One year ago, in August, I started blogging by accident. Well… I’d had a blog for years, but I wouldn’t consider myself a blogger. I’d post an essay once or twice a month and share it on Facebook. Sometimes people would read it. Mostly just friends. I never had intentions to be a blogger.
I’d been studying creative writing, mostly non-fiction, for almost 10 years, and my goal was to publish a memoir about my father, and how I overcame the shadow of his drug addiction. I had three degrees in writing, two of them advanced. I’d finished a manuscript, and I’d published half of it in literary journals that were funded by universities. I’d even gotten a nod from Best American Essays.
My job at the university was a 9-month contract, and so during the summer of 2013 Mel took an internship, and I stayed home with the kids. My plan was to use this time to find a literary agent to help me publish my manuscript. I felt confident that with my degrees in writing, and literary publications, I could find an agent. And if that didn’t work out, perhaps I could find a small literary publisher that would be willing to take on my manuscript.
I was wrong.
I contacted 226 agents, and 30 small presses. Every one of them rejected me. I started contacting agents and small presses before the start of the summer, and I kept at it after the summer ended. However, come August of 2013, I was deep in rejection and depression.
I felt like a failure.
I needed a change, so I wrote something different. Rather than writing about my depressing childhood and rewriting my query letter, I wrote about my summer as a stay at home dad. I posted the essay on my blog, and suddenly people were reading it. In two days I received almost 1,000 views. At the time, I’d been getting about 200 views a month, so this seemed like a staggering amount of attention. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I was on to something.
So I started writing about my kids, my wife, and me. There were things I’d never considering writing about before because I assumed that they were too boring, but somehow I’d made this small family in a small town something interesting.
I committed to posting five posts a week on my blog for one year.
This was a huge leap for me because in the literary writing community, blogging is often shunned as not real art. In fact, online publishing in general is seen as something suspicious. But honestly, I was tired of all that literary snobbery stuff. I was sick of sending my essays out to 10 or 15 literary journals, having one of them pick up an essay, then take a year to get around to publishing it, and finally mailing a paper journal out to a circulation of about 500-1000, and never hearing another word.
It was time for something different.
For the first three months, my views doubled each month. I learned a lot about blogging along the way. I learned that shorter is better, and to try and keep my post less than 1,000 words. This was a challenge for me considering I tend to be more comfortable in a longer format. Around December, however, my views started loosing steam, and I didn’t know why. Around that time a friend sent me an article from Huffington Post Parents. She said it reminded her of my writing. I read it and thought, “This is horrible. I write better than this. How do I get my stuff up on this?”
I did some research, found an email for the HuffPost Blog Team, and sent them an essay about my daughter not being a princess. They picked up the post the next day. Then they ran it the day after that. Considering I was used to publications taking a year or more, this was surprisingly fast. I assumed that my views would go through the roof, but they didn’t. The post kind of flopped. It was only shared about 500 times, which isn’t much for The Huffington Post. But it did get the attention of an author I’d met while in graduate school. She was impressed, and gave me the email of KJ at the New York Times Motherload. I sent her something, and she picked it up.
It was then that I started seeing an increase in views and followers. I started to figure out through research and observation that the best way to build an audience is to find something with an audience, and to get them to send their readers my way via a guest post or a share of my blog.
In the year that I have been blogging, I have gained almost 5,000 followers on Facebook, and nearly 1,000 on Twitter. I have been published in The Huffington Post, the New York Times, The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, Fast Company, and been featured on Good Morning America. I’ve had a couple essays go viral, which is always a mix of excitement, praise, and hate mail. I’ve learned that most publications don’t pay, and if they do, they don’t pay well. I’ve learned that blogging means writing every morning, and it means a lot of great messages from amazing readers that are inspirational and heart felt and a very good reason to get up in the morning. And I’ve learned that the comments section on major publications is often cruel, ridiculous and filled with uneducated assholes. I’ve also learned that getting a post shared in Reddit is never a good thing. At least it hasn’t been for me. And I’ve learned that I can’t respond to every comment on Facebook and Twitter, even though I really want to. I work two jobs and can’t afford to get fired.
I’m not sure what is next. I still haven’t found an agent or a publisher, and I’m not sure what to make of that. I suppose one of my hopes all along was that this blog would create enough attention that I might find someone to represent me (if you are an agent or publisher reading this, for heavens sakes, make yourself known!). I’ve thought about self-publishing, but not sure if I’m ready to make that leap. It seems scary, new, expensive, and time consuming. But I am strongly considering it. I also feel that I have a lot yet to learn about blogging and online publishing. I don’t know if I will ever figure it all out, and if I ever did, it would probably change the next day anyway. This is the internet.
But what I can say is that I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished during this year. I want to say thank you to those who have found me, and followed me, and sent me heart felt messages. I never get sick of readers telling me that I make them feel like they are not alone as a parent. Because you know what, having someone read my work and come to that conclusion helps me to feel that I’m not alone, too. And that is a marvelous feeling.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley