MY INTERNET WRITING :
WHY WRITE ON THE INTERNET?
This is the first of three articles about my very first steps in writing on the internet. I say my first steps because it is my own personal story, but hopefully at least some of what I have to say will also be of benefit to others who are yet to take the plunge in getting started with internet writing and maybe looking for inspiration - why they should do it, how they should do it, and the trials and tribulations of doing it.
First though, let me be clear that when I talk about 'writing on the internet', I'm not talking about posting on social networks or commenting on forums, much less tweeting on Twitter - the stuff everybody does, including those who cannot string three words together in coherent fashion. No, I'm talking about webpages and websites - serious articles if you like. If there is anyone out there just starting out or still deliberating whether to write in this way for money or for pleasure, I hope they can gain some encouragement from these three articles, or at least understand that any worries they may have, or any difficulties they may have experienced, are certainly not unique to them. Others (me) have been through them all before!
This page looks at the advantages and disadvantages of internet writing from my own perspective.
A second page looks at how I first got started on a website called 'HubPages' and why I eventually moved on to create my own websites such as this one.
The third page marks a personal milestone which I passed along the way - one million views.
MY FIRST ATTEMPTS AT WRITING IN THE DAYS WHEN THE 'WORLD WIDE WEB' WAS JUST A GLEAM IN THE EYE OF TIM BERNERS-LEE
I had always wanted to write, to lay down my opinions on paper and create something original with words. That was one of many many ambitions I had, when I was a child and then in my teens and twenties. And at that time I even started to write a first novel - I had what in my unbiased opinion was the makings for a truly original and brilliantly clever science fiction adventure. There were, however, problems with this great idea which needed to be overcome, and the biggest problem of all was a perfectionist tendency coupled with a lack of confidence and quite possibly a serious lack of talent. And in those days I also had to write on a typewriter. So what happened when this lethal combination of factors came together? Well, I wrote, and then decided that what I'd written wasn't perfect, so I'd rip the paper out from the typewriter, put in another piece, and start all over again. And then again. And I'd keep doing that until I was satisfied. I swear I probably wrote the opening page of that novel fifty times over, and after several years of sporadic new beginnings and several trees worth of writing paper, I'd got about three chapters completed.
But was any of it any good? I really didn't think so and with that mindset, my lack of confidence was such that there was absolutely no way I could write and write and write for years and years before finally sending off my cherished work to a publisher only to have it returned, slated and dismissed as a pile of tripe. But of course that was what was wholly to be expected - writers and rejection slips go hand in hand, and even the very best it seems will get more rejections than acceptances. I couldn't have gone through that crushing experience. It would have put paid to my writing ambitions there and then. So having failed spectacularly to complete my first (and to date, last) novel, I tried something a bit shorter - a play - but that fared no better. Then I tried something shorter still - a 15 minute story. That also got put on ice to be finished at a later date. Today, it's still on ice. The typewriter went into cobwebbed retirement.
Many more years passed, and my family circumstances changed. Now I was living alone with no family nearby, and also no loving relationship to occupy my life. My proper job at that time wasn't offering a real challenge for me either. I became depressed. As I grew older still, I began to feel that there were only personal ambitions to live for - the desire to achieve something satisfying in my life. But practicalities and advancing age meant that a whole array of those ambitions which I mentioned I'd had as a child - some realistic and some utterly fanciful - were reluctantly being discarded one by one. There is however, is one ambition which can be done at any age from 5 to 105 - writing - and even if J.K Rowlingesque success was no longer feasible, then at least I could maybe earn enough to supplement a pension? That surely wasn't too extravagant a wish and not implausible? Writing resurfaced as the way forward for me, many years after I had once discarded it.
TWO BIG ADVANCES - 1) WORD PROCESSING
So my own personal circumstances now motivated me to try again. But since my first novel writing efforts all those years before, there had also been two incalculably huge advances in the world of writing and publishing which had seemingly made everything so much easier for all of us who have writing aspirations.
The first of these was the word processor. How lucky is any writer today! - I'm sure many don't appreciate it, but I do. No longer is it necessary to type on paper and then correct with correction fluid or an ink eraser or put crossings out on a page, or just start the whole page over and over again as you'll recall I had done on page one of my epic novel! Back then I would rewrite it all even if I decided I'd gotten a single word wrong, but now with the invention of the word processor I could just delete and retype. That made writing anything more ambitious than a few sentences, a feasible thing to do. Even for me.
