And it's not as ‘self indulgent’ as you'd imagine.
I started my first blog back in 2003.
Back then most blogs were literally just an online diary. Every day you'd upload a text post (No photos etc. This was back when we had animated backgrounds and auto-play 8 bit music) and that was that.
If 12 people saw it that was great. If you got a comment that was impressive.
Now-a-days I get tens of thousands of views. Things are SO much different now. Bloggers can be multi millionaires. They’re often labelled ‘influencers’, even ‘experts’. Back when I started blogging, sure, some people were very popular and had ‘big’ blogs, but for the most part it was an obscure niche, a past time, and not many people even knew what a blog was.
I used mine to record my inner monologue... consider my thoughts of the day, practice my writing, vent, keep in touch with friends and update them on what I was up to if they weren't on my MSN or MySpace. Sometimes I got creative with it, I'd upload quizzes, photos, artwork, jokes I liked. It performed much like a Facebook profile before Facebook existed. There was nothing else to it. However, even then, I still couldn't answer that question... why was I sharing all this stuff publicly?
Even now, when blogging has a thriving community and industry behind it, how can I justify sharing content or blogging online if I'm not using it to expand my business or make money?
How can I blog such intimate details about my life, just for fun?
Some friends/family found the idea of a blog, and even a website, alien and intrusive.
Couldn't I just email my friends? Couldn't I keep my blog set to private? Why did I want to blog at all? Why did I use my real name? Surely a paper journal would suffice? Wasn't it arrogant to think anyone would find my life interesting? Wasn't it dangerous to put myself online? Isn't it all just 'keeping up with the Jones' or 'showing off' or 'being self indulgent?'
And even though I didn't have the words to describe why I was doing what I was doing, and why I preferred the format of a blog over a diary, I knew deep down it was about connecting. Not necessarily 'attention seeking' or 'showing off' (and I've considered those possibilities with an open mind) or even just marketing myself or networking in a professional sense... it was more then those things, it was something far more complex then that.
I could only begin to explain my relationship with my blog after recently coming across a concept discovered by Henry A. Landsberger, called The Hawthorne Effect: The tendency that individuals work harder or better when they are being observed.
The Hawthorne Effect was discovered during a study of workers at a factory in the USA when they realised that whilst under observation the productivity and performance of the workers improved, and when the experiment was finished, performance reduced back down to normal levels.
This sounded very familiar to me.
It's also why I think many creatives and bloggers worry about their audience numbers... if you don't feel like you're being watched, it can make us give up and or put less effort in. We like to perform.
Nobody tells a singer or a dancer that they should do it all in private and never have an audience... so why should writers, creatives, bloggers?
After some consideration I realised that for me it also doesn't matter if the audience likes what they see. Rejection is just a natural part of the experience- their attention as an audience alone, positive or negative still contributes to my productivity (it's probably related to positive/negative ego strokes). The simple fact is the knowledge that someone could be watching me is enough for me to commit to blogging... because I don't want to let them down. I want to be on my best behaviour. I want to put on a show for them.
An audience also seems to provide me with another benefit. By having an audience I will think up better and bolder ways to entertain them. I will try new things, push myself to reach my goals and in turn improve myself as a person.
If it wasn't for my blog I wouldn't have sold art, learnt CSS, HTML, Photoshop, tried brush lettering, baked a rainbow cake, or took myself as a creative seriously- when other people take you seriously, when your audience takes you seriously, you start to wonder... maybe there’s some truth in it. I wouldn't have been published without my blog. Nobody would have found me or known of my work. I wouldn't have met hundreds of wonderful artists and individuals who genuinely believe in me and what I make. Who buy what I make and read what I write... even if it’s 'whiny' or 'self indulgent' that week. I wouldn't have exhibited. It's even healed me and allowed me to make big changes in my world.
Blogging publicly is a win-win situation.
This is why switching to private as a blogger and as an artist doesn't make sense for me. Why would I make things harder for myself?
Now I know that's a lot to attribute to just one silly website, but yeah, my blog has been a brilliant way to keep myself accountable and moving forward. More so then my education. More so then social media. More so then life coaches. More so then my own family and friends. Its nagged me, disciplined me, consoled me. It's given me more work and opportunities (and in an industry notoriously difficult to find work in) then my CV and qualifications ever did. It's kept me in touch with people who've been better friends then people I've known my whole life. And of course, it's produced an income: A small but undeniable bonus.
With all the talk about social media addiction, unplugging, detoxes and blogger burn out in the news right now I frequently ask myself, could I have achieved all these things without my blog, by just keeping a sketchbook or a journal? Could I quit the internet? Shut down my blog? I'm not sure I could function without it- certainly not as well.
It all goes back to that desire for an audience. The audience is vital. Where would I find an audience for my sketchbook? My diary? Who would I check-in with? Look for feedback from? Teach? Entertain? Encourage? I don't live in an artist community. I don't have a willing audience in my social circle. And besides... why can't I have both? Why can't I have a blog that connects me with the world AND an artist community in person? Why can't I blog publicly AND write privately?
Why does it even have to be so black and white?
Then it dawned on me. When I work on my blog I am effectively working on Me.
The process of deciding what to share, putting in the work to create content, live up to my expectations of myself, learn new skills, find the self confidence to share that (regardless of its loved, hated or seen at all) is why I blog.
That's the core reason.
I could also mention the following:
- Blogging allows me to meet like minded individuals
- I am able to explain techniques, processes or ideas in more detail through my blog that I might not have time for in person or via social media
- I'm creating a resource- a place for people to go to and enjoy. I am making something.
- I can showcase my portfolio easily for clients as well as show them my other skills and interests
- I am securing a business that is independent to social media and not reliant on those platforms. If Facebook closes one day it doesn't affect my career.
- I collaborate with individuals and brands I wouldn’t get the chance to meet otherwise.
- I can share what I know with the world without the expense of hosting classes or publishing a book.
- Blogs are a convenient and simple way to keep in touch with people or for new audiences to find you.
- I can dream aloud and by talking about my dreams I often get help/advice/opportunities from my readers which I wouldn't have been offered otherwise
- Blogs can generate income. You can also blog for free.
- I learn new skills, from constructing the blog itself, to running a business, to just the things I learn that I discuss in my blog posts. It's a constant education.
- There's a schedule to follow. And blogging can help establish a routine if you work from home or are self employed.
- It's a great way to relax and off load tension, as well as seek support and help.
- There is a community feeling to blogging. You can always find someone to turn to or get advice from.
- I feel like there's a sense of legacy with a blog. I hope this is something my children will read when they're older and it will stay around long after I've stopped blogging.
Blogging, for me, is a self reflective tool. When my blog looks good, I’m doing good. When my blog is quiet, I’m probably struggling or stressed out.
Obviously my reasons for blogging may change one day. When Instagram first launched (and I’ve been on it since 2011) it was a fabulous alternative to blogging and one that suited me far better, but sadly they’ve effectively killed off the audience aspect of it now so I’m back to blogging. If something better comes along, if my audience in real life becomes stronger I may put blogging to one side- I don’t know. I’m aware my needs might be different in the future. Things change. People change. But for now, this is how I like things.