I am very excited to share this with you. I hope you take the time to read it as it’s going to be a bit long. Please grab a hot beverage and I’ll see you at the end for a cold one.
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…
I made my first post on November 8, 2014. It was a rant disguised as a book review. I hated the book and I wanted the world, or in my case – ‘Dear Void’, to know. I didn’t think it would reach anyone really. Not that that mattered. I needed to at least let my keyboard know that I hated the book. My husband couldn’t take my moaning about the damn thing anymore. Surprisingly what started off as a rant turned into me glorifying another book in the same genre. It just so happens that it is authored by a man who is now an important politician in India and has the rare distinction of being the former Under Secretary General at the United Nations.
I typed out my post in Microsoft Word. I logged onto my WordPress account (created with good intentions a while ago) and was completely confused. What is this blue-ish screen? Where’s my site? What is Reader? What is Stats? It didn’t strike me instantly to just click on ‘My Sites’ to find my blog page. I thought at first it was some sort of an indexing page for sites I had liked. Don’t ask. Anyway, I found the ‘New Post’ tab among the top-right tabs and copy-pasted the text in the editor. The formatting had been messed up by the process. I hit ‘Preview’ and was glad to see my blog page finally. Back then my blog was called tokillamimingbird. Just like the domain name. I didn’t think it could be any different. I went back to the Post; edited it to some extent; included categories and tags that could have easily been interchanged and hit ‘Publish’. I was so proud! I felt a weight lifted off my conscience. Then I went about poking around some more and discovered things like ‘Gravatar’ and ’Widgets’. I got a couple of follows from people who had no clue about the post or me. Heck! I didn’t care. I followed them back. It was late in the evening and I decided to learn more the day after.
And then this happened,
I hadn’t known that it was the silver anniversary of the book I had unintentionally raved about. I didn’t know that the author’s PR people had cast a net for all things referring to the book. I didn’t know he was doing some readings and interviews that very weekend in UAE to promote the book. They picked up my rant-review and shared it on his Twitter and Facebook page. I secretly still hope it was HE who read and shared my blog it but that’s wishful thinking. I had 5 followers, but had scores of viewers and 100s of views that week. I didn’t even have a real ‘About Me’ page back then. I didn’t know what to write and had just left the sample page as it was. So all those who came to my blog found out that I could read books and write about them but couldn’t write about myself. I didn’t have a ‘nice’ looking blog. It had the bare skeleton of the Twenty Fourteen theme. But I had gotten something right: I had tagged my post correctly. And another thing: I wrote for me and no one else. Now that was a great first lesson.
Sleepless in Switzerland
I had seen updates from the Daily Post in my Reader. I thought that they were meant for others. I really did. Only upon clicking on a post did I see that it was a Community. It was like discovering Pandora. The movie is to be called Gravatar. I was amazed to find so many people writing so brilliantly and putting up such amazing pictures that I was dumbfounded. I spent my first few hours just exploring the different tabs at The Daily Post. I had not managed to read another bad book in the 24 hours since the last post and so decided to make a new post as response to the Daily Prompt. I wrote a piece of fiction. There were some likes and some new followers and it was wholly encouraging. Here I would like to thank Judy for being the first blogger to comment on my post and for also the first pingback on a different post. It was just her two simple words, ‘Good work’, that changed everything for they were from a highly talented writer. I didn’t think I needed external praise but I think everyone feels that way until the first pat on their back. It is motivating. I wrote (and still continue to write) for myself but it also feels really good when the notification icon turns orange; I haven’t compromised my voice anywhere for it though. The daily prompts guided me but it was as though the floodgates had opened. I just wanted to write all the time.
I knew that my first post being picked up and shared was a fluke. I could see from the stats that if I wanted to continue having my work read then I needed to build a community. Since my blog was going to be of general interest I decided to participate regularly to the daily prompts and go from there. I ended up posting about blogging which was well received. But building a community needs more than posting. It has to be done with real intention. It is time consuming and actually very rewarding. I read and followed some cool blogs. I found some fascinating people, a lot of great talent, many with a lot of pain and as many with a lot of happiness to share. Honestly, I was too shy to comment on anyone’s blog and yes, I was intimated by the hugely successful bloggers and I felt like it was my first day in a new school and I had been asked to introduce myself to the class. I am yet to fully get over this but it’s better each day. All this effort meant many sleepless nights.
I am a night-person. I have always been one. My mom used to call me demon-child when I was growing up since I would study for exams only in the thick of the night when all was dead. When I was working in a lab I started late (or as late as allowed in Switzerland: 9am-ish) but always finished late. My brain works best between 11pm and 5am. That’s when I had the best inspiration for experiments. But once home from the lab I couldn’t actually DO any experiments and had to sleep to wake up the next day to follow through on the ideas. But blogging created havoc. I could blog any time I wanted. I have my computer and internet access all through the day. There are practically no boundaries. So I was burning the midnight oil into the wee hours of the morning and saw my husband for just a few hours a day. Ouch! But it was all for the best as I found out quickly enough.
Rounding up relationships
I thought I would be posting mostly my opinions and observations. Honestly, what ended up happening was that I posted a lot about my family and telling personal stories. That surprised me a lot. I have so far written about the men in my life. The post about my brother got a lot of people emotional; the one about my father accepting my marriage got the most views from my friends and the one about my extraordinary uncle became so popular on Facebook that it infact got me the highest number of views in one day: 314 (just one more than my first post). I am very happy about this fact. This article was more intentional and personal; not a random event. I am also happy to see that so many people wanted to read about him. The most unexpected event on the blog was the success of the serial posts about the uncanny ways of my husband, Mr. Pink. I have even received emails from folks who don’t officially follow my blog to post more about Mr.Pink. I haven’t yet posted about the women in my life. They are all intense and powerful to such an extent that writing about them needs a lot more finesse and patience from me. Something for the future.