TWO BIG ADVANCES - 2) THE INTERNET
The second big advance was of course the main focus of this article - the emergence of the internet as a medium for anyone and everyone to use. If you are going to write in a medium for people to read, then there is a hard way to do it and there is an easy way. One way - the old, traditional way adopted by writers throughout all previous centuries - was to tout your stuff around a few dozen publishers in the hope that one will publish. Maybe one will, but most writers need to have a truck-load of self-confidence, a ship-load of determination, and a skin thicker than a rhinoceros's hide to take the knocks of rejection which are almost inevitable. We've already established I had truck loads of nothing and a gossamer-thin skin. So that was the hard way. And much too hard for me.
The alternative in the 21st century is the easy way - the internet page. Because since the invention of the internet, you do not have to write to order, you do not have to write to a time deadline, you do not have to be answerable to a publisher, and you do not have to deal with agents. Frankly - dare I say it - you do not even have to be very good, if all you want to do is to get your work seen by someone. Anyone can write and anyone can put a page online without fear of rejection.
GETTING STARTED ON THE INTERNET
So it was that for me and a million other would-be writers, the arrival of the internet offered a whole new and exciting route to the world of publishing - an open door, just waiting for me to walk through. I finally did what had now become inevitable; I began to write again.
I had renewed motivation, I had the convenience of word processing, and I had the internet. What could be better? But nothing is ever straightforward and for me there was one further obstacle to overcome. Despite using computers routinely at work and at home for basic functions such as word processing, e-mail messaging, game playing, etc, I was only ever really comfortable with what I knew. With anything else, I was fundamentally computer illiterate. I've never been one to take readily to learning languages, and the computer jargon indulged in by I.T geeks leaves me even colder than any human language. If I really had to learn how to write HTML to compose web pages on my own website, then I would have had absolutely no clue how to proceed. And yet that was what seemed to be required for self-publishing in those early days.
Gradually however, I became aware that there was another way - not self-publishing on my own site, but publishing on a 'content creation' site called 'HubPages' - a place set up by someone else who knew what they were doing, a place where one could write (in English, not HTML) for free about almost anything in the world, and where the process was made as simple as it could possibly be. I learned that you didn't need to know any computer codes; all you needed to do on a content creation site was to type your words in a text box or 'text capsule' which they would provide, paste images in a photo capsule which they would provide, or do similar things with maps or videos etc in map and video capsules they provide, and then move them all about (drag and drop) and organise them on the page which they had also provided. I knew I could do all that. So it was that I eventually signed up with HubPages at the beginning of the year 2011. I could now at last be an internet writer.
I began writing my very first web page (called a 'hub' on HubPages) with enthusiasm and a positive frame of mind, and I knew exactly what I was going to write about. It would be a none too ambitious page of travel packing advice, a few thousand words long. That seemed ideal as a first article because it was uncomplicated (just text and a few photos), uncontroversial, and requiring very little research, written as it was largely from my own personal experiences. I wrote it and rewrote it, and a few weeks later on 20th January 2011 I was sufficiently satisfied with my newly created masterpiece to hit the 'publish' button.
WRITING ON HUBPAGES - FIRST EXPERIENCES
Publishing that first web page was a very significant event in my life, and just pressing the button to make it go live was an act which filled me with nervous anticipation. At this stage, I had not told a single friend of mine what I was doing, because it would have been much too embarrassing if the critical consensus was that my writing was crap, and that I had an inflated opinion of myself. I wouldn't have felt able to face them. And as well as not telling friends, I also decided to hide behind a username on HubPages so I could remain anonymous to everyone else. I wrote under the nom de plume of 'Greensleeves Hubs'. Despite all these misgivings and worries, the very thought of a complete stranger reading my work perhaps on the other side of the world, was something truly amazing. I sat back and waited with immense trepidation for the response.
None came, though I soon realised from recorded traffic statistics that some people had visited my cherished page and maybe read it. I felt able to persevere because although nothing positive had come through, nor had anything negative, and that's why soon after, I published two more travel packing articles in a similar vein. Still no response. Then I published a page of short stories which I'd written, and after that I received my very first feedback from other HubPage writers in the form of 'comments' at the bottom of the page. It was minimal, but very positive, and that was vital in providing me with necessary encouragement. Now I finally plucked up the courage to tell a couple of my friends at work and I asked them to also review these first four pages, which they did for me, also in a quite favourable way.
