4 things I learned from 1 year of blogging

Sometime around the end of July, the one-year anniversary of me starting this blog quietly passed. This blog was originally inspired by a holiday that I wanted to write about. A year later, it was ignored because of another holiday, which I should probably write about at some point.

I often see other bloggers writing something about their blogging anniversary (blogiversary??), and I’m not usually one to avoid a good bandwagon tbh. However, I think the sort of things I want to say might be a little bit different.

Until last week, I hadn’t blogged in about a month. I was unsure whether I was done with blogging, or I just needed a break. All I knew was that I really just needed to chill out and watch Netflix in the evening, and to never ignore my kids at the weekend so I could (just quickly) join a linky. I also had some other stuff going on in my life that distracted me from blogging, which I’m not sharing publicly yet … but watch this space (however I can tell you now that it’s nothing to do with having more babies – that’s what people always think when you say you have a secret).

So I had my break and I enjoyed it, but then last week I had a really stressful day. So to stop me mulling over the stressful thing, I went ahead and wrote a little blog post. It brought home to me the real reasons I blog – reasons that I hope I’ll remember as I continue to blog – reasons that might even keep me blogging for a long time yet.

I don’t need to be the best

When I first started blogging, I knew absolutely nothing about the world of blogging. I was just going to write down some stuff on the internet that I thought a few other people might find interesting. Then, I got sucked into the world of stats and leaderboards and follower numbers and branding collaborations. I got a little ambitious and competitive. I got a little obsessed.

What many people who don’t blog don’t know is that nobody gets to be a famous blogger, or a blogger who makes their living from blogging, without having a killer combination of hard work, talent and luck.

I do not need to compete with the famous bloggers, the well-paid bloggers, or even the ones who I personally think are just awesome and wish I could be more like. I don’t have to publish consistently or have beautiful social media feeds unless that’s what want. I can just blog because it relaxes me and because it helps me think things through. My blog is about me, and if anyone else is interested or thinks it’s good, then that’s a bonus.

I don’t need to get paid

Making a living from blogging or getting occasional paid blogging opportunities or product reviews are totally awesome. I’ve dabbled in this a little bit. I may or may not continue doing so. It’s kind of cool, but usually the time and effort I put into a review or sponsored post is not worth the money or “free” thing I got.

Occasionally, there have been a few experiences I’ve had because of blogging that money actually couldn’t buy. I’m grateful for these. But if they never happened again, I would still be happy about my little blog.

Blogging is about people

The best, best thing about blogging is people, in a couple different ways.

First of all, any blogger worth his or her corner of the internet engages with other blogs. We don’t all have endless time to read and comment on other blogs, but really a good blogger ought to have a few other blogs they read. Blogging isn’t just a broadcast … it’s a community. And if you read other blogs, you will be learning new things, and often these things are about people, and you will learn interesting things about people who are different to you. This expands your horizons.

Second, blogging really does help you make new friends. I have made at least one proper, meet-up in person friend through blogging, and have several other acquaintances who I really like. There are lots of bad things on the internet, but blogging has an amazing knack for helping you meet like-minded people.

Blogging is healthy

Ok, so there is the risk that you get obsessed with social media and you never look away from a screen again. But the act of actually blogging – writing something about your life that you have thought about – mitigates against that.

Blogging encourages introspection, but it also requires you to think about how to write about your introspection in a way that engages others. For me, blogging has helped me avoid negative thoughts about myself and instead think about how I can be my best self. This process is what I like to share on my blog.

So what next?

A lot of people talk about their future goals for their blog on these sort of posts, and sometimes those include getting to a certain follower milestone or something measurable like that. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve been to some mindfulness talks and I now prefer to set intentions. So here are mine:

  • To stay true to myself in all ways, including with my blog.
  • If I don’t feel like blogging, I’m not gonna blog. So you know what’s happening when I don’t post for a while.
  • But temporary breaks don’t mean I need to shut down the whole thing.
  • Carry on nurturing the community I’ve become a part of by joining in on social media and reading other blogs when I can.
  • Carry on balancing introspection with things that might be useful to others – this is, after all, a public place.

What do you think? Has your blogging journey taken you to places you didn’t expect? Did you go down a road that you later decided wasn’t right for you? What’s good and what’s not so good about being a blogger?

Advertisements

Blogging and not keeping my powder dry

I took a creative writing class recently. The teacher was wonderful, and I was lucky enough to lure her out for a couple of pints with me one evening. I obviously could not resist boring her with a mention of my blog at some point. My blog is entirely different from the sort of writing we were learning in her class.

