Meeting newbie bloggers at an event this week, I got asked what tips / secrets I could pass on. Which got me thinking: in all the time I’ve been blogging, what have I learned?
One of the first audiences to have my witterings inflicted upon them was the handful of readers of my University’s newspaper, for whom I wrote – several hundred years ago now – a column called So There I Was…
Each week I would pen (yes, by hand!) some deliberately provocative opinion piece designed to stir the apathetic student body into minor fits of outrage.
(We Humanities students needed something to keep ourselves busy. This was before the internet, you understand.)
If I could go back to younger-me and tell him that one day, thanks to my continued ramblings, I’d be invited to beachside sundowners at a five-star hotel in the desert, he would probably have called me a capitalist sellout.
But 41-year-old me is more of a pragmatist, and would wash away his embarrassment with another glass of the Four Seasons’ sparkling frivolity.
Do they mean me?
So there I was, at an event to which I had been invited under the banner of being named one of the 20 most influential bloggers in Qatar. Nope, I didn’t get an email intended for someone else; they really did mean me.
All of which is clearly very flattering, but also complete nonsense. I’m barely one of the most influential mammals in my house, and that includes the class hamster Kid A is looking after for half term this week.
Organized by entrepreneurial local blog whizzes Kirsty Rice and Sarah Derrig, the two-part event kicked off with a paid workshop in the afternoon for newbie bloggers under the BloggingME banner (that’s ME as in Middle East, not just extra narcissism).
The newbies seemed to have had a blast trying to overcome their fear of hitting publish (spoiler alert: it never goes away) and swapping tips on social media cross-promotion. We “influencers” were then parachuted in for sundowners.
I had to go, if only because couldn’t imagine what an event like that would even look like. Was I going to be the only one actually there to ‘meet and drink’, for instance, because everyone else would be too busy Instagramming their cocktails and canapés?
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.
What I found was a brilliant opportunity to put faces to names of some of my fellow bloggers here in Qatar, and to be present at what genuinely felt like the birth of a community.
There were plenty of newbies on the Four Seasons’ terrace, too. Meeting people who tell you that they read every one of your posts before moving here is, frankly, surreal (one person, no joke, actually squealed when I introduced myself).
But then, I was just as grateful to be able to say thanks in person to writers like Kirsty and Mohana, who I read before I moved to Qatar, and who provided much the same service in tipping me off about what day-to-day life here might actually be like.
Man of the hour
The finely-honed observational skills (no, really; don’t laugh) that had earned me that invite in the first place were called into action as soon I arrived. The guest list was bursting with blogging talent, all of it – bar me – female.
I was figuratively, and literally, the odd man out.
Still, at least it made introductions simple, because there were plenty of folks who’ve been part of my virtual community here, like Polly, Doaa, Tiffany and Rosalyn who I’d never actually met in person. It was a real-life support group: a chance to get away from the isolation of the laptop and swap ideas with people to whom you don’t have to start by explaining why you write a blog in the first place.
(Apparently I missed Scary Azeri which I’m gutted about; her post defending middle-aged women’s right to drink is flat-out hilarious.)
I even met a newbie who got the reference when I introduced myself as the man behind Bright Lights, Little City. “Like the book!” she said.
“Yes,” I replied, astonished that someone had finally clocked my punning title. “Like the book.”
Despite the gender imbalance, however, I found there was remarkable diversity of both subjects and approaches that we all take.
From photography-based food blogs to restaurant reviews and philosophical musings, Qatar’s blogging scene is nothing if not diverse. And to join us, all you need is something you’re passionate about.
Me writing a restaurant review blog, for example, would be pretty pointless. My criteria for eating out tend to be based not so much on where the head chef trained, or the foaminess of their asparagus mousse, but more like can you get a table in a quiet corner in case the kids go feral?
Try, try, try again
And if at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up.
My previous effort at blogging was a slow-fade into disaster. Set up in a pre-Facebook era to share pictures of our kids with friends across the world, it was built on the dreaded Blogger platform. It made the process of uploading a few pictures so painful I almost regretted becoming a parent in the first place.
But I enjoy writing too much to kick the habit based on one bad experience, so I turned to WordPress when I was looking to set this blog up, and haven’t looked back. As my audience has expanded and my life moved on, so too has Little City.
What started out as the adventures of newbie expats from the point of view of a stay at home dad, has become a place where I try and knit together strands of life here into my patented recipe of about a thousand words of mildly sarcastic introspection every 10 days or so. (Snappy USP, eh?)
Words from the wise
So what have I learned in the 2½ years and roughly (gulp) one hundred thousand words since I launched Little City?
Well, if you’re just starting out, it’s ok if you don’t know what your blog is about or who you’re writing for. They’re questions you’ll need to answer at some point – but not now. Press publish; you might be surprised where it takes you.
I can guarantee you two things about your first post: you will love it, and it will be terrible.
But you need to publish it so that you can start to get feedback, see what works, develop your style and build your confidence.
In a year’s time you’ll back on it and laugh; you will have also have thought of a far better title for your blog which it is now too late to change. In two years’ time, you will view that debut post as the blog equivalent of an old baby photo – its only purpose now being to show you just how far you’ve come.
Some people Instagram every meal they eat, for example. That’s fine; there’s clearly an audience for that. I don’t, because you’d all get bored pretty quickly of “Chicken in a sauce I got from Carrefour”. (My ever-forgiving wife has just passed me the divorce papers for that one – it might be a slight exaggeration for comic effect.)
Some bloggers publish every day; sadly, my life isn’t that action-packed, so I like to try and find themes to weave into a longer post.
If you can, have someone check your work before you hit send. Mrs LC proofs all my posts for typos and potential infringements. She gives me feedback like: “Good, but needs to be shorter. And funnier.”
But find what works for you.
And then with a bit of persistence and – cough despite not maximising the SEO-friendliness of your post titles, or cross-promoting your blog on Facebook cough – who knows who effect it might end up having?