It Takes a Village to Grow a Blog

It’s all well and good for me to say I want to foster a community here at The Artist’s Road, but what does that really mean? And does an online community really matter?

I’ve reflected on these questions a fair amount lately. The community of blogging was the focus of my curriculum materials in Week 5 of “Writing Compelling Blog Posts,” a course I just wrapped up teaching at The Writer’s Center. But I’m living the questions now, as I work to maintain this blog’s momentum while faced with the challenge of new professional commitments.

Inspired by Melissa Crytzer Fry’s guest post here, which featured beautiful photos of Arizona, I include one I took in 2005 outside of Sedona. The contemplative youth is my son, then six. Is he cultivating his creativity? Not really. He was taking a breather from running up and down every rock he could find.

I find myself thinking about a passage from Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. Diamond is a scientist who spent years studying the independent communities scattered across the thick jungles Papua New Guinea. What he learned is that a community is built on trust. If a community is small enough for most people to know each other, and for an interdependency to form, then the community doesn’t really need a lot of laws, or police, or systems of punishment. The community is self-sustaining, and self-supporting.

In my class materials, I tell bloggers that in the world of social media, we as bloggers are villagers.

You can remain on your blogging island, and wait for readers to sail to your shore. If your blog is compelling enough, you’ll see regular arrivals. You’ll chart arithmetic growth. But when you think of your blog not as an island, but as a hut in a village, your readership will grow exponentially.

It’s not that simple, of course. But when I write a post like this, I imagine myself seated just outside my hut. I happily share whatever I’m pondering at that moment with whoever walks by. They are free to keep walking, but my hope is that one or two of them will stop, listen to my musings, and offer their own feedback. They give me their time, and their wisdom, and I am richer for it.

This particular post has two triggers. The first is my most recent guest post, by Melissa Crytzer Fry. She is a great example of a blogger who views her readers as a community. She welcomes you outside of her hut, but she is very good about visiting the huts of those who visit her. I am not as disciplined at that very important part of our community.

The other trigger was some kind words on Twitter about community and The Artist’s Road by two of my favorite creatives, Carole Jane Treggett (@cjtreggett) and Mari Pfeiffer (@mischief_mari). Like Melissa, I know Carole Jane and Mari solely through social media. I have gained great enjoyment and wisdom from interacting with them, and with others in my virtual community.

I fear that as I struggle with new pressures on my time, The Artist’s Road will become an island, a place a few brave souls seek but one I rarely leave, or even spend much time welcoming visitors. I am determined to build into my new schedule some time to sit outside my hut, and stroll about to see who else might be outside of their huts. I just wish I could articulate how much I truly value those visits, and this community. I am learning how central it is to staying on the path of an art-committed life.

About Patrick Ross

I'm the author of Committed: A Memoir of the Artist's Road.

47 Responses to “It Takes a Village to Grow a Blog”

  1. Patrick, the timing of this article couldn’t be better for me. I’m wrapping up one job and simultaneously beginning preparations for a new one and all of this additional time commitment has limited my time for creativity. I so enjoy reading about others and their journey, getting and sharing feedback with others, but how do I do that and make art and continue to grow my blog? Thank you for sharing.

    • I so look forward to your Blog as well as the sharing of other Bloggers.
      I to travel the creative adventure – and share in my blog – “One Artist’s Journey”.
      I always learn from all of you; and look forward to reading your blogs.
      Thanks!

    • “I so enjoy reading about others and their journey, getting and sharing feedback with others, but how do I do that and make art and continue to grow my blog?” Well, as I recall from your Myers-Briggs, you’ve got some organizational strengths, no? It’s tough for all of us, but I would put some trust in you to find that balance. I’m glad this spoke to you today, Carrie!

  2. Your post reminded me that it is just as important to share in other’s creativity as it is to share my own in order to grow and develop. Thanks!

    • I’ll borrow my use of the word “exponential” above to say our own creativity can grow exponentially as we feed off of each other’s creativity, and their pursuit of it. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Could not agree more with your idea that a blog is a community. It is so cool to find kindred spirits in the digital world we live in. Please keep stepping outside your hut to say hello, I’ll be strolling by on the ‘reg😉

    • Oh dear, on the ‘reg! I’m still not used to that, and must confess, it reminds me a bit of an expression used in reference to women that is not flattering!🙂 Glad to be in the village with you so I can stay hep to the street, yo! (That was pretty current, right?) See you at Rubin-Hood…

  4. You hit the nail right on the head. I have some much currently on my plate right now, including a board game I made that is going into production, trying to work on my novella, make posts on my blog (recently started this. I needed some outlet to keep me writing) AND my wife and I are trying to get pregnant. Lots and lots in life. Keep up the good work.

    • Wow! That’s a lot. I can’t help but wonder if there’s some creative overlap there that can make things easier, if the board game can help inspire some of the novella, if your life goal with your wife can help spark some blog posts, etc. Lots and lots in life, but it all sounds good.

