At a glance
Type: Blog & Content Creation
Key Learning Points:
Write as you speak
First off, it makes the whole writing process a lot more enjoyable if you’re able to write comfortably, and without second guessing whether the tone or language is ‘how it should be’. Also people love personality, it’s personality that will build a following of readers.
Don’t get hung up on the name
As a natural consequence of building a website or blog, you’re forced to name and label it immediately, before you’ve had a chance to fully realise it. Don’t worry about this too much, this isn’t permanent and it’s easy to change later by purchasing a new domain.
Images are important, but good content is key
As Gemma puts it, the sad truth of current online trends is that it’s hard to keep a reader’s attention throughout blocks of text without having images to break things up. While it’s easy to be put off by the work of professional bloggers like Zoella and their photoshoot worthy images – remember that the content is the most important thing.
As long as you have a decent camera on your phone and a good eye, you’re set. Don’t bother with big expensive cameras unless you’re sure that blogging is something you enjoy, and intend to do long-term.
Just start the thing!
You don’t need an expensive computer, the latest gear or anything like that to get started with blogging. Gemma is an award-winning blogger with an international readership but she built her website and wrote her first article entirely on her phone! If you want to start, just start! You can figure things out as you go, and your readers will love watching you explore things as you do.
Get your nearest and dearest to spread the word
It can feel a little bit cringey at first to ask the people you know to share your stuff with their friends, but everyone has to start somewhere and it’s a great way to build an initial audience.
I’m starting this boldly – Gemma Turner is not only my favourite person I work with, she’s without a doubt one of my favourite people I’ve met. She’s one of those people that just lights up a room when she comes in, causing smiles from even the rustiest of cheeks in the grumpiest depths of our office (usually mine). Her brilliant humour and positivity radiates from her, and this absolutely shines through in the interview.
This is also the most useful I’ve personally found an interview so far, and is an absolute must read for anyone looking to start a blog. I was really, really at pains to trim the interview transcript down as there’s so much useful stuff in here – but I was worried 10,000 words might be too long (let me know how you get on)!
This interview focuses on Gemma’s blog, gemturner.com, which is a fantastic, witty and honest account of Gemma’s day-to-day life and interests – plus it’s only gone and won Gemma a Blogger of the Year award as well! Read all about Gemma’s brilliant story for creating and keeping up with the blog below.
Let’s start off at the top – for the wonderful readers out there, could you describe what you’ve created with GemTurner.com?
My blog…say you met me in a lift, and we had a bit of small talk, it’s like that.
So, if we were to speak, I might say, ‘oh my god, you’d never guess what happened to me…’ and it’s just that but in weekly or monthly snippets of my life. It can be anything from conversational stories, advice, life or reviews of what I’ve been up to. But yeah, like this is what happened, how about you.
Just a conversation.
The thing that I love most about your blogs is that the way you write is just so natural with such a great sense of humour. It’s the same way you speak and when I’m reading your blog, I’m hearing it in your voice and I love it.
But I was wondering how you found your writing style and your digital voice?
Ok so, it all stemmed from people having a certain expectation of me when we first meet, they might not know whether I can speak or might not even speak to or look at me at all because they don’t really know how to act around me.
So when I first meet people, I’m purposefully like ‘Hiya, you alright?’ because it’s like a slap in the face. It’s like me saying ‘I can hear you, I can see you, so come and say hello‘.
I get a thrill out of changing perceptions in seconds, and I wondered how I could do that on a larger scale. Obviously you can change individual perceptions by talking to people, but that’s a slow process and you can’t change the world one conversation at a time.
So I decided to start blogging and I figured that the only way I could show who I truly am is to write how I would speak, and I think that that’s one thing that readers have consistently fed back – that they really enjoy the tone.
So I just think the more real you are, the more believable it is – and the more believable it is, the more people will listen to what you say.
Did you find that writing in that way felt natural from the start, or is it something where you had to consciously think about while you’re writing?
See when I was at school, that was the negative feedback I used to get from my teachers. They’d tell me ‘you’re writing like you speak and I can tell it’s you when I’m reading your work‘.
The tip they used to tell me that I needed to write like I was a 50-year old and I was like ‘I don’t know how to write like a 50-year old, because I’m not 50’.
