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On 6 Years in Blogging: Reflection, Ranting & Some Advice

Well hello! This morning I realised that I was now 6, or rather that this blog was. Sitting on my sisters sofa, sipping coffee and observing the tornado that is my 3 and 2 year old niece and nephew, I spied the date and thought, didn’t I start this blog on May 2nd 2007?

I did.

6 years later, and my life has changed. I am very grateful for that. I was at a point where I was getting no satisfaction from my job and I needed a creative outlet. I knew something had to change but I wasn’t quite sure what. I had an urge which became a fierce drive with each unhappy meeting and day in the office.

I had long loved food & travel, hoarding cookbooks and putting every spare penny towards travel wherever I could. I was touring London’s food shops, buying random ingredients, cooking furiously at home. Learning all the time, hungry for information and recipes, trying to perfect everything at home.

2 years previously I had started loading my pics from my very average camera to flickr, actually usually my very rubbish camera phone, and had gained more confidence with each post. It made sense to start a blog, and I really wanted to.

But, I didn’t have the confidence. I know that will surprise you now. My background was in science and technology and even though I had dearly loved writing, my approach was scattered and very personal. No one had ever read anything that I had wrote and I was worried about how people would respond. I had every excuse. I need a name, I need a proper design. And then one terrible day, I thought to hell with it, and started that evening at home.

I quickly discovered that it brought me much joy. More than I imagined. It didn’t matter how bad work was, I had lots to look forward to at home. I was one of the early ones out of the blocks in the UK, but more started, and I got to know them. A community started and many are now firm friends.

As a child I read everything I could get my paws on (an education in itself I think). I was such a keener, I even asked my 6th year teacher for extra essays for practice and he said no, which was the correct response. I wanted feedback in the safest way possible. Guidance from someone paid to educate me. I wasn’t yet ready to show anyone else.

I remember my first late night when I discovered that that was when I loved to write. I can’t even have been 17, but for some reason I stayed up till 4 am and found myself furiously writing, I don’t even know about what. I didn’t know it then but that was a landmark. I often thought of that night and how much I enjoyed it. I wasn’t even sure why. I applied for a degree in journalism, and I got a place. But I grew nervous and chose the safe science option instead. I was very academic and I knew that that would be fine.

So, years later, I started. One furious frustrated push. One blog post and then another. Twenty in the first month. There was nothing outstanding in there and I was doing it anonymously but people started to respond. I grew confident and came out. Shyly at first, yes, I write a blog, about food & travel. I am a little obsessed.

And here we are now. 6 years in. For the first 3 years, I wrote while holding down pretty intense full time work. My personal life was full of ups and downs but that seemed to provide fuel for the blogging fire. In year 4, I cut my work down to 3 days a week and started to do more freelance work.

I was speaking to publishers about doing a book but had never committed to one. I was worried that it wouldn’t be done right, I wouldn’t be ready, and what if this was my only chance? Then my Dad became seriously ill and I decided that this was it. I quit my job, moved back to Ireland for a bit, signed with Quadrille and wrote Comfort & Spice. I haven’t looked back since (except occasionally, fondly, at memories of a frequent solid pay cheque).

Writing a book was not what I expected. It is the most isolating, head wrecking and infuriating thing I have ever done. It was also one of the most rewarding. The period between handing it in and seeing it on the shelf – otherwise known as the time of THE FEAR – I headed off to Argentina for a month. Unexpectedly, this was one of my best travel experiences to date. I needed space and I got it. I returned refreshed.

My book came out, I got a column in the Evening Standard and I started to dabble in TV. 5 episodes of Market Kitchen, The BBC Food & Drink show, some interviews for TV abroad (including randomly in Georgia and in Denmark) and a few other small bits and bobs.

I started to travel more, as much as I could manage. I started writing travel pieces in a freelance capacity which funded my passion. I became more of a recipe vampire, trying to gather as many recipes as I could on every trip abroad. I loved it, I still do. I find travel inspiring, that if I stay still too long my brain aches and becomes dull. This was it, everything I wanted and was working towards, I was doing it.

Which brings me to now. Reflecting here, after 6 years writing, looking at where I was, where I am and where I want to go. How to work out advertising and monetisation? I have yet to work that out but it is something that I need to seriously consider if this is to continue as it is.

What I can share now are some lessons gleaned from 6 years blogging. I am often asked for advice and here it is. I hope it is useful.

