On the writing of blogs

March 17, 2023 10 Comments

This month gwallter is ten years old, and this is his 598th blog.  It seems a good time to look back and reflect on his progress so far.

When I started in 2013, blogs were still quite fashionable, and I felt some pride in joining a fraternity of online scribblers.  Nowadays, you often have the feeling that the place of blogs has been usurped by podcasts, TikTok videos and the like.  But being an old-fashioned, script-based sort of person, I’ve never been tempted to change medium.

If you check any of the guides on how to write blogs, it’s obvious that gwallter breaks most of the rules.  For one thing, it’s entirely promiscuous.  The usual advice is that you should hit upon a topic, preferably one that you’re more or less expert on, and confine your blogs to that subject.  In this way, you build up a body of knowledge, a flock of like-minded followers, and an online reputation.  An excellent example would be Chris Grey’s Brexit blog, focussed, authoritative and famous.  In short, you should have what they call a ‘niche-based mindset’.  gwallter, by contrast, is the Tristram Shandy of blogs.  Almost any subject is grist to his mill.  Politics, literature, satire, poems, art history, nature, libraries and information, museums are just some of the subjects sprinkled across the site.  Even, on occasion, sport, about which I know almost nothing.  The more recondite or quirky the topic, the better.  Like Tristram, gwallter digresses without warning, and seldom comes to any firm conclusion. Some posts are very brief, most are a five- or ten-minute read, a few, on archaeological history, are absurdly long and tedious except to a tiny number of readers.

The only subject that crops up very regularly is walking. This is partly because I got into the early habit of writing a daily diary of long walks, beginning with the Wales Coast Path, and partly because the blog is a home for offcuts from research on the history of walking in Wales.

As a result, gwallter‘s audience is thin and scattered.  I suppose the blog has a limited number of regular followers and a larger number of ‘stumblers’ – people who happen across particular posts, but who wouldn’t know gwallter from Adam, and probably will never revisit him.  I’m only guessing here, because I don’t pay much attention to audience research.  Or publicity, marketing, advertising or money-making, for that matter.  The blogging advisers tell you to nurture your readership with care: pick a memorable title, a striking visual appearance, and a punchy writing style that will get you noticed.  And work hard on your promotion.  All of which I’ve ignored.  My title, gwallter, people find puzzling and, except for Welsh speakers, unpronounceable.  Having chosen as simple a ‘theme’ as I could find on my blogging platform, WordPress, I’ve not changed it, or adapted its look, since blog no. 1.  My prose style tends to be elliptical and relaxed, so those with short attention spans, I imagine, soon give up and click away to something more gripping. 

As for promotion, I don’t go in for much of that.  A tweet each week, and that’s the length of it.  Except that, like a good librarian, I do try to provide each post with a decent set of metadata, so that search engines have a reasonable chance of retrieving it.  On the other hand, Google algorithms don’t, on the whole, work in my favour.  For instance, you’re supposed to make sure your main keywords are present in the post’s opening sentence, but I usually prefer to creep up on my subjects crab-wise.

Another non-recommended feature of gwallter is that it mixes two languages, Welsh and English.  Another cause of puzzlement for a lot of would-be readers.

It’s not surprising, bearing all this in mind, that the average blog doesn’t reach many readers.  The statistics tell me that the 597 blogs (excluding this one) have attracted a total of 316,428 views.  The average ‘influencer’ would scoff at this figure.  The most read blog, at 51,434 views, was the one in August 2020 about Dido Harding, possibly because by chance I’d spotted her sins a bit earlier than other commentators, and because another, much more powerful blogger took the piece under her wing.  I know, of course, that you need to be careful about the word ‘view’.  It can mean, if you’re lucky, an attentive reader who tracks your piece with care from beginning to end.  But, more likely, it’s someone who’s scanned your carefully crafted prose in a couple of seconds, before deciding it holds nothing of interest to them.

Advice for bloggers often suggests that ‘good blogs inspire conversation’.  My blogs invite readers to leave their comments, but few do: I’ve had only 910 comments in ten years.  Another disappointing result.

Just about the only piece of advice on good blogging I’ve listened to – in, fact I’m a slavish adherent to it – is ‘blog regularly’.  Towards the end of each week I’ve trained myself to cast around for a topic for the next blog.  Sometimes a subject comes to mind quickly, at other times I reach Friday without inspiration.  But somehow the blog gets written and posted every week; very occasionally, more than once a week.  I suppose I’d have more difficulty if I didn’t have the whole world as a reservoir of topics available to me.

As for the other rules, I’m happy to forget about them all, except for the one about regularity, and the injunction, ‘try to write well’.   I don’t worry too much about reaction, or the lack of it, by today’s readers. Sometimes, though, I have a fantasy that in a couple of hundred years’ time some researcher may rediscover the blogs in the collections of the British Library, which kindly preserves them.  As long as I enjoy writing them – and have the ability to write them – I’m going to carry on posting them.  With luck, gwallter will live on to become a teenager.  Then things may get lively.

Comments (10)

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  1. Wel, melys moes mwy! Ymlaen i ddegawd arall. Gwerthfawrogi’r pynciau amrywiol, y treiddgarwch a’r ysgafnder. Diolch.

  2. Elizabeth Thomas says:

    If you keep writing, I’ll keep reading. Thank you for Gwallter.

  3. Kate Hardy says:

    your blogs are always interesting, and invariably about something I know nothing or nearly nothing about
    Thank you

  4. 913: Just for the sake of it… and to say that I enjoy both fizz of the lemonade and the deeper pleasures of the beer in your Shandy! I shall continue to follow Gwallter!

  5. Chris Edwards says:

    Thanks for sharing your meanderings. Please keep going!

  6. John Byford says:

    Walks along the highways and byways of Wales are reason enough to return often. And I trust the NLW shares the BL’s aim to preserve the look and feel of the blogs. Many thanks!

    • Andrew Green says:

      Hello John, it’s good to hear from you – it’s been a while since we were both active in trying to save the world through its national libraries. Thanks for the kind words.

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