Don’t be a Basic Bitch Blogger

Last week I wrote about the blogosphere being full of crap, how it’s reached stratospheric levels of banality and indentikit self-promotional bullshit. I’m going a step further today, imploring you not to be a basic bitch, or basic bro. Please, don’t be a basic blogger.

If you’ve just joined the blogosphere, then I hope you can excuse my vitriol. I’m sure you’re busy learning about marketing your content on social media & building backlinks, not to mention taking part in Twitter chats, getting involved in the blogging community, plus attending events and working with brands.

However, you need to drop that basic blogger shit. That is not what blogging is about.

I’ve always been against blogs who publish their income. It’s the wrong message to give about the nature of blogging, it makes the conversation about money, not ideas. Some of the high rolling blogs started a long time ago, way before ‘monetisation’ and founded on the love of blogging’s pure essence. The income followed because they were damn good at what they do.

Financial gain should never be the first and foremost topic in blogging. It’s financially rewarding for some talented individuals, but please, never use money as a motivation for blogging, because it will bury your soul. Working for brands contradicts the foundation of blogging as an independent, easily accessible form of publishing.

If the blogosphere can be easily scooped up and pocketed by industry, it simply makes bloggers look like the shallow amateur puppets of vanity and greed which so many end up being.

Acting as a glorified digital billboard for any brand that offers you a batch of freebies simply degrades your personal sense of worth and simultaneously devalues bloggers collectively, even further.

You may think that getting paid by a brand is great, that getting paid for your hobby is awesome? Think again. It’s very hard to do anything of personal, authentic value with a corporate rod for your back.

I was invited to attend an exclusive blogger event, at the point in my blogging career when offers of working with brands felt extraordinarily flattering. I accepted, unfalteringly. The marketing company laid on a lovely event where bloggers were getting involved with the new product - Hovis Chia Seed sliced bread.

That’s the first thing I got wrong. Wheat and sliced bread are things I never, ever use on my blog. Spelt flour, yes. My own baking recipes, yes. But regular wheat in a loaf of supermarket-bought sliced bread is simply a no go; not to mention catachlysmically boring to write about afterwards. What the hell was I thinking? Accepting an invitation to write about sliced bread? Jesus Christ, I was mad. Mad in the desperate quest for attention and an ego massage.

I turned up to the hip offices of the marketing firm and was led to a meeting room filled with enough sandwich fillings to feed the five thousand.

The task for the day was to make sandwiches. Yep, that’s some unoriginal ratchet shit right there; but in their defence, what else can you do with sliced bread, in a meeting room with no cooking equipment?

I’ll admit, I actually had a good time. My inner foodie simply loves playing with food, so I was getting carried away with making the best goddamn sandwiches that I could, ending up with a prize winning, beautiful toasted chicken and mango salsa creation.

After all this fun, I had a chat with a few bloggers, then went home, with a branded Hovis wooden crate following me a few days later, stuffed with gifts and sliced bread.

Then came the nudge-nudge about writing a post for the event.

Now, this was a free event, I didn’t negotiate payment, simply receiving my travel expenses (£11.40). There were other bloggers in attendance with much larger audiences, who I’m sure would have been paid, however experience tells me it generally comes down to how well you negotiate, rather than what is offered. I hadn’t even tried on this occasion.

I sat down, and looked at a blank screen. I’m used to writing about my feelings, my thoughts, the problems I have in my life, or the joy and passion which I feel for food and recipes which I have personally created.

How the hell do you write about sliced bread? It was a pure exercise of pissing in the wind. I had utterly and completely comprimised my own moral and ethical values for a free lunch. I don’t even eat sandwiches regularly, because when I lost over 4 stone in weight, it was specifically because I stopped eating sandwiches on a regular basis. They are something that I postiveily discourge people from consuming.

I was ‘working’ (inverted commas because there was no contract, no brief and merely an implied set of conditions for attendance, because they can’t demand someone to work, unless there is pay involved) for a brand who I had zero affinity for. I was writing about a product which I felt no excitement for. I was trying to be enthusiastic about a product which was completely incongruous with the other content on my blog.

To date, that post is the most inauthentic and insincere thing I have ever posted. It also remains the turning point where I realised that retaining an independent voice on my blog is far more important than working with brands. It also made me realise that fire, soul and passion in blogging comes from speaking MY truth, expressing MY thoughts and feelings, not those of a company.

Now, I ran a company for 9 years, which I sold in 2015, so I’m fully aware of how to arrange contracts, terms of work and negotiate in business. I have no qualms about asking for money, clarifying expectations and I am very aware of how to engage profesionally with people. I’m 39 years old and I don’t feel that I am stupid. Yet I still got swept up in the following:

  1. ‘Working’ under vague, unspecified conditions.
  2. ‘Working’ without pay.
  3. Aligning my blog with completely inapprorpiate products.
  4. Feeling compelled to write about a product which I felt no passion for.
  5. The overwhelming sense of excitement and ego-stroking that ‘little me’ gets from being invited to work with a large company.

Young, naive, impressionable and inexperienced newbie bloggers of the world could experience all of these things without understanding that it’s absolutely reasonable to have the temerity to say no, or ask for money in exchange.

This is the shit where bloggers lose face, by unconditionally working for brands and sitting in the pocket of whichever company comes along with the next freebie, without exercising independent, critical thought about the topic.

Frankly, if Hovis had paid me £250, I still would have found writing about sliced bread as exciting as trying to pass kidney stones. If they’d paid me £10,000, I would have been happy in a materialistic sense, the sense which doesn’t last in any meaningful way. Plus, my soul would have felt frozen with ice as I attempted to extract painful word after painful word about sliced bread, from my cold, bleeding heart.

On the other hand, this has been one of the most enjoyable posts I’ve written in a very long time, because it’s the unashamed truth.

Human beings learn from their mistakes and there is no shame in that. Life requires us to experiment and discover the things that work, as much as those which don’t. One of my favourite quotes is from Marquis de Sade:

“In order to know virtue, we must acquaint ourselves with vice”

You can only understand what is good and wholesome, when you have truly understood what is bad. I have discovered that my sense of personal, moral freedom, far outweights the perks afforded by working with brands. Writing a piece like this is probably a surefire way to make sure that I never get approached by a brand, ever again. But I genuinely don’t give a fuck anymore, because I’ve discovered that blogging means more to me on a personal and creative level than opportunities for freebies, or sponsored posts do. I’d rather be honest, truthful and open.

Free lunches and goodie bags are great fun, but it’s the kind of fun which quickly fades into delusion and disappointment, as the oft-unspoken treadmill of implicit publicising begins, meaning that posts need to be written, tweets need to be scheduled and hashtags need to be checked.

Turn that dissapointment on it’s head and write posts with your gut. Write words which tear themselves into the page with ferocity as you feel your digits pounding the keyboard, desperate to get that next thought on the page before it gets ferociously overtaken by another. Do this again and again, watching as people witness genuine human emotion spilled across the internet like a gaping, vulnerable wound. Take authentic emotional risks with thoughts and feelings and watch the engagement and appreciation grow for using your soul for what it’s meant for, as a compass to guide you through life.

When you feel that happen, the simple process of writing, in itself, is payment enough for any blog post, being far more rewarding, fulfilling and engrossing than any shallow engagement with a PR company will ever be.

Gavin Wren is a professional food photographer, a food blogger at le petit oeuf, an occasional food writer and a Food Policy MSc student at City, University of London. He talks food on Twitter and his photographs are on Flickr.