a peek inside the fishbowl

10 May, 2014

Reflecting on 15 years of blogging

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Publishing/writing/career stuff|The business of blogging

Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the Fishbowl. Well, sort of. The blog is actually older than that, but when I started to try to figure out the actual date this was the earliest entry I could find at the time. Below is a screenshot of the original, because those old files are a mess of hand-rolled HTML that I haven’t bothered fixing up.

You can click to enlarge it:

The earliest blog posts!

I don’t want to get overly sentimental here, or have this post turn into a long humblebrag, but the blog has changed me. I can say – without hesitation – that it’s changed me and set me on a course I never could have predicted.

When I was in eighth grade, my class had to fill out those surveys that help determine the kind of career for which we were best suited. The computer-generated results were returned to us on long sheets that were printed on a dot matrix printer. It all felt very high tech. The papers were folded like long accordions; endless rows of marching grey text. Our fidgety selves pulled the edges of the paper off in long rows, each one with rows of circles punched into it.

Today, it makes for interesting reading, at least for me.  Look what was at the top of the list:

My 8th grade career planning printout

Here’s the thing that our guidance counsellors failed to tell us. Those career printouts could not predict the future. This was not a crystal ball. They could only serve up the jobs that existed at that time. In 1986, only a few people were talking about the future of electronic communications. The Internet, and everything that came with it – the good, the bad, the ugly – was yet to come. No one knew how many brand new opportunities it was going to serve up, nor what a huge impact it would have on existing jobs.

The itch to write has been with me for as long as I can remember, but I think that printout did a lot to solidify things, even though it took me awhile to get there. And blogging was a big part of that.

I remember exactly when I started blogging. I’ve told this story here before and don’t want to get mired in the details, but I was on mat leave from my job as a web developer, and building my own website seemed like a cool way to communicate with friends and family. There was no WordPress or Livejournal or Blogger back then. It was straight up code. Pretty basic stuff really, but I was able to make it do what I wanted to do. Our Sympatico account at the time had 5MB of extra space assigned to it, so that’s what I used for hosting.

Blogging was considered pretty weird, and the appeal, and motivation, wasn’t really understood by many people. I think the term “blogging” is partly to blame here. The term seemed related to a word one might use to describe something disgusting, like the noise made by a cat heaving up a furball. BLAWG-ing seemed self-indulgent, and even narcissistic. And maybe it is in a way. The standard line that was going around at the time, and it still persists, is who cares what someone had for lunch? My answer? I care. I want to know if my favourite blogger – the one I know and trust – has posted a great recipe or a review of a new restaurant. That kind of information is valuable and useful to me as a reader.

The turning point for me and the blog was when I was laid off from my web development job. Sarah was a baby, and Mark and I decided that I’d stay home with the kids and do freelance web work part-time. The blog simply continued to be a place where I dumped the contents of my brain five times a week. Eventually a magazine editor noticed my blog and offered me a freelance assignment. I took it, and another path opened up. It went on from there, although it should be said the Twitter followers, advertisers, free stuff, newspaper/magazine profiles, television appearances, conferences, and speaking engagements didn’t come until I’d already been walking down this road for many years. And then came my present day jobs. Would I have my job with my newspapers if I hadn’t had the blog? It is unlikely.  This blog has given me more opportunities that I can count, and for that I am very grateful.

When I started selling ads in 2008 it was perceived as selling out but I went ahead with it anyway. I didn’t see the difference between what I was doing and other women writing books or magazine articles about their lives at home. The tide seems to have shifted a little, and people are more accepting of ads on a personal blog.

I guess my feeling has always been that if readers didn’t care what I had to say or how I said it, they could just close their browser window and move on to the next blog. And I was fine with that. I really just needed to write, and if people liked it, well, that was just icing on the cake.

I’ve met many wonderful people since those early days. I can count many blog readers, fellow bloggers, and people I’ve met on Twitter as friends, yet I still feel largely alone. I think that part of this has to do with writing being a solitary pursuit, and that I control every aspect of the blog. I am the CEO of a company of one and there’s no water cooler. Even though there have been many people who’ve helped me along the way, this blog has been primarily a solo pursuit. I’m the long distance runner who’s been setting her own pace for 15 years, with mostly my own thoughts to keep me company as I tackle the hills and valleys, one step at a time. When I fall, I pick myself up because I have no choice but to keep going. And when I’m flying, I try to enjoy the moment for what it is.

