When I started blogging in 2016, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. I wasn’t at all confident in my writing abilities or opinions, and I worried what friends and family would think of my weird little fragments and book reviews. So I created an anonymous site, Orchid’s Lantern, with a generic avatar and shared it with no one.
After a few months, I was amazed to find that complete strangers were subscribing, commenting, and genuinely enjoying my posts. I was told repeatedly that my writing had a powerful, raw quality to it (now, I’ll talk about that word raw some other time, but for now let’s assume it was a compliment). As my confidence grew, I felt more able to share what I was doing with my social circle. I no longer hid my real name on the site, I switched the avatar to a photo of myself, and I started putting out links on other channels and encouraging subscriptions.
In 2017, I began to embrace the idea that I wanted to publish a collection of my work as a book. I knew immediately that I would self-publish, and I set about learning how to make that happen. I published Fragments of Perception that November, and Mind in the Gap the following September. I was thrilled with the response to both books and thoroughly enjoyed the process of putting them together. My audience grew.
Then came this bizarre feeling that people were watching me now. Irrationally so, maybe, given the low volume of sales and visibility a self-published author typically has. But that feeling of having readers gave me a feeling of responsibility for producing quality content. I stopped sharing scraps of work, serial story drafts, little thoughts about the world and amateur poetry, and instead tried to focus on only putting out developed articles. I love writing articles, don’t get me wrong. But by doing only that, and second-guessing every one, my creative flow became inhibited. I was turning blogging into a job rather than an aid to the writing process. I was performing rather than sharing. And I ended up with a backlog of over 20 posts that in the anonymous days I wouldn’t have thought twice about putting out there, but now I just – couldn’t.
After Mind in the Gap, I decided I wanted to create an anthology. I wanted to turn Orchid’s Lantern into an small indie publisher and to showcase the works of others as well as my own. This added another dimension to the problem, in that it was forcing the original blog to evolve into something different. People would visit it to look at submission guidelines, and to read author interviews or the shop. The kind of followers it would attract changed radically. The days of being a platform for raw, personal or one-shot posts seemed to have passed.
At first I thought about starting over with anonymity again, to take away that concern for who was reading. A place to put my scraps without concern for what others think. But over the last week I have come to realise that I no longer want to be anonymous, and I don’t want to lose the supportive audience I already have; it’s only a place to play that I crave. A studio as well as a gallery.
So what I have decided to do is build a new blog in addition to Orchid’s Lantern. A C.R. Dudley blog (because let’s face it, people were often confused when I directed them to OL as my author site), where I will post whatever I like. I can go back to showing you fragments and little thoughts on my processes. I can be unpolished, raw, honest. And I can do it without losing my identity.
Just reaching this realisation has been a huge weight off my shoulders. I instantly feel like I can breathe again; like the words are ready to flow. I see now that there was conflict living inside me: Orchid’s Lantern was in my way of growing as a writer, and I as a writer was in the way of Orchid’s Lantern growing as a publisher/literary journal site (and I do intend to keep running it as such). It may seem strange to make this split when I am both C.R. Dudley and Orchid’s Lantern – isn’t that just creating extra work? Isn’t it a shame to start over with SEO and subscribers? Well, maybe. Or maybe we’ve all just got to do whatever is necessary in order to feel free.