“Blogging is such a tough thing to explain to people who don’t get it,” says Heather Havrilesky in her advice column, Ask Polly.
What sometimes seems even tougher is explaining your blog to people who think they get it. People who already read bike touring blogs, or have read interviews or seen films or attended evening talks at bicycle shops featuring other long-term bicycle travellers.
Either way, I doubt they expect infrequent, long essays about topics that I feel conviction to write about at the time but sometimes avoid reading later because my conviction wavers. For two years this is how it’s been on my site. Add to this the absence on this blog of the usual touchstones to orient people who are curious about a long bike trip: There’s no gear list, no route maps, no mileage, no country counts, no destination.
This generally feels right to me, but I sometimes wonder why it feels right. Am I just being myself, or am I just trying to be different for the sake of being different, in a self-congratulatory sort of way? This is blogging: figuring it out as you go.
Pitching my blog is often a bit of a train wreck, something like:
Enthusiastic, curious person: “So you bike travel, wow, do you have a blog, I would love to read it!”
Me (thinking): “Hmm, that would be awesome but I’m not sure you would actually love to read it,” and, “I suspect you’ll judge me when you see me writing here at the guesthouse in October and find that there hasn’t been anything posted on my blog since August, and even then it was thousands of words about my nipples, and the essay before that was about cycling in South Africa but it wasn’t about that at all, it was my esoteric thoughts on naming conventions, ugh, what the fuck am I even doing.”
Me (speaking): “Yes I do have a blog, thanks for your interest! Uh yeah, so, it’s a place where I write about different topics, not necessarily about bike travel, it’s kind of reflection, usually longer posts, uhh about things that feel important to me or that I’m thinking about, uhh…and maybe you might be more interested in my newsletter, that’s more focused specifically on bike travel and, like, more what you might be looking for, I’ll write both of them down for you, if you want, if that’s okay…”
At this point they give me their device so I can type in the URL. I hand it back, hoping that they will visit my site but please, please not at this very moment while I’m still with them.
Since I could hold a pencil I’ve been creating. And while creating, I felt a strong urge to hide it from the people who cared about it the most. As a young girl, while drawing pictures for hours a day I would sometimes bring myself to tears of frustration as I drew ovals and eggs, failures in pursuit of drawing a perfect circle. A perfect circle is hard to draw, you have to keep the amount of curvature consistent the whole time, have to always be focused on the finished product. While you’re drawing the circle it’s sometimes hard to know if you’re on track, just by sight.
And nothing felt worse than drawing egg after goddamned egg while my parents, beaming with pride like only baby boomers can do, leaned over my shoulder as I did it. I felt so vulnerable.
For me, blogging is like drawing eggs until I can draw circles, but without being entirely sure how my circle is supposed to look. Blogging has also taught me that in order to graduate from eggs to circles, I need people to look over my shoulder as I draw an uncertain but certainly large number of lumpy eggs. And not all of the glowing-parents variety.
I need people who are kind and curious and patient and critical enough to give a shit about eggs-drawn-in-pursuit-of-circles, but I’m also kinda afraid of them. You, yes you! Sometimes I think I don’t want you to see my frustrated tears and lumpy eggs, but I know that’s mostly fear, and that I’m honest with myself, I want you. And need you. Like song lyrics.
Anthony Bourdain was once asked on Reddit which was harder, cooking or writing. He was unambiguous: “Cooking professionally is hard work. Writing is a privilege and a luxury.” I think he’s right. But although I’d like to say I remember what a luxury writing is when it feels hard, this truth usually just makes me feel worse.
Instead, when I think “screw this, I will never be able to draw a circle, maybe I should just write pithy bike travel listicles that I could crank out a few times a week,” it helps to think about the people who have read my eggs and told me what they thought of them. No, not even if they’ve told me about reading them, just knowing they’ve read them is inspiring.
And yes, my parents still look over my shoulder, just at a distance from Canada. They still beam with pride, they’re still awesome.
The other thing that helps when it feels hard is reflecting on some insights about blogging. I came across them this year, when I was ready for them to resonate.