  5. I love the analogy of bloggers as villagers. It’s so true; I can say that I am so much more creatively aware as a result of reading others’ blogs and learning about their creative solutions and struggles. It’s so much easier to do this “creative thing” with the support of other like-minded artists, isn’t it? Your blog has been such an inspiration, and I’m so humbled by your kind words.

    Good luck with your juggling act. You’ll make it work somehow, Patrick. Here’s to more hut visiting — something I, too, struggle with.

    • “It’s so much easier to do this “creative thing” with the support of other like-minded artists, isn’t it?” You know, Melissa, I don’t think I truly realized that before this blog. I launched this at first largely to hold myself accountable to the art-committed path, but I had always walked it before largely solo. It is easier with the support of others, and I find that with my MFA classmates and my writer’s group locally, both new to my life, but very much so with this blog and with chats on others’ blogs, such as yours. Pretty remarkable, really.

  6. Dearest Patrick!
    Would you believe I have that very same title with notes I took months ago for a blog post idea that I ‘never got around to writing’? This idea has been on my mind often too (bet you’re not surprised to hear that!)🙂

    After a few initial visits here to your wonderful blog, I felt very much at home. The inspiring and stimulating discussions on creativity you have initiated through your thought-provoking and authentic posts, and by being so magnanimous and inclusive, has encouraged the regular gathering of an amazing community of creatives at this particular ‘hut’. I can’t tell you how much my life has been enriched by the relationship I have developed online with you and other amazing writers and creative professionals I have met here, at The Artist’s Road.

    I know somehow you’ll find a workable way to keep connected, even with such mammoth demands for your time now. I think it’s clear how much we value you as much as you value this community you’ve fostered. Your heartfelt determination to keep walking the path of an art-committed life continues to be more inspiring than you possibly realize, Patrick. Thanks.

    • Wow, dearest Carole Jane! If The Artist’s Road were a commercial enterprise, I’d hire you to do promotion!

      I am going to hold this comment close–literally, as in printed out–to encourage me in those moments when I wonder why I’m still trying to do all of these things. Thank you. Sincerely.

      • LOL. You’re the real deal, so it would be easy and feel authentic to me to promote you and The Artist’s Road as a commercial enterprise😀

        Here’s a quote I’d suggest you keep close at hand as well for times when you need that special reminder/encouragement:

        Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great. – Mark Twain

  7. Hey Patrick, I’ve always felt at home here on your blog. I love that Jared Diamond idea about a small community not needing policing. When I started my blog, I did so out of an urge to share. The community that has grown up around it is a lovely surprise. And, I have to say that I never have problems with spam or snark, proving Diamond’s theory. I believe the same hold true here, I always read thoughtful comments and have found some great bloggers through you.

    • Good to hear that! In my class, some of the students were nervous about the idea of not moderating their comments. I said better to air on the side of not stifling conversation, and deleting ones after the fact that were hostile. I must say, however, that WP tells me there have been more than 3,500 comments that went live on this blog, and I’ve never had to delete one. (Thank heavens for WP’s spam filter, of course!)

      I’m so glad you’ve felt at home. You were one of the first to discover me, along with Milli Thornton, way back when I was just starting out. I’m so pleased we’re still connected, and still able to stop by each other’s huts and feel so at home.

  8. Patrick, I think you do a great job with all of this. When I found your site and started commenting, I immediately felt welcomed and appreciated. And it wasn’t long before you visited my “hut” as well, so I think you’re doing pretty well in the give-receive area.

    As far as time constraints go… it is hard. One thing (that you might already do) that has really helped me better manage my social media time is Google Reader. Once I added all of the other “villages” I want to keep in touch with, it’s much easier to remember to stop by. Since making that switch, I find myself both more active in others’ comments and spending less time wading through the weekly blogs. Best of luck with finding your own new balance.

    • Annie – I agree with your assessment of Patrick wholeheartedly and thanks so much for the Google Reader tip!

    • Hi Annie, I’m so glad you felt welcomed and appreciated; you most certainly were, and are.

      You know, I have a bunch of great blogs on a Yahoo RSS. The problem is remembering to pull the RSS feed up. I also subscribe to some by email, but I don’t check my personal email nearly as much now that I’m not freelancing, so sometimes by the time I visit a post the “conversation” has already occurred. It’s good advice, though, I should look into Google Reader.

  9. Patrick, I always check your new posts. They are intelligent, thoughtful perceptive, as well as the replies to them. I am drawn to intelligent perceptions clothed with words of incredible splendour.

    • Esther, how kind of you! And how eloquent: “I am drawn to intelligent perceptions clothed with words of incredible splendour.” I’m a bit punch-drunk tired right now, but if I had more creative energy, I might try to write a creative nonfiction essay using that sentence as a writing prompt.

  10. Patrick, I feel for you in that struggle. There’s so much to juggle in life, and building relationships online takes time and many forays, besides the real work of running our own blogs. However, you’ve built a lasting legacy here, and I believe that a little of Patrick and The Artist’s Road goes a lot further than it used to (from back in the days when you were first getting established as a blogger). So that’s one authentic time economy you can lean into.

