The emerging blogger series

The emerging blogger series logo

The emerging blogger series is something I want to try out as a way to give mental health bloggers who are in the early stages of their blogging evolution the chance to have their writing seen by a wider audience.

The plan is that every week I’ll publish an emerging blogger mental health-themed guest post by someone whose blog has less than 50 WordPress followers.  Yes, 50 is a very arbitrary number, but I picked it because I remember when I first started blogging those first 50 followers felt like the hardest to find and connect with.  I may change that number depending on how many people are wanting to participate.

If you’re interested, email me at mentalhealthathome (at) gmail (dot) com with a brief description of what you’d like to write about, as well as your blog website.  As long as it fits with the general theme/tone of Mental Health @ Home (i.e. mental health-related in some way, and not broadly disparaging about any form of mental health treatment) we can move forward from there!

Intro to the blogging & blossoming series

branch with cherry blossoms

shell_ghostcage on Pixabay

I’m a member of a newly formed group called the Best Life Collaborative.  We are a diverse group of people from all over the world who have come together with a shared mission – to help everyone live their best life. Each of us have gone through our own struggles, faced challenges that we weren’t sure we would overcome, and yet continue to work to make our lives better than we ever imagined! We want the same for each of you.

To get things rolling I’m starting a blogging & blossoming series of posts that will look at ways to nurture and grow your blog.

You can check out the series intro here.

How to build a mental health blog

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game, but I think what’s really important in building a high quality mental health blog is engagement with the mental health community.  This has little to do with numbers and a whole lot to do with human connection.  I’m by no means an expert on any of this, but here are some strategies I’ve stumbled across in my time blogging that hopefully you might find useful when it comes to engagement.

Interact with the blogging community

This is my biggest recommendation.  Read other blogs that are in your niche, and like and comment on those blogs.  Search in the WordPress reader for blogs in that niche that you’re not following yet.  Also, check who else is commenting on the blogs you’re following; that can be a good way to connect with some new people who are interested in the same kind of topics.  Be genuine about trying to engage, because if you get spammy about it, you’re only likely to generate eye rolls.

Make sure your gravatar is connected to your blog site.  Click on your gravatar image on the top right corner of the WordPress reader website, and scroll down to profile links.  Make sure your correct blog address is there.  Sometimes I’ll see someone has followed me and I’m interested in checking out their blog, but I can’t get to it because I get a message saying the blog no longer exists.

If you get an idea from someone else’s post for a topic you want to write about, run with it.  Just make sure to include a link to their post in your own post.  It’s a good way to show you appreciate other bloggers and are part of the community dialogue.

Make your blog easy to read

I think this is particularly important in the mental health blogging niche, since a lot of us have problems with concentration related to our illnesses.  Pay attention to the length of your paragraphs.  With really long paragraphs you run the risk that the reader (such as me) won’t be able to maintain focus through a long unbroken wall of text and will give up on reading that post.  That doesn’t mean you can’t have long posts; just break them up into smaller paragraphs, and maybe throw an image in there somewhere.

Also, think about whether your choices of font and background colours are are easy to read.  Bright colours may add visual interest, but if they’re making it harder to focus on the text readers may be less likely to finish the whole post, which means they’re not going to be interacting with what you have to say.

Include some evergreen content

Evergreen content doesn’t go out of date, and people will continue to read and engage with it well after it’s first published.  A sign that you’ve got some evergreen content is when you keep getting a trickle of views/likes/comments weeks or months after you’ve published a post.  Consider doing follow-up posts on those topics or doing similar kinds of posts every so often to get a mix of evergreen and right-now kind of content.

Use social media

I’m not on Facebook or Instagram, so I can’t comment on those.  On Twitter, you definitely get back what you put in.  I tend to find Twitter overwhelming so I’m not very active on it, and that’s reflected in the amount of traffic that it directs to my blog.

With Pinterest, I used to pin straight from my published blog posts, and got very little traffic.  At some point I started creating designs on Canva and using those to make pins connected to my blog posts.  This bumped up my traffic from Pinterest considerably.  It’s hard to say how many of those people are actually engaging with my posts, but at least there’s the possibility.

Consider SEO

I’m certainly not a search engine optimization (SEO) guru.  Wordpress doesn’t offer advanced SEO tools on the free plan, so I have no experience there, but there are still some things you can do.  I got almost no traffic from search engines in the early days, and it wasn’t until my blog had grown substantially that I started to see that it was reaching people doing mental health-related searches  Still, I think it’s worth getting a foundation of some basic SEO strategies in place right from the get-go.

Google loves external links to your site; these show that not only are you active on your blog, but you’re out there in the broader online community.  These links can be hard to accumulate, but guest posting on other sites (see the next section) can definitely help.  Internal links also matter; this refers to links you include in a post to other posts on your site.  These links can also help your readers to refer back to your other content they may have missed originally.  Google Search Console is a useful tool for keeping track of all this.

Google (and of course blog readers) pays attention to your post name and headings, so make sure those accurately reflect your content.  You can also use tags for your posts, although keep in mind WordPress allows a maximum of 15 tags, after which it will just ignore all your tags.  Making sure your tags are relevant helps people to find your posts.  Google can’t see the images on your site, but what it can see is the “alt text” for each image, so you should enter a descriptive alt text for every image you use.  This is also helpful for any of your readers who are visually impaired.

Share your story

If you share your story with popular mental health sites like Stigma Fighters and Time to Change you can reach a much broader audience, and that can bring some brand new readers back to engage with your blog.  You can find listings of a variety of sites you can submit your writing to in my posts Spreading your writing wings and Ways to share your story.

Another option is to keep an eye out for fellow bloggers looking for a guest poster, or talk to a blogger you engage with regularly about doing a collaboration.  It can help you connect with other bloggers you might not have encountered yet.

Other sources of information

There are countless sites and articles with tips about increasing blog traffic.  Probably the most useful I’ve come across is a post on Startbloggingonline.com.  It has an extensive list of options, and while some of them are more business-oriented, many are also useful for the casual blogger.  A lot of sites focus on monetization, and it’s easy to start feeling like you’re drowning in the sea of information when it comes to that.  Keep in mind whether tips on a given site are geared toward a blog with the same purpose as yours, because pushy marketing strategies are probably not going to be very successful with a smaller-scale mental health blog.

Conclusion

There is no one right way to blog.  The most important thing is that it feels right for you.  Having engagement on your blog, whether that’s 10 loyal followers or 1000, can help make the blogging experience more meaningful.

What has helped you to generate engagement on your blog?

Mystery Blogger Award

Mystery blogger award logo

Woot woot!  I’ve been nominated for the Mystery Blogger Award by Eternal ConversationsTherapy BitsMy Inner MishMashThis Girls’ Got Curves, and Scarlett’s BPD corner.  Thanks so much!  And for anyone who hasn’t already checked out these blogs, you should most definitely do so.

What I like most about doing these award posts is hopefully being able to give people some new ideas of great blogs to follow.  To those I’m nominated, please don’t feel like you have to do an award post.  I know they can be a lot to take on, and I certainly take my sweet time doing them.

The Mystery Blogger Award:

Mystery Blogger Award is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts.  Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates.  They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get.  This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.  – Okoto Enigma

Rules:

  • Put the award logo/image on your blog.
  • List the rules.
  • Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Tell your readers 3 things(facts or anything you want to share) about yourself.
  • Answer the questions you were asked(if any)
  • Nominate 10 – 20 people & notify.
  • Ask your nominees any 5 questions(optional) of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify).

 

Question from Eternal Conversations:

If you’re supposed to become an animal, then what animal on this whole planet you would like/choose to become ?!  I would pick dolphin.  They’re smart and they get to frolic around in the water – sounds like a pretty good existence!

Questions from Therapy Bits:

  1. How do you view your past? I try to avoid looking at the past, which is probably not a good thing.
  2. How do you view your future? I used to have a fairly clear idea of what my future might be like, but now I have no idea.
  3. What is the most gooey, cheesy thing you like to eat?  Mac and cheese with bacon.
  4. If you changed careers for the love of it, what would you be doing?  I love my career as a nurse and wouldn’t change that, but I would like to change up where I’m working.
  5. Do you consider yourself to be good at math(s)?  I’m good enough to do basic math in my head, but it’s never been a subject that really interested me.

Questions from My Inner MishMash:

  1. What’s your biggest fear? Spiders.  If I’m watching a movie or something that shows a spider I need to cover my eyes until it’s gone.
  2. What’s your biggest accomplishment in life? I was really proud of getting my master’s degree in psychiatric nursing.
  3. How many Jacks or Jackies do you know and do you like them (this weird one).  Hmm, the only person I can think of is a girl I knew way back in university.  She had a nice alliterative name (jackie Jarvis), and yes, I did like her.  
  4. Do you like your job? If you’re not working, what job would you like to have?  I love being a nurse, but my current jobs are just so-so.
  5. Do you write anything else besides on your blog?  I’ve done some guest posts on other sites, and in the past I’ve written about mental health in several nursing journals.

Questions from This Girl’s Got Curves:

  1. What do you want to be doing five years from now?  I really don’t know.  I used to have a much clearer idea of where I wanted my life to go, but the future has gotten a lot fuzzier.
  2. Who do you most look up to and why (alive or dead, famous or family)?  I really admire the Dalai Lama and the message he puts out to the world.
  3. What do you do first in the morning?  Feed the guinea pigs.  Sometimes they can tell I’m awake because they hear me shifting around in bed and they start squeaking to demand their food NOW.
  4. What is your favorite song?
  5. (Silly) What is the oldest thing in your fridge? Probably fish sauce that I use for Thai cooking.  I don’t know why they make the bottle so big when you use so little at a time.  I figure there’s so much salt and who knows what else in there that it just never goes bad.

Questions from Scarlett’s BPD Corner:

  • What was the most important experience in your life?  Probably my first episode of depression when I got really sick and spent 2 months in hospital.  Not important in a good way, but it hugely impacted the direction my life has gone in since then.
  • What makes you keep going?  Probably inertia, mostly.  My pet guinea pigs are also helpful in this respect.
  • If you had to choose between streaking and eating the same meal for 5 years, what would you choose? That would depend on so many factors, but probably the same meal.
  • What was the post you enjoyed writng the most? Talk a bit about it and why it made you feel so much enjoyment?  I think I get the most satisfaction out of posts that involve ranting about stigma.  There’s just something satisfying about a good rant.
  • What is your favorite topic or theme to talk about in your blog?  Anything mental health-related.

My nominees:

I’ve picked as nominees blogs that (at least according to the vast wisdom of my blogging spreadsheet) I haven’t nominated for awards before.  Rather than give you new questions to answer, feel free to pick from whichever of the questions I was asked that you find the most interesting.

 

So my friends, there you have it.  Thanks again to Eternal ConversationsTherapy BitsMy Inner MishMash, This Girls’ Got Curves, and Scarlett’s BPD corner! xoxo  I hope you’ll check out all of the blogs I’ve linked to in this post, because they are fabulous.

 

Monthly Mix – March

Revenge of Eve

Revenge of Eve is kicking off a monthly mix including her affirmations and Wednesday words of the day.  I’m going to join in the fun, so here we go!

When you combine an ailurophile brother and a guinea-pig-o-phile sister (aka me) and their familes, you get quite the assemblage of little critters.  Twies the cat boldly roams around looking for things to chew, from bamboo to aglets.  The guinea pigs are far less brave and prefer to snuggle under their fleecy blanket, which is their most valuable possession.  After a nice visit with everyone on their best behaviour, the critters are all worthy of some yummy treats.

Twies the cat sitting in a laundry basketthe guinea pigs  begging for food

Spreading your writing wings

duck

So, you’re loving writing your own blog but you’re looking to try something new and expand further out into the world?  Well, there’s actually a lot of opportunities to do just that, so I thought I’d share with you what I’ve been able to find.  Sharing your story is an important way to participate in the fight against stigma.

Guest posts

There are lots of sites that publish guest posts related to mental health; some are looking for your personal stories, while others are open to writing focused on various mental health topics.  There are blogs on WordPress where you can do this, but here I’m going to focus on sites outside of WordPress.  My impression is that you don’t have to be an experienced blogger or have lots of followers to get a guest post published; what matters is writing something that will resonate with people.

  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Lifesavers Blog: publishes posts that educate people about suicide and convey hope/healing/resilience
  • Bring Change to Mind: share your personal story in writing or on video
  • Buddy Project: share your story as part of the You Are Not Alone campaign
  • Defying Mental Illness: share your story in the form of a loosely structured interview
  • Healthable; accepts articles on a variety of topics
  • I am 1 in 4: tell your story; prompts are provided to help give you ideas
  • Mental Health Talk: share your story and become one of their Superhero bloggers
  • The Mighty:  The Mighty is a very popular site with some amazing content.  I haven’t felt confident enough to submit an article to them yet, but it is a goal of mine.
  • Mind: This UK-based mental health charity gives you the opportunity to share your story on their site, and offers lots of guidance on how to go about it and what to write about.
  • Mind Body Green: they’re looking for articles related to wellness
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): share personal stories
  • NoStigmas: share your voice in the fight against stigma
  • OC87 Recovery Diaries: share your mental health recovery story
  • Outrun the Stigma: looking for personal stories, and provides prompts to guide you
  • Pick the Brain: welcomes posts on self-improvement for their community blog
  • Respect Yourself: publishes guest blog posts related to mental wellness in youth.  They published a post I submitted on youth suicide prevention.
  • SANE: this UK-based mental health charity has monthly blogging themes
  • #SickNotWeak: tell your story
  • Stamp Out Stigma: share your story
  • Stigma Fighters: share you personal story.  They published a story I submitted about experiencing stigma in the workplace.
  • This Is My Brave: share your recovery journey in written or video form
  • Time to Change: publishes personal stories geared to the general public with an aim of changing people’s views of mental illness.  They published a story I submitted for their #Inyourcorner campaign about how a friend with mental illness and I supported each other.

Other ideas

  • Feedspot: The cool thing about Feedspot is they do ranking lists, including a top 60 mental health blogs list.  When I submitted my blog to their directory a few months ago they offered to feature my blog if I paid them (which I didn’t do), but then this month I ended up on their top 60 list (I’m not really sure what the criteria are for this, but presumably you need to have submitted your blog to them).
  • Psych Central: Psych Central has a lot of great content of their own, but they also have a resource directory that includes links to mental health blogs that have been submitted.

It’s easy to stay in my comfort zone and write for my own blog, but I’m glad that I’ve pushed myself to try new things   There’s a fear of rejection that goes along with submitting a guest blog, but that’s probably good practice.  Hopefully it will help move me forward towards my goal of submitting more work to academic journals.  And really, any excuse to write is a good thing.

 

Image credit:  John Fowler on Unsplash

Happy Valentine’s Day to us all

 

heart-shaped I love you pillow and 14 February blocks

Valentine’s Day sometimes seems like it has two primary purposes: gross commercialism, and making single people feel like crap.  Flower and chocolate-sellers win, single people lose.

Well, I’m a single person and I’m here to say f*** that sh*t.  I would much rather snuggle into the warm, cozy, loving blogging community.  So happy Valentine’s Day to us all, and sending out lots of love, especially to those who need it the most.