Whether or not you blog, read blogs or want to blog about bike travel or something else entirely, I hope these six insights say a little about the weird and diverse medium that’s been around for nearly twenty five years. These insights are from bloggers I respect and admire, writers who I think draw circles instead of eggs. Each quote is a small part of a larger blog post, article or podcast that I’ve fully ingested and thoroughly enjoyed.
Heather Havrilesky empathizing and validating a woman’s desire to start blogging again based on her own experiences writing rabbitblog:
Blogging is such a tough thing to explain to people who don’t get it. Why in the world would you want to pour your most private thoughts and emotions onto pages that anyone in the world can read? It looks almost rude to them, like taking your pants off in the middle of the street. And you’re not even getting paid for it? And there are only three or four people watching, and two of them are snickering behind their hands?
— Heather Havrilesky (Ask Polly) on The Cut, Should I Start Blogging Again?
Paul Jarvis of pjrvs.com on what it means to blog in the age of online content creation:
Content on the internet currently is designed for scale, for sharing, for the masses. This runs counter to blogging, which is for a specific niche, a specific group, a specific interest a few people might have.
— Paul Jarvis, I’d rather be a blogger
Magunga Williams of the Magunga on the feeling of discovering a blog that resonated, and the excitement of starting his own blog:
Then during one of those days, someone sent me a link to bikozulu and I read all the stories in a single night, all the way back to his first blogpost. And I knew then that I also wanted a website like that. I had no idea what a blog was even. I just knew I wanted it. All this time I had been writing stories on our comp lab, printing them out, and sharing with akina Jamo. Whatever happened to them, I have no clue. Now here they were telling me I could own a website? Damn! I asked the first person I knew could help me and he opened one for me on a now defunct space called MyOpera, and the only people who read it were my five friends. I opened it simply because I could not afford printing stories all the damn time.
— Magunga Williams, What am I even doing?
Tim Urban of Wait But Why, looking back on what took six years of blogging at underneath the turban:
So, I was able to kind of hone my voice writing 300 blog posts. I look back at the early ones, and I wince at the tones I was using. So, 300 blog posts will teach you the voice you like to write in.
— The Tim Ferriss Show (podcast), interview with Tim Urban
Researcher David Roodman on writing a book about microfinance by blogging it chapter by chapter, and how blogging changed how he felt writing:
So we turned that into a blog. So I stumbled into blogging, and I quickly discovered it was way more fun that book writing. I have a natural letter writing voice when I blog, and it just … whereas when I write a book, I feel much more like I’m clearing my throat and standing at a podium before an audience, wearing a suit.
— The 80,000 Hours Podcast, interview with David Roodman
Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad, the most consistent and therefore probably the most hardworking blogger I know of, on the vast amount of effort it can require to be recognized:
After almost eight years of trying hard, my blog has won an award.
— Brendan Leonard, friday inspiration vol 153
These insights are diverse, but all these bloggers made efforts to find people to share their eggs and circles with. Not only that, they were—are—patient and kind and curious enough to lean over other blogger’s shoulders, supporting them as they also figure it out, when blogging feels difficult despite it being a luxury. I want to do more of both, but maybe I’ll blog about that later.
I’d love to hear any insights about blogging that have resonated with you, whether you came up with them yourself or if another blogger shared them with you directly, or shared them just by writing in public.
Thanks for reading,
I wonder if blogging, much like life, isn’t so much about trying to draw circles as trying to be okay with drawing ovals. Who told you they needed to be circles?
Maybe it’s about teaching yourself to see and embrace the beauty in ovals that others see.
Or maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about.
Really appreciate your comment and I definitely think you do know what you’re talking about, or at least have a great point!
I often feel a tension, between being happy with what you (in this case, me) manage to create at any one time, and the desire and drive to improve. If it comes across that I brush off the beauty others see in my ‘ovals,’ that’s not what I mean at all. I’m so stoked when others enjoy what I’ve put out there, and it’s their feedback that helps me see the beauty in the imperfection.
Do you ever feel that tension, or feel like you’re harder on yourself and your creations, the very ones that others are enjoying just as they are?