A Blog For Your Thoughts: Interview 3, Part 1 – Abbey

By Tony Allen,

Here’s the first part of our third blogger interview!

For the next interview in the series, I met 22-year-old Abbey. Abbey grew up in rural Suffolk before graduating with first class honours in both her Classical Archaeology and Ancient History BA and Classical Art and Archaeology MA at Merton College, Oxford. Abbey is currently studying for her PhD in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester.

Abbey started her blog abbeylouisarose.co.uk in summer 2016, before beginning her Masters. It features a range of lifestyle content, from recipes and travel to posts about days out and her university experiences.

In this post, the first of a two-part feature, I asked Abbey to share some tips and advice she can pass on from her time blogging. In the next post, she’ll be discussing some of her most interesting blog-related experiences.

Describe your blog in few sentences.

I find it quite hard to put my blog into a category. I feel like the word ‘lifestyle’ implies that I’m trying to educate people about how to live their life which I’m not. I call it a personal blog. I write about days out, things I like doing, food, trips. I feel that it’s an extension of me, that’s the way I like to think about it.

Can you give us a brief personal background?

I’ve been a student for four years now, I’ve now finished my Masters. My main hobbies at uni were student society based, I didn’t really get into blogging until about a year ago. It started off as ‘oh, this is something fun that I’ll do over the summer’ and a year on I’m still going! Photography is something I’ve always enjoyed and I get to incorporate that hobby into my blog as well.

What blogging tips or advice you wish someone had given you when you first started out?

My main advice would be not to worry too much about having a schedule or having a “brand”. Just relax and enjoy it and if you don’t feel like posting one week – it’s ok! You’re not Zoella who has millions of fans who are refreshing to see her latest video. You can treat it as a hobby. Don’t let it take over your life. Don’t spend days out just updating your Instagram or your Twitter or taking photos every 30 seconds because you’re so worried about getting a blog post out of it. Sometimes there’s bigger things in life than blogging!

What would you say to someone who wants to write but doesn’t know how to start?

A lot of people think that they have nowhere to start. But think: you’ve probably been on a day out recently. You live somewhere. Write about where you live! Once you start thinking about it, you’ll find plenty that makes you go ‘this is worth sharing’. I really like posts about where people live in the UK because it’s all very well and good if you’ve got a million followers and you’re going on expensive holidays paid for by a company. But where you live in the UK,  write about where you are… you can definitely do that! Norwich is really nice, for instance.

What tips would you give a more established blogger looking to expand their reach?

Definitely collaborating with other people. It doesn’t have to be a huge person that you’re trying to ride on the coat tails of. You’ll meet people and make friends through blogging, even if you’re on a similar level. Write collaborative content on a similar theme. Have links between the posts. It’s a great way for your readers to find other people and their readers who might not necessarily know about you, to find you.

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What’s been your most popular post to date? Did you expect it to be so?

One of the most popular ones in terms of views rocketing up immediately was when I wrote a blog post about sex! I don’t know, clickbait is the wrong word, but it was a post that I felt a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily write themselves. So if somebody does write about it, I think a lot of people click on to read to see what you’ve got to say and how you deal with the topic. I think you can talk about taboo… it’s not even really a taboo subject, everybody does it… but I think if you’re talking about something that perhaps a lot of people might shy away from, that is something that people will tend to click on. I think I was expecting that to get a few views on the sex post. But it was something that I wanted to write about and finally had the confidence to say, screw it, let’s just write the post!

Are you a member of any formal groups or collectives of bloggers?

There’s the #BeeChat which my friend Charlene McElhinney runs, it’s a twice weekly Twitter chat and the snail mail scheme – I think it must be nearly 200 bloggers participating now. What Charlene does is to match you up with someone who she thinks you’d be compatible with and you exchange letters. I’ve been writing letters to about six people for over a year now, so that’s a lot of fun.

Then there are things like the #TeacupClub, chats and blogging Facebook groups. I would recommend that people join the Facebook groups because if you have a problem or just a question like ‘where can I find a new theme,’ or ‘I’m looking for an artist to design me a logo’ or something you can post on there and get suggestions from a thousand people that are in the group. They’re well worth joining.