But now, it’s a positive because that’s just who I am.
When you say it’s difficult to change how you write but with, for example, your website, I wouldn’t change the way you write for something else because then the people [who knew you] reading it would be like, ‘well that’s not you’, do you know what I mean?
So you just gotta do what you do and it’ll come across.
One problem you get is that you look at people like Zoella and all them massive bloggers and you just think, ‘oh I couldn’t do all’ that but the point is that we’ve all been there, we’ve all been at the beginning so don’t let that put you off.
Great point. So with it in mind, is there much editing involved with your writing?
I mean yeah, I can turn over blogs in an hour, so it doesn’t take that long because it’s just like me, as we are now, having a chat – but I do have to be careful because I can write too much.
What I do is write on a Saturday and then I sleep on it – I really think about it, because whatever I blog, my dad….because my dad works in a factory, his workmates read it and then they all talk about it in the canteen.
Like my dad will just be like ‘yeah we were chatting about your blog at lunch yesterday’ and I’ll be like ‘DAD!’
So I’ve really got to be careful, because whatever I write I’ve got to think ‘I’d show my dad, I’d show my mum, I’d show my grandparents’.
That’s intense! Was it like that right from the get-go?
No, that built up so…luckily from the job I used to have, I had quite a lot of friends who I could share it with so that helped to build it up.
From there it’s just grown and grown…that’s one thing about blogs, you can’t just expect an audience straight away. Like you have to build it and build it, it’s like a snowball…but like a really small snowball.
You’ve got to just keep building it and your audience will grow every week but it just takes time.
That’s a great point. What would you say are the manual steps you’ve taken to build the snowball?
I’d say that when you’re first starting, it’s all about the content. Like don’t worry about what it looks like, don’t sign up to like £100 content packages because there’s just no point.
Before that, you’ve got to make sure that you want to do it and it’s actually something which you enjoy. For me it’s just a hobby, and it’s like having a chat every week.
So mines on WordPress. I just got the free version of WordPress, signed up, literally put my email in and off you go.
And, oh god this is so cringe, I called it shortsparkle.com, because I use the word ‘sparkle’ all the time. Not just for like young and naive, but for me the energy you bring…like I want to make sure the energy I bring into a room is the best it can be, do you know what I mean?
Then as I grew it, I realised that if I wanted to build it people aren’t going to be like ‘oh that shortsparkle…’ and also I didn’t want people to call me shortsparkle because that’s weird, so I called it Gemturner.com.
But it’s just things like that where you might start with one idea, but then you think about it and grow and it might change, so I think don’t be afraid to just sort of develop the blog as you go along.
I like that point – changing the name partway through also, because that’s something that I’ve been concerned about. You know when you build your website for the first time and before you do anything, you have to choose your domain, and it’s like…before you get started on anything else, you have to name it?
And it’s a difficult thing because, it forces you to name it before you’ve started working on it or know what it really is? You start off with an idea and then very early in the process of developing it, you have to stick a name on it. I’m pretty unsure about the name ‘Inkbike’ so far – is changing the name difficult to do?
Erm, well…for WordPress I’ve still got Shortsparkle.wordpress.com but I could add a domain on so now I’ve got gemturner.com and that’s the default one, but shortsparkle is still there. So if say, a reader read it when it was still shortsparkle then they’d still be able to get to the page. It’s another address.
Oh ok, so they both point to the same place? You can enter either and still get to your blog?
But that’s another thing, don’t get to that point where it overwhelms you because then you’ve lost. You’ve just got to do the project and if you change it, then you change it and you just move the content over.
And I know I’m speaking from a little bit of privilege because I was able to pay to change to Gemturner, but if you’ve got the means then it’s easy to change the name but…it was worth it for me.
Did it cost much to get the domain?
Erm, I was trying to think about this last night, I think it cost like £20 for a year – then obviously you have to pay for each year, but then I found that I wanted to do it because it’s worth it.
Yeah definitely. And how was setting up the website in the first place?
Mine was so basic. Like when you look back, oh god…I mean it was so pixelated and because I used to do a bit of design before, and I tried to do it myself but it wasn’t great.
