Lecture notes.

Primarily for the benefit of the attendees, this is a brief memory-jogging précis a near-as-dammit transcription (I just can’t help myself) of the talk which I gave to the Creative Collaborations “Your writing sucks” conference on Thursday morning.

“I am a blogger.” From guilty grubby little secret, to something which wins “networking opportunities” at boutique hotels.

What is blogging?

Impossible to answer concisely (“dead air” on the Radio Nottingham breakfast show) – as for every rule an exception – BUT:

– reverse chronological
– short articles
– usually a single author
– frequently updated
– most recent article at top, older in archives
– most link to other blogs – “community” or loose network of overlapping communities
– most allow readers’ comments

Produced via standard software:
– free, easy (no tech know-how, can get started in 10 mins), portable (no special software, just need browser and line)


Term dates to late 90s.
Started appearing from 1999 onwards – small self-contained group
cf. bursting of dot-com bubble
– “ants scurrying amdist the rubble of the dot-com crash”
– loss of original spirit of web (egalitarian/pioneering/enabling) – attempt to redress the balance

Defining moment: 9/11
– bush telegraph (“so and so is safe, such and such is sealed off”)
– oral history (“we were there, this is what it felt like”)
“Big” media/old media interest – endless “discoveries” of blogging – mixed +ve/-ve reaction


Technorati says 20.5 million
…but most are “dead” sites
Better estimate of “active” sites: 3 or 4 million?

Vast majority have tiny readership, c.3-20 regulars
Big media says “you’re failures” BUT these sites are INTENDED this way
– online diaries, cf. letters, round robins, Xmas newsletters
– small ring-fenced network of buddies, eg. Livejournal/Myspace, teens/early 20s, “my parents don’t understand/school sucks/Green Day rules“, bad Gothic angst poetry

Other end of scale: tiny number with readership in thousands
Especially in US – phenomenon more mainstream
Top few have 100,000+

Rest of us float around somewhere in the middle
Troubled Diva (TD) has 650-750 visitors a day
(notably less at weekends: I’m your coffee break/water cooler moment)
c.30% through search engines
c. 200-300 regulars who “follow” the blog
Quite high for UK – BUT – successful UK blog = #39 in Albanian singles charts

Subject matter.

95% online diary/journal, but few of the big hitters
Next most popular: political.
– reaction to 9/11
– few left wing or party political
– many libertarian or “hawk” re. US foreign policy
– politicians (Boris Johnson)
– commentators: journalists (Stephen Pollard/Melanie Phillips) & many wannabe journos!
– can be dense/complex/difficult to plot on trad left/right axis

Celebrities (Moby/Streisand/Paul Daniels/Scott “Dilbert” Adams), but cannot engage with readers due to remote status – so in “blogosphere” perspective, marginalised figures

Special interest: music, MP3, hand-drawn, photo, sports, creative writing, business/marketing, web design, web punditry, sex, food, knitting, God…

Confessional aspect.

– depression/divorce/sexual misdemeanours etc etc
– cathartic for writer, car crash rubbernecking for readers?
– “online disinhibition effect”
– liberating effect of screen: confession booth/heart to heart with friend/therapist
– “I’m insignificant”/”no one will find me”

Many, many examples
– people have been sacked (“Dooced”)
– sites closed abruptly
– own experience (unfairly bitchy account of posh lunch party, found by friend of the hosts)
– assume that they WILL find what you’ve said, don’t say anything wouldn’t say to face
– stick to being rude about politicians/celebs: that’s what we pay them for!

OR… stick to YOURSELF as subject
– hence criticism “bloggers are self-obsessed”
– goes with the territory

My own category… “personality” bloggers.

Not usually categorised as such
Sink or swim on attributes of writer’s personality
That’s what hooks readers & brings them back
Not always WHAT we write about but the WAY we say it
Can you take a day where nothing happened, and still make it interesting?

My own blog – background.

Started 4 years ago by accident/curiosity/desire to imitate (Single White Female)
No clue what to do with it at start
Friends & family not interested
Started getting comments, leaving comments, others reading my comments, checking my site, if they like it they stick around
Unexpected alternative audience of strangers, small but growing
Dsicovered “blogrolls” (lists of favourite blogs, kept on sidebar)

My defining moment: 40 in 40 days project
Autobiographical 40 day series
Established a readership
Found my voice – or had I? – considered, “writerly”, literary aspirations

As time went on, relaxed this voice
– more pseudo-conversational, immediate, rough & ready
– “first draft”, doesn’t HAVE to be polished (written in gaps during the day, time pressure)
– may look crap in print, but not intended for that – immediacy part of charm

Discovered blogging heirarchy, “A list”, blogging awards (The Bloggies)
– horrified – against egalitarian principles – “they’re not all that”
– or jealous?
– then nominated myself this year
– volte-face, “so glad my dear friend so and so is nominated”, like pigs at end of Animal Farm
– but we evolve!

