diary.’
I worry about the balance between foundational posts for beginner writers and technical information for advance writers and how best to serve these two audiences.
And at the same time, I’m aware that I don’t have a million subscribers or a castle in Scotland, so who really cares what I think about writing?
I have to be honest, I don’t really like how-to videos or listicles, and yet I worry that not publishing in this format would be to go against the grain.
A how-to video is super if you actually need to know something (like how to fix loose buttons, check the oil in your car, or make vegan butter chicken [all things I have Googled]) and listicles are a very tidy way to present information, but sweetness is lost in repetition, and I find these formats … off-putting, not to mention they encourage scanning and low engagement.
At the start of 2020, I set the goal to build my email list to 2000 subscribers.
I’ve been publishing on this blog weekly for four years, and loading videos onto my YouTube channel for two.
I spent money I didn’t have on an 8-week digital business course for online entrepreneurs (become I’m so millennial) and watched countless ‘how-to’ videos (ironically) regarding audience growth.
And I haven’t reached that goal.
Maybe the problem is that blogs are dead or that writing is a niche market who already has plenty of established voices.
Maybe my style doesn’t appeal to a ‘general’ audience.
Maybe I just need to get better at SEO or I ‘just’ need to pen an international best-seller that gets adapted into a Netflix series. (Why didn’t I think of that before?)
But those years have hardly been wasted because I’ve learnt so much in the process.
I know how to write a blog even when I sincerely think I have nothing to say.
I can write, film, edit, and upload videos to YouTube.
I figured out how to relax, and talk naturally to the camera.
I know how WordPress works.
I know how iMovies works and am learning the ropes of Premiere Pro.
I know how to avoid copyright infringement (pretty important, kiddies).
I developed the habit of releasing a blog, video, and newsletter every single week (except for holidays because come on man).
I’ve learnt that despite my best thinking, commenters will always point out something that I hadn’t considered (this is why writing works best as a collaborative experience).
Perhaps the fault with my 2020 goal was the goal itself.
There was nothing I could do to guarantee I gained 2000 subscribers.
The truth is, I can only control what I make and how I make it.
One of the biggest lessons I learnt last year was how my rigidity around my writing practise was stopping me from growing and I plan on applying this same lesson to this space as well.
Going into 2021, I plan on being more open and loose around how I use this platform.
What will that look like?
Honestly, I’m not really sure, but I know that it won’t include how-to blogs or listicles unless that format genuinely fits the purpose and content of that post.
And don’t worry, I won’t be venturing into vlogging, mostly because I don’t want to and the internet is full of creeps who I don’t really wish to expose the inner works of my life too.
More than anything, I will be focussing on creating content that I personally find interesting rather than trying to guess what posts would interest readers.
I will continue to send out my newsletter, and post my videos and blogs every week (the habit is so ingrained at this point, it would be weird not to!), but I will likely shift away from posting on Instagram every day.
I enjoy the content I create on this blog every week – and no, I’m not being prim – but I do feel that I could enjoy it more.
I’m entering this year with one simple intention for this blog, to treat this work as if it were any other art project and a part of my body of work.
Like I said, I’ve been posting on this blog regularly for years now, and I’m ready to do something different with this space.
Perhaps from the outside, it will look much the same, but this shift in mindset and focus is already changing the shape of this space. At least, for me.
This blog doesn’t feel like a distraction from my writing, and yet I’m also hyperaware that the pressure to have a prolific author platform can mean that a writer or creative spends more time documenting there practise rather than actually practising.
In the aforementioned newsletter, I said that the best solution against the endless pressure to ‘do more’ in online spaces is to create clear boundaries.
For me, that means spending a bit of time on social media, a bit more time on this blog, my newsletter, and videos, while saving the bulk of my writing efforts for my novels and short fiction.
The point of this post is to tell you that there may be some changes coming.
It’s also my way of expressing something that’s been troubling me for, oh, two years now?
Maybe it’s troubling you too.
Maybe you’re also trying to figure out how to create a platform that feels … meaningful, useful, like it’s worthy of being described as an art project that forms part of your body of work.
Entering the new year, that is my goal. Please feel free to share yours too.
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