"Blogging is easy," they say. Just choose from one of the existing platforms, start writing content, and publish. Not so simple though…
I've been putting off launching a major update to my site for nearly 2 years. I wanted to include a blog, but this turned out to be a blocker for me. No matter what I did I couldn't bring myself to publish it. Why was the blog a problem and how have I overcome it? Let me explain.
The problem I faced wasn't a lack of ideas, or a lack of existing content for that matter. It was more a reluctance to share my content with the world until it was perfectly polished and gleaming, like some coveted trophy displayed in a glass case. For even the simplest blog post, I would find countless excuses not to publish. "It's not clear enough", "it's too simple, people already know this", "X has written a better post about this". This lead to scores of iterations, tweaking the wording, clarifying concepts, and desperately searching for some new insight not already published by others. If I did manage to 'complete' a post, I worried that I wouldn't manage to keep up a regular posting schedule, and that long periods without updates would detract from the site.
It wore at me until I decided my content wasn't valuable enough to the public to justify the effort. Without the blog I didn't see a need for a design update to the site and so it sat for nearly 2 years, a single page linking off to my digital presence on various social media platforms.
Then along came the Christmas break of 2020, over 9 months into an on-again, off-again national lockdown caused by a global pandemic. I had more time than usual on my hands and decided to have another go at the website update. I quickly came up with a design I was happy with, put together a list of posts I wanted to write, and was looking forward to the challenge of playing with some new tools (shout out to Eleventy and Tailwind CSS).
Of course once I had the technical side of things taken care of I was once again faced with the prospect of writing content to publish for public consumption. I decided that this time I wouldn't be beaten, I would find a way to make this work and finally hit the publish button. So I set about sketching a plan. I'd have a blog section on the site but this wouldn't be the only place for my content. I'd also have a dedicated area for any useful links, tools, and resources I came across, somewhere to keep track of notes, tips and tricks, an area for… 🤯 Stop! Just thinking about now having multiple streams of content to update was nearly enough to send me into a panic. If I couldn't publish a simple blog before, how would I manage all of this too‽ Time for an entirely different approach.
I left it for a few days as I tried to come up with an answer to this frustrating problem. During one particularly productive session scrolling through my Twitter feed I found a thread discussing the performative nature of blogging and social media. A lot of the comments resonated with me and I recognised the problems I had faced in my previous attempts at blogging. After a short while reading about others facing the same thing I realised my biggest problem was one of audience. I was focusing too much on the performative aspects of the blog, trying to produce content I deemed worthy of some imaginary audience of experts who would judge me harshly if my content didn't provide sufficient additional value over existing sources.
What I really wanted was a place to gather my notes, thoughts, and ideas for my own reference, letting them grow over time. If they were of value to others that was a bonus, but not the main goal. Since I was the primary audience, I could dispense with the rigid separation and categorisation of content, and use a system of tags and cross-links to help me find things again in future.
Instead of a traditional blog what I needed was a 'digital garden', somewhere to sow the early seeds of ideas, cultivate those I found useful, and maybe one day harvest some additional value. I could include useful notes, links to tools and resources, and anything else I might want. Early drafts could sit alongside more polished posts since I was writing for myself. Even an early draft is more useful than a blank page after all.
No longer limited by what I perceived to be the rules of a 'good blog' I found myself free to write again. My initial list of posts quickly grew as I embraced this new approach, writing and publishing drafts or outlines to be fleshed out at a later date, or simply to serve as a reminder of some interesting or useful snippet or approach I'd found.
I wish I had saved that illuminating Twitter thread, but it did lead me to plenty of other great resources on the topic:
- Josh Buchea - What's a digital garden?
- Joel Hooks - My blog is a digital garden, not a blog
- Amy Hoy - How the Blog Broke the Web
- Tom Critchlow - Building a digital garden
- Anne-Laure Le Cunff - You and your mind garden
- Maggie Appleton - Digital Gardening
- and many more
Also not directly related to digital gardens but touching on many of the same points I struggled with originally:
- Ali Spittel - My Blog Post Workflow: from Topic to Publication
Happy gardening! 🌱