Woo hoo! This blog is six years old 🙂 I know that I say this every year, but back when I started this blog in 2013, I had no idea that this random, impulsive project would keep going for so long 🙂 Seriously, I’m surprised that it has only been six years since I started this blog since it feels like it’s been a part of my life for longer than this.
Anyway, like I do on each of these anniversaries (eg: 2014 [part one, part two], 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 ) , I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’ve learnt from running a blog, in case it is useful to you too.
So, let’s get started:
1) Good rules have multiple uses: Although I’ve set myself various rules about this blog over the years, I’ve noticed something about the rules that I’ve actually kept following. If a rule is good, then it will often quickly turn out to be useful for other reasons too.
For example, a few months ago, I got back into reading books regularly and I also started posting novel reviews here every 2-5 days. However, after the first eight book reviews, I set myself a rule that I wouldn’t read two books by the same author directly after each other. But, why?
Simply put, the only way I could get back into reading was to start by binge-reading eight thriller novels by the same author (Clive Cussler). But, by the end of the eighth review, I didn’t even want to look at another Clive Cussler novel. I was completely and utterly bored with them. Which was a shame, because they were so much fun to read. So, I initially set myself this rule so that I wouldn’t end up ruining the works of my other favourite authors for myself.
But, after following it for a while, it turned out to have a lot of other benefits that I hadn’t expected. It pushed me to look for authors I hadn’t read before (and I discovered some really brilliant ones, like Jocelynn Drake, Jack O’Connell, Jodi Taylor and Neal Stephenson). It also meant that I read books in all of my favourite genres, rather than just focusing on just one or two of them. I could go on for a while, but it’s a really useful rule 🙂
So, yes, one test of a good rule is that it will often usually have more than one benefit.
2) Keep a link directory: If you’re writing blog posts/reviews quite far in advance of publication, then it’s usually a good idea to keep a directory of links to some of your upcoming articles in case you have to link to them in future articles.
Most blogging sites will often include a “permalink” description for scheduled and drafted articles. For upcoming articles that you might link to in other future articles, just copy these permalinks into a text file – like this:
This is a screenshot of my link directory, containing permalinks to all of the book reviews I’ve posted since 2018/19. At the time of preparing this article, all of these reviews hadn’t been posted yet (and were draft articles).
Not only will a directory like this make it easier to link within your site, but it can also be useful for your own reference too. For example, by keeping links to all of my book reviews, I’m able to work out how many books I’ve reviewed since I got back into reading regularly. This helps to keep me motivated to read and review more.
3) Know your limits (and work around them): In addition to writing regular book reviews, another thing I got back into was writing fiction. Although most of it hasn’t appeared on this site – all of this extra reading and writing meant that I had less time than I’d had a year or two ago.
And, well, something had to give. But, I didn’t want to reduce my posting schedule or anything like that. So, I had to be a little bit sneaky. It took me a little while, but I realised that one of the largest time-drains was trying to think of ideas for paintings. And, since I’d recently got a second-hand digital camera and had practiced making photo-based paintings in the past, the solution to this problem was a little bit of a no-brainer. Most of my art over the past few months has been photo-based paintings, like this one:
“Fareham Creek – Window” by C. A. Brown
This is a photo I took of Fareham Creek last May (and, yes, I make these photo-based paintings quite far in advance).
Yes, these are a bit different to my traditional sci-fi, gothic horror, 1990s etc.. paintings, and I really miss making these kinds of art [EDIT: These types of art will return more regularly from mid-June onwards 🙂 ], but it’s allowed me to keep painting when I’ve had less time. Likewise, my monthly comics have become a bit shorter and visually simpler for time reasons.
Plus, in order to fit in the reading time for the book reviews, I’ve been watching far less TV and playing fewer computer games (which is why there are fewer TV show-based articles/reviews, no film reviews, no game reviews other than the usual “Doom II” level reviews etc… [EDIT: Game reviews will also return more regularly in November 🙂 ]) over the past few months.
So, yes, know your limits – and find ways to work around them.
4) Experiment: Over the past few months, I’ve been messing around a lot with an open-source graphics program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program).
Not only has this given me numerous ways to improve my usual digitally-edited watercolour paintings, but it’s also meant that I’ve been able to make things like dramatic digitally-edited line drawings and even the occasional 100% digital piece of art:
“Westbrook – Sleeping Sun” By C. A. Brown
“Low Light – Silent Hall” By C. A. Brown
So, why have I mentioned this? Simply put, it’s to remind you that it can be a good idea to experiment with different things occasionally. If you want to keep up your interest in the things that you’re blogging about, then don’t be afraid to experiment with different stuff every now and then.
5) Review notes: Although this isn’t exactly something new that I’ve learnt, it’s something I’ve been reminded of over the past few months. Basically, if you’re reviewing something, then take notes. Even if you don’t use literally everything in your notes in your review, then take notes regardless.
There are lots of ways to do this. For example, when reading a novel, I’ll use a small square of note paper as both a bookmark and a space to note down what is happening. Having small handwriting helps here (and, yes, ballpoint pens are annoying for tiny writing – but the ink doesn’t soak through the paper like with rollerball pens).
Here’s an example (which contains SPOILERS for Jodi Taylor’s “A Symphony Of Echoes“):
This is one side of my bookmark plot notes for Jodi Taylor’s “A Symphony Of Echoes”. Hooray for micro-writing!
After each reading session, I’ll also make more extensive “impressions so far” notes in a notebook. Instead of focusing on writing down plot details (I’ve got the bookmark for this, after all), these notes tend to focus on things like themes, techniques and my general impressions of what I’ve read.
Yes, stopping to take notes can get in the way of enjoying the thing you’re reviewing, but it’s important because it not only helps you to remember more stuff about the thing you’re reviewing, but it also means that you can look back at your notes and see how your views about the thing you’re reviewing have changed whilst you’ve been reading, watching, playing etc.. it.
So, even if you don’t end up using literally every detail in your notes, then taking notes will still result in better reviews.
6) Always have a buffer!: When I was writing some of the daily short stories (like these) that were posted here early last year, I forgot one of the earliest lessons that I’d learnt when I started this blog back in 2013.
Back then, I didn’t have a buffer of pre-made/ pre-scheduled articles, so the early days of my blog were a chaotic, stressful, rushed and panicked time. Over time, I thankfully built up a fairly large buffer of articles – meaning that I didn’t feel anywhere near as much time pressure or deadline stress.
Since these daily short stories were a spontaneous idea, I foolishly forgot this. As such, I was constantly panicking about finishing and posting a story at the end of every day. Eventually, I was able to build up a small 5-7 day story buffer but, because of all of the time stress before this, I ended up abandoning the idea of daily short stories after a month or two. In retrospect, I should have built up a buffer before posting any stories here.
So, yes, always build up a buffer before you start posting regular features on your blog! And, yes, it can be easy to forget this when you’re eager to start a new project. But, it’s very important!
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