One year of blogging: the lessons

This time a year ago, Aisling and Clare asked me to join the blog.  I said yes, and then proceeded to spend much of my holiday in Kefalonia surgically attached to my yellow AOW notebook, writing down ideas, terrified I would run out of things to say over time.

I haven’t run out of things to say yet.

My yellow AOW notebook got filled up a long time ago.

I have learned a lot this year.  Not all of it has been particularly easy learning, mostly because about halfway through the year we decided to see if the blog could become a business and I knew nothing about how to set up a business.  At all.  All of it, however, has been enormous fun.  One of the most valuable experiences of my life.  Even the real head-on-the-keyboard-keep-breathing moments.

I thought I’d share with you some of the key lessons I’ve learned this year.  I think most of them can be applied to life as well.

1.  Never think you know your readers

A year on, our readership has grown in ways I couldn’t possibly imagine.  The depth and breadth of our submissions remains extraordinary and I have to keep pinching myself that we are lucky enough to be able to give people a platform to write about  a whole range of issues, from their deepest darkest secrets to women’s health to asking the big questions.  I cannot count the times that I’ve made assumptions about how a piece that I write or a submission that I receive will go down.  Will it offend?  Will it annoy?  I even schedule it in a place where it complements the other posts that week, so confident am I in how it will be received.  I like order.  And then the piece runs, and time and time again you readers give me a resounding smack about the head and run with it in a way I could never have imagined, be that simply better, just differently, or coming to conclusions in the conversations that we have that I just didn’t ever anticipate  and it’s skewed my perfectly balanced schedule, damn you all, I love you!  I suppose it’s about order in the madness.  And remembering that you  can take pretty much anything we throw at you, and never to make your decisions for you.

2. Don’t let life  get in the way of your content

It’s an oldie but a goodie: content is king.  No matter how busy life gets (being ill, blog relaunch, moving house), do not let the content slip.  Good content is the bread and butter of what AOW is about.  We have a fancy site now, sure, but we don’t do “pretty” posts, we do good writing, and lots of it.  That’s what people come back for, stories and experiences and opinions told well and compellingly.    Life will always be there, in the background.  It will come and go, and we all cover for each other when life does get in the way.  But that should never mean you bash out a post in five minutes.  You can always find time to make your post better.  Your readers deserve that.  Bearing this in mind, you can’t spend weeks crafting a masterpiece; you have to find a balance between brilliance and time available, and you always, always have to write something that you feel inside is worthy of your readers, and of having your name on it.

This rule has one glorious exception; Weekend Wonderings which can be anything from a quote to a piece of pretty to a Serious Thought for the day.  Can be one sentence, can be ten paragraphs.  It’s like the antithesis to our other posts, and I love it.

3. Ask for help

This relates especially to the business side of blogging.  Amazingly, you do not know everything.  The secret is, surround yourself with people who do.  I can write, I can take people with me, I can motivate  people,  I can persuade and influence, I can see the bigger picture, I can take risks.  Those are my strengths.  I am, however, terrible at detail, at being cautious, I knew next to nothing about how to start a business from scratch, I knew hardly anything about marketing, business plans, or the technical aspects of making a blog successful.  So I had to learn.  Luckily, there are people in the world who do know about these things, and it’s incredible what people will help you understand if you just ask.  It’s about having the confidence to say “I don’t understand anything about this, can you help me?“.  Knowledge is a powerful thing to share.  We’re brought up to believe people will only give if they can get something in return.  I can categorically state that that is not true.  People have been extraordinarily kind to us this year, just because we asked nicely,  and given us hours and hours of their time and expertise.  It has been a humbling experience.

4. Not everyone will want what you want.  That’s ok.

There are a hundred fantastic things about running a blog as a team.  You have people to share the highs and lows with,  you can be more flexible in how you work, you can share skill sets, you have someone to pick you up when  the gremlins get to your carefully-drafted post and make it DISAPPEAR, you can send an email with eeeeeeeeeeeee and no-one judges. You get to know your team and their working habits and their strengths and weaknesses inside and out and that is a remarkable, wonderful thing; there are some of my best friends that I don’t know in that way.  But whenever there is more than one person at the helm, there is also more than one opinion at the helm.  Learning that not everyone wants what I want has been a really hard, but important, lesson.  Put your case rationally.  Put it slightly irrationally in desperation.  And then swallow it.  It doesn’t happen often and when it does, you think “I bet people writing blogs on their own don’t through this!” and go into a five-minute strop and then are made to cry laughing again by your brilliant team one of which has sent you a picture of their swollen ankles (copyright Clare circa November 2011).  Verdict?  For me, working as a team wins over working solo, every time.

5. The best posts are pulled out really slowly and painfully

This is one for writing in general rather than blogging specifically.  I think each person approaches writing in a different way, and ideas come in different forms.  For me, I have to write frequently.  Once I write frequently, it’s like an old, rusty door creaks open in my subconscious and the ideas come tumbling out.  But in terms of writing, which is a different beast to ideas, the best posts I’ve ever written (and the ones readers seemed to love the most) are the ones where I’ve had to drag the post out of me, kicking and screaming, because it didn’t want to come.  And once it’s out, once it’s on paper, there it stays, and it’s got Anna all over it.  Ultimately that’s the sort of post I’d want to write all week every week.  But I can’t, because they are exhausting, I’d probably be in therapy in Nevada, and I’d have no time to be an OCD scheduler, and where would we be then? See lesson #2.