She was teaching us to be more observant and to look at the world as a series of images. Instead of snapping the images with a smartphone and sticking them on Instagram, we practised turning those images into words. It was a different way of thinking about writing for me.

Being an avid reader and even a sort of literary critic (having a PhD in English Literature qualifies me for that, right?), I thought I really ought to know about fiction writing. But I don’t. I know how to read something and write a killer essay about what it means. The creative writing class has opened my eyes to thinking more about description, image and metaphor in my writing.

And now I am seeing it everywhere. The very best journalists are doing it. The critics and columnists that I admire are doing it. And I wish I could do it.

During this pint with my teacher, she asked me: “Isn’t blogging not keeping your powder dry?”. I didn’t know what she meant at first. She explained that writers often prefer to keep all their little darlings a secret until they’re ready to unleash them on the world in flamboyant fashion. You keep your gunpowder dry so that it makes a big explosion once you finally light it.

I didn’t answer her at the time. The conversation flowed away from the question. But I’ve been thinking about it since. And sometimes I see other bloggers in our secret (not that secret) blogger Facebook groups saying how they’ve lost their blogging mojo, they forgot why they love it, it feels like it’s all hustle and no creativity.

And it reminds me that I started blogging because I didn’t have any bloody gunpowder. I didn’t write creatively at all and I feared writing. My confidence in my creative writing skills had become so undermined at some point in the past that I couldn’t stand to look at my own writing. It made me cringe.

When I started blogging I decided to face these fears and say to hell with my lack of confidence. My husband always tells me that the best way to feel confident is to fake it until you feel it. His example is when you try to pour a drink from one glass to another. If you doubt yourself, it will spill everywhere. Pour it all at once with panache, and everything will be fine.

And so with blogging I’m not wetting my gunpowder but stockpiling it. I’m learning to write in public. I’m practising my craft whilst leaving myself exposed to the possibility that someone will openly tell me I’m crap. And it’s actually exhilarating. And far more likely to lead me to the sort of writing that might actually cause a commotion.

Petite Pudding

A guide to growing Twitter followers for busy parenting bloggers

I have been blogging since the end of July 2016, and just over 6 months later I have over 3,300 followers. I find that I gain an average of 100 followers every week. There are plenty of bloggers out there who have more than me, but I’ve spoken to loads of bloggers who find Twitter difficult.

Most people will tell you that the key to Twitter is to actually chat to people rather than just dropping links to your blog posts. And they’re not wrong. However, I’ve still done pretty well for myself so far, and I am totally chat-impaired. I can’t think of anything to say on Twitter to just start a chat. I am not particularly witty and I fear commenting on current events.

I’ve read loads of posts about how to grow your Twitter, and there are lots of tips out there. In this post, I’ve tried to say something different from what I’ve seen all over town. These are my personalised tips for growing your Twitter without being witty or putting loads of time in. I hope you find them useful!

Get your basics right

Be sure you have nice pictures for your profile picture and cover photo. I personally think that it’s better to have a picture of yourself as your twitter profile pic because it makes you seem more personable. It’s also important to put a clear and personality-laden description on your profile. And of course, make sure you put the link to your blog on there.

It’s also a great idea to pin a post that you’d like people to notice. When I follow a new blogger, I often click on their profile and retweet their pinned tweet.

Get sharing from your blog right

First of all, make sure you are using Twitter cards. Twitter cards are when Twitter automatically adds the featured image of your blog post and its title in a nice big rectangle when you share the link. This is so important. I really don’t think anyone clicks on links that don’t use Twitter cards.

If you are on WordPress.com, Twitter cards should work automatically. If you are WordPress self-hosted, you will need to use a plugin such as Yoast. If you don’t use WordPress, I don’t know how you do it, but it’s worth figuring out.

Also, please make sure that your Twitter sharing button on your blog posts has your Twitter handle connected to it. This means that if anyone shares one of your posts using the sharing button, you will automatically be tagged on Twitter. If you don’t have this enabled, you won’t know if someone shared your post, and you’re missing a valuable chance for interaction. I often don’t even bother sharing posts if their Twitter handle isn’t connected.

Finally, make sure your Twitter handle is easy to find on your blog. You’d be amazed how many blogs on which I’ve struggled to find it!

Don’t use robots or be a robot

Not everyone will agree with me, but I just can’t bring myself to automate my Twitter. Many people use tools that automatically tweet out their new blog posts, but I think that takes the joy out of it.

When I tweet a link to a new post, I don’t use the title of my blog post in the tweet. I write an interesting quote or fact from the post, or I ask my readers a related question. If I tweet the post more than once, I introduce it differently each time.

