Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Growing Pains

This month marks the one year anniversary of the Creative Gene blog. When I started it, I had no idea where I would go with it or even how long I would stick with it. I started out blogging about my participation in the NaNoWriMo competition and I'm just about back where I started... getting ready for another NaNoWriMo competition. So where has this one year blogging journey taken me? What have I learned? What would I do differently? What advice would I give to others starting a blog? Where will my blog go next? Lots to think about...

First, some reflections on the blogging journey. While I'd heard about blogs for a couple years on TV (I'm a CNN junkie... ;-), I was not in the least bit tempted to start one. Quite frankly, I didn't think anyone would care to hear what I had to say. But then one day I was surfing the net trying to find information on creative writing (trying to teach myself because the class I was taking wasn't teaching me anything) when I came across a blog written by an author who was chronicling their efforts to get published. I was instantly caught up in the writing and hooked into wanting to see what would happen next. One of the things that author wrote was that your writing gets better the more you write (sort of like practice makes perfect). That made a certain amount of sense to me so I started a blog as a writing exercise of sorts.

I had no specific direction or theme for my blog when I started and no audience. And I mean none. I didn't personally know anyone who wrote a blog and none of my family or friends read my blog to this day (except for my friend and genealogy buddy "V"). It's this solitary thing I do and share with strangers but virtually no one close to me.

Over the past year, I've written about writing, about photography, about genealogy, and about my life. Has my writing gotten any better for all the blog posts I've written? I don't think so. Perhaps if I'd set out to stretch myself with writing exercises in mind I would have improved some but given that I had no direction in mind, and no plan for evaluating my writing or getting feedback on it, I can't see that I've improved any. I write pretty much the way I always did, I just do more of it. So I'd say in terms of my original idea of writing a blog for practice to make myself a better writer, this journey hasn't gone very far.

What have I learned? I've learned a lot from reading other's blogs (mostly about genealogy) which I probably wouldn't have done if I wasn't writing my own blog. I've learned a lot about the features and limitations of a few different blog platforms. I've learned that the rules for promoting one's blog to drive traffic to it are totally different from the rules for promoting one's web site to drive traffic to it. I've learned that if you don't stick with one topic/theme, people won't take your blog as seriously as if you did. I've learned that the more blog posts you write on a regular basis the higher ranking your blog will get on the blog search sites, so one blog a day will do you better than 7 blogs posted once a week (7 blog posts each day will do you even better ;-). I've learned that when I have something exciting to share I like to blog. When I can't think of anything to share, keeping a blog feels like a burden and an obligation. I've learned about RSS feeds and readers. I've learned the value of commenting on other's blogs... it's so nice to know someone is reading what you write.

What would I do differently? I would have started my blog on WordPress. Blogger's search feature doesn't work and I'm constantly frustrated trying to locate previous posts I've written. I wish I had designated certain days for certain topics (i.e. photos on weekends, genealogy a couple days, writing/reflections a couple days). It would have made it easier to plan for. I may still do that. I might have created separate blogs for each of my hobbies but that would have meant each of the blogs would suffer less visibility from the blog search sites (due to less traffic over all). I don't have time to write in multiple blogs each day so some blogs would go days with no posts.

What advice do I have for others thinking about starting a blog?
  • Do it on WordPress ;-)
  • There will be days when you don't feel like writing... write anyway. Some of my best blog posts were written when I didn't feel like writing.
  • It's a bigger time commitment than you think it will be if you do it right. When you start writing about your hobby, you've taken on a new hobby... writing. To indulge the new hobby of writing you will take away time from the hobby you write about. Think about that when you think about starting a blog.
  • Writing/blogging is a solitary pursuit. You can do it in the presence of others but you still have to do it by yourself. If you don't write or you don't plan or you write badly you have no one but yourself to blame.
  • You can't play with your dog and write for your blog at the same time. Don't neglect your dog.
Where will my blog go next? This is the $64,000 question and one that I haven't made a decision on yet. It's not serving the purpose it was originally intended for. It's taking time away from my other hobbies. In spite of my best efforts to figure out how to promote it, it still doesn't get as much traffic as my web sites do. There are several topics I'd like to write about but I fear coming across as a "jack of all trades, master of none". (I don't fear being one, just coming across as one ;-) Any new topics I take on would dilute my blog further and take away from the split identity it already suffers from. But I'm a complex individual and quite honestly if I had a one-topic blog I think I'd get bored with it in no time (just like if I only had one hobby I'd get bored with it). I've become acquainted with many good people whose blogs I enjoy reading and whose opinions/comments I've come to value (virtually all genealogy bloggers). How far off the topic of genealogy can my blog go before I lose their readership?

I guess you could say my blog hasn't found its voice yet, its reason for being. Probably the most important question is, am I writing this blog for myself or for others? If I'm writing for myself, I don't need to worry about driving traffic to my blog, I can make the blog private, I can write whatever and whenever I want and skip writing if I don't feel like it. Of course I already do that in my personal and private journal (not online) but it has suffered greatly since I've been putting my time into Creative Gene ;-) If I'm writing for others, my time would almost certainly be better spent writing for one of my 6 hobby web sites which have a lot more traffic per day than does my blog. (Well, OK, four of them have more traffic, the other two have slightly less.)

I'm not prepared to make any decisions regarding the life or direction of Creative Gene right now. I have too much on my plate to consider making any drastic changes at this point. But I think I'll be looking at making some changes after the first of the year. If nothing else, I need to change blogging platforms. That is unless Blogger gets their act together and gets the search function working properly. In the mean time, I'd like to hear what you think about Creative Gene... suggestions, criticisms, etc. What would you/do you like to read about here?

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