The current situation is this: my reading and writing life is bracketed into the spaces where my kids are either asleep or at school, and sometimes it happens even when they’re home and awake, that is, if a short trip to Barnes & Noble or the Fainting Goat is doable without making things too stressful. The life of my mind, or at least the productive and creative parts of it, limits itself to the fringes: the morning commute*; the evening commute; Mondays (which are part of my weekends, given that I work Saturdays–reference laboratory hours); and after everyone else is asleep; or on those rare mornings when I wake before the kids, feeling alert enough to actually get out of bed, even though I technically don’t have to yet. These are difficult conditions under which to write a novel, much less maintain a regular blog. My blogs haven’t had regular schedules since their inceptions. But the writing is happening. Somehow, some way, the work gets done. Is it a miracle–a disruption of time and space? Or simply a testament to human determination?
When I was an undergraduate art student, the chairman of Union University’s art department at the time, a man of modern artistic vision and a facility with acrylic paint, advised that I pursue my art before taking on the responsibilities of a family. He had my interest in mind, and the wisdom in this is obvious, but I never could seem to make such a reasonable plan work. Now in my forties, I’m certain that the young put too much stock in so-called “callings,” when there’s so little we can actually know about how life will turn out. I’ve always been one to lay out the pieces first, inadvertently tossing a few about without caution, and then seek to assemble them into meaningful compositions later. This is how I’ve done life so far.
Do people really exist who make a plan and then execute it? Malcolm Gladwell says Picasso was like that, and he contrasts Picasso’s approach with that of Paul Cezanne, who was more of an experimenter. Picasso had brilliant flashes and then produced them; Cezanne dabbled and re-tried things, and eventually he’d stumble onto something great. If I’m to produce anything great, it won’t be in a flash like Picasso.
Even now, my body is calling for sleep, but I’m resisting with thoughts of content generation and search engine optimization–blogger concerns. I hear the heater kick on with a roar–a roar that fades into a hum; it’s a cold November night. The heater noise comes from upstairs, right in front of the doorway through which my two boys are sleeping. But this does not wake them. No, they’re waiting for 2:41 a.m., so they can invade our bed with maximum disruption. We haven’t had an uninterrupted night of sleep in months. This is the glorious life I’ve chosen.
This morning, the sky’s autumn blue was the richest I’ve seen so far this year–electric-looking, stung with freshness. It was a morning in which I’d like to have been hiking. The word “brisk” comes to mind (if we can separate it from mega corporate-peddled iterations of iced tea). Yes, I’m reclaiming “brisk,” taking it back from convenience store shelves and returning it to the kinds of things it used to describe, like walks on chilly mornings, or breaths that tighten and tickle the lungs. I acknowledge I may be out-of-touch with consumer trends. If the word “brisk” conjures in my mind bottles and cans of iced tea, then I may be the one with the problem and not the consuming public or the marketing and advertising firms that promote the brewed (hopefully) beverage (I envision machines mixing water with a patented “tea syrup” in giant vats, with tasters on the side determining the degree to which the substance mimics iced tea). Is Brisk Iced Tea still around? I guess my next trip into a gas station might answer this burning question, which I truthfully don’t really care to know the answer to, if I’m being honest. I don’t care. This is just the direction this blog happened to go.
It’s clear to me now, though, that the problem is at least partially mine. Maybe on some level, it’s society’s problem, but I’ll just own it for now: I resent the way companies hijack legitimate words for the purpose of making money. Like “monster” and “wrangler.” I guess the logophile in me resents that consumer products come to mind when those words are used, often before their original meanings come to mind. I know–first-world problem. But culture hinges on language, and associating a word with a mass-produced beverage before associating it with what it actually signifies has a way of easing us up the slope and into the shallow end, intellectually speaking.
This very blog is an example of how this phenomenon works. All I wanted to do, when I wrote the first sentence of this post, was praise the quality of the autumn sky’s blue. I found it inspiring. It had been cold when I was walking outside, but it was that sunny kind of cold that seems more palatable than the cloudy kind, so I was inclined to find it invigorating rather than uncomfortable. And the intense shade of blue that served as a backdrop for the trees struck me as a uniquely autumnal thing–particularly late autumn, when trees are almost bare but a few orange-brown oak leaves still stubbornly cling. And what’s the perfect word to describe a cold, invigorating breeze? You guessed it: brisk. Except when I landed on that word, I also landed on the idea of that rather unsavory form of tea that exists in bottles on convenience store shelves and in twelve-packs of cans in grocery stores. It then became difficult to separate the meaning of “brisk” from the marketed product that bears that same word as its name. But it didn’t stop there. Soon, one of the beverage’s slogans came into my consciousness: “That’s brisk, baby!” Except it’s not! It’s high viscosity tea syrup in a can, and tastes of chemicals and artificiality. I’m not a fan.
