I feel like it’s been a hot minute since I’ve addressed my readers directly- and perhaps that’s the problem right there.
When I started this blog, I wanted to connect with people and build relationships. And when I say relationships, I don’t necessarily mean anything so advanced as lifelong friendships, but simply a feeling that my posts were worth something to others. I wanted to build a dialogue, however limited that might be. In my previous two posts I wrote about the limited dynamic between a content creator and those that consume the content. It’s not the same as a face-to-face friendship, but there’s still a relationship there. The feedback might be as rich and personal as a written response, or it could be as subtle and impersonal as a Like. Any kind of user engagement is felt, and works in a cycle of symbiosis with the writing process.
Like pretty much everyone in today’s mass media dystopia, I consume the content of others. When I think about the parasocial relationships I’ve developed with these creators, I think about how the sense of being included keeps bringing me back. Of course, the inclusion isn’t personal to me– they don’t know who I am- but what they express in their work resonates with me in some way. It touches my life experiences and my inner self.
That’s what I want to do with this blog. That’s what I set out to do. I’m drawn to content that is deeply personal, authentic, and confessional in tone. Whether it’s a blog or a YouTube channel, I’m attracted to creators that share their vulnerabilities and reflect on their experiences. I like creators that seem to be trying to understand their place in the world. The human experience is confusing. Modernity is overwhelming. Connections are how we cope with that and navigate with success. I’ve mentioned how my favorite creators, from Age of Empires 2 streamer T90 Official to vlogger Cascina Caradonna, keep their personalities- and therefore their vulnerabilities- at the heart of everything they do, which allows me to connect with them emotionally.
That’s something I feel like I’ve been neglecting with my blog. When I first started TumbleweedWrites, I imagined that the internet was a vast ocean with many currents. Like everyone else, I was on my own little atoll. I would write about what it was like to live on that atoll, put the letter in a bottle, and the currents would take it to all corners of the ocean. The bottle would wash up on someone else’s shores and they would get an insight into what my life was like. That’s what blogging is to me. We’re all contributing our unique perspective and by doing so we’re collectively building empathy and understanding.
My first posts were very much in this mold. I wrote about my experiences as an exchange student at The University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire in the U.S.A. It was therapeutic for me to get it all down in writing. And the writing process helped me to understand my feelings. That’s why teachers ask their students to define the terms they’ve learned or to explain the methods they’ve used. By externalizing it, either orally or in writing, you’re forced to clarify the experience. Thoughts are nebulous, messy, chaotic. In writing or in speech they become ordered and accessible.
So not only was it good for my growth as a person to work through those experiences in writing, but by making those experiences accessible, they became relevant to others too. Whether a reader was considering a study abroad program, wanted to reflect on their own study abroad experience, was interested in Eau Claire/Wisconsin/the United States as a place, had similarly struggled with social anxiety and depression, or was just simply curious about other people’s life experiences, they benefitted from my being open and vulnerable. If I just described the Chippewa River, the Packer games, and the cheese curds without filtering them through the lens of my personality, then the blog posts would have alienated a lot of readers. They would be trivial and exclusive. But when you tap into your vulnerabilities, your personal history, and your unique perspective, you instantly make your content relevant to other people.
Over the last year or so I feel like I’ve veered away from these kinds of posts. While it’s true that I’m not traveling as much anymore, I’m still…you know…alive. And the simple fact that I’m not dead means that I should still be able to tap into my inner self and connect with others. I’m not sure when or why this change happened, but I’ve focused too much on impersonal reviews in my opinion. Last week I wrote a 7,500-word post in which I reviewed Chelsea’s Champions League final win over Manchester City. Aside from being obscenely long, I don’t think it was very relevant to many readers. I knew as I was writing it that the post wasn’t being written for anyone else. There was no target reader in mind. It was being written for me, despite the fact that the process of writing it was exhausting. It wasn’t enjoyable to write, for the most part at least, and it was of no use to anyone else either. So why did I feel the need to write it?
I’m not sure to be honest. Last year I did something similar with my 10,000-word review of The Last of Us Part 2. While I’m proud of it as a piece of writing and will occasionally revisit it because of the way the pictures and insights are a record of the fun memories I had playing the game, I know that the post was written without readers in mind. It might as well not have been put online. Like the 2021 Champions League final, it was just something that I felt this overwhelming, obsessive desire to write about, the process of which was mentally-taxing.
I’m still struggling to understand what makes me do this. It’s like I’m a horse whose rider has just been clotheslined and I’m continuing to bolt forward without even knowing why I’m going so far and so fast. I find it very difficult to be succinct. The hardest parts of any piece of writing are the first line and the last. I don’t know when or how to stop. My posts become bloated monstrosities that make me depressed. They feel self-indulgent and yet self-sabotaging. I think I strayed too far outside my own personal experiences. There are people more qualified and better able to write about Chelsea or The Last of Us Part 2 than me. But my own personal story is something that only I can write about. Our personal stories are valuable. No one else can articulate them the way we do, and there’s immense power in that.
My plan is to try and get back to posts that are both short and personal. They are more satisfying to write, they are of more worth to readers, and they gel better with the rest of my life. Blogging isn’t my full-time job after all. It’s my hobby. And hobbies should be fun and rewarding. At the moment I’m preparing to move to London and start grad school, so there’s plenty of shit I should be doing. Come September, I’ll be even more busy. And when I get psychotic tunnel vision with a blog post, it takes time and energy away from everything else I should be working on.
I plan to discuss this stuff more in further posts, but for now, I just thought I’d give y’all an update as to my thoughts on TumbleweedWrites and the direction I’d like to take it in going forward. Let me know if you have any questions, advice, or suggestions for further reading and/or watching!