Time management is a challenge for bloggers, how do you keep disciplined with your blog and studying?

I only write when I really want to because I feel like if I force something out, you can tell that it’s going to be a bit ‘meh,’ so when I feel inspired, I write a lot. I had a couple of weeks before I went on holiday when I was bursting with ideas, so I wrote about six blog posts in that time and because I post twice a week and I usually stick to that schedule, then I can eke out the posts that I’ve written when I’m really inspired. When I was on holiday I couldn’t be writing and posting so I scheduled that content for those weeks when I knew I wouldn’t be around. So that helps, when I have the time and motivation and energy just to go for it and then schedule accordingly.

How do you start a post? Do you draft something out in a notebook or do you just go straight into writing?

I usually go straight into writing. I have a bad habit of always starting a post with a rhetorical question. I’m trying to stop doing that which means that I can sit there and think about how to start for ages! So if that happens, because I often split my posts up into paragraphs which have subheadings, I’ll write a paragraph or a subheading because at least it gets the flow going. Then I go back and think about how to introduce it, so I kind of write it backwards.

Interestingly, not so much the content, but the comments on your blog suggest that your readership has a significant majority of women. Is that intentional or just the way it panned out?

You can only write from your perspective. If I was to try and write something that I would feel was a ‘male-oriented’ post, that would make me play into stereotypes because it wouldn’t be me. I do follow a few male bloggers, there seems to be not so many of them which is a shame because men will also have something great to contribute to the community but I can only write from my perspective, as a woman I probably attract a female audience.

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My next question was going to be about that sex post. It’s personal but not excessively detailed – how do you strike a balance between making things relatable but not too personal?

I just try and put myself in the position of the reader. I’m just thinking, if I create an entire list of all my favourite sex positions, my favourite time of day etc. etc., all of this is much too personal information. I ask myself: would I want to know this about one of my friends if I was reading it? Probably not. So putting yourself into the reader’s position is what I try and do to strike a balance.

Some of our bloggers write about elite level sport which I know from experience is hard sometimes to make personal. What advice would you give them to bring themselves into their blogs more, or would you say in all scenarios that’s not necessary?

What I think is the strength of blogs is that you can share your personal experiences – what really stands out for you that you’ve watched? One of my friends is an F1 fanatic, he will re-watch his favourite races. Just sharing that, other people might be like ‘yeah, I want to re-watch this too’. When you put yourself into it that’s adding something that a news outlet wouldn’t and couldn’t have, so I think that’s a real strength to sports blogs.

Do you set yourself any guidelines when it comes to blog posts, like post length, or picture formatting?

They’re always changing. I’m inspired by what looks good on other people’s blogs. I think there’s a fine line between copy and paste and adapting things that you like from other people into your own work. As for photos, I’m trying to do better with photography. I used to have just one main image and then the text but now I’m trying to incorporate more photos – personally I think it’s more visually appealing to have more photos, therefore I’m trying to up my game in that respect. But it’s always evolving.

Why did you decide to use Blogger as opposed to WordPress?

I’d never had any experience of writing a blog before, I’d been on Tumblr but that was mostly just to reblog pictures of cats, so this was my first blogger experience. I logged onto both Blogger and WordPress and made an account on each just to see what I found the most intuitive and it was Blogger that most appealed to me. A lot of people say that WordPress gives them more freedom but I’m not that experienced with coding, I’m learning a bit now that I’m putting people’s blog buttons on my blog but Blogger does anything that I need it to do at the minute. If anything changes I’d probably consider switching over but it seems to be a process that a lot of people go through so I felt confident that if I did want to change later on, I probably could easily do so.

Do you look in detail at viewer statistics? What can you tell from them?

As opposed to just numbers viewing the post I tend to look at the comments for whether it’s a post or a theme that I would like to go into further. I often find that if you get a short comment, like “thanks for posting 🙂 here’s my blog link”, then you’re thinking ‘ok, well this person didn’t really engage with this post’ whereas if you get some comments where people have actually picked up on points that you’ve said and elaborated and given their opinions, then I feel like, ok, this is a topic that people are interested in, therefore I can continue to write about this. So rather than the numbers I prefer to look at comments as an indicator of quality.

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How do you decide what links to make to external sites to explain references you make and what to leave?

