Four years ago, I sat at the desk in my bedroom and wrote my very first blog. Little did I know that over the next four years I would write another 324 posts and that my blog would be viewed almost 900,000 times and now average around 1,000 views per day. So I would like to take a moment of reflection of the journey so far.
I set up this blog completely randomly and by chance. I happened to read a newspaper article about blogs and they sounded interesting so I set one up. At the time I was writing for the local college newspaper in UCD, the College Times and most of my blogs resemble the articles I wrote, they usually have an introduction and a conclusion. I couldn’t think of a proper name, so I just used my own and thus robertnielsen21.wordpress.com was registered and continued to be the name of my blog for the next three years.
But I hadn’t decided what to blog about. I was studying Economics and Politics at the time, but I wasn’t sure what to write about. I finally decided at a friend’s birthday party. You see, I spent the entire night in a political argument with some friends and was so engrossed I didn’t even speak to the girl I had a crush on. Like most arguments it got quite heated and because we were all drinking, the argument wasn’t particularly clear.
The next day, I began to think that I was doing something wrong. Arguing about politics with friends isn’t fun and you might end up losing friends. It’s also had to make coherent points after a few drinks, it’s much better to do it during the day when you are clear headed and can take time to make sure you are making sense. This way if anyone wanted an argument they could go to my blog and I would be free to enjoy an argument-free night out.
So from the beginning, this was going to be a political blog, discussing my opinions and not my personal life. What surprised me was how much I discussed religion, what I had thought would only be a minor part of the blog, dominated it for the first couple of months. But I have always kept close to the core of discussing economic and political matters. I tried a few new projects like writing book reviews or travel posts (which was a bit of a flop). I even started a satire blog, Not A Great Dane, but had to give it up for lack of time.
It’s interesting to reread some of those early blogs. In many ways, I am the same person, I am still an Atheist, still a Keynesian and still agree with the views in the posts. But the way I express the views has changed. For a start (I hope) my writing has gotten better. I didn’t really have much practice writing and the early posts have an awkwardness as I struggled to get a flow in my writing. The biggest change has probably been with Esperanto, something I had never heard of four years ago and is now a major part of my life. I am currently working in an Esperanto job and have an Esperanto blog (although I don’t post often).
There have been some interesting trends to my blog since the very beginning. For some reason, I get most of my views at the start of the week, around Monday or Tuesday before they gradually trail off. However, there is always a huge drop on Saturday when only about half the normal amount of people view my blog. There is also a seasonal cycle as viewers drop drastically during summer months and reach their peak during the winter. I guess that when people have free time and the weather is nice, they are less likely to read my blog.
Looking back, it’s interesting that some of my old commenters and fellow bloggers are still around and still blogging. Over time I started to notice a few regulars, people like Stephen Pruis, List of X, John Zande who were usually positive and people like donwreford whose comments are still completely unreadable and after all these years, he still crams an entire paragragh into a single sentence. There were other commenters along the way, people like GM who would write the most through point by point response to every post I wrote. I did enjoy debating with him, even if he was an extremist. There was Prayson Daniel one of the politest commenters to ever disagree with me and despite the fact that we hold opposite views, he even let me write two guest posts for his blog.
But overall, the quality of comments is pretty low and I don’t respond to most of them anymore. Posts relating to religion are the worst as they attract the strangest and most incoherent posts that are clearly copy and pasted, possible from another language. The worst comment section is without doubt the comments on “Was The Irish Famine Genocide?” It started badly with some IRA supporting and Brit-bashing which is to be expected but took a strange turn when a Holocaust denier showed up. He must have spent hours writing hundreds of comments, most of which were hundreds, if not thousands of words long about how the Holocaust never happened and how the Jews secretly controlled the world. I laughed a bit, I argued some and I mostly ignored. There are about 950 comments on that post and most of them are rubbish.
One of the problems I have with the blog is that there is no community and I have no idea what most people think of what I write. As most people don’t have a WordPress account, they can’t easily comment or subscribe to my blog, so I don’t think there is a continuing base of readers. I think most people only come for a specific post, though I can’t know for sure. For this reason I set up a Facebook page a few months ago, but it’s still finding its feet.
Last year, I figured that I couldn’t just use my name for the blog, plus I was looking for work and felt that some privacy would be useful. Employers aren’t always going to be favourable towards left wing Atheists who want to raise their taxes. So I looked around for a name, preferably some expression or figure of speech, which seem to be the best blog names. “Whistling In The Wind” caught my eye not only because it sounds good but also because I often feel as if I am whistling in the wind.
