Monday, December 05, 2011

GUEST POST: Blogging for happiness

Ellen Arnison with her sons
Ellen Arnison on the difference that blogging has made to her life and how she has turned her experiences into a book.

“Why should I blog then?” It’s a question I’ve been asked several times over the past few weeks and it’s a surprisingly difficult one to answer.

Blogs are as varied as the noses on the faces of the people who write them, but, done right, a blog can bring myriad benefits.

My blog has improved my sanity, created work opportunities, made me new friends, found me communities to join, taught me new skills and given me the chance to be creative.

I started my blog, In a Bundance,  on 28 April 2007. I had just started working as a freelance journalist and – in the absence of colleagues  – it seemed like an entertaining diversion.

I’d like to say I didn’t have any ambitions for my blog but, along with most people who enjoy writing, that’s not strictly true. I had this fantasy that a publisher would happen along, like what they saw and offer me a book advance large enough to pay off the mortgage.

However, apart from the entirely implausible, I didn’t have real ambitions for my blog.

There’s a notion that journalism is creative, but it isn’t really. You tend to write what someone else tells you to, to a formula and you aren’t, generally, allowed let the reader know what you think.

So writing a blog was a liberation. For the first time in decades I could write what I wanted, in the way I wanted. No one was going to care about style, substance, or the fact I was – for once – voicing opinion. I could make up words, break punctuation rules which, for a journalists and rehabilitated sub-editor, was heady stuff.

Then I realised that blogging slightly shifted the way I looked at the world. On high days and holidays, when I knew I was planning to write something I started using my blogging goggles. It meant that I looked at things properly - paying attention. Without sounding too ‘out there’ blogging goggles make it easier to ‘be in the moment’.

Through my blog I have got to know a great many fantastic people, I’ve attended conferences for bloggers and been asked to speak at events.

In an attempt to improve the way my blog looked. I dug out my camera and started snapping. Little by little I was able to improve the quality of the photos I took, work out how to enhance them a bit and now my blog pictures look a little better.

A whole series of life’s ups and downs arrived all at once. Not long after my third son was born, I realised that I had postnatal depression, but before I had the chance to seek help my brother died unexpectedly.
It’s fair to say the next few weeks were some of the most difficult I’d ever had. But my biggest worry while I was trying to come to terms with everything was the effect it was having on my three kids. I realised I was too caught up in my own emotions to give them what they needed.

So I started trying to find a single positive thing to write about each of them every day. They were silly or sweet things that they’d said or done. Fleeting things that previously I’d barely even noticed. Gradually, looking for these things started to change the way I was thinking about the boys and eventually helped to lift my mood.

I also found that writing about some of the more difficult times helped me to deal with them. Almost as if putting them in a blog post and publishing them enabled me to tick them off a list of things to do.
About this time, I entered a writing competition held by the website of our TV station and was really chuffed to be shortlisted.  In the end I didn’t win, but I got to know some of the people at the site and had the chance to do some work there. I still regularly write for

But STV isn’t the only work I’ve gained from my blog. I was invited to write for other sites, both in my own voice and as a ghost blogger.

I have been able to earn a small amount of money directly through my blog through sponsored posts and advertising but nothing like what my blog has earned me in its capacity as a showcase for what I do. Blogging has had a huge influence on my career.

I’m still learning through my blog – or at least getting helpful feedback. For example, not long ago I was struggling with my 12-year-old son. He has Asperger’s syndrome and people with Asperger’s can be terribly enthusiastic on their favourite subject. Every time my boy opened his mouth it was to give me a lecture about something – at that point I think it was fire safety. Now, I’m all for fire safety, but I really didn’t need to hear about it for hours on end. This was making me really cross with my son even though I know it’s just what he does – his way of communicating.

So I blogged about how I felt. About how I knew I wasn’t really listening to him and generally being snappy when he started to talk. The response I got back was fantastic. Lots of other Asperger’s parents commented – they felt the same, they understood, they knew it was hard, but it would pass. They had some helpful suggestions about ways of coping.

Blogging as a route to happiness was idea that grew in my head until I had the audacious notion that it might just make a book... Blogging For Happiness is available on Amazon.

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