5 Things I Wish I'd Known BEFORE I Started Blogging in Ireland
Blogging in Ireland: it's a madhouse, a madhouse! When I started blogging, way back when – maybe around 2006 or so – it was a pretty small pond. I was posting photographs of my outfits, taken by my Dad in my back garden (when it was cool to wear belts over cardigans) and writing long entries about a film I'd just seen.
There was a handful of truly successful bloggers knocking around. Damien Mulley was the blogfather; Kirstie and Aisling McDermott were the bloggers whose success you would aspire to; graphic designer Annie Atkins wrote a blog that was arresting and hilarious and moving in a kind of subtle, observational-comedy kind of way. If anyone was making money from blogging in Ireland, it would have been these guys - but back then, the most you could hope for was a branded event, or maybe some pay-per-click ads (because, back then, people actually clicked). It was a simpler time.
Why did I start blogging in Ireland?
I guess I started blogging in Ireland because I wanted to write - having and writing a blog was one way of taking control of your output. For me, it was both an outlet and a calling card. My blog was to serve as an online portfolio of sorts; it would be my way of "putting myself out there", career-wise. Little did I know where "putting myself out there" would get me. Here's what I wish I had known then - and what I am all too aware of now.
1. People are awful
I mean, is it necessary to add the disclaimer: #notallpeople? Not all people are awful. But some people are, indeed, awful. Blogging, in Ireland in particular, I think, is seen by some as a particularly "notion-y" thing to do and you, the blogger, as someone who needs to be taken down a peg or two. There is a tendency to scoff at bloggers, who consider themselves worth writing about. There is a lack of respect for writing, as a form of creativity; for the "work" that goes into blogging and social media and that ugly term, "self-promotion", that evil that is so necessary if one's blog is to get anywhere.
Basically, if you are blogging in Ireland, especially if you are in any way blogging about yourself, you will get a lot of criticism. Some of it will be reasonable; when I wrote a piece about how I didn't think people should over-expose their kids on Snapchat, there was a lot of justifiable critique specifically focused on my lack of consideration for stay-at-home parents for whom social media is an essential outlet. I will totally take that type of chat on board. However, there will also be criticism focused on the fact that you're annoying; that you have a really smug face; that you seem entitled and stuck up and selfish. That's harder to take.
When I worked as a journalist at The Irish Times, I would frequently get letters and emails from readers who disagreed with what I had written. We were standing at opposite ends of the argument; they had a point of view that meant they would never see eye to eye with me. However, as a blogger, the criticism becomes a lot more personal - perhaps because, when you're writing about yourself, on a site named after yourself, with pictures of yourself... You see where I'm going here. It's difficult to criticise the blog without criticising the blogger in a personal way. And as the blogger? It's difficult to take.
2. You will never make a living from your blog
Obviously, I have made money from my blog and social media channels. I have done particular campaigns that have made €2,000 or even €3,000 – but I have never quite managed to make a decent living from my online presence. Even those four-figure campaigns will have been spread out over a number of weeks, and will have involved quite a lot of time and also investment; at any given time, 25% of any revenue will go on photography, videography, props etc. Making good content isn't cheap.
There was one stage of my being a freelance journalist and blogger, during which I was making €45,000 a year. It's the most I've ever made, since I graduated from my Master's in International Journalism; media is not an industry that pays particularly well, and I've never quite made it back to those heady highs of that one year. And at that, I was working three days a week at The Irish Times in production; I was writing a weekly fashion column for the paper; I was appearing on TV3 regularly... I was probably working 60 hours per week.
It is exceptionally rare that you will make a living from your blog - even Ireland's biggest names, Pippa O'Connor and Suzanne Jackson, are subsidising their blogging income with appearances, product lines and more. If it was possible to make millions sitting at home behind a laptop, don't you think we'd all be doing it? (I, for one, would never leave the house!)
3. Other bloggers? Also awful
It will probably surprise you to learn that I have never been in the "cool" gang - in school, in college or when I started blogging in Ireland. But I have been pretty surprised by the distinct lack of support from the Irish blogging community when I have experienced extreme, prolonged and targeted harassment online. In a way, I get it; we're all experiencing it. But I have seen the gals rally around one another when Instagram accounts have been set up to point out their love of Photoshop; I've wondered exactly who's in these "bloggers WhatsApp groups" that are sending around messages plotting large-scale anti-bullying campaigns (LOL).
Nobody WhatsApped me when I got tweets telling me to kill myself (KYS is the acronym, FYI). Nobody got in touch to ask how I coped when a random stranger tied balloons to my front door.
I mean, I guess I brought it on myself by laughing at the ridiculous things bloggers do, or blogging about how I wish they'd give up their rose gold obsession - but I thought (wrongly) that we could all laugh at ourselves. Because any of us born pre-1990 should be able to recognise the ridiculousness of getting paid to post selfies on Instagram. WE'RE LIVING IN AN INSANE TIME. Let's at least acknowledge that!
4. Nobody cares that you can spell
Or, rather, nobody seems to care that other people can't. And I'm not talking about people who genuinely struggle with spelling; I'm talking about people who are too lazy to use spell check. I'm not talking about typos; I'm talking about the use of words that simply are not words. (Also, can we please just get on board with the stationary-stationery thing? Stationery = paper goods. Stationary = standing still. If in doubt, think "e is for envelope".)
It is baffling to me that someone would choose to be a blogger – to write, as a way of making a living – when they clearly have no interest in or knowledge of the English language. Like, why?!
5. Your #1 search term will be 'Kim Kardashian'
It doesn't matter how much good content you think you've written. It doesn't matter how much work you put into that carefully thought out article about feminism, or patriarchy; it doesn't matter how wonderful the images you took to accompany your piece on the psychological implication of cutting your hair are. Your top search terms will always be demoralising and ridiculous and reality TV-related.
For an entire year, when I wrote the fashion blog on irishtimes.com, I blogged three times a day. I uploaded three pieces of content – granted, some better than others – every single day, including Sundays. And for that whole year, the number one way people found my site was by searching "Kim Kardashian", because I had written a piece about how I blamed the Kardashians for the horrifying resurgence of bodycon.
It didn't matter how much work I was doing, or how good it was; Kim Kardashian was number one.
And I guess, for me, blogging in Ireland has become a bit like life; I try my hardest to do good work and then, every now and then, I give in and choose the path of least resistance. In life, that means I watch Love Island and I really give myself over to the absolute trash of it, for one hour out of every day. In blogging? I've stopped criticising parents and, most of the time, other bloggers. I try not to "put myself out there" quite as much as I used to. But I still write, because honestly, I don't know how to do anything else.