Update: I’ve added to my for sale page as I start to wind down.
Time for contemplation
I’m just coming up to the third full year writing UK Fountain Pens.
I started the blog because I had things I wanted to say about stationery and my journey through it, and all the things I was learning.
Because I enjoy writing, and wanted an outlet for my words beyond what I create in my dayjob.
But also because I wanted to see if I could make a success of it, from a standing start.
I’m proud of what I’ve achieved
So has it been a success? Yes, by any measure.
For a start, I’ve published more than 300 blogs, including more than a hundred full reviews, totalling 250,000 words. Quantity isn’t success by itself, but I have proved to myself that no matter what’s going on in my life, whether I’m away on a work trip, in hospital with a sick child, or just on holiday, I can knuckle down and do the work — even meeting the fixed commitment of a weekly roundup post.
More important to me is the reaction I’ve had from readers. Hundreds of people have left comments or sent emails thanking me for my work, saying I’ve helped them find a pen they love, or most gratifying of all, just saying they love the way I write. Some have even donated money, or gifts. And I consider many to be friends.
In my heart, reading back over some of my old posts, I’m still proud of the content and the words. Around 200 pens and about as many inks have crossed my desk, meaning I now know loads about stationery. I am a true expert, and I’m proud of the insight I can bring to my readers.
I’ve also been gratified to feel like a recognised part of a global community. Many of the pen bloggers I admire link to or respond to my posts regularly, and the buzz of reading the weekly newsletters, looking for a mention, still makes me smile. The first day that Google News hit me with a tidal wave of traffic made all the bloggers’ referral metrics look tiny, but I would take hearing Brad read out one of my posts on the Pen Addict podcast over that any day.
The metrics have been a source of satisfaction, though. I remember in 2018 being thrilled to hit just under 100k views; this year I have tripled that number with room to spare. In three years I’ve had nearly half a million views.
Working on the blog I’ve been lucky enough to build relationships with lots of wonderful brands and retailers, who care as much about stationery as I do. Many have been generous enough to ask me for feedback and trust me with their products, knowing that my readers trust me to write honest reviews that carry weight. I didn’t start the blog to get free stuff, but I can’t say it’s not exciting to hear the postman knocking, even today.
Now here’s the “but” you’ve been waiting for.
What do you do when your hobby becomes a problem?
I’m increasingly feeling that UK Fountain Pens is taking more from me than it’s giving.
I’m not running out of things to write about: quite the opposite, I have dozens of ideas for posts that I still want to write.
But I have an obsessive personality, and the blog has an almost limitless capacity to encourage that obsessiveness. It’s a black hole and takes up a ton of my time. Not just writing and editing drafts, but photography, replying to readers, chasing brands, checking metrics, sharing posts on Instagram and Facebook. There’s so much to do to keep the wheels spinning as fast as I want them, and I do want them spinning fast. I don’t want to get to the end of the week and find I haven’t posted anything. I don’t want to keep my readers or brands waiting when there’s a new pen on my desk to review. I want to keep a beat of content, a mix of editorial and reviews, covering pens, paper and ink. I want trip reports and news, opinion and educational content. There’s so much to say. I’ve always got an eye on the WordPress metrics, which are my ever-present indicator of success (what is a writer without readers, and what kind of writer wants fewer readers this week than he had last week?)
This is, to put it bluntly, starting to feel like a self–imposed burden, rather than a joyful hobby.
Ironically, the blog is taking time away from enjoying the stationery I’ve reviewed and loved. It’s also taking time away from reading books, playing video games, furthering my career, and spending time with my growing family. While I’m up in my office taking photos or tapping away on my laptop to earn internet points, life is passing me by.
I can’t blog without buying new pens
More dangerously, the blog feeds my darker tendencies to shop my way through life. As I said above, I get some stuff for free, I get a few dollars from advertising, and some small donations from readers, but they don’t begin to cover the WordPress costs and stationery purchases I make out of my own pocket.
To be a frequent blogger you need a steady source of new things to write about. There’s only so much you can write about from inside your own little bubble, particularly when you’ve already reviewed every pen you own, and written about your journalling, your desk setup, your travel bag loadout, and dozens of other personal topics.
To fill the hopper, I need to visit shop websites and forums, read other blogs and monitor Instagram and Facebook. Daily. Not only does this take a huge amount of time, it serves to keep temptation continuously in front of my eyeballs, while making me feel dissatisfied with the fantastic collection I already have. That’s not healthy. It is insane.
And it’s not just the temptation provided by a never-ending parade of new pens. When my finger is hovering over the ‘buy’ button, the blog gives me a dangerous excuse to click. I can tell myself that the new pen will be a great review candidate. I even use this as an excuse to buy pens that I don’t even particularly want; just the fact that they’re new or unusual is enough.
I find myself thinking that I can always sell the new pen via the blog if I don’t gel with it. But that’s dumb. I lose money every time I do so, and some pens aren’t that easy to sell. While I earn a good salary, I’m not rich. I really shouldn’t be buying multiple £500 pens every month just so I can try them out and sell them a couple of weeks later.
What’s more, believe it or not, I crave minimalism. When new pens, inks and notebooks are turning up every week, I’m fighting a losing battle not just for money, but space. Many of you will have seen my regular sales and my desperate attempt to keep my pen tray under control.
The inevitable conclusion
So, although I’m proud of what I’ve achieved over the past three years (in so many ways), I’m forced to conclude that the blog isn’t doing me any good.
I’ve caught myself a number of times wondering what it would be like going to a pen show without rushing home to write up a blog. Or enjoying my Nettuno and Pacifico Auroras without being acutely aware of the other twenty Aurora special editions that have launched in the past couple of months. Or actually writing a bottle of ink dry before I hit the internet to buy another.
So I guess I’m doing a Matt from the PenHabit and saying goodbye. I’ll leave the blog up, for the moment at least, particularly as I sell my last batch of pens. I’ll reply to comments and emails. But no more reviews, no more Instagram posts, and hopefully fewer purchases — and instead more time spent enjoying my stationery, my other hobbies, and my family. Will I miss having this place to pour out some words? Certainly. Will I regret this decision? Maybe. Will I change my mind? Quite possibly. We’ll see. But I need to let myself off this hook now.
And one final thing I have to say: it’s been an honour writing for you. Thanks for reading.