If you build a feeder, they will come.
I know. Birds. Bird feeders. Blogging. Where the heck am I going with this?? Bear with me….
I write for an online art marketing blog called Fine Art Views. A few days ago, artist Mark Brockman wrote an article about artists blogging that generated a rush of comments.
Mark shared the other reasons artists should blog, besides just generating an audience for our work. He uses it as a sort of professional journal of his process, his intention, his progress with his art–a record of his artistic journey. And he also mentioned that, to help gather those thoughts, he actually ‘interviews’ himself in his mind. This helps him pull his thoughts together for his posts.
The comments were many, and filled with gratitude for the insights Mark shared. Almost everyone starts out struggling with their blog–what to write about? Who is it for? Where do I start? And will anyone ever read it?
Which brings up a funny story about me that became a metaphor for this.
I have a confession to make: When I first started blogging, I felt the same way. WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON, my very first blog post, appeared on December 1, 2002. Actually, it holds up well. (Oops. Actually, that was my second blog post. My first was HOLDING ONTO PATTERNS THAT HOLD YOU BACK. It’s pretty good, too. In fact, I should reread them both, daily.)
Radio Userland was an early blog-hosting site. It was clunky in some ways–it’s tricky to search for specific articles, there were no categories or tags (that I know of), and the only way to read them is to start at the beginning and follow the little calendar markers through to my first post on WordPress on May 25, 2007.
I had very few readers when I started out, and it was rare for a reader to leave a comment. But I’m still proud of the writing I did, and, as Mark said, it was mostly for me. I’m a writer, and I have to write. Even if it’s just for myself.
Years ago, before the 21st century began, my husband and I moved into a little apartment on the Old West Side in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was our first little home, in a family neighborhood, a rag-tag little house supposedly made from lumber salvaged from a defunct railroad car. (I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it definitely had its share of odd construction details.)
We even had a little backyard. And so, of course, I fulfilled a life-long dream of putting out a bird feeder.
It’s embarrassing to even write this, but it consisted of a bag of random, cheap, generic bird seed from the grocery store, poured into the empty lid of a garbage can. “Maybe the ground feeders will like it,” I chirped cheerfully.
I then went back inside to our enclosed porch, perched myself on a chair looking out the window, and waited for the birds to come.
Twenty minutes later, I slumped into the living room and wailed to Jon, “There aren’t any birds at my feeder!! What’s the use?!”
He didn’t laugh. He just gently explained to me that it can take days, even weeks for a new feeder to attract birds. (He forebear to tell me that a garbage can lid wouldn’t even necessarily ‘read’ as a feeder to the birds.) “They’re creatures of habit,” he said. “They have a set route they follow. It will take awhile for them to notice. But if you keep it up, eventually a few will find it, and they’ll tell their friends.” He added that it was a responsibility, too. Once they discover what you have to offer, they count on you to come through for them.
I realized it takes time to build a bird audience. The responsibility thing…well, we weren’t quite ready for that, either. Plus, it rained the next day, and my “bird feeder” turned into a lid of porridge.
But Jon’s remarks stayed with me. They became a powerful metaphor for how to blog.
You write for yourself first. You write because it helps you get your art out into the world–not the art itself, but your intention for your art. You can express that by sharing your technical process (if that’s important to you). But you can also share your creative process–how you select your subject matter, how you prepare to create something, how you feel about it, how you explain yourself. You do it because you now have a written record of your journey.
And you do it because there are plenty of birds out there who are happy to find what you share. Birds are always grateful for those who provide nourishment, for those who are kind, for those who care.
You just have to wait for the birds to find you.
And then they will come.
P.S. This also is reminds me of that old joke from Alice in Wonderland, “How is a raven like a writing desk?”, but my answer isn’t as funny.