MY INTERNET WRITING :
WHY WRITE ON THE INTERNET?
This is the first of three articles about my writing on the internet. I say 'my' writing because it is my personal story, but hopefully at least some of what I say will also be of general benefit to others yet to take the plunge in getting started with internet writing and looking for inspiration - why they should do it, and 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 can't string three words together in coherent fashion. No, I'm talking about webpages and websites; serious articles if you like. So 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 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.
MY FIRST EFFORTS AT WRITING - 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 views on paper and create something original with words. That was one of many ambitions I had, even as 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 an idea 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 issue of all was a perfectionist tendency coupled with a lack of confidence and quite possibly a serious lack of talent on my part. 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 it every time I became dissatisfied. I swear I probably began 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 my lack of confidence was such that there was absolutely no way I could write and write and write and then finally send my cherished work off 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 get more rejections than acceptances. I couldn't have gone through that crushing experience. It would have ended my writing ambitions there and then. So having failed spectacularly to complete my first (and last) novel to date, 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 retirement.
Many more years passed, and my family circumstances changed. Now I was single and living alone with no family close by, and no loving relationship to fall back on. As I grew older there was, I felt, only personal ambition left to live for - the desire to achieve something satisfying with my life. My proper job at that time wasn't offering a real challenge for me, and practicalities and advancing age meant that a whole array of other ambitions - some realistic and some utterly fanciful - were reluctantly being discarded one by one. Writing however, is one ambition which can be done at any age, and even if J.K Rowling-esque 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 too implausible? Writing had resurfaced as the way forward for me, many years after I had discarded it.
Quite apart from my own personal circumstances which had motivated me to try again, there had been two other incalculably huge advances in the world of writing and publishing which had made everything so much easier for all of us since my first novel writing efforts all those years ago.
The first 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 novel. Back then I would rewrite it all even if I decided a single word was wrong on that page, 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.
The second big advance was of course the main subject of this article - the emergence of the internet as a tool for anyone and everyone to use. My philosophy was this - if you are going to write in a medium for people to read, then there is a hard way to do it and an easy way. One way - the traditional way adopted by writers for 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 gossmer-thin skin. So that was the hard way. And much too hard for me.
The alternative was 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, and 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 put a page online without any fear of rejection.
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.
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 all the basic functions of 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, but the computer jargon indulged in by I.T geeks left me even colder than any human tongue. If I really had to learn how to write HTML to compose web pages, 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 an alternative - not self-publishing on my own site, but writing on a 'content creation' site called 'HubPages' - a place set up by someone else who knew what they were doing with HTML, a place where one could write for free about almost anything one wished, and where the process of internet writing was made as simple as it can possibly be. I learned that you didn't need to know any computer codes; all you needed to do on a content creation site like 'HubPages' was to type 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, and then move them all about (drag and drop) and organise them on the page they'd provided. I knew I could do all that. So it was that I eventually signed up with 'HubPages' at the very beginning of the year 2011. I could now be an internet writer.
I began writing with enthusiasm and a positive frame of mind, and I knew exactly what I was going to write about. The very first page (called a 'hub' on HubPages) 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 of very little research, written as it was from my own personal experiences of travel. I wrote it and rewrote it (but with none of the hassle which would have existed if I'd been working on a typewriter) 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 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 believe it or not, I hadn't told a single friend of mine what I was doing, because it would have been much too embarrassing for me to deal with, if the critical consensus was that my writing was crap. I wouldn't have felt able to face them. And what's more I hid behind a username on HubPages so I could remain anonymous to everyone else. I wrote under the name of 'Greensleeves Hubs'. Nonetheless, despite these misgivings, the very thought of a complete stranger reading my work perhaps on the far side of the world, was something truly amazing. I sat back and waited with intense trepidation for the response.
None came, although I did know from the hub 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 of a similar kind. Still no response. Then I published a page of short stories, and after that I at last received my first feedback in the form of 'comments' at the bottom of the page. It was minimal, but very positive, and that was vital in providing the necessary encouragement to persevere. Now I finally plucked up the courage to tell a couple of friends at work and I asked them to review the first four pages, which they did, also in a quite favourable way.
I pressed on with renewed vigour and set myself a goal which I achieved, of publishing four more articles every month throughout 2011. I did so on every subject from natural history to ancient history, film reviews to flower photography. Traffic to my pages remained at the level of a trickle, but did seem to be increasing ever so slowly, as was feedback. Some of the other HubPage members were now becoming active 'followers', reading and commenting on many of the 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 on to 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 turning out to be 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 I'd find it rather easier to write than I did, and I'd hoped for a better 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 not still attracting the size of audience I would wish for. The trickle 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 better. Sometimes I would glance at another writer's articles and I'd see a long stream of comments, 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. Was it my relative shortcomings in internet know-how which meant 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 comments after publishing a page, and then nothing ever after, as if that page had become invisible'?
