On 7th April 2006 I set up a blog on WordPress.com, with the intention of publishing book reviews. As first blog posts go, that one is fairly typical. We tend to begin blogging knowing more that we want to write, than what we want to write about. While it can be many things, at its most fundamental I see blogging as a form of journaling, and as a cornerstone of a healthy writing practice.
I’ve been working as a writer in various guises since my early 20s. I began writing short autobiographical pieces, primarily about life growing up on a council estate, that often had a weird twist. I published a dozen or so short stories like this in the early 00s, that attracted a lot of attention and some early meetings with editors and agents. It was far too much for me at the time, and a voice of warning told me I didn’t want to spend my whole life shackled to those experiences, so I basically ran away. But it did lead me into organising and running writing workshops, which became my work.
Five years later I’d lost myself as a writer. Running workshops, fundraising to make them happen, and the endless political fight that made the work possible had sucked up most of my energies. What I learned in those years formed the basis of my first major essay for Aeon magazine on “creator culture“. But I know for a fact I’d never have made it to writing that essay, or anything much else, if I hadn’t opened up this blog as a way to kickstart my own writing again.
Just a few weeks after starting the blog, I went to the 2006 Eastercon in Glasgow, where M John Harrison was a guest of honour. I’d been drawn back to sci-fi novels by two books, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. I was a huge fantasy reader, comic book geek and RPG fan as a kid, but through my late teens and 20s I’d read mostly literary novels, poetry and plays. It was discovering M John Harrison’s novel Light that really re-engaged me with SF, by showing me it could be both the fantasy I loved as a kid, and the literary writing I hungered for as an adult. Inspired by M John Harrison’s non-fiction collection Parietal Games, I decided to make this blog the space where I explored the overlap between literature and genre.
I did not expect that to be as successful as it has been. By November 2006 I was writing around 10 posts a month, a mixed bag of reviews, critical writing, and updates on my own fiction writing. Around this time I was writing short, weird tales that were published in a dozen or so ‘zines of various sizes including Electric Velocipede and BBC Radio. Many of these stories are now in my collection of weirder tales. My early posts were getting between 200-300 readers which really felt like a lot at the time, and it was only later I realised I was being aggregated through a few well known sci-fi fan sites.
At some point in 2007 a writer for The Guardian linked out to my blog, and I followed the link back and found that, while the books blog there occasionally mentioned SF & Fantasy, it never received any serious consideration. So I started regularly commenting, and after a few weeks was invited to write a few pieces above the line, that would ultimately become my Weird Things column. In the eight or so years I’ve been writing on the subject for The Guardian, the mainstream media discussion of sci-fi has radically shifted. When I began it was very hard to get editors to even consider serious mainstream coverage of sci-fi. Today that fight has been won, and the field’s deep engagement with various political themes is almost taken for granted.
This blog was also what took me to the Clarion writers workshop in 2008. I remember first reading about Clarion and thinking, “CRAZY! Who spends six weeks in San Diego studying sci-fi writing?” The answer as it transpired was, I DO! Clarion helped me re-focus my writing. Ironically it was attending a workshop for short fiction that showed me short fiction wasn’t my real passion. Clarion catalysed a lot of change in my life. In the first week Kelly Link warned that some of us would finish Clarion, go home, and blow up our lives so that we could re-build them in a better shape to support our writing. That’s exactly what I did. But through a long period of change, blogging remained a constant.
I’ve published 944 posts on my blog, with this being my 945th. I’d estimate that’s a solid one million words. I’ve accrued 3330 followers on WordPress.com, a mysterious cohort. If you’re a WordPress follower and reading this, shout out! The median page views of my top 15 most read posts is 12,000. Those posts reflect the central interests of my blog for the last ten years.
- The remarkable Neal Stephenson interview
- 7 literary Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels you must read
- Sorry Jonesy, but I can write for The Guardian AND love Terry Pratchett
- FUCK YOU AMAZON! Fuck you for being right! Again!
- 5 indispensable guides for fiction writers
- Writing Practice – why it’s time to stop thinking of writing as a profession
- 7 signs you are ready to self-publish (a checklist)
- What do we do about Lovecraft?
- Two. Four. Seven. More. How many stories are there?
- 6 signs your novel may be pretty damn good
- The Indie Sci-Fi Revolution
- The value of reading, and the cost of ignorance
- What is geek culture’s big problem with criticism?
- Why crap books sell millions
- The DOs and DO NOTs of getting your book reviewed
There’s a lot I could say about building a blog readership and other such topics. But that’s not really what I set out to talk about today. A lot of pressure is placed on blogging to perform as a marketing device. And it can certainly work as such. But if you take anything away from reading this far down a long post, it’s that blogging might be better approached as an integral part of your writing practice. Over the last decade, my writing practice has taken me on a really wonderful journey. A journey I’m still on, and that every day influences the shape of my life. That journey began with an unread blog post on an unknown blog. Where it will go next is a mystery, to me most of all.