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.
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.
As I sit home from work today sick, I’m feeling a little useless. But the congestion in my chest, which, this morning, caused a sharp pain unlike any I’ve ever felt with this type of sickness, in all my years of sinus and congestion type infections (I’m good for at least two of these illnesses a year, and lately it’s been more, probably because of kids)–this pain and congestion demanded I stay home and rest. So in my forced uselessness, at some point in the morning, I remembered the Virginia Woolf essay, “On Being Ill,” which I read not so long ago in grad school. Though healthy when I read it, nonetheless, her take on the mental state we assume in sickness resonated. She addresses the sort-of limbo we find ourselves in when given permission to do nothing all day. We remove ourselves from society for a day or two, which is an odd situation for a working, fairly responsible adult and parent. We’re not sure how we’re supposed to feel. Well, rather than try and wrest from my virus-addled brain a substantial blog post, I decided to have Virginia Woolf speak for me. The following is an excerpt from that essay. Enjoy one of the greatest writers ever (and my personal favorite!):
“There is, let us confess it (and illness is the great confessional) a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals. . . . [The] illusion of a world so shaped that it echoes every groan, of human beings so tied together by common needs and fears . . . where however strange your experience other people have had it too, where however far you travel in your own mind someone has been there before you–is all an illusion. We do not know our own souls, let alone the souls of others. Human beings do not go hand in hand the whole stretch of the way. There is a virgin forest, tangled, pathless, in each. . . . Here we go alone, and like it better so. Always to have sympathy, always to be accompanied, always to be understood would be intolerable. But in health the genial pretense must be kept up and the effort renewed–to communicate, to civilise, to share, to cultivate the desert, educate the native, to work by day together and by night to sport. In illness this make-believe ceases. Directly the bed is called for, or, sunk deep among pillows in one chair, we raise our feet even an inch above the ground on another, we cease to be soldiers in the army of the upright; we become deserters. They march to battle. We float with the sticks on the stream; helter skelter with the dead leaves on the lawn, irresponsible and disinterested and able, perhaps for the first time in years, to look round, to look up–to look, for example, at the sky.” (1925)
Virginia Woolf knew much more about illness than I, suffering as she did with extended bouts of depression, but isn’t there something in that passage that anyone who’s ever stayed home sick from work can recognize? I loved it immediately, because I’d never seen anyone write about this type of thing. You’d be doing yourself a favor to read the entire essay, and while you’re at it, read a few more. You simply can’t read too much Virginia Woolf.