    Also, with so many amazing people eagerly agreeing to guest blog for you, you’ve got a time management solution (less posts to write yourself) that doubles for an excellent community-building tool. A true win-win for all of us.🙂

  11. dignitarysretreat Reply June 1, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    One of the things you emphasized in class was the importance of writing about things that inspire us, because if the author is inspired, it’s just that much more likely that the post will inspire others, as well. Finding the balance between doing so and being ok with a dearth of, say, community responses is an interesting question. There are many posts I resonate with but don’t comment on. However, as you have mentioned, the feedback from others is a necessary part of creating a community. Food for thought!

    • Chrisanna! Is it okay now that class is over to say that you were one of my favorite students?🙂

      And yes, good memory, that is almost an exact quote from one of my handouts, the passage about being inspired. And yes, it’s important to recognize that comments–both amount and content–are not the only measure of whether you’ve reached a reader. That said, I wish you many comments on your blog, of great quality!

  12. Patrick: I will join the chorus of the good timing of your post. My own blog was enjoying a growing busyness for a bit but then the last two weeks there has been a dramatic drop in visits. And while I’d hate to have such a thing as ‘likes’ on a blog matter to me, I do take note. I will take much of what you say here to heart.

    Also, the Diamond idea of community makes me think of Aristotle. His ideas on community are similar in that the closeness and trust borne from familiarity is what keeps a people together and in line with one another. I’ll admit that your blog helped me out in this. A while back you posted about the basics of keeping a blog. Funny how something as simple as having a focus doesn’t come right away in the daunting face of the web. I would add something your present post brings up: participation is key! Good work.

    • Jose, thank you for this thoughtful comment (how can it not be, when you cite Aristotle?). I’m glad you’ve found this post of value, and pleased beyond measure that you recall one of my blog-instruction posts and that it spoke to you.

      “Participation is key.” Why else are we here, if not to participate?🙂

  13. Patrick,
    I truly hope you find time to venture out of your hut ,,, though, I will continue to visit even if you don’t. In a blog-world bent too often toward narcissism, yours is a refreshing, clear, encouraging, engaging, moving-beyond-self, encompassing voice.

    • “In a blog-world bent too often toward narcissism, yours is a refreshing, clear, encouraging, engaging, moving-beyond-self, encompassing voice.” Wow, Terri. Any writer struggles with narcissism, or ego, when writing anything, because we put ourselves in our writing, but it is even more so in personal first-person accounts. I don’t think I can articulate how much it means to me to have you tell me you feel I have a move-beyond-self voice. I do so because I am eager to learn and to share what I’ve learned, and perhaps that is the secret to moving beyond the narcissism that is so easy to indulge online. You’ve got me thinking.

  14. Beautiful title to the post. We are a community; we care, we share. This community will keep growing

  15. It’s such a struggle to balance everything we do as writers — but I agree that the hut visiting is not only imperative but also very rewarding both creatively and socially. And I also agree that Melissa Crytzer Fry is a gem of a hut visitor, one of my all time faves🙂

  16. Much like some other bloggers have posted here… this is very well timed for my life. Not so much in that I’m trying (actively) to grow my little blog, but because I want to go out into the community and find ways to connect and learn from others – while also maintaining boundaries enough to not stay only in the blogosphere.

    Thanks for talking about this issues, because I think so many of us want to keep building, but are wondering how. It’s nice to know that we’re not alone.🙂 (Or maybe, the last statement is projecting. Either way, thank you.)

    • No projecting, you hit it, Stephanie. I find there’s so much you can’t predict about “building,” as you put it, in terms of identifying cause and effect, but you have to keep at it.

  17. Patrick, I DO think you do a great job with this. It’s a tough thing to balance–being a writer of a blog AND a blog reader. Not mention a writer of other forms and a reader of those forms as well. I only blog once a week so that I can spend some other time during the week visiting other blogs. Otherwise, it is a bit too much “me, me, me.”

    • Well, thank you, Nina. Yours is one of the huts I enjoy visiting, most definitely. I like your notion about limiting your own posts not just out of time management, but to reduce the “me.” I’ve started taking in some guest posts, but I’m also inclined sometimes to just blog about a topic of interest to me, which is really only about me in that I’m thinking about it. (Which, I guess, is very much about me, but I always find I’m not the only one thinking about it!)

      • Oh! I think the blog can 100% be about ME. But I don’t think everyone wants read about me five times or even three times a week. That’s the self-awareness that bloggers can sometimes lack.

  18. Lately I am finding that most of my posts are inspired by my visits to the “huts” of other writers. They feed me there, and then I’m ready to write.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Building a (Supportive) Community Online | The Artist's Road - October 2, 2013

    […] I have been facing lately with this blog. I have written before about how the blogosphere is like a series of villages. I wrote how in the blogging classes I teach I encourage bloggers, when visited by a neighbor […]

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