But again, it’s not the be all and end all, it’s what you put in it. And just to get the subjects out there for now and then you can build on it. But yeah, I used to just take random pictures, you know like Facebook profile pictures and use that like the profile picture…it wasn’t fancy.
One problem you get is that you look at people like Zoella and all them massive bloggers and you just think, ‘oh I couldn’t do all that‘ but the point is that we’ve all been there, we’ve all been at the beginning – don’t let that put you off. But it is difficult, and I did eventually get a camera because I did want to compete with everyone..
That was actually something I did want to ask you, because all of your pictures are so crisp.
It is one piece of advice I’d give to anyone starting, images are really key.
And it’s so annoying, but if you get a really good quality picture as the feature image of your blog – so when you share it and stuff, it just makes [the post] so much more visible and that’s just the way it is at the moment.
If it hasn’t got an image on it then it’s really hard to push because people like to see instantly what it’s about. If I get my wheels out *laughs* then there’s more engagement which is a bit weird but also, if people are looking for articles on disability, then it helps if they can identify right away.
Do you have any tips for structuring text?
Yeah, I usually do between 300-700 words – but I don’t hit 700 and then automatically stop, it depends what kind of topic it is. But structurally, I always introduce a topic, then have a story.
If I talk about something that happened, I start with a question, then put a story angle on it and wrap up with a joke that tries to answer the question I raised at the beginning.
I always found that really easy because I’m not a very structured person and I think ‘How would I talk about this in a conversation?’
I’d start it with ‘So guess what happened today?’ then I’d tell the story and finish with something like a ‘…so next time you see someone, don’t do that.’ Do you know what I mean? But it took me ages to get that.
But you’ve just got to do it, you’ve got to learn yourself and then figure out what’s popular, what isn’t, what people like and don’t like.
A tip I would give is to not do loads of uninterrupted text. Because people will just scroll and scroll and scroll, but if there’s no picture they’ll just go off.
But this is all just my way of working and it might not work for someone else. Someone else might do the Buzzfeed type thing where it’s a title and five things listed underneath, like people work in different ways. But I just like doing stories really.
That makes sense, to find the way of telling the story which suits your personality.
Yeah and like, if you can’t read it back and laugh (if it’s a funny blog) or if you don’t enjoy it yourself then don’t post it.
That’s what I stick to. I know it sounds really big-headed, but I like to look back on my own blogs, because it’s like a diary of my life as well.
But if you do and you don’t enjoy that then something’s not right. So you just need to write something where you can look back and be like, yeah that was a good one!
Yeah and I guess that’s something that helps you keep going as well. If you write about something you enjoy writing or reading back then it helps you keep moving on to the next topics.
*Laughs* If you can’t read it yer sen then don’ write it.
So you mentioned building up your readership, I noticed that at the bottom of your articles you have a section saying ‘Reach out to me’ or ‘chat to me’ and I really like the way you it’s phrased.
Rather than just ‘follow me on social media‘. When I saw it I just thought it was so simple but so impactful and I loved it. It makes things instantly personal.
One of the first reasons that I started the blog was because of a lady called Stella Young.
She had the same disability as me and she was a massive activist and blogger. At the end [of her posts] she used to say ‘Come and chat to me on social media’ or like you know, find me here or watch this YouTube video.
And I just thought, if there are any other people with brittle bones that wanted to have a chat, then I’d just want them to message me.
I think, if you say ‘follow me on social media‘ then that’s like a one-way thing. Instead I want to reach out to the people who don’t have others like them. I wanted them to be able to reach out to someone as well, it’s part of the reason why I started the blog.
if you say ‘follow me’ on social media then that’s like a one-way thing whereas I genuinely want to reach out to the people who don’t have others like them
Growing your following to the point where you had people engage with you, how did you start that process?
For me, it was about doing different subjects – like I didn’t know this until it happened and it kinda just blew up – or not blew up but it grew. One day, one of the biggest ones I wrote about the weird things that people ask me, so I think it was with international people with disabilities and because a lot of people reached back and said ‘I get this too’.
And I think it was one of my most popular posts, like it got maybe a thousand views in a day and I was like ‘Oh my god I’ve made it ahhh’ *laughs*.