I made a silly joke in a blog post about my room resembling Tracey Emin’s My Bed. Maybe some people are just like ‘what? What is this?’ I would link to something like that where it’s something that might be a bit obscure that requires understanding to get the joke. You don’t want to over-pepper with links, so sometimes a couple per paragraph and no more than that would be my rule unless I’m talking about something really obscure.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since you started blogging?

Photography. It’s something I really enjoy but there are so many people out there who just have amazing photography. Comparison is the root of all evil yet we all still do it. So if you sit there and read everyone else’s blogs who all have perfect flat lays, you’ll think I can’t flat lay to save my life, I’m not a real blogger because I can’t flat lay! But that’s always something that I’m trying to improve and always something that I’m challenged by but I enjoy it enough to persist.

You’ve tweeted in the past about struggles with taking photos of yourself using the self-timer…

I was sent some swimwear to promote as part of my holiday posts and you need a full body shot for the swimwear, no-one wants to see a close-up of anything the swimwear is covering! I have an SLR camera and what I have to do is set the camera onto something, then put something where I would be in order to focus it. You get a few funny looks when you’re doing your own pictures, it’s quite a hard thing to do with the self timer!

How often in a day do you think about blogging? Is it always in the back of your mind whether you can mention what you’re doing or get a post out of it, or are there times when you totally switch off?

It’s nice to totally switch off, I do it quite a lot. Sometimes I just think, this could make a great post but today I just don’t want to be thinking about it so, it depends on the day. Sometimes you go on a day out and you’re really enthused about it, you’ve got great photos anyway so you might as well turn them into a post but other times you’re like, ‘I’m just going to sit here and sunbathe’!

How do you balance promoted content with making interesting original points in your own voice?

I get a lot more emails and opportunities than I actually say yes to. I would only take on a sponsored content piece if I felt like I could contribute something that my readers would be interested in. The amount of emails you get asking to promote getting your car serviced is ludicrous! They’re very happy to pay you but, sure, I’ve done one where I talked about a road trip that I’d been on but that was earlier in the summer and I had some more offers but I don’t want to bore my readers. To be honest I don’t think most of my readers would be interested in car servicing. It’s essential but it’s not something you want to read about it twice a week, every week. So I tend to only take on the ones that I feel I can contribute something new to.

I usually get approached for sponsored posts, the ones that you are just paid outright for rather than product reviews. I have approached brands for product reviews before if there’s something that I want to talk about but with the sponsored stuff I just let them come to me because they know what campaigns they want and they know if I’d be suitable rather than blind-pitching and never going anywhere because you’re not going to the right people. It can take over your life if you spend the whole time pitching so I just tend to let them come to me.

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Do you take all of your blog photos yourself?

I take the vast majority. For the sponsored post that I did about marriage, it was quite difficult because I thought I had something interesting to say and a lot of people seemed to comment on and find the post interesting so I thought, this is something I can talk about. But I wasn’t going to any weddings, I’m not getting married myself, so it’s hard to get a photo. I used stock imagery in that case.

You just have to be very careful that the imagery that you’re using is freely available for your use but often on stock photo websites it will say in the sidebar next to the image what you can actually do with it. Even if it says you don’t have to cite the source I always will because it’s someone else’s work and they deserve to be credited for it. In that case I would use stock but I prefer to use my own.

Social media is a big thing for bloggers, I first found you through Twitter. What tips would you share with our members to utilise social media in the best way possible?

Scheduling tweets is really, really good. I find that on the days that I’m too lazy to schedule, my numbers do go down. One tip is not to overdo it though. No-one wants to follow someone that’s spamming with their links every half hour. So I do seven tweets a day usually linking to different blog posts. On the day that I have a new post, all seven tweets will be dedicated to that post and then it’s a mix throughout the rest of the week. But also, just talking to people is a really good way of interacting with them and building a following. Getting online with Twitter chats is also really helpful, you never know who you might meet and spark off a friendship with.

Photos of Abbey taken by the author in Chapelfield Gardens, 14/08/2017.

Abbey’s blog can be found here, and she is also on Twitter and Instagram. Abbey included more of my photos and gave the UEA Blog Society a kind shout out in one of her recent posts here.

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