Hello, beautiful creatures!
One of the weird things about being a writer, even in as niche a subculture as “modern Western esoteric spirituality,” is that people sometimes assume that I actually know what I’m doing and ask for my opinions and advice. This has come up a few times in the two years since I started blogging for Patheos, and even more so since I wrote a book. I’m always a little perplexed when it happens, because I know perfectly damn well that I’ve made most of this up as I go, and learned the rest “on the job,” as it were. I try to be transparent about that, though, and to share what I’ve learned and observed.
A few weeks ago, a Pagan friend of mine reached out to me and asked what tips I’d offer someone who wanted to start a blog. It’s not an unreasonable question, nor am I an entirely unreasonable person to ask; after all, I’ve been blogging since 2002, both personally and professionally, so I’ve started a few blogs in my time. (What one thinks of the content of those blogs is, of course, a matter of taste.) That this person believes me enough of a pundit to actually have something worth saying on the subject is humbling, but rather than indulge in some sort of aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-bumbling-hayseed-witch act, I paid my friend the basic respect of taking their question seriously and responding as well as I knew how… which is to say, I plonked myself down on a chair backwards like a queer Captain America1, ready to offer up some advice.
You made a meme, but used a still image instead of a gif. pic.twitter.com/MoWOV93VYK
— Ragnal (@ThatGuyRagnal) May 16, 2018
So! Perhaps, like my young friend, you’re interested in starting your own blog. Maybe you’ve always felt you had something to say, but have never quite found the right venue for your thoughts. Maybe you’ve read countless blog posts and thought to yourself, “Hey, I could do this!” Maybe you’re tired of seeing fame and glory heaped on talentless hacks like me, and want to show us up for the charlatans we are. Whatever your motivation, the wonderful, glamorous world of Pagan, polytheist, and occult blogging is literally just a handful of keystrokes and mouseclicks away!
As far as the logistical questions on starting a blog, there are dozens of blogging sites out there, most of them free, and tons of articles and videos and whatnot to tell you how to blog. I don’t really have much to add there. So, what advice do I have for nascent Pagan bloggers? Well, for the most part, it’s the same advice I’d offer any bloggers, really. Let’s start with first principles:
1. Remember that a blog is a medium, not a genre.
A blog isn’t a type of writing, as such: it’s a way of delivering content. A blog can deliver any sort of content you can transmit via the Internet: writing, photos, webcomics, music, whatever! Of course, it’s better suited to some forms of content than others, but the bottom line is, there’s no such thing as “the right way to blog.” A blog is just another way to say something, and you use any medium you like to say anything you want. With that in mind…
2. Know what you want to say.
Don’t start a blog merely because you think you’re supposed to, or because someone said it would be “good for your brand,” or whatever. What do you want to say to people? How do you want to say it? Spend a little time thinking about those questions. Are you writing an advice column? An opinion blog? An online journal? A magical record? All of the above? These are all things that blogs are excellent for doing. Do you want your blog to be a convenient place to first-draft pieces that will eventually become longer works? Do you want your blog to be a nexus for community, a newsletter, or a personal soapbox? Those are all possibilities. First, though, you have to have a reasonably clear idea of what you want to say. It might well change over time, but you gotta start somewhere.
3. Do it for yourself.
Once you have a starting place, start. Do the work, and do it for yourself. Don’t expect an audience, and don’t tailor what you write in hopes of getting an audience. That way lies madness. As cliché as this is going to sound, the only way to actually get a legitimate following is to do whatever excites you as a creator, without any consideration of whether or not other folks are going to care. Sincere passion beats feigned enthusiasm every time, and is the only thing that will attract the kinds of readers you actually want reading your work. Don’t worry about getting followers, being an influencer, going viral, whatever. Just do your work, and say what you have to say. At the end of the day, that’s the only thing that ever matters. Once you’ve worked out what you want to say and how…
