Write of Passage no. 2: Into the realm of the dead

Shanon Sinn. Photo by Sarah Packwood.
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The first ghost story I remember hearing came from my Irish-descended grandfather. I was about seven years old at the time, and we were sitting around the kitchen table on the farm. The conversation was amongst adults and I just happened to be in the room. Some neighbours, he said, had just buried their father. After they’d left the cemetery they went home for the wake. A short while later, the dead man walked in through the front door and stared at everyone for a long moment before vanishing.

“He looked as real as you or me,” my grandfather said. “Even the priest saw him.”

I never set out to write about ghosts. My first blog was on MySpace over 10 years ago. I was a loss prevention manager for the Bay in downtown Vancouver and was writing about our extreme experiences at the time, such as eccentric characters and combative arrests. This was in the Wild West era of bloggingbefore there were rules and suchso I was completely unaware that writing about my work under an alias would almost get me fired. Nevertheless, I acquired a small but loyal following. One Halloween, 2006 I believe, I wrote a post about our store being haunted. It attracted more readers than I’d ever had before.

In 2012, while recovering from chemotherapy, I started a WordPress blog on a site I hosted. I called it The Living Library because it was about folklore of Celtic Trees. It probably doesn’t get any more niche or nerdy than this, but I researched old pre-copyright texts looking for folklore mentions of certain trees like oak, rowan, or holly. After a year of diligent posts, I ran out of content and switched my focus to animals. These were immediately more popular. “The Celtic Werewolf” and “Owl of the Celts: Ancient Bride of the Dead” are still heavily trafficked posts to this day. I then wrote about the Banshee, Ireland’s shrieking ghost. Once again, people loved the ghostly content.

I soon branched away from Celtic folklore and wrote a post called “Haunted Locations on Vancouver Island.” I distinguished myself by using sources. The post exploded. Another post on Victoria did as well. I’d found my people. I kept my blog stats a secret and eventually used them to help secure a book deal.

People say blogging is dead. Writing about your day-to-day life might be, but readers are seeking content through Google searches. If your blog gives them an ad-free experience, cool images, and a unique read, they’ll find your posts and maybe even stick around. No one cares if you only publish once in a while. A brand isn’t just about the content you provide, it’s about how you deliver it. It’s always about quality over quantity. In the sales world, they call this product integrity and/or customer service.

Write what you want to write, but watch your metrics and be malleable. The more open you are the quicker you’ll find a niche that isn’t being filled. If it’s something that interests you, then stake your claim. Be unique somehow, so what you do can’t easily be copied.

This month, I’d like you to read “The secret of copywriting as revealed 3,000 years ago by Homer” by Malcolm Pryce on Medium. Then, “I Was Never Trained To Be A WriterNow I Make A Living From Writing” by Tom Kuegler. Medium is a great platform for emerging writers. While the site is far from perfect, the value of following publications like The Writing Cooperative and The Creative Cafe will make it worth your while. Medium also gives you an opportunity to publish if you don’t have a blog.

Until next time.