Last October, I started to tentatively share this blog, instead of spending hours on posts only to freak out the moment one of my friends asked to actually read them. After taking the initial plunge, I felt emboldened. I shared posts on social media and would send the link to people if they showed even the slightest bit of interest in my little writing project. Slowly, people started to read. Before then, I’d had very few visitors to this little site – it was mainly just me, looking over the few posts I’d put up in September and early October, the first of which is dated September 13, 2018, a whole year ago.
At first, I had some bizarre vision of gaining a blog audience without ever having to tell anyone I knew in real life that this blog existed. However, after the thrill of merely pressing ‘publish’ had worn off after a few weeks, I started to itch for feedback. That’s the thing about blogging. It started with the fear of anyone actually reading what I’d written, but once I’d cleared that hurdle? All I wanted was for people to read it. Turns out, that’s the hard part.
The reason I held off sharing for a few weeks was fear; fear of rejection, fear of criticism, fear of failure. But curiosity got the better of me, and I had a sneaking suspicion that my blogs were not total crap, so I took the plunge, my little heart racing as I let friends, acquaintances, my old rowing coaches and friends’ ex-partners read my thoughts about Instagram fitness and London’s bridges.
After I made a show of this blog, I made a promise to myself: I would post every two to three days for two years, in a bid to give this little project time to develop. I have grown up surrounded by people who already have an online audience; people whose blogs, YouTube channels and Instagram pages have hundreds of thousands of followers. Sharing your thoughts when it’s clear that a million people are interested is cool. It’s powerful. Sharing your thoughts when it might only be seen by your parents? That’s a bit lame. But I knew that anyone with any kind of audience or clout started from zero. Everyone took that first leap, putting their first article into the void, even though the likelihood is that it would be read by a kind friend or two and then relegated to page 82 of niche Google searches. I understood that building any kind of presence or skill takes time, so I promised myself that I would give this blog that time, rather than putting out posts for a few months, letting it fade into the oblivion of the Internet and then later saying it’s impossible to get anywhere with a project like this. I knew that if I wanted this to go somewhere, I had to commit.
One year down, and the main thing I feel about this blog is pride. I did stick to my rigid posting schedule, with posts going up every couple of days from late October onwards, when I properly dedicated myself to Restless. Since September 13 last year, I have posted 190 blogs (including this one), which works out to a new post slightly more often than once every two days. Nailed it!
I am so proud of this site. Not because I think every post is good – I already look back on a few from last year and cringe – but I because I really did do it. I sat down at my computer every single day (for the most part) and whacked out a thousand words or so about my travels, Brexit, climate change, American politics and diet culture, to name a few of the many topics I’ve tried to cover this past year. While it hasn’t felt like work exactly, it has taken serious diligence. I wake up before work to write, I scarf down my lunch so I can get as close to a full hour’s writing done before heading back to my desk at work and I have often stayed up late to finish posts in time for my self-imposed next-day deadline. I have run up painful international data bills in a bid to keep to my posting schedule while abroad. I have written when I’m sick, on holiday and even in a doctor’s waiting room before an ultrasound. I have also spent many hours on top of all this reading books and taking photos, both of which I consider an integral part of publishing good blog posts. It is so gratifying to know that I have it in me to commit to something and actually stick to it, when there are so many days it would have been easy to close my laptop and miss a post. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m doing something profound, because I’m not, but I am proud of myself for working hard on Restless this year, to the tune of over 215,000 words, approximately two novels worth. It’s been fantastic. I love that I have had so much direction in my free time and that I have made something this year; it’s so easy to fall into the Netflix as the only source of leisure trap and it has been wonderful to always feel the pull to turn off the TV and do something more thoughtful and creative instead. Whenever I’m having a crisis of confidence, I read through a few of my old posts, and I’m always left with the feeling that this whole endeavour is unquestionably worth it. Writing for Restless has made me more curious, more analytical and better informed. It has forced me to do my research and think through my opinions in a logical way. It has also provided a space to share my photographs and chronicle my experiences, especially my travels, which I know I would otherwise forget. There have been points this year where I have been so on cloud nine about the whole thing that I’m convinced everyone should have a blog. Why not? What better way to make sense of the world?
I feel like the above makes clear that this blog has been a great source of joy for me. But what about this mystical potential audience? What about readers?
