WordPress.com sent me a nice message a few weeks ago congratulating me on my seventh blogging anniversary. Seven years, wow!
I started blogging on impulse. I was recovering from an ugly divorce and was looking for things to do that I would enjoy (as joy had been in short supply) that didn’t cost much (as I was left nearly broke). I used to write for a living and really enjoyed it, so starting a blog seemed like a natural thing to try.
This blog has had three phases. The first was the “I’m not sure what I want this blog to be” phase, where I told stories about myself and wrote reflections on my faith that I find now to be a little too preachy. I posted sporadically, two or three times a month.
The second phase came when I started writing about my trips to explore old roads. I had always been curious about the old two-lane highways, and spending all day exploring one was a splendid distraction. I used to document my road trips extensively and exclusively over at my old-fashioned HTML Web site, but eventually I started sharing the best photos and stories from the trips here, and now this is the only place I write about the old roads. I think it’s an odd hobby, this search for iron bridges and abandoned brick road segments. But other like-minded roadies soon found my writing, and they led me to an entire old-road subculture. I’ve so enjoyed sharing with and learning from others who also enjoy this esoteric pursuit.
Buoyed by having found a small but regular readership, I committed to posting twice a week. Meanwhile, I had restarted an old hobby of collecting vintage film cameras and was happily putting film into them and learning the basics of photography. I started posting about my old cameras here, too, and went looking for other old-camera blogs. Whether they know it or not, those bloggers taught me much about how to make photographs, and I came to enjoy that process. Now I consider myself much more a photographer than an old-camera collector.
And then the WordPress.com staff found my blog, featuring it an astonishing four times on its daily Freshly Pressed feature in 2010 and 2011. They shared two of my camera posts (here and here), a post about classic cars at an auction (here), and a post about grammar (here). I dashed that grammar post off quickly to fill a scheduled post day where I had no better ideas, and it got more views in a day than the rest of my blog got all year! Many who read that post kept coming back.
Meanwhile, my old-camera posts started benefiting from the Internet’s long tail. Many of those posts are in the top three Google search results for those cameras, which brings lots of visits every day. Some of those viewers have subscribed.
Feeling encouraged by increasing readership, I began this blog’s third phase by posting three times a week. That boosted readership to the next level, showing that there’s no substitute for fresh content. I also bought a custom domain name – actually, a subdomain off my preexisting jimgrey.net domain – and bought upgrades to customize the look of the blogging template I use.
I also began experimenting, writing about other things to see which subjects would stick. It seemed natural to write about software development, as that’s how I make my living, but you stayed away from those posts in droves. So I started a second blog about it (here) and promote it separately. It’s still trying to gain traction. I’ve written some opinion posts that have been well read and discussed, such as one about bullying (here) and one about standardized testing in public schools (here). A series of posts reviewing fried chicken prepared at restaurants all over Indiana (example here) was really starting to take off when I discovered that a gluten-free diet eased a pesky health issue that plagued me. So much for that!
Sometimes the words just come. When that happens, I set aside lots of time to write them down and soon posts are scheduled four to six weeks in advance. Other times, especially when my stress is high, I find I have nothing to say. I always hope those times come when I have weeks of posts already in the can! In either situation, writing my blog keeps my mind sharp. And seeing you read, comment on, and share my work is a rush that keeps me at it.
Today, my blog is mostly about photography and old cameras, with some old-road posts in the warm months and posts about my faith when the spirit moves me. I fill in the gaps with posts about whatever comes to mind – like this post. It takes a lot of commitment and effort to keep writing three times a week here. I’m a busy dude, directing an engineering team in a software company, raising teenage sons, and serving as vice-president of a nonprofit (related to an old road here in Indiana; check us out here). Sometimes I think I’m nuts to keep it up.
Every man needs a hobby. I’m fortunate to have several, and I write about them all here. But this blog is my favorite.