This has been a year of big changes for me. I’ve put aside a lot of the assumptions I’d made about myself, and switched careers.
I’ve also noticed a change in how I decide what to write, both here and on social media.
When you build an audience over the course of years, it’s easy to become overly concerned with maintaining it. What begins as focus can turn into self-imposed constraints. That certainly happened with me.
I’d second-guess tweets and even articles, based on what I thought would appeal to my readers - who were mostly programmers. My online presence was essentially a professional one, under a personal name. It never sat well with me.
Over the last couple of years, though, I’ve moved away from all that. Even a year ago, I obsessively checked my follower count on Twitter, and my site’s visitor stats. I looked through my referrers daily. That’s a path to unhappiness. You notice when people inevitably unfollow, and you see which articles are of niche rather than widespread interest. It gets you down, particularly because the niche-interest personal pieces are often the ones that matter to you the most, as their author.
I don’t track those things anymore. I still run analytics because it’s interesting to occasionally delve into and my sponsors want the data, but I’m not comparing from month to month. I don’t look at my follower count on social media, either; I actually avoid doing so.
Most importantly, everything I write is now for myself. It’s just me, and whatever happens to be on my mind at the time. For better or for worse, it’s all strictly personal.
Occasionally, I’ll still write about technology - but only because it happens to be on my mind. I’m very unlikely to write about programming, and there isn’t going to be any new source code. Certainly no apps. Those things feel like part of the past, for me.
I’ll be (and have been) writing a lot more about writing, which is my main focus. My thoughts on issues that are important to me, and whichever topics take my fancy at the time. That’s all I can promise.
The net effect over the past year is just as you’d expect: fewer incoming links, and fewer responses and shares. But the rare email messages are more thoughtful, and every response I do see means a lot more to me.
It feels like it did ten or eleven years ago, when I’d just started writing online, and every individual reader was very visible - and such a thrill to encounter. I haven’t felt that way in a long time. I got fat and complacent on the reliable waves of pageviews when I talked about software development, or interface design. I also became cautious.
Now, in a way, I’m back at the beginning.
My readers haven’t vanished, of course - and I’m grateful for that. In fact, readership is the same as ever, despite the rarity of the topics you (presumably) initially came here for.
I’d like to think that’s a positive sign; that it’s about the writing and the person after all, instead of just the content that you can get anywhere.
Either way, there’s no going back. I feel free to indulge myself here now, which I always actually was, even if I didn’t act on it. It’s a powerful thing. That feeling of setting up a new domain, putting a fresh blog on it, and writing the first post. There’s so much untarnished possibility.
The blank page is an opportunity for reinvention, but in my case it’s a chance to stop pretending. I was pretending, there, for quite a while at the end of my former career. Maybe for as much as a couple of years.
There’s no point in writing about something you don’t care about. Likewise, it’s a damned shame to not write about something you do.
Readers (or followers, or whatever uncomfortable word you want to use) will opt-in and opt-out all the time anyway, so I might as well be honest about who I am, and what I care about. At this point, my output is all just me - and this is the only version of Matt Gemmell that exists anymore.
I can recommend that freedom to you. It’s not the best route to a big audience, or social media success, or income - but it’s emotionally sustainable. You can’t put a price on that.
I may bore you. I may offend you. You might unsubscribe, or unfollow. Reading is brutally democratic, after all. If you choose to go, it’s been a pleasure. And if you choose to stay, well… that truly matters to me.
I haven’t been this excited about blogging in years.