Well, it’s safe to say that yes, building an audience does take time. Around five thousand people have read Restless this year, racking up over twenty thousand individual page views, which is not a lot in the grand scheme of online platforms, but honestly feels enormous to me. I started at zero. Now, I have email subscribers, the occasional commenter and a Google Analytics dashboard which shows me that every single post I share is read by a small group of someones, whether they get in touch or not. Primarily, I write for myself, which I think has to be the case when starting a project like this. But it is nice to know that at least someone reads everything I write – thank you to everyone who has stopped by to read a post this year, it really does mean the world. While a few months have seen notable spikes – mainly February, after my ‘best photos of 2018’ post was shared by WordPress, and June, after my photo from the Trump protest went viral – overall, my readership is increasing slowly, though surely. I know that all I can do is keep putting out posts that I’m proud of and remain grateful for every single page view, because in a world truly oversaturated with blog posts, videos and podcasts, it is real honour when someone chooses to use their precious time to read my thoughts. My one wish? I would love to receive more comments! I would love to know what my posts make people think or feel, though just knowing that you are out there is enough, whoever you are.
Out of this year’s 190 posts, some have obviously been more popular than others. The ten most popular posts on this site are:
My best photos of 2018 // Why Instagram fitness is the worst // He came, we protested // The best of travel: Ho Chi Minh City to Cat Ba island in 15 hours // Trdelnik: a treat just for tourists // How much does it cost to ski in Bansko, Bulgaria? // I am not a brand, I’m a person // 13 feminist reads for International Women’s Day 2019 // How much does a weekend in Lithuania cost? // Hi, I’m Ellie. Nice to meet you.
I think this is a good mix. Lots of my favourite political blogs don’t get anywhere near the top ten, but I suppose that comes with the territory, as 2500 words about the nuances of political progress is obviously going to rank less well in Google than a blog detailing the costs of international travel. The standout this year was my photo blog, and if I ever need a boost of confidence, I go and read the comments on that post. It is true that I have moved away from travel posts in the last few months, particularly posts that could be considered by any stretch of the imagination to be useful, which might be an error as my travel posts still seem decently popular. Now, I tend to stick to rambling essays, which make me happy but are less SEO-friendly (not that I really know what that means).
Anyway, because numbers are only a small piece of the puzzle, here are my favourite posts on this site:
The Amazon is on fire; so is the Twittersphere // Why I hate talking about diet and exercise on the Internet // Big stuff, small stuff // What I don’t understand about American socialism // Thoughts on Instagram, jealousy and bragging // Billionaires, burned buildings and selfish generosity // When things don’t endure // What does it mean to be “British”? (WTF nationalism) // Who pays the biggest price as the world burns? // Some thoughts on women’s rights around the world // Is travel frivolous? // Will we go green enough? The reality of fighting climate change // Sushi, sugar and settling in for winter // How to pose for photos // Climbing Snowdon for the stubborn // Why Instagram fitness is the worst
I don’t know why my favourites are the posts that they are. I am proud of posts that grapple with difficult political issues, because they take the most effort to write thoughtfully and require a bit of gumption to post. I think my post about climbing Snowdon is really funny, and given that good comic writing is a real skill (one I have not mastered), that post is a nice reminder that sometimes I can get it right. Really though, my favourite posts are the ones where I feel like I said something fresh, and said it incisively.
Here are few more categories of posts that sum up my blog over the past year:
Maddie and my camera // Photos from the Arctic Circle // He came, we protested // More photos of spring flowers in Cornwall // Snapshots from Mount Snowdon // Tregardock beach, 2018 // The Seychelles: a photodiary // Magic mountains // 13th January, Brockwell Park, London // 27th December, Tregardock beach, Cornwall
The ones I was most nervous to post
Notes on privilege from Kenya // Shades of grey: navigating political differences in a polarised world // When it comes to anti-abortion protests, it’s not about the sanctity of life. It never has been. // What should I do with my life? Balancing money and meaning
My main takeaways from my first year of blogging are as follows. Firstly, the most important thing is that I am proud of each post. I’ve even deleted a couple of posts from this site over the course of the year, because every time I looked at it I knew it felt out of place. This feeling has been with me from the start and is what prompted me to write this post and spend a lot more time writing political rants and a lot less time writing travel listicles, a decision that could not have been more key to ER’s development. Similarly, I try to just do what feels best for each post, which might mean a wall of text or might mean a torrent of photos. There’s a lot of ‘wisdom’ online about how to blog most effectively, but I can’t bring myself to change something about a post just because it makes it more Googleable, or whatever. Those are the posts I end up deleting a few months down the line. If I follow my gut, I know what feels right, so I just need to lean into that.