So that’s where I think that started and I realised the more I talked about my life personally then the more it grew. Which is good but it’s also a little bit dangerous so you’ve gotta be careful.
And then in the next one I talked about disability in kids and then that went on mumsnet because that one’s talking about parents and y’know, being a mum and all that. So I realised that with different audiences it’s different things, and different subjects are really key.
That’s incredible – and did you know it was going to be featured?
No, they just got in touch with me and asked if I minded if they put it on mumsnet. It ended up being one of the top blogs of the day. It was only on for a week for but for that week I got my highest viewing which is 7,000 in a week and I was just like ‘whaaat?!’.
And it’s just stuff like that where you can’t plan it and just someone will really enjoy it and share it and they’ll share it and it’s just that kind of thing you know?
And would that just be people finding you naturally? You wouldn’t be plugging yourself on social media and things – more that they’d just find you?
I retweet…I cringe retweeting myself but I do it because I just think you’ve got to be a little bit bold and just think, someone might catch it. If it’s going to go out there then it’s going to go out there and just make sure that you hit different platforms.
I only just recently started doing paid adverts like two months ago? Like paying Facebook to push a blog which is like…you can pay £1 a day, so I paid like £3. But I just felt personally that I was paying for something that…it’s such a niche subject that it’s really difficult to push.
Like you can put disability and things like that but…I think one person liked it and messaged me and commented saying ‘I’m a disabled blogger as well, I’d love to collaborate’ so that was really good. So it’s like you don’t pay for mass, you pay to find individuals who really are interested.
So yeah, I really am just sort of dabbling with different stuff, like you never really know what works, you just have to keep trying different things. Still I don’t really like paying…
You’re a brand now – gotta get that brand out there!
I know but…I still feel really weird about it, but you gotta try it – and I’d never pretend that I hadn’t and be all like *posh voice* ‘oh no, it’s all organic’ because its not.
So before you did your paid ads, would it just be you posting to social media platforms and parking it there?
Yeah exactly, and basically just relying on other people sharing it because I do think that when other people share it then their friends are more likely to read it. Like if their friend’s have enjoyed it then they’ll read it rather than you having to be like read this! Like if your mate when ‘look at this, it’s well good’ then you’ll be more likely to read it.
So then, on starting your blog in the first place, I was wondering what motivated you to take it from the idea to ‘I’m doing this, I’m getting on it!‘
Ok, if you want the honest answer…I had broken my hip and I was in bed. I’d had a week off work and was fuming at life. I think it was January so it was the start of the year and you always get that ‘I’m going to start something really cool’ thought, and I literally just started it on my phone.
I had the idea that this is one way to communicate and reach out to people. I’d been wanting to do it for so long and I just thought I might as well…I’ve got a bit of time on me hands, and I just did it!
I remember thinking ‘oh god, I’ll post it on my Facebook and see what happens‘.
I love that! Were you just writing out like a text? Like on your phone keyboard?
Yeah I just wrote it on my phone, I thought ‘Ahh I’ll just do it on here and it’ll be fine‘.
Ahh I love that!
Yeah but that’s what I mean, it just shows you that you don’t need an artist or whatever, you just gotta…it’s not gonna happen straight away, you just gotta keep working on it. Like a drawing, it don’t just happen, you just work at it and work at it and you never really have a finished product because there’s always something more that you could do.
So yeah I wrote it on my phone in bed and posted it to Facebook and I remember being amazed by how many people liked it. So that gave me motivation, and from there people shared it like ‘My friend’s doing this and somebody might like it’ and that really helped. So yeah, that’s how it started.
So good, getting help from your friends to spread it is such a cool thing.
Yeah, and I think that networking personally with people and saying ‘I’ve just started this you know, if you enjoy it, could you share it?’
And it might sound a little bit ‘ugh’, but if you believe in it and you like it then it’s not ‘ugh’, it’s just what you’re doing.
Since you started it, have you found there’s any technique to keeping yourself motivated to write?
See I’ve got a rule, if I can’t think of anything to write then don’t write it. Like don’t just pull something out because it’s not real…or it might be real but for me it’s like, because it’s about me and everyday life, if it’s not worthy then don’t write it.