I pressed on with renewed vigour and set myself a goal of publishing four more articles or hubs every month throughout the year of 2011. I did so on every subject from natural history to ancient history, from film reviews to flower photography. Whatever interested me. Traffic to my pages remained at trickle level, but did increase ever so slowly, Feedback also increased - ever so slowly. Some other HubPage writer-members were now becoming active 'followers' of mine, getting notified whenever I published, and then reading and commenting on many of my articles. I gradually told more of my friends and acquaintances. Sometimes I had five or more hubs on the go at the same time. Writing web pages had become a major preoccupation outside of my day job as that first year moved towards its end.
Before 2011, writing and publishing had only been a somewhat wishful ambition. By the end of that year, it had become a serious part of my life.
Before anyone thinks that the whole process was becoming one of steady progress - nope, it wasn't. Not at all. There were many disheartening negatives that first year, and even more so in 2012 and 2013. I'm not really sure what I had been expecting when I started out on the internet, but I'd certainly hoped that I'd find it rather easier to write than I did, and I'd hoped for a larger response in terms of traffic than I ever got. I took my time when writing because I wanted to make sure the pages were the best and most attractive that I could possibly produce, and so those four hubs each month were soon taking up pretty much all of my free time. But despite that, they were still not attracting the size of audience I would wish for. The trickle I mentioned above never became a flow, much less a raging torrent, and after devoting so many hours to writing, I became frustrated by that.
What made it worse was that others on HubPages seemed to be faring much better. Sometimes I would glance at another writer's articles and I'd see a long stream of comments at the end, or I'd see that a member of just a few weeks standing already had more traffic than I did, and more followers too. And I wondered why. Did my shortcomings in internet know-how mean that I could not maximise the visibility of my pages? Was it just that my pages covered minority interest subjects which most people didn't want to read? Or was it that the other HubPage writers were simply better than me? I didn't know.
At times these thoughts left me disillusioned, and I felt like giving up. I felt - as I wrote at the time:
'is it worthwhile writing for what was amounting to a couple of visits per hub per day from the whole wide world'? Is it worthwhile when you receive a handful of comments soon after publishing a page, and then nothing ever after, as if that page had become invisible?'
Without a few positives, HubPages could have been one huge let down.
But there were positives, and each time one of these presented itself, it lifted my spirits and made me feel good. There had been those first followers of my articles, and the first 'fan mail', and then the first visitor from off the HubPages site who had found me through Google, and also the kindness and generosity of all those who took the time to compliment me with feedback. There were also competitions organised by the HubPages staff, including 'Hub of the Day', which I won four times. The community element to the site made me feel that I was not alone. I became familiar with some of my fellow writers - not well enough to call them friends, but certainly well enough for them to become acquaintances whom I cared about, and who I felt cared about me.
And indeed the simple act of sitting down and writing also gave me a big psychological plus. Away from the computer, 2011 and the two or three years which followed were turning out to be very difficult times personally for me, during which I really needed distractions. Internet writing began to serve that valuable function of providing a distraction. Writing factually or creatively was a way to take myself out of my own increasingly troubled mind and think about other things far dissociated from me. And when I did write about personal experiences, then it was cathartic to be able to pour my heart out into the open. Even if my articles benefitted no one else, the process of writing them during these times was certainly benefitting me.
THE PASSING YEARS - FURTHER UPS AND DOWNS
Whether I was feeling negative or positive about my writing at that time, I knew in my heart that I had to continue, because for me there was no alternative. And I began to realise that not all the negatives had been down to me. I eventually discovered that other writers, including some very skilled HubPage members, were experiencing big fluctuations in their traffic, and the blame for many of these fluctuations was being laid at the door of Google and its 'algorithms' - the criteria which Google applies to each and every web article to determine its ranking in the Google search engine. These criteria more often than not have seemed to punish content creation sites like HubPages lowering the rankings of their output. This may be because Google favours websites with more specialised, more easily categorised content, or it may be because on a site with many thousands of writer-members, the standard produced on HubPages has inevitably been variable - excellent contributors being dragged down by poorer quality writers. In one year - ironically the year I joined - traffic to the whole site was slashed as a result of changes in one of these algorithms. That has happened to a lesser degree more than once since then, and there seemed to be little that any one writer on the site could do about it. I had to be philosophical and continue to write in the hope that the 'ups' would ultimately outweigh the 'downs'.