PLEASE never use automatic DMs. Don’t send any DM to people, automated or otherwise, simply thanking them for following, or asking them to follow your other social media accounts. I don’t know anyone who likes that.

Use hashtags well

When you’re ready to drop a blog post link, spend a few minutes searching relevant keywords to see if there are any relevant hashtags you could use. It’s good to use one or two on each post. Also, check what’s trending and use a trending tag if it’s relevant (and ONLY if it’s relevant).

Be supportive – engage

Even though I’m not good at initiating chats or saying clever things out of the blue, I do engage with other people on Twitter as much as possible. At least once a day I scroll through my feed and retweet or favourite a few things that I like. If I see something to which I have a response, I reply to the person and start a conversation about it.

When I follow someone new, I go through their feed and try to find something to retweet, just to be nice.

If someone shares one of my posts – or tags me in a post that is relevant to me – I always favourite and retweet it. And I reply and thank them for sharing.

Curate who you follow

When I started blogging, I followed a load of random parenting bloggers. This wasn’t too bad of a strategy to start with. Many of them followed me back and I was able to start building relationships with them. Not everyone will agree with me, but I have a general policy of following people back when they follow me, and it’s served me well.

I choose whether to follow someone back based on their profile description.

  • I always follow bloggers back (because it’s a chance to be mutually supportive).
  • I don’t waste time following random celebrities, news sites or anything that I don’t feel could potentially benefit my Twitter following or my blog.
  • I follow back brands I’m interested in (but not that random mattress company in Spain).
  • I sometimes even follow back those vaguely spammy people who claim to be SEO or content marketing experts on their profiles.
  • I never follow back content bots (the way to spot them is when all their tweets have every word starting in caps along with clickbait-style links).
  • I don’t follow back “normal” people who follow me because of a comp or who just tweet about their lunch or their dog.

The thing that makes me totally comfortable with following freely is Crowdfire. It tells me when someone unfollows me or if I’m following an inactive account. If someone unfollows me, I simply unfollow them back. If someone never tweets, I unfollow them too. It is purely through this strategy that I’ve managed to end up following fewer people than the amount following me.

Take advantage of linky retweets

If you are joining in with linkies (and if you’re trying to grow your blog, you probably should be), a lesser know fact is that they are great for your Twitter account. If you have no idea what a linky is or how to use one, please read Cuddle Fairy’s Linky Guide.

The main purpose of a linky is to get comments on your blog whilst discovering and supporting other blogs. However, most linky hosts will offer to retweet the link to your post if you tag them on Twitter once you’ve linked up. And most linky hosts have huge followings, so they will be sharing your post with a huge amount of potential followers.

For example, one of my favourite linkies is “Keep Calm and Carry on Linking Sunday” hosted by A Moment with Franca. Franca alone has over 10,000 followers, plus she usually has about 4 co-hosts who will also retweet you. So they will be spreading your link all over Twitter. I also join a linky called #EatSleepBlogRT hosted by Petite Pudding and Diary of an Imperfect Mum, in which the main goal is for people to retweet each other’s posts.

Twitter chats

I have only joined in one Twitter chat – #tribalchat (follow @tribalchattweet for more info) on Tuesdays at 8pm – but it has been so beneficial to me. Every time I do, I get noticed on Twitter, even occasionally by brands. I assume this is because you are being active and Twitter’s algorithm decides to show you to more people.  And even better than that, I’ve actually made some really good blogging friends through doing it!

The way #tribalchat works is that there is a host each time and they ask “icebreaker” style questions that all the chatters answer. They’re usually very silly and even slightly rude. Then we are all meant to interact and chat away as much as possible. You can join in as much or as little as you choose. Just remember to put #tribalchat in everything you tweet so the others will see what you write.

It can be intimidating at first, and I know I didn’t feel I was witty enough with my answers. But alcohol and practice has made me a pretty decent #tribalchat-ter. A few practical tips:

  • Chat on your laptop. The chats go fast and it’s almost impossible to keep up on a phone.
  • Check the host’s feed for the questions.
  • Search on the #tribalchat hashtag to see what other chatters are saying. Remember to click the “latest” tab, otherwise you’ll only see the most popular things people say rather than all the things.
  • Keep refreshing your notifications too and respond to what people say to you.
  • Retweet anything you think particularly funny or interesting.
  • Use GIFs because they’re funny and take up more space.

If #tribalchat isn’t your cup of tea, you could try #ukpbloggers, #tbhchat or #babybantzchat, among many others. Fellow blogger Samantha from North East Family Fun also suggested to me that joining in with local non-blogger chats is a great way to bring in a new crop of readers.