Secondly, I love having a small audience. It’s so freeing! Sometimes I feel nervous to post a blog, but I only have to remember that it will be read by a very limited number of people for me to feel confident enough to press publish. I’m sure writing about polarising topics like abortion or homophobic slurs would feel a lot more fraught if I knew it would be read by tens of thousands of people. This little blog is a safe space to cut my teeth writing about controversial topics, a freedom for which I am grateful. On the off chance this blog grows into something bigger, I’m sure I would miss the feeling of sharing posts without aggressive scrutiny.
Thirdly, I have realised how much inspiration affects my writing. I read a lot of blogs and each one has a distinctive voice. If I want to write something funny, I read a funny blogger. If I want to write something more thoughtful, I’ll read a blog or two by someone who writes serious, more literary posts. What I’m reading, what’s in my head, it all matters. Similarly, I get so much blog inspiration from books, which always reminds me to keep reading if I want to keep writing things that are interesting.
In addition, I have learned that I overuse the word ‘just,’ I am bad at web design and that lots of sentences that sound funny in your head don’t translate well to the page, which are also important lessons.
In terms of year two of Restless, broadly I plan to continue on as I am right now. I changed my blogging aims a lot six months ago and don’t yet feel like I need to shake things up. I do continue to wrestle with my social media presence, as it’s a huge part of sharing blog posts. However, I hate most social media platforms, and really don’t want to spend any time creating an online presence anywhere but here. My self-appointed social media consultant (also known as my father) keeps telling me that I have to share my stuff everywhere I can, but I’m still dragging my feet. Apparently Pinterest is amazing for blog traffic – maybe I should start there? Also, does anyone know how SEO works?!
Basically, I am a fan of writing, and not a fan of the other things that go into making an online platform successful. This includes social media, thinking about SEO and writing posts that will provide a service to people other than an insight into my neurotic brain. None of these are things I want to be doing.
The question of whether, should I amass enough readers, I would like to turn this blog into a business plays on my mind occasionally (and will likely be the subject of an upcoming blog post). Some of my pop culture writing might give you an insight into my thoughts on sponsorships, influencers and the inherent confusion around online relationships, all of which would seem highly relevant if the opportunity arose to make some money from this blog, which, given I have been emailed by a few advertisers already, is not as theoretical as it might seem. The idea of money corrupting art is a tale as old as time and I don’t think any of us should be reinforcing the idea that it’s only meaningful if you don’t get paid for it. On the other hand, I have seen a lot of bloggers promote bizarre products or take lavish sponsored trips, all of which seems icky in the context of the rest of their work. Anyway, we’ll see.
While I have put most of my energy into my own platform, this blog has also given me the opportunity to get a few things published on other websites. This is definitely my big goal for the next year; I want to get more things published on sites where I don’t have control of the publish button. I feel like I have a good portfolio of written work on here now and I need to make the time to pitch my ideas to other publications.
Finally, I would like to branch out and write a little more about life, especially relationships. I am acutely aware of when I feel like I’m writing about something I have no idea about (not that that always stops me, ha) and I feel like the Internet is full of enough basic relationship advice from twenty-somethings. However, I do feel like I’ve figured some stuff about the mechanics of young relationships, especially for an ambitious, independent young woman, and I’d like to try my hand at writing about love during this blog’s second year.
Writing this blog has been, without a doubt, one of the best things about this past year. Not only has been a wonderful way to spend my time, it has likely changed the course of my career and has pushed me to educate myself properly about a host of different topics and ideas. Ultimately, I just love it. I love to write. I love that I have place to let out the torrent of words I always feel bubbling up when I read an interesting book or article. I feel like this blog has made me realise how much I am capable of, if only I sit down and make it happen. It feels like the world, and my adult life, is wide open in ways it didn’t feel before.
Thank you to everyone who has read my blog this year. It means everything to know that there are people out there reading. If you have enjoyed Restless this year, I would love for you to comment down below and let me know! I feel such a spark of joy every time I receive a comment on my work, and I would love to know what has resonated most with you and if there’s anything you’d like me to write about. It felt so scary putting myself out there at first, but now, one year later, I want nothing more than to write, other people’s opinions be damned. I’ve already got plenty of posts planned for year two – Internet, you’ve been warned.