And they did. The general slow upwards trend in my traffic continued over successive years and I came to learn which types of article were proving popular and which were not, making it a bit easier for me to choose my subject matter. I became better known on the site, and I also began to advertise my pages on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and that also helped in a modest kind of way. And speaking of advertising, 'Google Adsense' adverts carried on HubPages (similar to those on this page) were beginning to bring in a small but steady income of about a dollar a day - peanuts, maybe, but it was an income which could potentially continue forever, or for at least for as long as my hubs remained published. And I could reasonably hope that it would increase further, and that one day it may become a valuable subsidiary source of income. By the dawning of 2016, I was feeling reasonably good about my presence on HubPages, and as this was the year when I took early retirement from my day job, I now had the time and the opportunity to write even more.
With greater optimism about my writing, and with increasing experience of the internet, I began to think more and more about one day taking the bold step of doing my own thing and opening up my very own websites. I really wanted to do that but it was still such a daunting challenge for me that I kept putting it off - it would be like risking a jump across a crevasse without the HubPages safety net beneath me. Sheer nerves held me back. Why take the leap across, when life on HubPages was so relatively easy and safe?
It was HubPages themselves who finally managed to push me over the edge of that crevasse.
A BIG DECISION
It wasn't just me or other writers who had experienced problems with the Google algorithms. What we suffered, was merely a microcosm of what the HubPages company themselves were also going through. We mustn't lose sight of the fact that although free to join, HubPages is not a charity - it is a business which makes its profits by taking a share of the membership's advertising revenue. So they suffered through any drops in hub traffic just as surely as us writers did, and eventually it became clear they were getting seriously worried by Google policy decisions.
HubPages began to take drastic measures to try to improve the situation, 'unfeaturing' lower quality hubs, introducing subdomains which specialise in particular subject themes, and acquiring one of their biggest rival content creation sites - Squidoo - in a friendly takeover. Some of the social elements including 'Hub of the Day' were also curtailed so that staff could concentrate on the more important aspect of profitably running the site. Most of these were changes which I could support, or at least accept, or else had no opinion on, although the sheer number and pace of changes taking place were now beginning to unsettle me.
But then they introduced one big change too many. They wanted to make all articles on the site conform to a standard design of their choosing, and to become fully 'mobile friendly' - a policy change which implicitly meant a reduction in the writers' own creative input on desktop and laptop devices. There had of course always been some creative limitations in place - minimal choice of text fonts and sizes, text colours etc - which I had accepted as the price of having an absolutely free web space in which to publish my articles, but now I began to feel that my ability to create an attractive and distinctive page layout was becoming seriously compromised. The one aspect of my pages of which I had always been particularly proud had been their attractiveness of design. I felt I was losing that as HubPages took more and more control of the layout.
I did fully understand the difficult position in which the staff at the site had found themselves. They had needed to adapt, and adapt quickly, in order to survive in an increasingly competitive internet market. But I also had to look to my own needs as a writer. I wanted full creative control so I could make my pages stand out from the rest, and it seemed that was no longer going to be possible at HubPages. I had to take the leap into the unknown. I had to break away and start out on my own, and so this is what I did in 2017.
Many more details about HubPages - my experiences there and the changes which led to my decision - are available on the companion page to this one : 'My Internet Writing : Starting Out on HubPages'
THE WIX WEBSITE BUILDER
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, even after seven years on HubPages, the thought of building my own sites remained a very daunting prospect. There was still no way I could use HTML coding and do it all 100% on my own, but I knew also that hiring a personal website designer for hundreds if not thousands of pounds was just too exorbitantly expensive, given that my sites' subject matter would not be very profitable. I needed something different, and the answer seemed to be online website builder platforms - companies which offer plenty of tools for creating web pages and for a fee, give you web space in which to publish them. So I googled this, and I found a few possible sources of help - sites such as 'GoDaddy', 'Weebly' and 'Squarespace'. Eventually I settled on 'Wix' which was something of a market leader with a wide range of resources and a good reputation for support - above all, it was reputedly easy to use, employing 'what you see is what you get' drag and drop capsules rather similar to those used by HubPages.
Once I signed up and started, I soon learned that although the design methodology was similar to HubPages, the flexibility and range of options available on Wix were hugely greater, giving me exactly the creative freedom I had craved. I could write text in any font style, colour and letter size I wished, I could not merely post images as on HubPages but change their shape and size, and place them anywhere I wished on the page - an option which had recently been seriously curtailed on HubPages. I could also use headers and footers and a variety of different background designs. And videos, as well as music players, link buttons, and many other apps could also be added. Most impressively, there was a tool which enabled formatting of the page for mobile cell phones, quite independent of the formatting for desktops and laptops; that meant that I could have exactly the page layout I wanted on the larger screen format, but still have a passably acceptable presentation on mobiles. (You'll note though I still retain a message in the headers advising that the pages read best on a larger screen format).
