Blogging: How and why I blog

Eat Drink Blog 2010

A panel called ‘how and why we blog’ opened the Eat Drink Blog 2010 conference last weekend, and the topic proved popular, with much revisiting throughout the day. What became apparent was that we were a diverse bunch who had different and usually multi-faceted reasons for blogging. And the conversation didn’t stop on Sunday – it’s continued in the foodbloggingtwittersphere…

Lots of food for thought there.

I have previously written about blogging as a way to make social connections and (if you’ll excuse me for being grandiose) build a media in my article Well connected: the power of social food media. But I thought I would try a more personal response to the question also, since the conference got me thinking about it all again…

How and why I blog

I’ve been blogging since I’ve been working in ‘new media’, back before ‘social media’ meant anything (2004), when blogs were explained as ‘web logs’ by mainstream media and were usually online diaries and more often than not anonymous. My blog was about dating (seriously). It was tiny and had an audience base of about five people, on a good day. But I enjoyed it.

Blogging has evolved enormously since then and as I’ve said before, blogs are now basically self-publishing platforms, which is why the medium appealed to me when I was starting out with Vignette Press – because it was an easy way to put stuff out in the world.

Along with Emily, who was my publisher at aduki independent press, I set up a blog called Locus that looked at ‘all things independent publishing’. It basically started as a marketing tool to promote our presses, a way for us to ask questions about our new scary roles as ‘publishers’ and also to report what we were learning along the way. (Aside – it was the first time I had posted online under my own name, and yes that was a little nerve-wracking.)

We set up the blog in 2007. For ages it felt like no one was reading, because we didn’t really get any comments and we didn’t know what kind of web stats were ‘good’, although we could see they were at least growing.

But then I wrote a somewhat critical review of the Melbourne Writers Festival, and within a day the director of the festival had left a comment on the blog. And that was pretty much the first time we’d had a sense that… people were reading! People in the industry were reading and responding to what we wrote. That was the first time I realised how powerful a tool blogging can be for writers (or anyone!). And that’s when I started to seriously get interested in the medium.

Locus went for about two years, and I concurrently started blogging at my own domain (here). This blog also started as a kind of marketing tool, but I soon started blogging about things that were happening in my life – things I was thinking about or whatever. For example, when I turned vegan and started editing the Melbourne Veg Food Guide I started blogging a lot more about the food I was eating – it was a good way to connect with the vegan community.

And so, as I’ve said before, this blog has always had a few focuses – food and publishing really – tied together by the common thread of me. So I have come to consider it as a personal blog more than anything else (more than a marketing blog or a commercial site or a skills-teaching site or whatever).

In early 2009 Emily and I shut down Locus and I remained blogging here.

Last year my blog jumped by about 450% in just six months (increasing from 700 unique visitors a month in July to 3500 in December, and from 1860 to 10,200 page views). Literally thousands of people started reading me, and that changed the way I thought about blogging again. (Why did it jump so much? One reason is that I was working a quite boring full time job so I started blogging every day. And the other reason is that I had a book coming out, so I started using social media to promote the blog, which is something I had never done before.)

The power of blogging is that if you’re interesting or a good writer, then people will read you. This is something that you can’t guarantee even when you have a book out. Neon Pilgrim has a micro print run of 1000 copies, whereas I currently have about 800 unique visitors a week and 1700 page hits reading my blog (which is down a lot from when I was blogging daily at the end of last year). So the scale of my audience is much larger on the blog than through my books. Given a (bestselling) miracle, I suspect it will always be this way.

The most rewarding part of blogging for me has been being able to engage with my audience – even realising that I have an audience was amazing in itself! – which is something a lot of writers don’t do except in formal contexts like festivals, workshops or talks. But I can connect with people instantly through my blog.

When I write a post I can see immediately if anyone reads it through the blog stats. If people care or are inflamed by what I write, they leave a comment. If it’s really important, then they share it on twitter or by email, and I can see that happening too. So as a writer to be able to see those things happening is kind of astounding and validating, because you get instantaneous feedback.

This blog has 420 posts and 1864 comments, which is a hell of a lot of commenting and conversation. And I value the readers on this blog, because generally their comments are thoughtful, reflective and humorous – I don’t often get people consistently leaving two-word ‘you go!’ or ‘spot on!’ or ‘well said!’ kind of comments. So I feel like my stats and the quality of the comments show that I’m striking some kind of chord with people, which is important to me as a writer, and is important to me as someone who has modest ambitions to make the world a better place.

As well as audience engagement and meeting people, blogging has helped me to become a writer – let’s face it, with over 420 posts, the bulk of my writing has happened on this blog and Locus. Blogging has helped me be disciplined. I have become better at refining my arguments, and I have increased my capacity for self-editing. Beyond those kinds of nuts and bolts things, I’ve been able to ‘test’ ideas on my audience, not just to see what they think, but to help me figure out what I think.

In addition, I’ve been able to build a profile and persona as a writer. And while you could argue about the ‘quality’ of self-publishing vs being published, I have been able to define who I am as a writer by self-publishing on this blog. By being honest in my opinions even when it made people angry, by showing my personality and insecurities, and by posting passionately about things I care about, I have been able to build this ‘persona’ of ‘Lisa Dempster’ in a way that would take me muuuuuuch longer through traditional routes.

But saying that last bit makes me sound a bit like this is just one big marketing exercise. It’s not. I love blogging. I’m endlessly intrigued, amused and challenged by the medium. I just, you know, enjoy it.