Readers, it’s been a while. My last post was written in April — nearly three months ago and a little over a year after I started blogging.
What can I say? I burned out.
Most bloggers don’t stay the course. All too often they will pack it in and I can honestly understand why. Naturally interested in this topic, I did a bit of Googling on the subject and here’s what I’ve found…
Apparently, most people who start blogs will quit within three months. Secondly, around 95 per cent of blogs are not updated within three months. Then there’s also the stat that tens of thousands of new wordpress sites are created every day.
That’s a whole load of energy going into launching a blog but a whole load of people then abandoning it.
My blogging journey has been pretty bumpy the last while and it’s time to talk about that.
When I started blogging in March 2016, I wrote about how the thought of it scared me half to death but I was going to give it a go anyway.
In a way, it’s been more successful than I thought. It’s brought me paid work, which was the main point of the exercise — a shop window, if you like, for what I can do as a writer and journalist — but it also brought me many new friends.
People to value and treasure; those people who make up your tribe. The ones who cheer you on, give you fist bumps, and generally make you feel that your ideas, opinions and issues are theirs too.
Some of them have come into my life through Facebook; others through Twitter. I’m not going to try to name all of them because I’d leave someone out but I have to give a special mention to the Iains — Iain Campbell, my co-founder of the Hebridean Hustings page on Facebook, and Iain MacPhail, box player with the amazing Whisky Kiss, who was one of the first people to ever ‘like’ my stuff and sends the nicest, most encouraging emails.
Another Iain who deserves a mention is Wattie (Dun Ringle Iain Watson) who always, without fail, shares and retweets my stuff on Facebook and Twitter.
Another person who blogging brought into my life, and for whom I am so grateful, is the wonderful Alastair McIntosh. A Lewisman, writer, activist, pacifist and big player in the land reform movement, he is an inspiring, kind and genuinely spiritual person. He always has great advice.
There are other people too, to whom my blog has connected me. In fact, my favourite moment from the whole of last year might have been when fiddler Duncan Chisholm asked me: “Are you Katie? Loved that blog on Hebridean Women. Julie (Fowlis) showed it to me.” I’d gone up to congratulate him on his performance in Ballantyne at An Lanntair. I was fair chuffed.
In the wider sense, though, blogging can strengthen those bonds of friendship that already exist because you’ve started a relevant conversation.
So a big thank you to all the friends who’ve had conversations with me around blog topics and sent me encouraging messages. Again, I don’t want to miss anyone out but you know who you are! Every single message counted, big time.
And of course without blogging there wouldn’t have been a Hebrides Women’s Network – and I wouldn’t know the fab women which it brought into my life.
But there is a flip side to all this, isn’t there? It got pretty ugly out there for a while. I got trolled — and just generally slagged off, too. It all played out on social media — mainly on Facebook — and maybe I shouldn’t admit this, because in a way that lets people know they’ve won, but it was really upsetting.
When people say horrible things about you – and they can fairly get stuck into you from behind a keyboard — it can be very difficult to deal with.
Here were a few things I read about myself… “A third rate hack who wouldn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.” “A classic case of something.” “Goody Laing.” “An utter fake feminist.” “If she was that good she wouldn’t be living in Lewis.” “The political nous of a wet wipe”.
With the exception of the last insult, which was mildly entertaining, they were pretty mean.
Hurtful too, but what was most hurtful of all was when friends carelessly liked other posts that were clearly derisory and obviously about me. ‘An Hebridean writer?’ — it’s not a big stretch, is it? Apparently such posts were likeable because they were ‘well written’. Hmm. Personally I think it’s dangerous to think you can separate out style and substance. A mean message is a mean message, no matter how sparkling the prose.
It was clearly time to take some time out and to reflect on whether I should just pack it in or try to grow a thicker skin.
I came across an article recently, entitled ‘Seven painful blogging problems and how to solve them’ and one of them, ’fear of publishing’, struck a chord.