Try not to think too much about what anyone else thinks. Write for yourself or for people very close to you. Everyone else will come.

Write about what you are passionate about and only that.

Not everyone will like what you do and some will be quite vocal about it. Learn to accept constructive criticism and tune the nasties out.

Try not to copy anyone elses style. Be yourself and do your own thing. If you replicate, what is attractive about that? Everyone will choose – quite rightly – to continue reading the original.

If you are starting now, try to use technology or blogging formats in a way that no one else is using now. This will help you to stand out.

You will lose faith but don’t give up, stick at it. There were periods of time where I hardly blogged at all, but I always came back.

Start small but evolve. Get the best camera you can (although now actually phone cameras are often great), work on your design so that it makes sense to your readers. Make changes where you can. Ask for advice and feedback but…

… don’t email and pester other bloggers for links or spam people on twitter with your posts. This will only wind people up and work against you. Find your peers and grow with them, this is healthier and much more productive in the long run.

Always be polite. Don’t use your flash in restaurants. Don’t disturb other diners as you review.

Build your blog naturally. Don’t start because you want stuff. This is pointless and actually, you don’t get offered anything until you have been blogging for a few years and are established.

Find the social networks that work for you. Don’t try and do everything. I love twitter and instagram, and they work for me. They work because I enjoy them, perhaps a little too much.

Use the same identity on all social networks that you use so that your readers can easily find you. I am @eatlikeagirl or Eat Like a Girl everywhere.

Overall, enjoy it, get on with it and don’t take it too seriously. It is just a blog after all :)

Addendum: I was just asked this on twitter: So you didn’t think your blog would lead you to where you are now? No, I didn’t. There was no precedent for it here. I wanted to write and I wanted to be better at it. I wanted to do something that made me happy.

This entry was posted in: Random

by

I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

64 Comments

  1. Really inspiring and informative post. Just recently started my own food blog documenting my own experiences. 6 years and some amazing achievements. Congrats!

  2. Very exciting to see how your life has taken you down this wonderful new path. Look forward to your future trips to Tokyo!

  3. Happy birthday, Niamh. I’ve been following the blog for years and the arc has been a very impressive one. I was especially happy for you when you got your book published. We published Julia’s book a couple of years previous and I still remember how magical the whole experience was bringing something to the printed page from the web and not replicating, but creating afresh and giving it its own shape and form. You’ve inspired many: keep at it.

    • Thanks Matt! So very kind of you to say. Getting to know you and your writing has been a very pleasurable part of the journey too. x

  4. Matilde Gonzalez says

    Niamh! Happy anniversary of your blog! It was a pleasure reading about your trip to Argentina! Do you remember those days in Toronto, having enormous breakfasts at the Thompson!! I always remember your red shoes! Matilde

    • Oh yes! Of course! :) I do hope we get to meet and share some fun times again soon :) xx

  5. Happy blogversary Niamh – laughing at your phrase “recipe vampire” I fear I am one as well. Fun to have been on some of the journey with you. x

  6. Very inspiring! Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and give advices. ANd congrats on all your successes that came out of blogging – that’s quite impressive! :)

  7. Tony says

    Well done and well said Niamh!best of luck for the future and up the Deise!!!

  8. Congratulations Niamh. Thank you for sharing your life and travels with us, I look forward to more reading.

  9. I am a true fan, I loveyour voice and hysterical humour. I can’t wait to do another book or five , we all know you have it in you. It’s such a treat to hear your fresh views of the world. Happybirthday from your photographer that often has to keep up with you Xx g

    • Georgia, thank you! We had so much fun shooting the book and I look forward to more. I have plans! (as you know :) xx

  10. Hey – happy blog birthday! My 9 year anniversary is coming up later this month (clearly May was a month for frustrated writers to come out of the closet, so to speak!!)… I also remember writing through the night as a teenager – mostly poetry in my case. Mercifully, though, I chose not to air that publicly on a blog :) Here’s to what the next 6 years might bring!

    • I WROTE POETRY TOO! And my mother and sister found it. I stopped then. I could be a successful poet now! ;) (not really – it was awful).

      9 years – wowza, well done you. I always remember how welcoming you were when I started. Thanks x

  11. Great blogging advice! It’s so true, if you stick with it, blogging can be such an adventure. Congrats on your success so far! (*^_^)v

  12. I am a relatively new blogger so it’s incredibly inspiring to hear about your trials and tribulations and how far you’ve come. Congratulations! I don’t think I have the writing bug like you but I absolutely love food and food photography, so the writing part needs to be nurtured more… But what a joy sharing a passion is – I agree! Thanks for sharing your journey and look forward so much to your next post (and book!).

