This has been an interesting semester, to say the least. That said, is it strange that I can describe one of my courses as pleasantly surreal? Because, really, Publishing 101 has been bizarre in the best kind of way. Where else can you spend a whole semester trying out online publication, almost entirely independently? In many ways it’s odd running a blog for school, and there are more than a few things I would do differently now, but it was a remarkable experience.
Before this course, most of my content creation took place over some sort of host site or another. I post writing and music on, for example, my Instagram and similar sites. The thing about existing platforms is they often have rules in place. On Instagram, you post images and minute-long videos. Tiktok, meanwhile, is for minute-long videos or less, but not images. Twitter is for anything you can fit in about 200 characters.
Starting a blog meant I had none of these foundations to build on. One of the first things I said to my professor was that it felt like my blog was an open field, completely barren of outside influence, and that this was terrifying. She said that was a good thing. So, I swallowed my fear and got to work. Truthfully, I used my experience on social media as a bit of a crutch. A couple of weeks back, we had Andrew McLuhan, grandson of Marshall McLuhan, come give a guest lecture. He said there were two big questions for a creator’s process: who the intended audience was, and what effect the creator intended to give them.
When I say I used my existing platforms as a crutch, I mean that I didn’t think about these questions as much as I should have. I told myself, “My audience will just be the kind of people I draw in already, and this blog will give them a look into what else I do.”
This proved to be a mistake. Someone watching your sixty-second covers does not mean they’ll read through your blog every week. I retooled accordingly after some peer reviews pointed this out, and went from a clunky format of whatever I was obsessed with to a more solid skeleton for every entry: a tip for the creative process, a trial I had undertaken, and a recommendation of a show or series I was invested in as a cute little bonus. That way, it was more for artists in general than people who already knew me, and people had a reason to click without being invested in me as an individual. It broadened my audience and my effect.
Really, making your own platform is an insane amount of trial and error like this. Besides my message and audience, I even struggled with my blog design. Working through the nooks and crannies of my blog’s theme proved tedious. Menus were reordered, the home page underwent several incarnations, and I struggled with finding good images to separate walls of text. Besides that, it turned out the Dark Mode extension I have on my browser meant the colours I had chosen weren’t accurate to what people saw, so that was a whole struggle I had to unravel.
The result today is a quiet blog that spent maybe half the semester overcoming its own confusion. I am okay with that. This was my first foray into blogging, after all. It isn’t the most common way to make online content these days, what with the power and convenience of social media. We actually read about that in our course, going over a Hossein Derakhshan article about it (Derakhshan, 2015). Derakhshan, who went to jail for what his blog said, spoke of a bygone era where “blogs were gold and bloggers were rockstars.” It was a decentralized world where everyone had their own platform, interlaced with each other via hyperlinks. I have foggy childhood memories of such a thing: old walkthrough blogs for video games I liked, archives of fan reactions to their favourite shows. And now, I had the opportunity to create as they had. And for school, no less.
Again, the freedom was initially daunting. And again, my professor said this was good. When I remember these earlier classes, I think of our reading about how the Internet disinhibits us (Suler, 2004). I know I definitely put on different conduct in class, and I wondered where on the spectrum my blog would fall. We read all about the minimizing of authority, and how everyone feels like an equal peer, and how that makes individuals less afraid of expressing themselves. Of course, it is harder to invoke in this scenario because of the existence of a clear authority: this is for class, and I am getting graded for it.
That said, the sense of authority was minimized compared to other classes. I never forgot that I was doing schoolwork, but it did not feel like schoolwork. In class, we read about digital gardens (Basu, 2020). That phrase really sums up the experience, even if this site probably doesn’t qualify, being a more traditional blog than the artistic, introspective ways described. That said, my blog was something I cultivated, shaped, and grew to my desires. It was my own space, but others could come by and admire it if they wanted.
Finally, I want to look at what I would do differently. As I said, my blog has already changed a lot. I struggled to find a topic and a way to express it. Part of this was because I struggle with OCD. Because of how my disorder works, I often feel a need to spread myself evenly about even the smallest things. If I wrote a blog about music, for example, some voice in my head would tell me I was giving up on being an author. And if my blog had been about writing and literature, my mind would have said I was giving up on music. But over this semester, I realized that my blog is not the end-all-be-all of who I am and what I do.
My professor said our blog was like a house, but the way I see it, it is not a house we have to live in. Maybe this blog is mine, but it is more an open house than anything. I invite people in, show them around. I get to choose what they see, which is a good thing.
I don’t know if I’ll keep blogging after this semester. If I do, though, I want to try a new topic. Maybe books and writing, maybe mental health, maybe album reviews. Who knows?
Whatever the case, this course has gotten me to think about the online self in a whole new way, and a much healthier way at that. When I use other platforms, I will do so with a new perspective. Overall, this whole course was a one of a kind experience. Again, it’s really made me rethink how our online selves and platforms function, and our relations to the things we create. I would not have explored any of this on my own, so it was truly a wonderful opportunity.
As with my previous essay, citations issues mean my citations page is on Google Docs. Access it here!