Happy Birthday Girlymicrobiologist Blog: One year on what I have learnt about writing a blog?

The Girlymicrobiologist blog is one year old today, well in actual fact it’s 6 but we’re not talking about the wilderness years when it lingered unused. It started out as a way to help deal with some of the madness of the pandemic and in order to feel like I had a direct route to talk about science and being a scientist, that was unfiltered through anyone else. I thought it would be read by a handful of people and would be highly niche, but in the last year I’ve published 73 posts, and had over 16,000 views from ~11,000 visitors. Numbers I could never have dreamed of. I know there will be many blogs out there with much higher numbers but for someone who is basically putting her thoughts on electronic paper once a week I am constantly shocked and delighted by the response. So as someone who came into this a complete novice I wanted to share a few things I’ve learnt and thoughts that I’ve had.

It’s OK to break the rules

When I first started writing blogs for other people I was told to obey the following rules:

  • 500 – 800 words
  • 2 – 3 pictures
  • use sub-headings
  • post at the same time regularly

Now that I write one for myself you may have noticed that I have pretty much abandoned the word limit, if not the sub-headings. I try to post on a Friday, as writing my blog is what I do on a Friday night. You can however see that I also frequently don’t succeed at this. Mostly because I’m a real person managing this on top of a fairly stressful job and doing the best I can.

In terms of article length, apparently more the modern thinking is that the longer the length the more reads something will get and people are investing time and so like more for that investment. That’s not the reason my posts are longer however, my posts are longer because I don’t really over edit myself. I want to write as if you and are sitting and chatting over a nice G and T. This is probably not considered an acceptable ‘style’ but its mine and I’m OK with that. So my advice now is to write what you’re passionate about in a way that works for you and, in the nicest possible way, screw the rules.

Numbers only have meaning if you give it to them

I’ve quoted some numbers in terms of posts and viewership to you, but actually one of the main things I’ve learnt is that those don’t really matter. When people started to read the blog I tried to find benchmarks by which I could measure success, I am a scientist after all, What I found was that most of the benchmarks out there are for people who are doing this professionally or want to make money. I am neither of these things and so I found it hard to judge what I should be aiming for. What I’ve landed on, because I personally needed something, is a readership of ~1000 views a month. Mostly because I was looking for consistency, rather than any kind of massive growth.

Reads are obviously closely linked to numbers of posts. I try to post every week, in order to keep things regular and for people to get into a rhythm of knowing when things are going to come out. If you post more you will get more reads. Therefore you need to decide early on how much metrics matter to you. Some people find metrics are a good way of motivating them and giving them structure. I am a somewhat obsessive individual and if I focussed too much on numbers I would end up writing blogs at midnight in order to make sure I hit that weeks count and feeling like a failure if I didn’t hit quota. Because of this I tend to use metrics as a light touch to look at trends rather than using them to judge success.

I don’t really know what will land and generate a lot of reads

We’ve talked about everything from tea to childlessness on Girlymicro and what I’ve learnt is that I don’t ever know which posts will really resonate with people and get a lot of reads and which won’t. For instance my post about being childless in my 40 got over 2500 views, for a post that I thought would be read by and resonate with a small number of people. Other posts that I thought would have wide appeal have been read by a few hundred. Some of this is probably based on the timing of the post and who picks something up and shares it on. I try not to get too worried about this because, as I’ve said, I’ve decided not to be too concerned about numbers. I want to sit on a Friday night and write honestly from me to you, if that post has meaning for one other person that’s good enough for me.

I did think at the start that I would write a lot more about technical science, but as time has gone on that’s really not what I write about. There are a few reasons for this. One, there are many great technical science blogs out there that review the literature and sign post to good papers. I do some of this but mostly if I’m writing about science it also has a narrative element linked to it. I think that’s because what I’ve decided I most like to talk about is de-mystifying science and who scientists are. I want to talk about the highs and lows, the things that I’ve learnt and the things we can do better. These topics are the ones I haven’t found covered so well by other sources and also have the most meaning to me. I’ve come to the conclusion that what resonates most well are the posts that are authentically me, and that the topic is almost secondary. That’s serendipitous as those are also the posts that are easiest to write and so I just go with writing about things I care about.

Once you start it’s hard to stop

On the subject of writing about things that I care about. I had thought when I started, that writing a blog once a week would be a chore and that I would find it difficult to find things to talk about. The opposite has been true, I have a lot more ideas than I thought possible. For instance, I currently have 93 blog posts in some level of draft. I’m inspired to write by seeing what everyone tweets, by time taken with friends and colleagues to have cups of tea, and by corridor conversations. Ideas are sparked by reading news articles, by watching programmes and movies, by people sharing their science and by unexpected events that elicit an emotional response of some kind.

On a Friday night I will often sit down and words just happen, I have planned to write about something but then something will happen or I will have a thought and the words come almost fully formed. I don’t fight it and, for those of you who read this regularly, you’ll notice there are plenty of spelling and other mistakes. I write in a stream of consciousness and don’t worry about editing myself too much. I don’t aim for perfection, I aim for honestly.

We’re on this journey together and I don’t know where we will go

I have a had a number of people comment on how brave my blog is, but I don’t really think it’s brave. What I hope it is, is an honest space where I trust you to read what I write with the intention of that writing in mind, and that you trust me to not glamourize or pull punches with what I share. I hope that you know that I write in order to help us learn and develop together, to raise awareness and to help us rise to our challenges and everyday be a little more courageous together.

So where do we go from here? I’m not someone who can function without a plan, but I’m kind of trying. I’m really enjoying this, the dialogue and the conversations writing has prompted. I feel so much less alone in the challenges I face, and so something that I started in order to help others has ended up helping me so much more than I had believed possible.

Some lovely people have said I could try and get an agent interested in the blog, to be honest I wouldn’t even know where to start, although I will happily take suggestions if anyone has any. For now the most important thing for me, is that you and I keep our regular catch ups, that we spend 10 minutes together over virtual tea and cake, and continue to learn and grow in each others company. To every one of you who has invested some of your precious time in reading the blog over the last year I am grateful beyond having words to express. In what has been the most challenging of times you have been kind, generous and supportive, and I don’t know I would have made it through as intact as I have without you. Thank you!

All opinions on this blog are my own.

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