Without positives, HubPages could have been one huge let down.
But there were positives, and each time one of these presented itself to me, it lifted up the spirit and made me feel good - there had been those first followers of my articles, the first 'fan mail', the first visitor from off the HubPages site, and 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 there was also a big psychological plus simply from the physical and mental act of sitting down and writing. Away from the computer, 2011 and the two or three years which followed were turning out to be very difficult times personally, during which I really needed distractions. Internet writing began to serve that valuable function for me. Writing factually or creatively was a way to take myself out of my own increasingly troubled mind and think about other things far detached from me (in fact billions of miles detached in the case of some astronomy articles I published). And when I wrote 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 - UPS AND DOWNS
Whether I was feeling negative or positive about my writing, I knew I had to continue, because in my mind there was no alternative. And I began to realise that not all the negatives had been down to me. I 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 web article to determine its ranking in the Google search engines. These criteria more often than not have seemed to punish companies like HubPages lowering the rankings of their output, possibly because Google favours websites with more specialised content, or possibly because on a site with many thousands of writer-members, the quality produced on HubPages has inevitably been so variable in the past. In one year - ironically the year I joined - traffic to the whole site was slashed as a result of one of these algorithm changes. 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 the years and I came to learn which types of article were proving popular and which were not, making it easier to decide what to write about. 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 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 at least for as long as my hubs remained published. What's more it would of course increase if I published more, and I hoped 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, the opportunity had arisen 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 do it when life on HubPages was so relatively easy and safe?
It was HubPages themselves who finally pushed me over the edge of the crevasse.
A BIG DECISION
It wasn't just me or other writers who had experienced problems with the Google algorithms. When we suffered, it was merely a reflection of what the HubPages company themselves were also going through. We mustn't lose sight of the fact that although free to join, HubPages was not a charity - it was a business which made its profits by taking a share of the membership's advertising revenue. So they suffered through any drop in hub traffic just as surely as us writers did, and it became clear they were getting worried by Google policy decisions.
HubPages began to take drastic measures to improve the situation, 'unfeaturing' lower quality hubs, introducing subdomains specialising in particular subject themes, and acquiring one of their biggest rival content creation sites - Squidoo - in a friendly takeover. Some of the social elements were also curtailed so that staff could concentrate on the more important aspects of 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 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 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'd accepted as the price of having an absolutely free web space in which to easily 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 proud had been their attractiveness of design. I felt I was losing that as HubPages took more and more control.
I did fully understand the difficult position in which the staff at the site had found themselves. They had needed to adapt, and to do so 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.
More details of HubPages - my experiences there and the changes which led to my decision - is available on the companion page to this one : 'My Internet Writing : Starting Out on HubPages'
WIX WEBSITE BUILDER
Without wishing to sound like a broken record, even after seven years on HubPages, building my own sites remained a 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 too exorbitantly expensive, given that my sites' subject matter would not be commercial. I needed something different, and the answer seemed to be online website builder platforms, 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 seemed to be 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 WYSIWYG (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 found 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 independently 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 maintain a message in the header advising that the pages read best on the larger screen format).
There were 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 some of the apps will cost extra if you want a truly useful feature, and that is quite irritating. And it costs money to publish. There are various packages available and they're only a few dollars per month, but if your site is non-commercial, then you have to think seriously about that (of course unlike HubPages, any profit which does come, even from adverts, will belong exclusively to the writer). It remains to be seen, in my case, whether there will be any profit, as it is going to 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 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 present I am pleased with the commencement of my association with Wix.
MY WRITING TODAY ..... AND IN THE FUTURE
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 own sites.
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'). Now however, some of the articles originally on HubPages have been transferred or modified to appear here on my own websites built using Wix. They appear as subdomains under the main domain 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 you know writing can satisfy the soul of the writer in so many ways:
1) Writing factual content can bring the gratification of introducing its audience to a passion, a new hobby or an experience which may stimulate and enrich their lives.
2) Writing which expresses a personal opinion or a point of view can give one a sense of great purpose, highlighting an issue of importance or changing the mindset of others.
3) 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.
Any kind of writing can bring fulfillment. And that's as good a reason as any as to to why I'm still trying to do it and will continue to 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 an income which at least equals, if not exceeds, my expenditure on the websites, then that will be the icing on the cake.
So here we go. In the future, who knows? I may return to my 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. I will apply increasing experience to that as I learn, and I will be devoting hard work, 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.
I’d Love to Hear Your Comments. Thanks, Alun