Writing about my relationships has tightened them all. I have never felt this close to my family, nor have they to me. I know that off the 1000 views I have from India, atleast 500 can be credited to them. And of the 450 views from Switzerland, at least 200 are from my mother-in-law who translates the posts into French and then leaves sweet comments.
Mr. Pink had always known I had liked to write but had never seen me ‘writing’ (except from the odd thesis or two). He is now discovering a new facet to his wife’s personality. I think he is enjoying it even though he does not have a reading habit. But I know he reads. For example, after I posted ‘Mirror Mirror..’ he came to me all worried and said , ‘Honey, I tell you you are beautiful everyday, don’t I? It’s the truth.” That felt amazing since I have been feeling particularly awful recently. Writing it seems can help heal in so many ways.
As you may have realized I take time to understand anything ‘internet’. I am quite young but rather old-fashioned. I fought my personal war against smartphones until a year ago and lost. I have a Blackberry now. Yes! A Blackberry of all things! A hand-me-down from my brother that I use like an early 2000s Nokia phone. I use Facebook rather sparingly and my Twitter account from 2007 was resuscitated just because of the first post in this blog. It took me a whole day to figure out why I had so much traffic and why/how Twitter was referring so much to my post. I finally re-logged into Twitter, got a thank-you-for-being-alive-email from the Twitter Gods and I am still learning the ways of the Twitter-verse. But what the hell is Pinterest and Tumblr and all that malarkey? How do people have time for all this? I hadn’t really contemplated the immensity of social media until I started blogging. The only reason I know what SEO is because I had to think about that when writing titles and abstracts for my scientific articles. So much to learn about people and the world! Miles to go before I sleep, indeed!
Founding the future
The most interesting outcome of this blog is really how introspective it has made me. So much navel gazing has had its benefits. I would like to think that I am in-between jobs right now. I finished my PhD some months ago. There was quite a bit of stress with the wedding and then spent some time travelling with family here in Switzerland. Once they left there was a vacuum and I didn’t know how to fill it. It led to picking up a book which led to this blog. Once I started I realized how much I loved writing. This led to two rather major decisions. 1. To wait a bit before I start applying for jobs. This blog turned into a personal project almost overnight. I wanted to give space in my life to Writing and to allow myself to think of something apart from cancer research and protein molecules. I loved being a cancer researcher and I miss it but I needed to take a step back and slow down a bit, in order to gain some perspective for what I want in my life. This is extremely difficult since I come a society and profession of extreme competitiveness and any lost time is a lost opportunity. So every morning I breathe deeply and sit down to read and write. This blog is my mental yoga. 2. To take a course on poetry writing. I liked writing poems again and doing so reminded me that I had wanted to take a course on poetry when I was young. So thanks to this blog I got the inspiration to sign up for The Poet’s Craft – an online course from Stanford’s Continuing Studies. I don’t know if I need it but I want it. Who knows what dreams may come.
award reward goes to…
The longest I regularly posted last month was 12 days. The interruptions were due to trips taken; to France (which ended up as a disaster and consequently as a funny post) and recently to Spain. After France I started carrying a notebook just in case life happens and thanks to that I have posts about Spain. I have been sick the past 5 days but still up for posting everyday. When I started blogging I thought of it as a hobby; a distraction. It’s become more than that now. I wouldn’t go so far as obsession, rather it’s poised perfectly now as a new passion. Who knew!
I was surprised at first when I used to see blogs with 1000s of followers. Once I activated ‘Publicize’ I realized that it counted your Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts’ friends/followers as your blog followers. That was an important lesson. I stopped looking at ‘followers’ numbers on blogs after that.
Another Voice now has 160 followers who are WordPressers and three more who are not. The rest is a ghost number. I was surprised to find that there are a whole bunch of people – friends and family – who ‘follow’ my blog without actually signing up! What I find more exciting is a ‘Like’ or even better, a ‘Comment’. Just yesterday my blog – with 37 posts in total, over 22 days of active blogging – crossed 500 likes.
I also learnt that poetry and photographs get most likes and more followers. The funny thing is right now, of the seven top most liked posts/pages there are 3 entries that are mainly in the photography category. I don’t even own an image-editing software! I know how to photo-store but not how to photo-shop. But I love going through photoblogs and I am discovering this new world with great excitement.
Another lesson: lengthy prose generally does not attract new readers. So unless my ‘followers’ find this worth their while
(Hi there! So glad you are still here. Just a little bit more. Promise)
it’s likely this post is going to get buried – way down – in the ‘likes’ countdown. But I don’t care. This, right now, is probably the happiest I have ever felt writing.
I have been meaning to write about my first month of blogging and I saved it for the December 7 post – Day 30. I don’t believe in fate though fate seems to always believe in me. What were the chances that of all days today the daily prompt would ask me to write about what I learnt about blogging this past month. As far as I know Ben Huberman does not follow my blog. Or does he? I would love to know!
It has been an incredible month; revelatory in more ways than one. I hope you have enjoyed reading about this journey as much as I have had making it and now writing about it. My ‘Dear Void’ has now turned into so many multi-talented Gravatars and that’s an indescribable feeling!
Now, how about that drink…
which I share with all of you and toast all my ‘likers’, ‘commentors’, ‘casual observers’, ‘obsessive stalkers’, ‘cannot be bothered to follow but I love your work-ers’ and ‘others’ from around the world.
I don’t like to categorise so please tick whichever box you feel you fit into. I am fond of all of you.