I took part in a Glasgow Social Media week event called BlogOff, run by Ryan Wenstrup-Moore of Social Chemistry. I was asked to speak about why I blog, so I told the story of In A Bundance and me.
Here's what I said:
Ryan asked me to talk in the ‘why blog?’ section of her Blog Off event.
So why blog?
Well I blog because I love it and I believe blogging can make life better in many, many ways.
My blog has improved my sanity, created work opportunities, made me new friends, found me communities to join, taught me new skills and given me the chance to be creative.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate is to tell you my blogging story – the ways blogging has made my life better.
I started my blog, In a bundance, on 28 April 2007. I had just started working as a freelance journalist and – in the absence of colleagues – it seemed like an entertaining diversion from proper work.
I’d like to say I didn’t have any ambitions for my blog but, along with most people who enjoy writing, that’s not strictly true. I had this fantasy that a publisher would happen along to my blog, like what they saw and offer me a book advance large enough to pay off the mortgage.
However, apart from the entirely implausible, I didn’t have real ambitions for my blog.
My first posts were tentative and halting. I wrote about my family, places I’d been to, food I’d eaten and things that were getting on my wick. I was experimenting, but it didn’t really matter as no one was reading it apart from my mother, my siblings and a couple of friends.
There’s a notion that journalism is creative, but it isn’t really. You tend to write what someone else tells you to, to a fairly strict formula and you aren’t, generally, allowed let the reader know what you think about it.
So writing a blog was a liberation. For the first time in decades I could write what I wanted, in the way I wanted. No one was going to care about style, substance or the fact I was – for once – voicing my own opinion. I could make up words, break punctuation rules which, for a journalists and rehabilitated sub-editor, was heady stuff. This was probably my first blogging bonus.
I realised that my humble blog was serving as a useful record of what my family and I had been up to. Sort of like a round-robin letter without the smugness. It also let far-flung relatives see photos and keep in touch.
Then I realised that blogging about things I did slightly shifted the way I looked at the world. On high days and holidays, when I knew I was planning to write something I started using my blogging goggles. It meant that generally I looked at things properly - paying attention - considering what I might say about them. Without sounding too ‘out there’ blogging goggles do make it easier to ‘be in the moment’.
The next blog turning point was when I discovered the world of other bloggers. In my case I found the BritMums community. This is not the same as the mumsnet people who gave David Cameron such a hard time over what he dunks in his tea. Very much not the same.
Britmums is the internet home of a group of parents who write blogs. That’s it. But when I first found them I was astonished, the things they were saying and the way they were saying them seemed to talk straight to me. I had found somewhere I felt at home.
I also discovered the ScottishRoundup, where a group of volunteers take turns to collate their version of the best of the Scottish blogs. I ‘met’ some lovely folk there too. Many of whom I ‘talk’ to regularly, although I’ve never met.
Through my blog I have got to know a great many fantastic people, who I wouldn’t otherwise have met. I’ve attended conferences for bloggers and, even, been asked to speak at events like this.
So with a few more readers visiting, I started to try to improve the way my blog looked. I sought advice from people who had beautiful put-together looking blogs and those who clearly knew about design and I was able to tidy up my blog and learn the importance of adding some pictures.
I learned about which images were available for sharing on the internet and which weren’t and, frankly, decided it was just easier to take my own pictures. So I dug out my camera and started snapping. Little by little I was able to improve the quality of the photos I took, work out how to enhance them a bit and now my blog pictures look a little better. A renewed interest in photography and confidence in taking pictures are another blogging result.
Things trotted along like this for a while.
Then a whole series of life’s ups and downs arrived all at once. Not long after my third son was born, I realised that I probably had post natal depression. But before I had the chance to seek help for it my brother died unexpectedly.
It’s fair to say the next few weeks were some of the most difficult I’d ever had. But my biggest worry while I was trying to come to terms with everything that had happened was the effect it was having on my three kids. I realised I was too caught up in my own emotions to give them what they needed.
They were silly or sweet things that they’d said or done. Fleeting things that previously I’d barely even noticed. Gradually, looking for these things started to change the way I was thinking about the boys and eventually helped to lift my mood. When I was with the children, I would start to watch them ready to spot a lovely or funny thing to blog about. It was definitely a case where thinking positively helped me to feel positive.
I also found that writing about some of the more difficult times helped me to deal with them. Almost as if putting them in a blog post and publishing them enabled me to tick them off a list of things to do. I subsequently found that writing things out is a recognised technique of treating mental heath problems. My blog was helping me feel better again.
About this time, a friend pointed out that STV were having a writing competition on their website. They were looking for a new columnist. So I entered by cutting and pasting a post I’d written about the lunacy of the council’s decision to cut back on school buses. I was really chuffed to be shortlisted. In the end I didn’t win, but through the weeks of the contest, I got to know some of the people at stv.tv and had the opportunity to do some work there. I still regularly work for STV on the entertainment section of their website. It’s a professional avenue I wouldn’t have had without my blog.
But STV isn’t the only work I’ve gained from my blog. I was approached by a parenting site to write some regular posts for them. Ready For Ten is a site aimed at parents of primary school age children and it belongs to Britvic - it’s part of the marketing for their Fruit Shoot brand. Ready For Ten was created for Britvic by London-based social media agency Made By Many. Suddenly it wasn’t just blogging, I was part of an exciting way to promote a brand.
I also now write for a site called TutorHub for secondary pupils and their parents.
Meanwhile, I was still writing news and features for papers and magazines and doing corporate writing – newsletters and the like for various public sector organisations and businesses. But gradually, blogging became something that people were keen to have done for their organisations. I know a great many small business people write lively and engaging blogs about the behind-the-scenes of their enterprises, but lots of people just don’t fancy it, struggle with it or don’t have the time. Several now employ me to write blog posts for them.
I have been able to earn a small amount of money directly through my blog, through sponsored posts and advertising but nothing like what my blog has earned me in its capacity as a showcase for what I do. Blogging has had a huge influence on my career.
I’m still learning through my blog – or at least getting helpful feedback. For example, not long ago I was struggling with my 11-year-old son. He has Asperger’s syndrome and people with asperger’s can be terribly enthusiastic on their favourite subject. For a while I was finding this really hard going. Every time my boy opened his mouth it was to give me a lecture about something – at that point I think it was fire safety. Now, I’m all for fire safety, but I really didn’t need to hear about it for hours on end, especially as I’d heard it all before... several times. This was making me really cross with my son even though I know it’s just what he does – his way of communicating.
So I blogged about how I felt. About how I knew I wasn’t really listening to him and generally being snappy when he started to talk. The response I got back was fantastic. Lots of other asperger’s parents commented – they felt the same, they understood, they knew it was hard, but it would pass. They had some helpful suggestions about ways of coping. Once again my blog made me feel much better.
By then I was a total blog enthusiast – in my mind there is very little that can’t be improved by a good blog. Blogging as a route to happiness was idea that grew in my head until I had the audacious notion that it might just make a book. So I pitched it to a publisher and was astonished to have it accepted. Blogging For Happiness will be published next month and that certainly is something I wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for my blog.