Like I’ve gone a month without writing and some people will be like ‘omg no, consistency is key’ but if it’s consistently rubbish then it’s not what I want.
I know that some people get so caught up on ‘I’ve not blogged this week’ and you do feel a bit guilty, but I just think that a really good post will compensate the few weeks where you haven’t written.
It sounds like the way that you do it is a much more pleasurable experience as well because when you’re writing you’re actually motivated.
Yeah deadlines, I hate deadlines. If someone gives me a deadline then I don’t do it because of principles. On principle I won’t do it because someone’s given me it. So if I’ve given myself a deadline then I’m not doing it.
*laughs* So you’ll rebel against-
-myself, yeah *laughs*.
I remember my neighbour once said to me ‘it’s Sunday, I’m ready for your blog later…’ and that really freaked me out because I hated the idea of being so consistent with when my posts came out. So even though I was going to post that Sunday, I did it on the Monday instead just to make a point.
The magic happens when it happens.
Yeah it’s true though, it’s not a job. At the end of the day if it was a job, then I could totally see why people would panic and you know…if people rely on views and stuff. But when people don’t rely on it then you just do it when you want to do it.
Do you ever go back and amend some of your posts from the earlier days to try and make the content on your website consistent?
No, let it evolve naturally, but maybe that’s my personality type as well.
I like that ‘What’s in my bag’ post I made in the first year has a terrible picture. It’s literally a black background with my bag…it just looks awful but that was where I was at at that time and I want to show that it’s grown.
The only thing anyone’s ever said to me is, ‘so where’s your blog this week?‘
And I have to tell them that it’ll come when it comes, but inside I’m dying. Like I feel really embarrassed, but then I just think; where’s your blog? You haven’t got a blog, where’s your post today? *laughs*
So in my experience, not many people put pressure on you, but when they do just don’t let them ruin your experience for writing because then it’ll just become a chore.
Great point! Ok so looking back since you’ve started, are there any particularly fond memories you have or where the blog might have created opportunities for to do cool things or anything like that?
I think when I get comments on the blog I love that. I get comments from parents of disabled people and they’re like ‘Yeah, we experience this as well, so glad you’ve said it’ and then you get people who might be ignorant of certain things and they might say something like ‘I’ve never even thought of that before’.
That’s an amazing feeling because then I feel like I’m achieving what I set out to achieve originally with the blog.
But also when it just gets recognised and creates opportunities for me. For example, I’ve been able to do adverts on my blogs that I’ve been paid for and I’ve been offered theatre tickets this week to the Yorkshire Play House; so it’s stuff like that where I’m like, well if I hadn’t started the blog then I wouldn’t have had that before.
And obviously the awards was just the icing on the cake.Well I’m glad you mentioned it….so with that, I was wondering if you could go through that whole process.
Ok, so it all started with the founder of diversity in media awards, I already knew him from when I was young I wanted to be on the telly. He was on Channel Four, we just met in a workshop and he offered a chance to audition for the Paralympic Games to be a presenter.
So I just auditioned. I didn’t get it, but it was just cool to be asked, and we just knew each other from there. That same person created these awards, and I heard I was nominated.
So I’ve gathered that he’d put me forward, but we’ve always kept in touch on Twitter and stuff, so that was all really him. But it just shows that it’s who you know sometimes…
Yeah but it’s also that you put yourself out there to network in the first place is how that opportunity came about..
Yeah well it was just, like it wasn’t an audition for disabled people so I’d really felt like I was out on a limb.
And then I got nominated and I found out on Twitter. But I didn’t think anything of it because it didn’t say shortlisted, I just thought it was a nice thing so I posted it on my personal Facebook and retweeted it.
But THEN, I got invited to the awards. I thought they might be doing it because of tick boxing – you do think that sometimes, but I shouldn’t have.
The event was hosted at the Whaldorf in London, and I brought my friend along who has always been really supportive.
We decided to get a room and make a good night of it, I was just like, ‘we probably won’t know anyone, but we can just use it as a networking thing, see what happens and if we don’t know anyone then we’ll can have a couple of drinks and go’.