There were also downsides at Wix of course, and they were mostly associated with cost. Everything - literally everything - on HubPages is free. You don't have to pay to set up the pages, and you don't have to pay to publish the finished work. Free set-up also applies to Wix, although there is a charge for some of the truly useful apps, and that can be quite irritating. And it costs money to publish on Wix. There are various packages available which are only a few dollars per month, but if your site is non-commercial, then you have to think seriously about whether it is worth it (of course unlike HubPages, any profit which does come, even from adverts, will belong exclusively to the writer - none will go to Wix, which only takes 'rental' for the web space). It remains to be seen, in my case, whether there will be any profit, as it will be some time before I receive my first 'Google Adsense' payout.
Wix is much more complex than HubPages, and it does take much longer to learn all the facilities and how best to use them. I started on Wix in November 2017, and I published my first website on 7th December - my birthday. I published the second on 6th January 2018. In the middle of March 2018 as I complete the writing of this my third website, I am still learning, and as I learn, I still regularly return to those first two sites to tinker with the layout and improve it. I'm sure it'll be a long time before I am fully au fait with all the potential that this website builder has to offer.
The future will tell, but at the moment I am pleased with the commencement of my association with Wix.
MY WRITING TODAY ..... AND IN THE FUTURE
More than anything else, you will have gathered from this essay how writing has always been a battle for me - first a battle to simply finish a project and have the self-belief to get it published. Then the struggle to motivate myself to start again when that failed. Then the battle to make myself known on HubPages and to attract an audience there. And now the new challenge just starting - to produce web pages on my very own sites, hosted by Wix, but in all other respects, entirely my own work.
So where am I today? I still have my articles on HubPages - more than 160 of them. They can be found under my username of Greensleeves Hubs at my profile there. They include pages on many different themes and some will hopefully remain there forever (or at least for the 'foreseeable forever'). But now, some of the articles originally on HubPages have been transferred or modified to appear here on my own websites built using Wix. They appear in subdomains under the main domain name of alunrhys.com. The two websites which currently exist are 'Poetry, Prose and Literature' and 'The Canary Islands'. More will soon be added including an astronomy site, a site devoted to the country of Thailand, a website all about word origins and quotable quotes, and a political website.
Varied themes, I'm sure you will agree, but all will have their own individual appeals for me, because writing of different kinds can satisfy the soul of the writer in so many different ways:
* Writing factual articles can bring with it the gratification of introducing an audience to a new passion, a new hobby or an experience which will hopefully stimulate and enrich their lives. That seems to me to be well worth doing.
* Writing an opinionated piece can give one a sense of great purpose, highlighting an issue of importance and perhaps influencing the mindset of others.
* The writing of poems and stories can bring a sense of immense joy and achievement in the creation of something entirely original, something which entertains others, and something which acts as an outlet for one's own emotions.
Any kind of writing can bring fulfilment. And that's a good enough reason as to to why I'm still trying to do it and will continue to try for as long as I am able. If I can pull in a substantial audience with these pages, then I will feel I have been successful as a writer, and if I can pull in a modest income as well, then that will be the icing on the cake.
In the future, who knows? I may return to my original ambitions and attempt a novel or a play - pipe dreams in those early days which never got beyond the confines of my own bedroom where I did my writing. But for now, it is more modest internet writing which will be the focus of my attention. As I learn, I will apply increasing experience to that, and I will be devoting hard work to the task, whilst hoping for good luck. That's all I can promise. If any of the pages bring pleasure or inspiration to anyone, then the effort will have been worthwhile. Thanks for reading.
POSTSCRIPT - 2019
Since writing the rest of this article in 2018, one more website has been published - a travel guide to Thailand. This site, plus the others I have published, are linked to elsewhere. But I have not so far progressed in the way I would have wished. The old problems of technical computer competence, coupled with personal motivational issues, still continue. Almost nobody visits these pages and I've lacked the know-how to increase the traffic. I still receive far more traffic to my HubPage articles than I do to my own sites.
But there is a good reason too for my lack of progress - I have a fiancee who lives in Thailand, and twice in the past two years she has come to England to visit me on six-month tourist visas. When she has done so, I have felt obliged to devote my time to her, rather than to web pages which - I repeat - almost no one is reading. Next year we hope to marry and we will see what happens after that. Today (25th November 2019) she is back in Thailand and I have a few months which I can devote heart and soul to my websites.
I’d Love to Hear Your Comments. Thanks, Alun