I don’t really understand how posts become popular. I have written some (what I think are) brilliant posts that took hours to write, but sink without a trace, while other mediocre posts get big hits even years later. In the early days, the most popular post was A Visit To The Gates Of Hell, about my trip to Auschwitz, which I originally wrote for the College Times. Every day for a year or two, it was usually the top post. Was The Irish Famine Genocide was my next big hit and it was even freshly pressed, that is to say that the admins of WordPress were so impressed with it that it made a special shortlist (to my absolute delight). Taxation Is Not Theft has been experiencing a big boost lately and Why Communism Failed is quite reliable. Yet nowadays the most popular post is one that was hardly read when I first published it and in its second month didn’t receive a single view. Yet after a year of being one of my least viewed posts, Terrible Parts of the Bible #5: Racism, gradually worked its way to the top and has now received twice as many views as my second most popular post, although I don’t know why.
A fact that causes me some embarrassment and I can’t explain, is that one of my most popular posts is by far one of my worst written. War Is A Racket is a terrible piece, written when I first started the blog and still didn’t know what I was doing. Basically I saw an interesting video and typed a little without thinking too much. The result was awful and was hardly viewed by anyone for a year until the inexplicable happened. For some mysterious reason, a link was posted on the /r/Books subreddit on Reddit. This was strange because my post didn’t have anything to do with books and the link didn’t even link to the post, but rather to a comment beneath it. Despite this, the post was highly upvoted and my blog received 25,000 views that day, making it the most popular day ever for my blog.
The strangest experience relates to a post of mine “10 Questions for Atheists“. I had noticed that bloggers were asking and responding to questions about their beliefs and thought I would join them by picking the ten best questions. That was fine until 18 months later a Christian website referenced my questions. However, they ran it with the subtitle of “Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer!” despite the fact that I had obviously answered them and they even linked my blog in their post (they have now removed the link). I have no idea how someone could read my post, see my answers and then take the questions from it while pretending that it is impossible for Atheists to answer. You couldn’t make it up.
How do I write a blog? Well, the easiest part is coming up with the idea. My head is always buzzing with ideas and projects, I used to keep a list of potential blog topics, except that every time I wrote a blog I would have an idea for 2 or 3 more, so that the list eventually had more than 100 ideas. The problem is that I don’t always follow through with these ideas or don’t feel in the particular mood for that particular topic. Actually writing a blog is far harder than you would think and the typical post takes the best part of a day. Often I’ll start it one day and finish it the next (which is what I’m doing with this post too). I don’t think I’ve ever written a post in less than an hour or two and some have dragged on for days. Part of the problem is that I can’t really focus and get easily distracted, writing is frequently interrupted by checking Facebook and Youtube. So three hours of “work” might be only 20 minutes of writing and the rest procrastinating. Lately I’ve resorted to blocking websites with Cold Turkey or using Writer’s Block which prevents me from doing anything but writing until a certain time is up or word count reached. Other times I get literal writer’s block and have spent whole days staring at the blank screen in frustration.
The actual process of writing involves me making a cup of tea (I have never began a single blog without a cup of tea) and attacking a topic on laptop at a desk usually in my bedroom (I have moved several times over the years, but each location is usually similar to the others). There are usually a few pauses and tea breaks, though I think long breaks hurt more than they help, which doesn’t stop me from taking them. I would like to say that I carefully work over each post until it’s perfect, but often I am so sick of even the sight of the post that I publish it just to be rid of it. Posts are often like college essays, you start enthusiastically, get gradually worn down, until by the end you don’t care whether it’s good or nonsense, you just want it to be done.
One thing I learned was how exhausting writing it. Usually when I finish a blog, I feel completely drained. It’s like I poured my heart and soul into my writing and now feel emotionally and mentally sapped. After a post I usually just want to lie down and am often so fed up that I don’t even want to look at my blog for a few days. I often swing in my feelings towards my blog. Often I feel fed up with it, that’s it’s only work, that my writing sucks and hardly anyone cares. So I take a break from writing, but usually I get inspiration and find some topic I feel is worth discussing so I spend hours on it until I am fed up again.
Finding the time to blog is a huge problem. Back when I started and was still in college, I could find the time to blog every second day. But since then, as the novelty wore off and I started to have less time, once a week was all I could afford. Nowadays, when I’m working, even that is difficult. You can follow the path of my career by reading the number of blogs I posted per month. The long college summer holidays gave me plenty of time, which dropped off as college got more difficult and serious. The free period in between college and work led to a boost but when I had a full time job I had little time to blog. When that job ended I had more free time while I looked for work and now that I am in a volunteer job (so working but with free time) the blogs are somewhere in the middle.
I don’t know what the future of this blog will be. I enjoy blogging and even consider some kind of career in writing. However, it is a hugely time and effort consuming activity that must be balanced with work and leisure time. Sometimes I just want to relax in the evening rather than try to change the world. Either way, I’ll take it one step at a time and thank you for reading!