Why I’m Scared of ‘Building a Following’

If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in, the chances are very high that you will interest other people as well.  (Rachel Carson)

After five years of working as a freelance writer, and over fifteen of regular blogging, worrying about ‘building a following’ now might seem a tad strange. 

Redundant, even.

But the thing is, as I’ve asserted long before now (and many times since), I have never niched.  I haven’t got a target audience, and when I blog, I simply write about whatever happened to take my fancy that week. 

Granted, it’s not a structured approach of the kind that earns megabucks, but since I only need mediumbucks to survive and enjoy my life, that’s fine by me.  I get to work with people I like, while essentially writing what I like… which is why I wanted to work for myself in the first place.

Recently, though, I felt moved to start a dedicated online publication.  It’s called Everyday Childfree, and I’m using it to explore different themes around choosing not to have children. 

Just writing that has made my stomach flip. 

Partly, I think it’s because after decades of generalising (an approach that has prevailed throughout my entire career; even when I worked in HR I was a generalist, rather than a recruitment specialist or a tribunal-whiz) I’ve finally found a subject that feels important enough for me to want to focus on it regularly.

Which is scary, because that implies a need to commit.

I started Everyday Childfree because the kind of writing I want to read on the subject of childfree-ness - intelligent, reflective, nuanced, slightly humorous musings - is incredibly hard to find, particularly from a mid-life perspective.  While I’m not saying I can provide all of those things myself, I want to give it a good old go.

Which is scarier, because people might notice.

They already are, in fact.  My publication’s following is growing – albeit at a snail’s pace – and I tend to wake up every day to a small flurry of thoughtful comments and feedback that tell me others feel the same as I do.

This all feels visceral and exposing in a way my ‘normal’ writing doesn’t.  Maybe it’s the subject; there’s still an air of strangeness that follows telling other people you’ve never wanted to have kids. 

(This isn’t always because they disapprove; sometimes it’s just because they’re worried you’ll bang on about it non-stop.  I see the same kind of fear in some people’s eyes when I mention I’m a vegetarian).

Maybe it’s the personal connections the publication has allowed me to form, which already feel deep and resonant.  But with this comes responsibility: I now feel I could be letting people down if I write something they don’t like, while if they actually tell me they don’t like it, it’ll probably hurt more. 

I’m also concerned about regularly riffing on the same theme, when that isn’t something I’m used to doing, and I tend to switch off when other people do it. 

(How to keep people engaged when you’re talking about the same thing all the time is a problem that’s plagued humanity for centuries.  If you want proof, look at the tall tales Jesus had to tell his followers so they’d keep reading about religion). 

I suppose these worries are proof that my new publication is important to me, but they’re also a valuable reminder of how scary it can feel to get committed and personal with your writing.

That taste in your mouth is ultimately what you’re writing out.  Whether you know what it is or not: trust it.  (DBC Pierre)

I frequently tell the people who join my writing courses to be brave, because when you get the wobbles just before pressing ‘Publish’, it’s usually a signal that you’re about to share something other people can personally connect with.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that why we bother writing anything at all?

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