 

Image credit: Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay

How and why I write

pen.jpg

During my recent beach vacation, I decided to go almost entirely offline, but I still wanted to keep writing.  That meant rocking it old school with paper and pen.  It felt very different writing on paper, something I seldom do anymore.  I’m typically not particularly linear in my writing; I like to cut and paste and shuffle things around, and that just doesn’t work well on paper.  My handwriting is much slower than my typing, so my train of thought chugs along faster than my pen can keep up, leading to a barely legible mess with words that are often cut short or omitted entirely.

Sometimes whatever is going through my brain gets a little garbled in the journey onto paper.  Consider the following that was apparently supposed to be part of this post: “I think thoughts but feel no compunction to get them down on paper.  Laziness breeds contentment, I think.  Even when that contentment is barely legible”.  Huh?  I remember thinking at the time how cool it was that the word compunction popped into my head, even though it doesn’t actually mean what at the time I appear to have thought it did (no quick Google search to the rescue!).

I didn’t anticipate how much I’d end up writing during my vacation, and it also didn’t cross my mind that the hotel would have a notepad or some other form of paper product handily available in the rooms.  I had brought some scrap paper along that I intended to use for any writing I did on the plane ride, and every available space ended up crammed with writing, as shown in the photo below.  I guess there were a lot of thoughts just waiting to leap onto the page.  I had my various pieces of paper folded up and tucked into my bullet journal, and only once did the breeze pick them up; luckily they didn’t go too far and didn’t scatter.

IMG_0666

Do I write more for me or for other people?  Some of both, I suppose.  I choose topics based on what I want to write about rather than what I think others might expect of me, but I do hope to add to the broader dialogue about mental illness and stigma, and toss in some of my professional knowledge as well where it might be helpful.  Writing has a lot of therapeutic value for me.  Through writing I’m often able to develop greater insights, along with the occasional profound epiphany.  The writing process forces me to mould the disjointed odds and ends of my thoughts into a more neat, organized whole.  Being able to read others’ blogs helps contextualize my own experience in the greater scheme of things, and that’s been really useful.

I get writing ideas from many sources, including personal experiences and what I read in other blogs.  For the most part I’ve chosen to try to focus my posts around specific topics rather than my daily experiences; this is mainly because I crave that kind of order, which tends to be in short supply in other area of my life.  When I first started blogging, I thought I should keep a slower pace with my writing to avoid running out of ideas.  But what I have realized over the last few months is that the more I write and read, the more ideas I have.  There is so much to say that I no longer give any thought to the idea well running dry.  What matters in terms of pacing myself is making sure I don’t feel overloaded and can give enough thought to each post to really get out of it what I need to.

Being the organization nut that I am, I have a blogging spreadsheet.  All things blog-related get captured there, which works well because my memory is crap and I get easily overwhelmed.  I don’t have to worry about losing ideas that pop into my head, because they go immediately onto my spreadsheet.  Another favourite tool of mine is the scheduling feature on WordPress.  I always have several posts waiting in the queue, and then mix in an assortment of more on-the-spot posts that reflect what’s going on in the moment.  The pre-written posts keep me from feeling any sort of pressure to write at any particular time.

Since I started blogging, I’ve had mixed feelings around reading other bloggers’ posts about number of followers, views, etc.  I’m absolutely happy for them, but the personal goal that I set when I started blogging was to keep my headspace away from numbers.  There’s great value in growing a blog’s reach and spreading important messages as widely as possible.  For me, though, I recognize that I could very easily get sucked into a pattern of passing negative judgments on myself based on comparing numbers, so I prefer to try not to let myself go down that road at all.

I’d say that spending a week at the beach doing a lot of writing was a great reminder about the value of being simple and raw in writing.  Rather than editing as I go along, as I do while typing, sometimes it’s good to just let it all flow and then pull it together afterwards.  Just because writing on my laptop is faster and easier doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to bring it back to pen and paper sometimes.  If nothing else it’s an exercise in trying to develop myself further as a writer.

Regardless of how and why any of us write, I think the important point is that we are writing, and using writing to share our voices.  That’s how change happens in the world.

 

Image credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash