Fifteen years ago, I wrote a blog post about why blogging was important to me. I had been blogging on various platforms for about five years at that time and, significantly, I was the editor of a print magazine dedicated to the art of the blog. It was the year the first iPhone was released, social media was still in its infancy, and blogs were still functioning primarily as a tool of personal expression — not just a way to manipulate search algorithms.
While I was never the most consistent blogger, I really valued the process of organizing my thoughts for public consumption. It’s not that I thought anyone was eager to read what I had to say, but the possibility that someone might read what I posted meant I had to really put some in effort into composition. It didn’t matter if it was an observation about storytelling techniques, a pean to my favorite book, or an angsty exploration of my latest bout of writers block, I wanted my posts to be both meaningful and artful.
Every blog post was a journey, chasing after an idea until understood what it meant and how I felt about it, and then crafting a way to express it that might resonate with someone else. It didn’t matter that few people ever read what I wrote — I wasn’t really doing it for anyone but myself.
Back then, blogs were still climbing out of the reputational dumpster. When “weblogs” first emerged on the Internet, they were largely seen as vanity projects, a place for people to share the (often uninteresting) minutiae of their days, not what we’d think of as “quality content” today. That was changing, though, as businesses started to see the potential of using blogs to talk to customers directly, and then as a tool to take advantage of search algorithms. Blogs stopped being self-indulgent megaphones and became an essential part of the online marketing toolkit.
At about the same time, social media exploded. Personal bloggers decamped to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which was a faster and easier way to share what you were up to and to connect with the people who were interested in it. Readers became followers, and while some personal blogs have persisted, most blog writers stopped chasing ideas and started chasing the long tail.
Like most people, my blogging activity dropped off when I started using social media more. Then, I ceased blogging almost completely due to a years-long bout of creative depression, when all my creative hobbies ground to a halt. While I slowly pieced my creative life back together, I never picked up the blogging habit again. I made a few attempts here and there, but could never really find the groove again.
I decided I would apply the knowledge gained from my day job in content marketing to my nascent editorial side-gig, and create a blog that would bring writers, authors and potential clients to my virtual doorstep. I would post on topics that were of interest to me creatively and professionally, of course, but structured in a way that were useful to other fantasy writers, too … answers to questions they might pose to Google. All very professional and strategic, you know?
You only have to look at the archive for this blog to see how well that’s been working out for me — eight posts in a year is not a winning content strategy.
Which is the really long way around to my point, which is that I hate what I’ve been posting on this blog for the past year.
It’s not the the content is bad, per se. It’s that I have I have a terrible time motivating myself to write it. I have a file full of ideas, and I have drafts of posts that have been sitting unfinished in Evernote for over a year. The last few posts I actually published were cheats, hauled out of the archive, dusted off and tweaked according to today’s content marketing best practices.
You know: Optimized.
I really hate that word. It is a work word, a marketing word, a capitalistic word, and while of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money and earn a living, creativity can’t be optimized. Authenticity can’t be optimized. And since creativity and authenticity are what I value most about blogging, it’s no wonder I haven’t been very successful at it when I think of it as a business tool.
I have been thinking about this for a while, wondering how I can rediscover the old pleasure of blogging and make it a regular part of my creative life again. It was fortuitous timing when John Sclazi posted about rebuilding the artisan web last week, a call not to forsake social media, but to reclaim our ownership of our content, our thoughts, our creativity, with a return to personal blogging. His post was prompted by Twitter shenanigans and a desire not to let billionaires and algorithms determine what we see on the web.
But I also think there’s something to be said for not being limited by the constraints of a platform when it comes to personal exploration and creative expression — on your own site, you’re not going to be limited by character count or image dimensions or trending audio tracks.3 Don’t get me wrong: there’s a tons of really creative work happing across all the social media sites, and I have enjoyed challenging myself within those constraints. But when I make content for Instagram I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t want to be an influencer. It’s too easy to get caught up in the desire for likes and follows over there, and the focus becomes external instead of internal.
So my goal for the coming year is to abandon the idea of Magic & Ink as a professional lead-generation tool, and instead revision it as an old-school platform for self-exploration and creative expression. I imagine there will still be a lot here for writers and potential clients to find of interest, because writing and storytelling and fantasy are the thing that most interest me. But I’m not going to be writing for them.
I’m going to be writing for me.
- Fortunately, most of my posts weren’t forever lost, just not easily restorable online. It is kind of nice that they are preserved but not eternally findable online.
- That’s an inside joke – my old blog was titled “Artifacts.”
- I don’t mean to condemn anyone who is creating content on these platforms — it’s actually pretty great how much creativity they inspire!