    • Thanks Val. It is really lovely to read your comment. Enjoy your journey and my next book should be out soon, should I get it together (i.e. stop travelling for a bit).

  13. Happy ‘blog-a-versary’ (if that’s the correct term) !

    I’m very glad you did take the risk and start blogging – I’ve only been reading your posts for a short while but I’ve come to look forward to them lots :D You have a lovely style and I find your travel stories particularly evocative.

    This year I’ve just started writing for an audience after writing for myself for as long as I can remember – it’s terrifying and the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. Your advice is excellent.

  14. Happy blog birthday! You really are an inspiration and helped me start my own blog. I love your style, your natural talent and great enthusiasm. You make me feel normal for being so obsessed with recipes and food!

  15. Thanks Niamh that was very honest of you-good luck with the next 6 years. Am planning bank holiday meal with family-belly pork with lentils as per Comfort and Spice. Grainne

  16. Carolyn Brown says

    Congrats and what an amazing journey full of passion and risk! Inspiring!!!

  17. Congratulations, Niamh. A great post and I think everyone reading it can identify with it in some way. You’re ‘a great bit of stuff’! :)

  18. Sue says

    Hello Niamh, thank you for a fantastic blog – it feels like you’re emailing me about your latest adventures! Your blog has lead me to others and has also given some lovely scoffing ideas which I share with another Irish foodie I work with in Sussex. So here’s to many more years of your fantastic writing. One thing though… are you ever at home?!

  19. Emily says

    Niamh — congratulations and thanks for pursing your passion! I love your book and your blog and your facebook posts :) I have such an insatiable appetite for cookbooks and recipes that I can hardly wait to get back to the kitchen; I even wonder at the intensity of the desire. Good to know that others feel it, too! Carry on!

  20. Congratulations! It’s so inspiring to read about your journey and to see how much you love what you do (even though it’s a lot of hard work too!)

  21. Great advice – I always wanted to write but ironically felt I had nothing to say. Blogging has really helped me find my voice and I really enjoy doing it. Thank you for your inspiration and Happy Anniversary.

    • Eeeek! Didn’t want it to sound “down” but people make a lot of incorrect assumptions about what I do and my story so I wanted to share.

  22. ohlidia says

    Thank you! I needed your words of wisdom at this precise moment!

  23. Inspirational stuff, Niamh. While I’ve been a blogger for several years (on fly fishing), I’ve always approached it more like publishing magazine articles rather than creating an ongoing dialogue (or would it be monologue ;) ). I’ve just restarted blogging in the traditional sense–this time dealing with my personal food exploits–and I’ve been going a bit crazy with it given that I have a couple of decades worth of experience I want to record. l hope I’ll eventually mature my post rate to the point that I don’t annoy my would be readers. I’ll keep your advice in mind as I go forward.

    Congrats on the book and I look forward to living vicariously through your travel and cooking posts.

    Aaron

  24. shakeabush says

    What a lovely post! I’m only just starting out but sounds like I’m in a similar position that you were 6 years ago. Full time job (very technical) and using blogging as a creative outlet. It’s nice to hear that someone started out for the same reason I did. I’m really enjoying it, much more than I thought I would if I’m honest. Congratulations on your longevity and sticking with it, I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    The last sentence really struck a chord with me:
    “I wanted to write and I wanted to be better at it. I wanted to do something that made me happy.”

    Spot on. Very inspirational :)

  25. I’ve just started my own blog 3 months ago and this is just the sort of post I’ve been needing to read! It’s so intimidating to look out into the blogosphere and see all these very successful and well-established blogs… it’s nice to be reminded that every single one of them started small and unknown, once upon a time! Thanks so much for sharing this.

  26. Thanks for sharing your personal experience. I just started blogging last December because I am passionate about food. Congratulations on your blog!

  27. I have enjoyed your blog for a long time now, in fact it was a bit of an inspiration for me to start one for myself, which I did a year ago. therunningwave.blogspot.co.uk celebrated its first birthday in April and find it is a very satisfying thing to do. I have the words for each post whirling round in my head as I walk with my dog, or see something which I think will make a good photograph. Thank you for the part you have unwittingly played in getting me going! Best wishes.

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