Brand building through storytelling

Reasons to blog

I don’t know anyone in Novi Sad, most likely will never go there and had to Google the place to find out that it’s in Serbia. So I can’t help but wonder how it happened that on May 14 some stranger in Novi Sad set out for an online stroll and ended up on this website. We’re not talking just a peek in my virtual doorway. No, this was a pull-up-a-chair kind of visit, in which the mystery guest actually read these pages for 11 minutes and 47 seconds—a not-inconsiderable sojourn in Blogland, where the restless and the jaded tend to flit from site to site in a never-ending search for the must-see of the moment.

When I started blogging almost two years ago, I pictured a vast potential audience: loyal fans from my decade as Editor-in-chief of Chatelaine, Canada’s best-read magazine for women. “I look forward to your column every month,” they used to say. “It’s always the first page I turn to.” Ah, the hubris of the first-time blogger!

Truth is, most of my original target readers still don’t know about my blog. In practical terms, I haven’t met my expectations. Emotionally, though, I’ve surpassed them. I’ve attracted a new, albeit smaller group of readers, mostly American, who had never heard of me or Chatelaine until they made their way here via Google and decided to keep coming back. They’re not looking for recipes, health advice or any of the other time-honoured attractions that have madeChatelaine a powerhouse. They didn’t receive a gift subscription from mom. They simply want to read what’s on my mind, right after I felt moved to say it, and maybe add an insight of their own. So if you’re one of my regulars, you deserve to know that our connection here is among the great pleasures of my life as a writer.

I’ve been writing for most of my life, but until now I insisted on tangible rewards: the prizes I won in high school competitions, the cheques I collected from countless magazines as an editor or freelance contributor. Now I’m finding out what writing can be when the only goal is satisfaction. What an adventure it’s been! As a blogger, I never ask myself, “Is there a market for this?” or “Will the editor like this anecdote?” I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission for precious column inches and then wait months to see the piece appear with my favourite sections truncated or missing. I just write and post, with only one certainty: surprise.

Maybe I’ll uncover an insight I didn’t know I had. Maybe one of you will share a thought that delights or touches me. Mrs. Tarquin Bisquitbarrel (real name a mystery) used to call her mop-topped son Mr. Ringlet. M.C., who recently lost her husband, finds the presence of his ashes consolingDeb Pascoe mailed her 25-year sobriety medallion to Phil Collins, whose music she credits with keeping her sane; he returned her treasure with a personal note saying she was the one who’d earned it.

As for my visitor from Novi Sad, she still hasn’t returned. Not so far, anyway. That’s how it often goes in Blogland. People find you by sheer serendipity, stick around for a while if you capture their attention, then go forth on their virtual ramblings. They won’t circle back unless something compels them to do so. If it’s not the importance they attach to your knowledge (about gardening, cooking or raising pet water dragons), it will have to be the sheer appeal of your voice—a bond that’s by turns wonderfully intimate and dauntingly fragile.

Blogs have an even higher failure rate than restaurants, according to a recent New York Times story. We bloggers all tend to start out with the same crazy fantasy: hordes of traffic, an advertising windfall, an income of sorts from doing what we love instead of serving corporate masters. Ninety-five percent of us quit, chastened by a few months of no visitors, no money and—shockingly—nothing to say. But here I am, still busking in cyberspace. Sometimes I write with music in my head, Gillian Welch singing her lovely “Everything is Free:” Everything I’ve ever done/ Gonna give it away/ Someone hit the big score/ They figured it out/ That we’re gonna do it anyway/ Even if it doesn’t pay

So hello, Kamloops! Lemon Grove and Rainbow City, are you listening? Steveston, Bangalore, Duvernay, Rio Piedras…this one’s for you, wherever you are. And you too, Novi Sad. You too.


Posted by Rona

Previously posted comments:

June 15, 2009 at 4:04PM

Could you write more about the economics of blogging. If you don’t make money, how much does it cost to maintain a quality blog?

Rona Maynard
June 16, 2009 at 1:01 PM

Anyone can start blogging for free (thanks to Google blogger, WordPress, etc.) or a nominal monthly fee (Square Space, which some people prefer). The real cost is your time because a tossed-off post offers nothing to the reader. Even the simplest post takes at least an hour to write, and you need to post several times a week in order to maintain the kind of active online presence that keeps visitors coming back. I can afford to spend a day on a post, so I often treat myself to that luxury. Other people have their golf and their ski trips. I have blogging.

