37 monuments in 30 days, and what I learned along the way.
Friday 7 April 2017
This is probably going to be a long and rambling editorial. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and I’ve got a lot of projects that I’m working on – so I’m just going to dive right in here, and share some updates.
(PS. All the images in this post come from my new Photography gallery, Underrealms.)
I write about a lot of different subjects on this blog… I’ve covered 20-something (maybe 30-something?) countries now, and published posts on everything from Chinese food to Haitian vodou. It’s been fun – and I’m not planning to stop – but I think I’m going to start narrowing my focus a bit.
For one of my long, serious articles, I tend to spend between one and two weeks researching and writing. It’s exhausting.
Meanwhile, the articles that always do best are the ones about communist monuments. Starting back in 2011, my post about the Park-Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship in Varna was the first time I had anything shared by strangers. It brought in 18,000 visitors in three days, and it made me realise what this blog was capable of.
Ever since then, almost all of my best work (at least according to traffic stats, and certainly in my own opinion) has been that which focussed on the subject of communist monuments. It’s the subject of my ongoing PhD, and it’s the focus of the tours I’m now operating in five different countries.
So from this point onwards, I’m planning to focus on developing that speciality. I’m not going to stop writing about other subjects… but I will start giving them less of my time. I want to go deep, rather than always spreading myself thin. So I might give you a fun, interesting article about haunted houses in Malaysia (coming soon!), but I’m not going to spend a week obsessing over it anymore.
I guess I’m just realising that if I keep trying to be an expert on everything, I’ll end up moving forwards on nothing in particular.
Here’s the funny thing, though – if you do a Google search for ‘communist monuments,’ I don’t actually appear until something like page six. I’ve never actually published an article with those words in the title, largely because it feels sensationalist to me and I want to offer something a little more nuanced than that.
However, most people who want to know about these places are searching for ‘communist monuments’ in order to find them. Ironically, if I want more people to read my anti-sensationalist articles, I need to start making them more sensational!
So that’s the delicate line I’m planning to walk from here on. You’ll see more articles appearing with titles like ‘X Communist Monuments,’ or ‘Soviet Monuments in X’… but between you and I though, it’s simply a trap designed to lure fickle readers in with a deliciously provocative title before bashing them over the head with the history stick.
I’m excited to announce that I’ll be taking on some help in future. The work involved in running this site is immense. Aside from the crazy amount of time spent researching and writing articles, mentioned above, I get hundreds of emails each week, I have half a dozen social media profiles to maintain, and just in the last month alone – for example – I’ve booked more than a hundred nights of hotel accommodation for tour guests. Sorting and editing photos is another extremely time-consuming job, and then of course there’s the small matter of my PhD.
(By the way, is that interesting? I’d be happy to sometimes share samples of my academic writing here too, if anyone’s keen to read it.)
As a result of all this, I’ve decided to hire an assistant to help me run the site. It’ll be admin jobs I’m delegating, hotel bookings, boring stuff like that. I have no intention of sharing the writing duties with anyone else, but rather, I hope this move will free me up to spend more time typing out new articles.
Another job I’ve lined up for my PA (doesn’t that sound professional?) is submitting my work to a long list of photography contests. I feel a little funny writing that, as I’ve never considered myself as much of a photographer – but nothing ventured nothing gained, right? If I started entering hundreds of contests, I don’t see why I couldn’t start winning occasionally.
This plan ties in with the creation of my new Photography Page. I don’t plan to clutter it, but I do have about five or six galleries in mind that I want to get uploaded before I feel it’s really doing its job. Visitors should have a good selection of photos to flick through when they check it out.
You’ve already seen the first set, I expect, featuring all those lovely Yugoslav monuments. Now I’ve uploaded a second one – this time, a selection of some of my favourite photos I’ve taken underground.
It’s a work in progress, this one – I’ll keep going underground, and I’ll keep updating the set to reflect my favourite shots – but for now, I’d love to know what you think of it!
I just finalised dates for a few new tours I’ll be running this year. Here are the details:
May 6: Buzludzha Day Trip
July 3-9: Kiev & Chernobyl
August 26-September 4: Kiev & Chernobyl + Transnistria
September 8-14: Kiev & Chernobyl
September 18-24: Bulgarian Monuments
October 16-22: Bulgarian Monuments
January 24-28: Bulgarian Monuments + Snow + Folk Festivals
More info on all these tours Here.
So yeah, that’s my year mostly planned out! I’m going to be busy.
I have another week of solid writing time now before my debut Yugoslav Memorial Tour kicks off. That should be enough time to finish an article or two. I have a post about Minsk that’s almost ready, and some more thoughts about the Grmeč Spomenpark (‘The Bad Place’) that I want to share as a private post. My recent vote on Patreon was indecisive, with the Albanian and Malaysian stories tied in first place – I might post Malaysia first, for the sake of mixing things up, but I’ll aim to get Albania out not long after. I want to tell you about the time I got arrested in Cuba, too… that will be a private post of course, it’s a little embarrassing, but it’s a pretty hilarious story.
And aside from those, I’ve got several thousand photos still to sort and polish and share from Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia, quite a lot of Belarus, and even a few sets still leftover from that massive Balkan trip I did last year.
So I had better get back to work, I guess. Watch this space!
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