But we got down the lift and there was like a red carpet and flashes which was absolutely not what I was expecting.
We followed people onto the red carpet and I turned around and saw Nadine from Girls Aloud was right behind me. It was about then I realised that this wasn’t the night that I was expecting.
We got into the room and to our table. Opposite me was my childhood love, Harry Judd from McFly and I think, I just turned to my friend and was like ‘I can’t do this, I don’t think I can do this’.
Long story short, we saw Lily Allen and saw loads of huge people there and then I thought, ‘well I’ll just clap when it’s my category, have a drink of wine and it’ll be fine, won’t win, it’ll be cool‘. Because there was another blogger there who was like, a really big deal, like I knew them and had read their blogs so I thought I definitely wouldn’t win.
And then they announced my name and I was like *mouth drop* and I still couldn’t believe it. So, I got up on stage, but the weirdest thing was that earlier my friend got called to do something but I was just so like, Harry Judd in front of me, so I wasn’t concentrating.
It turns out she got asked to test the ramp out on stage because she knew I’d won and she didn’t tell me. And so all the way through the dinner, she knew I’d won and didn’t tell me!
That’s such a dream moment. But terrifying to have to get up on the stage completely unprepared and completely off-guard!
Wine really helps. And you just gotta be genuine, as long as you’re yourself then it doesn’t matter but it was the best night ever and I was on such a high, like Whatsapp-ing my mum and dad like ‘I’ve actually just won’, so yeah!
Everyone was really lovely and it was just one of those nights where, because it was focused on diversity, it felt like there was a good sense of community where everyone was there for a common passion.
I genuinely love the topic of diversity; I talk about it a lot and it was a huge part of my old job so if there was one award I could of won, then this one is just the greatest.
It was just one of those nights where I’m like…I still think now it’s incredible now to say that I’ve won an award and it just means it feels now that it’s something.
Yeah, I mean you’re a professional blogger now!
I know, it just…it doesn’t feel like it….I don’t know, you don’t have a badge or…it’s just a hobby and that’s all it is really.
So just to wrap up, one of the sections that I try and include with every interview is a takeaway for people who might want to get started in the same field…so are there any tools which have been particularly useful in getting things up and running with the blog?
Ok so, WordPress is the first one and the others are free photo editing apps, I’ve got an android phone and so I use photoshop just to brighten my images.
I would say that images for me, the brighter the better but just making it as bright as possible just makes it look a little more professional erm, and I just try to lower the warmth (that’s just me).
And I’ve now got photoshop on my computer so I blur the background but obviously when you’re first starting, you don’t need to do that.
Otherwise just photoshop on your phone which is free did you say?
Yeah, definitely recommend that. And when you’re first starting out, like using your phone is absolutely fine for writing and taking pictures…you know, just depending on what phone you’ve got (i.e. smartphone or not), but definitely don’t be afraid to use that.
I think that’s it for tools, I mean you don’t need…like I did it in bed, on tramadol and so if I can do that then anyone can start. It’s so easy to start if you’re physically able to do it.
Brilliant. And the next one is…with every interview that I do, I try and ask if there’s any subject that you feel like you might want to learn more about that might help you with your blog, because what I do is I got away and I research that and create that as a separate post to be as helpful as possible.
OOOH, I think for me it’s that I’m still learning and I’d like to learn how to work with brands because I’ve got my own spin on blogs and that’s not really what I do with blogs at the moment, I’ve not started out with that, so just to learn how to move into that field. Because sometimes I think it can be a bit ‘who you know’ urm, so yeah.
More like, using products, so like I love make-up and technology so if I can show people that I enjoy it then you never know. I don’t do it because of that, you gotta do what you like but so yeah, more like working with brands to promote things that’s out there because I do like to go out there and buy things and try them out, especially with technology.
So I want to know how to reach brands and be noticed against all the other blogs out there!
Thank you so much!
Now you can’t tell me that that wasn’t inspiring! This is one of those articles where as soon as I finished editing it, I felt so motivated to keep working on the website for hours!
Like I said up top, if you haven’t already, you should definitely read Gemma’s blog and if you want to keep up with what’s she’s doing (wholeheartedly recommended) then you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.