June 16, 2009 at 4:04AM

I really enjoy your blog I am one of your fans from your Chatelaine days.I have been reading your blog since the start and I really have come to depend on your blog. I read your blog whenever you post it and it is part of my morning rituall to read your blog. Your blog really makes me think about life, travel, grandmotherhood and being a daughter.Thank you for your insight and your time I hope you keep blogging for a long time.

Rona Maynard
June 16, 2009 at 1:01 PM

When I’m stuck for words, Maryanne, I’ll remember this comment. Thanks for writing. I’m glad to be part of your morning ritual.

June 16, 2009 at 5:05AM

Hello! After years of reading you in Chatelaine and a few weeks following you on Twitter, this is the first time I’ve dropped by your blog, but I had to tell you that I find the phrase “busking in cyberspace” absolutely delightful and I may have to steal it!

I’ve been blogging for more than four years, and you’ve summarized rather nicely all the reasons I love it. It’s interesting to read your perspective, as I’m at the opposite end of the scale – someone who has always had aspirations to be a professionally recognized writer, blogging partly for the recognition but mostly for the love of the interaction. Back in the day when I started blogging, the idea of financial recompense for blogging was still a couple of years in the future. Now it’s just the icing on the cake! Thanks for the insightful post — I’ll be back!

Rona Maynard
June 16, 2009 at 1:01 PM

Welcome, DaniGirl. Isn’t it interesting how we’ve come to blogging via different writerly routes, yet are finding the same rewards?

Jules Torti
June 16, 2009 at 7:07AM

Well Rona, it’s completely your fault that I’ve become completely absorbed with blogging. You were relentless in your suggestions that I start one, and look at me now! I love how the blog platform allows me to indulge all my interests. I inundate my Facebook friends with the blog links, and marvel at how other readers have found me through search terms like “Mila and the rowboat,” “Cool Whip and raspberries,” “snorting detergent,” “shitting her pants” and “Mary Nightingale feet.”
Thanks for introducing me to such a fulfilling obsession!

June 17, 2009 at 11:11AM

And I’m one of these people that never heard of the writer in Canada until conducting a twitter search for “Shanghai”. I’m glad I did it.

Rona Maynard
June 18, 2009 at 6:06 AM

Glad to see you here, Dominik. One day I’ll have to share the story of how our chance encounter on Twitter helped me plan a real-world visit to Shanghai. It’s become one of my favourite social networking tales.

Deb Pascoe
June 17, 2009 at 4:04PM

I am so happy to have found your site. I am touched and humbled to be mentioned in your latest blog entry. Are you able to count visitors to your site? I get the feeling you have more followers than you think.
Reading your blog helps me with my own writing. Somehow your words turn keys in my head and unlock my creativity. I often read your entries when I’m preparing to write a column or essay. Thanks! Keep up the honest, heartfelt, eloquent work.

Dale Davies
June 18, 2009 at 4:04PM

Rona, I am so happy to have found your blog. I was a very long time subscriber to Chateline. And like many others your column was always read first.

My mother died very unexpectantly in January 1996 and that May you wrote a beautiful Mother’s Day column. I now send it on to anyone I know who had recently lost their mother.

I don’t remember how I became aware of your blog. My once excellent memory appears to be slipping. But it was only a few weeks ago. I looked up to see if you wrote anything about Hillary Clinton. I was so pleased to see you had and loved your Hillary articles. I, too purchased the New York magazine a year ago with Hillary on the cover. I won’t bore you with the details, but last year I was consumed with her campaign. When she announced her candidancy in January 2007 I had thought ‘Hillary don’t do this, they will try and take your down’. And they did. But I think despite everything she did take the right course. She demonstrated she was definitely a fighter and a true champion. My respect for her grew during the course of the campaign.

You have a wonderful gift. And it is a pleasure to be able to continue to read your work.

Rona Maynard
June 19, 2009 at 6:06AM

How lovely to hear from another old friend from Chatelaine days—and another fan of Hillary’s, to boot.

Mrs. Tarquin Biscuitbarrel
June 19, 2009 at 7:07AM

“Busking in cyberspace”–perfect turn of phrase! And I spend far too much (or just the right amount) of time reading other people’s blogs to think of starting one. Learning of a blog reader from Serbia is today’s equivalent of receiving an unexpected letter with a foreign stamp. And wouldn’t you know it? My word verification is “howdah,” the seat (“with railing and canopy,” the dictionary says) in which one rides an elephant in the East Indies. My gran, of blessed memory, whose armchair traveling was fueled by decades of copies of the National Geographic, would have adored the Internet.

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