4. Do it every day.
I am, of course, invoking the immortal words of Robert Anton Wilson: “If you want to get good at something, do it every day.” Here, I don’t mean “publish a blog post every day.” After all, I’d be a fine one to talk, wouldn’t I? (Hey, we can’t all be John Beckett.) What I mean is, write something every day. It doesn’t have to be a 6,000-word essay, nor even a 500-word screed. It can be a simple check-in, or a piece of media with some commentary attached: a photo, a sketch, a YouTube video, whatever. The point isn’t to churn out walls of text, but to get yourself into the habit of DOING IT EVERY DAY. Writing is as much a spiritual act as meditating or doing ritual, and DOING IT EVERY DAY makes that spiritual discipline a part of your everyday life. And yes, of course you’re going to get sick, or take vacation days, or whatever… but even on those days, it’s likely you’ll still be able to operate a keyboard and mouse, and writing during those times might give you a perspective you wouldn’t otherwise have.
So, yeah. Do it every day.
5. Never delete content.
I cannot stress this enough: No matter how tempting it may be, no matter how much you might second-guess yourself, no matter how uncomfortable or embarrassing you might think a particular piece of writing is, DON’T EVER DELETE YOUR CONTENT. You can make it private, you can never post it, you can even move it offline if you want, but if you throw your own content away, you’re throwing away work that you might well wish you had later. There are passages of my book that I “borrowed” from my university homework, from my Patheos blog, from pieces of other things I’ve written, from old blog posts on my LiveJournal, and from scraps of writing I did in Notepad, saved as text files, and forgot about, then rediscovered and realized would be perfect in the book. A bit of writing which looks like junk today might be the missing piece around which you build a book years later.
If you forget every other practical piece of advice in this blog post, remember this: NEVER DELETE CONTENT.
6. Do what thou wilt.
Now, ignore everything I’ve said and do whatever suits you best. Like I said at the beginning, there’s no “right way to blog.” The whole point is to say what you want to say, in whatever ways you want to say it. A blog can be a marvelous way to work out new material, to figure out your own thoughts on a subject, to vent, to blow off steam, to be goofy and have fun, or to do whatever you feel like doing. What you choose to do with a blog at the very beginning might not be where you end up; you might go through two, three, or thirteen iterations of “what this is about” on your way…. AND THAT’S OKAY. Do what’s in your heart, and even if it’s fictional, what comes out will be real. And there’s no reason to do anything else.
Oh! I almost forgot the final piece of advice:
7. Grow a thick skin.
If your blog does find an audience, sooner or later you’ll run into people who hate what you do. I don’t mean “people who offer you thoughtful critique” or “people who don’t care for your work.” I mean people who will call you nasty names, offer you unsolicited advice, tell you to shut up, send you hate mail, send your friends hate mail, and accuse you of holding beliefs and opinions you absolutely abhor. Maybe they won’t like what you have to say, maybe they don’t like your face, maybe they’re pathetic trolls with no lives of their own. Whatever their issues are, it is of vital importance that you remember: those are their issues, not yours. To quote the delightful (and eminently quotable) Nathaniel Johnstone, fuck ’em. Their criticisms say far more about them than about you or the work you’re here to do. You owe the trolls nothing, and you have literally zero time to waste arguing with them. Fuck ’em.
This last bit is the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn as a writer, and honestly, I’m indulging in a bit of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do here. Despite what some interlocutors might think, I’m actually quite a marshmallow, a delicate flower with easily-bruised feelings. Nonetheless, if you want to be a Pagan blogger, I encourage you to internalize this early and thoroughly. A sense of humor helps, as does a healthy sense of boundaries… but then, that’s good advice for all walks of life, and I recommend it to everyone reading this, not just nascent bloggers and would-be commentators.
Until next time, dear ones, do what’s in your heart. ♥
- Okay, Stucky shippers, I’ll amend that: “…like Captain America.” Better?