My advice to new bloggers can be summed up in two words: Just. Write. Everything else will follow.

Where does my success come from? I think it’s because I was in the right place at the right time and I just kept at it. Is this blog better than it was 15 years ago? I can’t say for sure. It’s certainly different. In its early days a friend once called it a “shrine” to my baby. I guess it was. Subjects change as I change. My interests come and go, but this blog is still me. Sometimes I waver, and wonder if I should be doing more of one thing, or less of another, but if I did that… the blog might become too much of a chore and I worry that I wouldn’t be able to keep it up. I’ve entertained people and inspired people but I’ve also enraged people, and turned people off. But I’m ok with that. I try not the let the copycats or the haters get me down, and I’m better at it today than I was 15 years ago. Some of that has to do with my age. When you hit 40 you realize that life is too short to put up with anyone’s baloney.

It makes me incredibly happy to know that something I’ve said or done has helped someone in a small way. A few years ago I received this email and it’s always stayed with me. So thank you, anonymous person. And thank you to all the Fishies out there who are reading and commenting and sharing. Your words make this journey a lot more fun and a little less lonely. And for that I am eternally grateful.

13 Responses to "Reflecting on 15 years of blogging"

1 | coffeewithjulie

May 10th, 2014 at 11:47 am


Happy 15 year anniversary! Thank you so much for blogging and sharing your stories with us. xo

2 | Lynn

May 10th, 2014 at 6:47 pm


Happy anniversary! Your blog is a touchstone for all bloggers, and bloggers in Ottawa in particular. You’ve made yourself into an icon through a ton of hard work. I’m so glad to have the fishbowl around!

3 | Sarah McCormack

May 11th, 2014 at 3:52 pm


what an accomplishment! congrats Andrea :) I hope you share 15 more years with all of us!!

4 | Finola

May 12th, 2014 at 8:14 am


Happy Anniversary Andrea! And thanks for always being such a supportive person in the blogosphere!!

5 | Javamom

May 12th, 2014 at 9:40 am


Your blog was the first I discovered and it inspired me to write my own. I still visit you every single day and I never, ever regret my visit, even if I don’t comment that day (and as one of few, I still comment fairly regularly on people’s blogs, since facebook and twitter can be oh-so-timeconsuming in ways I find blogs just are not).

Congratulations on all of your writing success! I will keep visiting :)

6 | andrea tomkins

May 12th, 2014 at 11:00 am


Thanks so much guys! xo

7 | Jennifer Bennett

May 12th, 2014 at 6:02 pm


That’s awesome! Happy anniversary. :)

8 | 15 things I’ve learned about blogging over 15 years of blogging >> a peek inside the fishbowl

May 13th, 2014 at 10:46 am


[…] can hardly believe it, but this past weekend marked the 15th anniversary of this blog. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, but it’s still occupying space in my brain. […]

9 | Glen Gower

July 20th, 2014 at 9:32 am


Here’s to another 15 years!

(Actually I’m curious – do you think you’ll still be blogging here in 15 years?)

10 | andrea tomkins

July 20th, 2014 at 9:36 am


Glen: It’s hard to know. I like to think that I will still be here. I imagine the blog will look a lot different though… perhaps it will be an international travel blog instead of an Ottawa family blog? :)

11 | Sandy

May 10th, 2017 at 1:41 pm


Congratulations on 18 years! WOW! That’s incredible! I’m glad this came up in your archives today as I missed it the first time around. Love this post and reading about your early days. Funny…when I think back to around 2006-2007, before I was even contemplating blogging myself, I remember finding your blog and reading a few stories from it. I remember thinking “I know her!” the first time I met you in person and found out the name of your blog :) . You are still one of my faves to this day. Here’s to another 18 years…if you still want to be blawging then!

12 | andrea tomkins

May 11th, 2017 at 11:38 am


Thanks Sandy! It’s been quite the journey. I can’t believe it’s been 18 years!

13 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive A Thanksgiving surprise - a peek inside the fishbowl

October 9th, 2023 at 11:00 am


[…] around for some thoughtful posts I could share to summarize my feelings a bit better and found this one that I wrote on my 15th anniversary of blogging. Feel free to read it, or not, but if you don’t you’ll miss snappy lines like: When […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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