Fifteen

It’s June 2011. That means it’s the 15th anniversary of my website, or my ‘writing stuff and putting it online’ thing. I don’t have any record of the exact date because it didn’t occur to me that I should record it. I didn’t know that 15 years later, I was going to be here.

Five years ago, I celebrated 10 years with this post. Since then, I moved my website to WordPress and merged my LiveJournal posts with my old hand-coded HTML entries.

I also renamed my blog from Robyn’s Secret Passage to, well, I guess it’s just my name now. No one started an outraged Facebook group demanding I change it back. I am willing to offer my rebranding consultancy services to companies such as Infratil who recently renamed their Shell petrol stations to Z Energy.

I don’t want to reminisce about the olden days, so instead here’s a couple of short videos of me reminiscing about the olden days, made as part of the rather good Down To The Wire New Zealand internet history project. Here I talk about making my first website, and then I talk about my website, online journals and blogs before blogging.

Thinking about the “journal girls” who were doing cool stuff online back in the ’90s, it’s not surprising that they’re still doing cool stuff online. People like Jo, Annette, Jo Hubris, and Moira. Knowing a bit of HTML, knowing how to make a basic website – that’s skill that will take you far.

The web is a tool, and it is very much what you make it, whether you want to make some cash out of it, or whether you just want to put some stuff out there because you enjoy it.

So I thought I’d share some tips on how to make a blog for your personal writing that won’t drive you crazy or leave you consumed by a sense of failure and self-loathing.

Five ways to avoid being swallowed whole by your blog

1. Start now

You don’t need to have a theme or blogging software or a domain name or anything like that set up first. Just open a text editor (Notepad will do, but it’s nice to use something with a spellcheck) and start writing.

In fact, unless you’re writing about something that’s very time specific, keep on writing for a while before you first publish. Give yourself a chance to find your style, your voice. Once something has emerged, then you can get a blog set up to publish. But don’t take too long.

Taking time between writing and publishing is a good habit to keep. It’s not as much fun as the immediate buzz of write-publish-bam!, but I’m going to say it’s more rewarding in the long term to take your time.

2. The naming of blogs

I originally called my blog Robyn’s Page of Various Assorted Stuff because I couldn’t think of anything better. Better eventually came in the form of Robyn’s Secret Passage, but I eventually dropped it in favour of just using my name.

Some people have awesome names for their blogs, like Dan Slevin’s Funerals & Snakes. But don’t get hung up on finding the perfect blog name, and don’t let that stop you publishing. If all else fails, use your name.

But don’t even think about calling your blog something like “Ramblings of a [noun]”. Bloody hell. Have some self respect.

3. Own your old shit

There will come a time when you look back at the older stuff you’ve written (especially when it’s a few years old) and you will realise how awful it is. You might even want to delete it or mothball that blog and move onto a new one. Resist that urge; own your old shit.

No matter how embarrassing it might seem, it’s part of who you are. And give it a few years – it will improve with age and you’ll realise how much your blog has improved and what a cute dork you used to be.

4. The golden age of blogging is over (or is it?)

You’re definitely not going to be in it for the money, but you’re also not going to be in it for the page views.

My website doesn’t normally get tons of hits. The most popular thing I wrote this year was my report from Japan a few hours after the earthquake, but only because it was linked from the Guardian. And the second most popular page was my rundown of the royal wedding, which proved to me what women’s magazines have known for a very long time.

But while my blog doesn’t normally get an avalanche of regular readers, the ones who do visit like what I do and stick around. And I like them too. I think this is the long tail. It’s better here; less noisy.

5. Don’t stop

I have this blog project called It’s Been a While Since My Last Post. It’s a version of blogs that are hardly ever updated, and every post starts with an apology for not having updated much.

If you’re tempted to do that apology thing, just stop it. Some people update their blogs several times a day, but maybe your style is one update per month. Perhaps you’re a quarterly blogger. That’s ok.

If I’m really busy with other stuff or just feeling uninspired, I might not write anything for weeks. Other times I might feel well inspired (being unemployed is quite good for this) and have heaps of stuff ready to publish.

If you want to give your blog a rest and come back to it, that’s also cool. Maybe you have something really big and important to do, like moving to another city or having a baby, and you’ll need time to settle into your new life before you can get back into things. Your blog will be there waiting for you. It loves you.

What you’re lookin’ for

It’s a Saturday night and I’m having a quiet weekend, so I thought I’d go through my referer logs to see what people googled that led them to my website.

There are a lot of words on my website, and sometimes Google leads people to pages that don’t have anything to do with what they’re searching for.

Here are my favourite searches for the last month, with annotations.

secret passages
This is by far the most common search term, for which I blame my domain name. I also get a lot of searches like “how do i know if i have a secret passage” (Answer: measure up). And I bet the people asking live in tiny apartments.

gangsta rhymes for teenagers
Yo, yo, kids. Stay in school.
Don’t smoke reefer or you’ll be a fool.
Wait till you’re married before you have sex.
And don’t go on the internet.
Word to your mum!

grammar effects of cellphones
I don’t think txt spk has any effect on grammar. The spelling changes, but as far as I can see, the grammar, boringly enough, stays the same. do u no wot i mean??

massage my back
No.

i love justin watkins
I like that idea that someone is so into this Justin Watkins guy that they’ve typed a declaration of their love into google, and just gone where it’s taken them. Or maybe Justin himself is checking up on his admirers. (Hi, Justin!!!!)

streap tease captain & tenille
This one freaks me out, man. First, the searcher can’t spell “striptease”, and also the idea of someone doing a striptease to any Captain and Tennille song, well, it’s the opposite of hot. Shake it to “Muskrat Love”?

nestle “animal bar” vegetarian
Aka, “Are there really animals in a chocolate Animal Bar, and if so, will eating one get me ostracised from my hardcore vegan community? Because I had one for dinner. I was really hungry and it looked really yummy and it was all I had and I ate it. Help!”

tapered harem pants
In the harem, your duty is to the sheikh, and the sheikh likes harem pants for their gigantic voluminous legs. The sheikh does not like it when his wives get ideas in their heads about “fashion” and “nu rock” and “hosepipe trousers”. If you insist on wearing tapered harem pants, the sheikh will cast you out of the harem and take a younger, prettier wife.

what are the names of the band playing in the tree in “there’s something about mary”?
Oh, that’s an easy one. It’s Jonathan Richman, who is lovely and good, and drummer Tommy Larkins.

There we go

The LiveJournal ties have been severed! I have officially stopped posting to secretpassage.livejournal.com! It’s a strange feeling.

I’ve been delaying it for ages because LiveJournal is heaps of fun. But it’s ultimately more important for me to be able to take all my online writing – secret-passage.com, LiveJournal, and new stuff – and have it all in one place.

So while it’s kinda sad to say goodbye to the posting part of LiveJournal, it’s really exciting to finally have my website up and running. And I’ll still have my LiveJournal Friend page, which is my most visited website.

And I like that due to the magical powers of RSS, the stuff I write here can still appear on LiveJournal and my Facebook profile. You can nae escape me.

Hey, does this mean I’m a blogger now?