Success of blog – mentions in press etc – largest pressure – stage fright/”stats vertigo” – visualise 3 or 4 people in room, now a whole crowd

Finding of own voice.

Whole medium geared towards it
Idea for post – one hour later it’s published – one hour later there’s comments – instant feedback
Know exactly how people are reacting, all the time
Can monitor stats – like stock exchange index – can dip, then strong content makes them rise again (we all check them!)
Can see when blog is linked by others
– or individual posts are linked
– or when added to/removed from blogrolls
I engage my readers
– talk to them, e-mails with them
– read their own blogs


Therefore can precisely target content, BUT more sub-consciously than overtly
You simply learn to write with your audience in mind

Not all bloggers take this approach
NME indie band: “we just do what we do & if anyone else happens to like it, that’s a bonus
I’m the opposite!

BUT… at the same time, write with YOURSELF as audience
– the sort of blog YOU’D want to read

so a kind of happy serendipity at work

Most blogs don’t hook you in at first read
Takes time, repeated visits, build up picture of writer, want to know more about them.

AUTHENTICITY valued highly in “blogosphere”
(even if content filtered through persona – jokey, drama-queeny etc)
– blog readers are constantly sifting/evaluating – making quick judgements
– sharp antennae, can easily spot fakes/wannabes
– remember: not in it for the money, so motives are “pure & noble” / untainted by commerce
(even if we’d all jump at chance of book deal/offer of newspaper column…!)

blogs as fair online representations of personality…?
but… you tease, you don’t give it all away, people never quite feel they know you?

TD thrives on unpredictable/erratic/rough around the edges/what’s coming next?
no need for “brand consistency”
– ok to experiment/fail – failure can still be interesting

therefore FREEDOM to write what you want – no commercial pressure

“Edited” vs. “Unedited”

No editors in blogging
A freedom, but a mixed blessing?

– TD tends towards verbosity – but my favourite stuff often in the cracks/digressions/parentheses
– Written style which tends to the over-stuffed, chaotic, sentences running away with themselves/being reined back in the nick of time

Blogging as presenting UNEDITED version of self
– spend a lot of time in real life holding back
– at work, in social situations with people who don’t share my interests/pre-occupations/world-view
– blog is where I can say what I want, without being interrupted
– eg. musical interests / interests not shared with partner

Thus blog audience is self-selecting
– virtual social life?
– differences between real/virtual friends
– can be loyal, can be fickle, come and go
– cocktail party analogy: mingling, forming/dissolving groups/cliques
– “darling it’s been wonderful talking to you, but there are some interesting people over there whom I simply MUST meet!”
– good strategy for absorbing rejection!

We THINK we know each other, but do we really?
– building a strictly controlled (idealised?) image of self – witty / urbane / fascinating etc
– Walter Mitty syndrome? (bored office worker vs personality blogger)

Thus is it fairer to say we’re presenting EDITED versions of self?


Blogging as obsession
– constant voice in head / inner tabloid journalist on own life
– “ooh, can I blog this?”
– friends: “Mike, you’ve got to blog this” / “Mike, please don’t blog this!”

But if you can harness obsession, rewards can be great

Blogging has made me – 43 yr old office worker – successful on my own terms for first time ever
– reconnection with ability which lay dormant for years
– re-configuration of sense of identity
– has given much needed confidence

So… having started at random four years ago… I’ve ended up standing here this morning… slightly mystified… but hugely grateful.


1. To read some more points of view regarding “finding your voice” as a blogger, take a look at the comments box at the end of Wednesday’s post.

2. During the Q&A session, I was asked to recommend some other blogs. These were: little.red.boatJonnyB’s Private Secret DiaryGuyana GyalNaked Blog.

3. Towards the end of the afternoon session, I mentioned an recent instance where corporate creative writing had spun out of control: the Barry Scott/Cillit Bang incident. You can read more about this incident here, with a follow-up here.

4. Further reading (didn’t mention this on the day, but it’s really excellent, and relevant to the whole day) – gapingvoid: how to be creative.

5. Here’s a guide to the most linked UK weblogs (from within the blogging community) in May 2005.

Update: 6. Here’s a write-up of the whole day, written by Jess (who I met at lunchtime).

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