Social poet and published author Blake Auden has amassed more than 190,000 Instagram followers — the majority during lockdown – thanks to his short, yet powerful, daily ‘micro poems’.
What’s more, his work is driving one of lockdown’s most interesting trends: poetry as the new go-to self-help solution.
We chatted with him about how his journey to this point.
What was your dream job, as a child?
I wanted to be a writer, although I would oscillate between scriptwriter, novelist, journalist, poet and songwriter. I couldn’t be happier to have settled on poetry. I’ve loved poetry for as long as I can remember and it’s a dream to be working in this format every day.
What was your first job?
It was working as a copywriter for a digital agency on the south coast. After four months I left to go into self-employment.
Did you secure this job after university?
I did indeed, after my second degree in Professional Musicianship from BIMM [British Institute of Modern Music] in Brighton. My first degree was in Film and TV at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
What did you do following your stint as a copywriter?
I worked in the music industry for seven or eight years. I was a performing musician around the south coast and managed bands who performed in that area, too.
I used to create posters to promote gigs, an experience which helped me gain graphic design skills. I now have a small graphic design agency which I have been running for 10 years, but I really wanted to write full-time and I’m glad that I am now on my way to doing so.
Tell us about the period in your life that prompted you to start writing poetry
I have struggled with my mental health for a lot of my adult life, but things were particularly difficult in my early to mid-thirties. I was suffering regular panic attacks and rarely left the house.
I knew I had to take steps to address the problem and I began going to therapy, meditating regularly and looking for non-pharmaceutical approaches to dealing with anxiety. This led to me rediscovering my love of poetry, which has become something of a therapeutic tool in recent months.
What prompted the anxiety you were feeling?
As a child I was inclined to worry and that came from my dad being in the military and going off to conflict.As I got older, it got worse. Being a man, I thought I just had to tough it out, but I became more and more anxious. Then I realised that was silly, that I had to accept my anxiety was an issue and do something about it.
What year did you start writing poetry for Instagram?
In February 2019, on the advice of a friend who suggested it might be a good platform to share my work. The initial goal was simply to share my work and hope that a small number of people might enjoy it. It was never a question of wanting to be famous on social media, or even to earn a living through poetry.
How many Insta followers did you have pre-lockdown?
I had around 60,000 followers, but now the overall total has increased by approximately 130,000 since the start of the first lockdown. I’ve also seen an increase in the number of male followers, up from around five per cent of my total following to more than 25 per cent.
Can you share the secret to your Instagram success?
I’m not sure there is a ‘secret’ to success — or, if there is, I’m still not sure what it is. But I do think my willingness to be vulnerable and honest resonates with people. On social media people tend to make sure their lives look as good as possible, but I write that I’m struggling, have struggled and continue to struggle.
Have you been able to monetise your popularity?
I’m really happy, and humbled, to say that I now make a good living through book sales, the majority of which come through Instagram. I self-published my first three books, all of which sell via my website (blakeauden.com). My fourth book, Murmuration, is coming out via a publisher in North America, in October. But financial success has always been a secondary consideration for me.
In fact, I will often turn down opportunities to earn additional income — including from partnerships to promote products — because I don’t want to turn my personal brand into something that is just out to make money.
The main goal is to help people deal with their mental health, and to have a career that gives my own life genuine meaning and purpose.
Describe how you spend a typical working day…
Most days I start with meditation, a light breakfast and, weather permitting, time out of the house in green spaces or by the sea. The bulk of my day is then spent working on new poems, packing books for shipping and replying to messages and comments on Instagram.
I get thousands of Instagram messages every week and I really try to send a reply to everyone because they have taken the time to communicate with me. It’s a real struggle to keep up with them, but I spend at least an hour or so every day trying to respond.
What are some of your goals for your Instagram account and your working life?
Apart from being able to make a living out of writing, I want to help raise awareness of mental health issues, particularly in men. I also want to use the platform I’ve been given to help other writers make a career out of what they love. Soon I will launch a monthly email initiative called The Lighthouse Project, which aims to help more people make a living from their work.
When did you realise that you had chosen well by launching an Instagram account?
When people started leaving comments and messages, saying how much the poems were helping them come to terms with their own emotions. That is an important measure of success for me.
How do you feel now?
For the first time in my life, I really feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing, and that’s made a real difference to how I feel on a daily basis. I still struggle with anxiety, and some days are certainly better than others, but I honestly feel my life has some meaning for the first time in a long time. That’s really all I’ve ever wanted.
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