So what about you, readers who write?  Any tips, tricks, or general blogging lessons to share?

Categories: Behind the Scenes at AOW, Life Experience, Written By Anna
19 interesting thoughts on this

15 Comments

  1. Posted May 21, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I can’t blog. I’ve tried it three times now, but I just can’t deal with the regular posting pressure. But I love guest posting on here and everyone else who does too. It’s ace. Well done AOW team!

    • Posted May 21, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      I think if you start slowly slowly and build up it’s easier- I would never start posting everyday all out! I think you have to have a bit of a perfectionist streak too…ie: hate the idea of subpar content being on your site.

      Please write another for us Amy…we are looking ropey for submissions come June!

  2. Posted May 21, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this Anna – I always love reading behind the scenes type stuff. So nice to hear that you’ve had support from others in the blogging world. Sometimes it can seem so impossibly cool and intimidating that it’s refreshing to hear people are happy to share their expertise with you. Who knows we might all come knocking to you for help in the future! xx

    • Posted May 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Any help we can give, any at all, we will give it out in spades!

      • Posted May 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        And that is why we all love AOW so much! x

  3. Posted May 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I think, especially on smaller blogs, not to worry about the number of comments on a post. One of the loveliest moments I’ve had when blogging was an AOW reader commenting here how she’d used my blog for her wedding ceremony. I felt so pleased & only knew about it through here. Also don’t beat yourself up about not blogging so much it’s fun & a hobby, not a chore. Final point people comment, read less blogs in the summer months.

  4. Posted May 21, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I love you, AOW.

    I have no idea how you guys manage to write so frequently, I am in awe of the LOT of you. I try to blog but I struggle to find the time, especially as writing science usually means that each post requires me to spend a couple of days reading and researching, unless I happen to be writing on a topic I already know inside out (rare). For example, the post I am writing now has taken me 2 weeks (because I can only find odd half hours to work on it) and so far 95% of the time has been spent researching, I started writing over the weekend and got distracted by a wedding-related crisis.

    Anyway, you guys are brilliant. I think the fact that you blog as a team, and encourage submissions from such a wide range of women (and men) on a wide range of topics is a huge part of what makes you unique, and what makes this blog such a brilliant place to be. Plus, you’re all so wonderfully non-judgmental and lovely and excited and real.

    K x

  5. Posted May 21, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    I have so much to say on this but im in a car in Wales and therefore can’t easily…but number 1 is SO interesting, i love that you can’t predict reactions and get pleasantly surprised by us lot.
    My favourite thing about AOW is that you three work as a brilliant team and you’ve got each others backs, and in turn you have your readers backs too, and we have yours. Supportive is an understatement. This is a very special place and I hope so much it continues to work as a business and that you all get the credit you deserve.
    fx
    Ps. Sorry for appalling lack of grammar. Think car & bumpy & inability to use phone effectively.

  6. Bella
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Happy 1 year blogaversary Annachu!

    Very very proud to be a member of this community – and genuinely in awe of you Mrs K. You have entertained, insighted (I know, cut me some slack I am being profound) and perspectivised (don’t care) brilliantly over the past 12 months. I cannot wait to see what the next 12 have in store for you.

    Much love xx

    • Posted May 21, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Best grammatically butchered comment ever x

  7. Emily
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Really interesting, especially 5. I’d love to blog but it doesn’t come that naturally just don’t have time and wouldn’t want to end up resenting it as yet another call on my precious weekends. maybe one day.

    AOW is amazing – every post is so interesting and well written and the whole thing is just head and shoulders above any other similar “daily” blog I’ve found (other than Florence Finds which I also read religiously). I read mostly weddingy ones til recently but now I’m a Mrs I’d like some new inspiration so suggestions welcome!

    Anna, I’m the same. I need to just start putting something down, however awkward, and then start honing it from that, or ditch it entirely and start something new and better, even when I’m drafting legal docs at work. I really want to write down my impressions of the wedding (particularly the service) so I don’t forget all of the amazing feelings and tiny moments in a haze of happiness. Which is more difficult than it sounds, without just gushing. Hmm

  8. Posted May 21, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    I sometimes find myself stopping what I’m doing (sleep/work/play) and think how bloomin amazing AOW is. How hard you have worked to create something from nothing. To say I’m fiercely proud of all you have achieved is an understatement. I also sometimes dare to think where the blog will be in a year/ 5 years/10 years. I see a book deal and merch. Merch is very important.

    I think Rachel’s point about not taking any notice of the number of comments is a very good one. I don’t blog as much personal content as I would like to, but I think it’s important even where you are blogging for your business to infuse your personality into the posts. Which AOW does so well.

  9. Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    I think this blog is pretty unique. You can throw anything out there and get sensible, valuable responses in the comments on all of it. That doesn’t happen everywhere else.

    I feel compelled to blog. I’ve always had a blog- even when I was about 17 and no-one had one except geeky IT people. I had one all through uni’. People didn’t interact through blogs the way they do now back then though. It was just a way of writing things down. I’ve had gaps in between and find myself posting up reeeeally long Facebook statuses, figure I’m annoying everyone and then start another blog instead.

    Content is more important on a blog like this where it’s a business… if it’s your personal blog then you should be allowed to put up whatever you want even if it’s a bit crap. Admittedly, I do have a little purge every now and then and delete stuff that I think is a bit rubbish or not relevant anymore.

    Happy one year blogging birthday. I think you’re doing a marvellous job x

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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image by Lucy Stendall Photography

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