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.

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Written by Niamh
Cooking and travelling, and sharing it all with you.