Imagine you’re an artist–a painter, specifically. Some months back, you set up a blog as a way to promote your work. A blog is a way to carve out virtual real estate, you reasoned, believing a lack of online presence was tantamount to non-existence. And these days, setting up a decent site costs relatively little and requires minimal learning . You told family and friends about it, and after excruciating deliberation over fonts and background colors, you finally published your first post: an artist statement accompanied by a couple of high-resolution photos of recent paintings. The world was opening up to you . . . or was it? You consistently generate brilliant content, but your readership has never approached what you thought it would. Luckily, a great tool for driving visitors to your site is probably already on your phone’s home screen: Instagram.
Chances are you have an Instagram account. Yet there’s also a chance you’re not maximizing Instagram’s potential for growing your brand. Perhaps you’ve never considered the photo-sharing platform as a marketing tool. Of course, you’ve posted pictures of your paintings here and there, and maybe you’ve even been encouraged by a few positive responses, but you know the response could be bigger. In fact, you need it to be bigger. Your dreams are at stake.
So you’ve shared your creative pursuits on Instagram, but what you haven’t done is learn how to leverage Instagram’s networking potential to drive visitors to your site–the true online showcase for your paintings. Good news: this can be achieved by sharing the blog itself. It’s the difference between simply letting people know you paint and showing them you’re a serious artist. If you share your site in this way, you’ll be surprised to learn how many of your followers haven’t realized you even have a blog, despite the link being right there in your Instagram bio. Everybody’s busy, so it sometimes takes an extra nudge to aim their attention in the proper direction.
Let’s look at some ways to share your blog via Instagram. First, never forget that Instagram is primarily a photo-sharing platform. This means your photo should be of good quality, even if it means using filters and effects (think of it as creative control). Everyone has seen the way professional photographers use Instagram to display their work. If you want your post to garner a second look, keep in mind the amazing quality out there. Also, your photo should relate directly to the content of your blog post: an actual photo from the post is ideal. Here’s a different approach: take a screenshot of your most current blog post and use it as the photo you share on Instagram to promote your blog (see photo at the top of this article); this not only announces your new post, it also allows people a tiny glimpse of the site, which hopefully has the effect of making them curious about what you’re doing.
Next, couple your photo with an excerpt from the particular blog post you are promoting. Use some form of lead-in to indicate that the excerpt was written by you. For example, you can say something like: I updated my blog!, or new post. You want viewers to know that you are the author. Following your lead-in, use quotation marks to imply that your excerpt is only a small part of a larger published piece online. Your excerpt should reveal just enough to whet a viewer’s interest. Neither over-share nor under-share. Your intuition will guide you in this, and it’s something you improve upon with time.
Here’s a crucial step, but it’s also one that is easily forgotten: after your excerpt, always mention that a link to the full article can be found in your Instagram bio, and then update your Instagram bio’s web link so it actually connects to your new blog post! More times than I care to admit, I’ve forgotten this step, and I can’t help but wonder how many potential visitors I might have missed.
Finally, optimize your hashtags. If you use Instagram, then it’s assumed you know what hashtags are. However, you may not realize how useful they can be in promoting your blog. Instagram allows thirty hashtags per post. Use all of them whenever possible. The goal is to maximize your reach. The hashtag search tool that pops up automatically in Instagram’s iPhone app, which is what I’m most familiar with, typically offers up multiple variations for most entries. For example, if I type #halloween in the text box, these are only a few of the options that appear: #halloweenmakeup; #halloweencostume; #halloweenmovie; #halloween2018.
Indeed, the list goes on and on. You can’t select all the hashtags, but you can select the most relevant ones. And because Instagram provides a number beside each one indicating how many times that hashtag has been used, you can strategically pick ones where your post has a greater chance of being seen. In other words, if a particular tag has been used eight million times, it’s more likely your post will get lost in the shuffle, but if it’s only been used eight-hundred times, your post is going to be visible for a longer period of time, thereby increasing the chances someone will click on it. And getting someone to click on your post is two-thirds of the battle.
Artists typically don’t want to bother with self-promotion–they’re natural-born makers, not marketers. However, social media has made the process a little less painful. This is fortunate, because an online presence is a necessity in modern times. A blog is a wonderful thing for an artist to have; the ability to update a blog regularly is perhaps the greatest perk of owning one, as opposed to a traditional website. Yet a blog must have visitors if an online presence is to have any meaning. Among the many social media platforms available, Instagram gets my vote for being the one that best lends itself to blog promotion. At least that’s what my own experience suggests.