There I was, sitting in front of my old desktop computer, my hand poised tentatively over the mouse. It was late 2008, and I was about to hit publish on a new piece of writing. I didn’t fully know what I was doing or where this new journey would take me, but I did know one thing: There was no going back. With a few final clicks of the keyboard, I felt my heart flutter as I finally hit “publish” on my first post. It was brilliantly titled “First Post.”
I had a lot to learn.
With that blog post also came the launch of my blog, which had been a long time coming. At 27, I was just a few years out of college, working as an adviser to a community college student newspaper and freelance writing on the side. In between teaching the next generation of journalists, I had plenty of time to write, and I wanted to use it to my advantage. I’d also been freelancing as a weekly columnist for the local newspaper, so starting a blog seemed like the next logical step in my career. I figured a blog would be a perfect way to both showcase my writing and keep me in the habit of writing regularly.
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This was in the days before influencers and big-time YouTube celebrities; Twitter was just starting to gain popularity, and Instagram wouldn’t come along for another two years. But even in 2008, there was no denying that the media landscape was changing. People were shopping, working, and dating online, and magazines and newspapers had already started the great migration from print to web. I heard the siren call: The web was the future.
In 2018, it seems like everyone has a blog, but 11 years ago, the medium was less charted territory. There were virtually no rules, and the possibilities for endless creative expression were infinite. You had the power to create your blog on your terms. To avoid becoming overwhelmed by all that freedom, I spent a good month planning and plotting my blog before I hit that almighty publish button. Name? So About What I Said (because I had a lot to say, obviously). What topics would I write about? Relationships, disabilities, lifestyle, and pop culture (after all, the old writing mantra is “write what you know”).
My blog grew steadily, especially during the first couple years, but there was definitely a learning curve. I was learning the ropes every day, from figuring out a consistent posting schedule to sharing my posts on social media to even learning the mechanics of HTML and basic blog design. At times, I struggled with balancing it all and I felt like I had to get it all done. It was a weird catch-22: People were actually reading my work, and the more my readership grew, the more pressure I felt – even if most of this pressure was something I put on myself. Will people hate this post? What if they stop reading? What if they hate me? What if they find another blog they like better?
After all, I knew just how quickly the internet moves. New blogs pop up every day, and they’re all vying for that prime spot on people’s favorite reading lists. Would my blog still be around in four, five or even six years? Would people still be interested in reading what I had to say?
I certainly couldn’t answer those questions, so I did the only thing I could think of: I just kept writing, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. There was this primal urge deep down to express myself and share my story. I wrote about what it’s like to look for love with a physical disability. I wrote about my grief journey following my father’s suicide. And I chronicled, in real time, my bout of severe depression that made writing just one blog post a day feel like I was climbing Mount Everest. It was all there, in words so raw that it felt like I was laying my feelings bare for the entire world to read. That’s the way I’d always wanted it, though; from the beginning, I vowed that my blog would be honest and vulnerable, never shying away from talking about the tough stuff. I’d always felt misunderstood when it came to my disability, and I wanted to show people what it’s really like to live with a disability. People responded, surprisingly, in a positive way; I soon began to notice that the posts about my disability (as well as the ones about my father’s suicide) were the ones that resonated the most with readers. They’d share their own stories with me in emails and blog comments, telling me how they identified with a post and how it made them feel less alone.
And I was starting to feel less alone, too.
Before I knew it, six years had gone by. Then seven. Then eight. It felt like everything was coming together. I found myself in the habit of writing every day, and my freelance writing career was taking off. Blogging taught me discipline and I applied that same discipline and determination to pitching and writing for various publications.
Still, it wasn’t until I celebrated the milestone of 10 years of blogging recently that I finally realized the unexpected gift that blogging has given me. In all those words, in those 6,000+ posts, I wasn’t just carving out a career, was I? I mean, I may have started out with that goal in mind, but with each passing year, I could see my blog becoming about so much more than just my profession. It was a chronicle of the person I was and, in turn, the person I was becoming. Like peeling back each layer of an onion, I revealed a little more of myself each time I hit “publish.” It was sort of like getting to know myself all over again, seeing my life and my story unfold with each new post.
Soon, I could even feel the change in myself as I typed. I was typing with more confidence, with more purpose, with, at last, a sense of direction and where I wanted to go. I may have started my blog as an unsure 27-year-old, but I’d grown into a confident 37-year-old writer who has used my blog to find my voice, especially when it came to exploring my disability and my father’s death. I poured out my grieving heart on the screen and began to see the first glimmers of healing as a result. Similarly, my blog helped me come to terms with my disability and become more confident in being a woman with a disability.
I’ve realized that blogging was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, not only professionally. It’s helped me land work with brands and editors and taught me everything from writing skills to time management to dealing with hate comments and trolls. But the true magic? That can’t be found on the computer screen. The writing life can be wild and unpredictable, but it can also be magical and beautiful. It’s beautiful in unexpected ways, in the little gifts it gives us that we might be able to see right away. That’s the thing about writing. We can spend so much time planning and plotting, but writing still has the power to surprise us. Those surprises sneak up on us when we’re not even looking, but in the end, they change our lives forever.
Blogging gave me something completely unexpected. It helped me come into my own, shedding so many insecurities that once haunted me. And that’s a gift that will keep on giving long after the next internet fad comes along.
—Melissa Blake is a freelance writer and blogger from Illinois. She covers disability rights and women’s issues and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, and Glamour, among others. Read her blog at melissablakeblog.com and follow her on Twitter @melissablake.