Here’s what the writer said…
“There is a part of blogging that is absolutely intimidating for many people. Each and every time you publish a blog post, you are truly putting yourself out there. Your thoughts, opinions, writing style, and more are out there for comment and criticism each time you make one of your blog posts available to the public.
“Here’s a reality check: Not everybody will like you or your blog. Some will genuinely find something in your writing style, your branding, or your opinions that they truly dislike.”
It reminded me of advice I got from my friend Lizzie at university. “Smithy,” she said, “not everyone is going to love you. Lots of them will like you but not everyone will love you.”
Strange as it may sound, I remember being shocked by that. And here I am, at 42, shocked and dismayed to have realised that some people dislike me.
In that first blog post, I had written about the prospect of trolling. I knew it would happen but back then it was theoretical. It is my new reality, though, and I’m trying to get used to it. I have a few strategies that I try to to bear in mind.
There’s that famous advice from George Bernard Shaw: “Never wrestle with a pig — you both get dirty and the pig likes it”.
Also, you can block people. I highly recommend this! And for when you can’t avoid bumping into them, ignore them completely if at all possible. Silent contempt is the best approach once it’s become clear that you can’t find any common ground.
My issue now is how to move forward. Thankfully, HebCelt is coming up and I’ll be there with bells on. I’ve got some PR work on for the excellent Point and Sandwick Trust too and Alistair Glover (Bespoke Bicycle Repairs & Upgrades) is opening his bike place, The Hub, at Glen House this weekend so we’ll be there for a look round (and good luck, Alistair — I’m sure it will be great).
Personally, I’m taking part in the Hebrides Triathlon in a couple of weeks too, so that’s something to aim for and obsess about, if not exactly look forward to.
I’ve also devised three golden rules for keeping on keeping on.
The first is exercise, exercise, exercise. I can’t stress this highly enough. As someone who does not have robust mental health – there’s a few prescriptions for anti-depressants in my back catalogue and I get anxious sometimes — I swear that boosting your endorphins with exercise is the best mood enhancer on the planet. Try it and see.
Secondly, take a break from social media, particularly Facebook. Either deactivate your account for a time or force yourself to restrict the amount you post. Too many posts mean you will be too hooked into that addictive reward pattern of checking how many ‘likes’ you have. If you haven’t posted, there are no ‘likes’ to check! Also, ditch the groups or pages that you don’t need. I got rid of Buy, Swap, Sell, for example, and felt instantly better. Figured I didn’t really need to know who was selling a fridge freezer in Barvas.
At the very least, limit the time you spend on it. Five minutes on Facebook is a great way to make yourself feel shit about your life and yourself in a very short space of time. There’s a lot of good stuff on Facebook but it’s also the domain of the Alpha mum and the glamourpuss. It’s too competitive for my liking. ‘Our family holiday is the best, see? And here I am looking gorgeous while we’re at it…’ Theoretically, I know these are carefully curated images of perfect lives but that doesn’t make them any less demoralising so I’m limiting my exposure to them.
Even the most harmless posts can give you a knock if the timing is wrong. After finally getting back to ladies’ night in the swimming pool, Facebook gave me a picture of the triathletes fresh from a morning dip in the sea. Beware, people: someone will always raise you on Facebook! You can’t help but compare. Another gremlin to watch out for on Facebook: it can ruin your sleep. Log off at a reasonable time. Don’t give yourself sleepless nights because you’ve been staring at that blue screen until too late. (I’m still working on this one myself.)
My third rule for happiness sounds a bit hippy but it’s this: meditation (and mindfulness, in a wider sense). I’ve downloaded the Headspace app (£7.99 a month but worth it) which gives you 10-minute guided meditation sessions, suitable for absolute beginners.
Before I was able to think consciously about any of this, though, I had to just take a break. It was like being on a war footing — look after the kids, complete the paid work, remember to breathe.
I’ve had that break now. I’m breathing more easily and I feel better. I think I’m ready to do this again.