Run competitions on your blog

I use Rafflecopter to occasionally run competitions on my blog, when I find a brand willing to cooperate. You can ask people who want to win your comp prize to follow you on Twitter and tweet about the comp. This has the potential to grow your following massively. Some compers will unfollow after the competition finishes, but many will stick around.

How parenting bloggers can grow Twitter followers by 100+ per week

Thank you to bloggers who responded to my crowdsourcing request for this post. I found I already had pretty set ideas for the post, but their contributions were appreciated:

 

What do you think of my Twitter strategies? What are your top Twitter tricks?

The best & worst of being a new blogger

Thoughts on staying motivated

It’s been just over a week since I started this blog, and it’s starting to get real.

I am a bit of a faddy sort of person, or maybe even a bit of a “quitter”. I get excited about things and pursue them avidly for a while, and then if they get hard or boring I quickly move on. When I started this blog, I promised myself I would stick with it for a change. I even paid for a domain name so that the financial outlay might guilt me into sticking with it.

But today I’m starting to realise how difficult this blogging malarkey can be. So to keep myself on target, I decided to write a little list of the best and worst things about blogging so far.

The best

Catharsis

After going through the process of writing a post, I just feel better. I’ve taken all this stuff bouncing around inside my head and put it somewhere else. Almost every night, my toddler wakes me at 4am for a drink and a cuddle, and then I find it difficult to get back to sleep because I start thinking about stuff. Now that I’m blogging, I’ve emptied my head before bed, and I sleep better.

Achievement 

There is a lot to be said for that feeling when you publish a post that you’re happy with. And even more to be said for that feeling when you find that someone actually reads it, or comments positively on it, or even shares it. That feeling could become a little bit addictive.

Connection and community

Before I started I had no idea what a big deal blogging was. I didn’t know it was a thing with groups and awards and a million articles for advice and strategy. There are so many other bloggers out there who are so interesting and supportive, and I’ve really enjoyed connecting with some of these people and starting to join the community.

The worst

Losing confidence

What if my writing is actually rubbish? What if nobody reads my blog? What if someone actually tells me that it’s rubbish? I’ve had a lot of self-doubt, and when things don’t go quite the way I expect, it gets worse. So I’m trying to remember that, although it would be lovely if people read my blog, that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it for me – for enjoyment, for self-improvement, for the sake of doing something challenging. It’s not perfect but it’s mine.

Offending someone

I work in publishing so I’m used to assessing whether content is going to be controversial or offend a particular group of readers. But blogging is a bit more personal. What if I offend someone close to me with something I write? I would never write something intentionally hurtful, and I do try to be considerate, but sometimes people see things from a different perspective from me. This is a tough one. I hope that anyone who thinks I write something offensive will go ahead and call me out. Opening the lines of communication means that we have a chance to resolve misunderstandings. And if I mess up I will try to make amends.

Content!

I obviously can’t write a blog if I have nothing to write about. I’m still coasting on the wave of my blog being new, so I have lots of ideas for content. But I worry about running out of ideas and how I’m going to cope with that. I also worry about whether the content I do have is actually worth having. But I’m trying to remind myself that this blog is always going to be a work in progress. It’s not a finished product but an evolving thing that will grow and change and take me on a journey.

The verdict

I took my son to see “Finding Dory” this week and keep hearing her little song in my head: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!” It seems to me that blogging is about perseverance. So whenever I lose my confidence or get a little bit scared, I’m going to “just keep blogging”.

What are the best and worst bits of blogging for you? How do you motivate yourself to keep on blogging?

I like to review stuff

On a recent holiday to the Isle of Wight, I was sat somewhere being bored. I can’t remember exactly what I was doing at the time, but it was probably while waiting for my children to do something. They like to take their time.

And then I started thinking about the holiday itself, and what I liked and disliked about it. I realised I had a lot of opinions and advice based on those opinions. And then I remembered that before I went on holiday I spent quite a lot of time trying to see what opinions other people had about things I was going to do on holiday.

And then I had an epiphany: I actually really, really like to review stuff. I spent some time as the editor of the arts & entertainment section of my university’s newspaper, so I’m not entirely new to reviewing stuff. But since then, my reviews have been confined to chats with my husband and friends, or the occasional TripAdvisor or Facebook review.

So I thought I’d have a go at telling the world my opinions about interesting things I’ve done. A lot of the things I review will be useful for people with young families. But I will also review the grownup things I (very occasionally) do.

I never thought I would be the sort of person to write a blog. But hopefully someone will find it useful. And if not, at least I will have a record of lots of things I’ve done and what I thought about them.

Watch this space for my first two review posts, which will be about our Isle of Wight holiday (which was mostly not boring – when I wasn’t waiting for my children to do stuff).