What’s Your Reason for Blogging?


Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home

-Sting, Message in a Bottle

I read a post at Jodie Llewellyn’s site, Words Read and Written that asked the question, How do you measure your blog’s success? The comments from readers provide an interesting snapshot into people’s motivations for blogging. Some are in it for followers (hoping, perhaps, to translate that into book sales some day). Others want to share their dreams and insights with others (for example, writing instructional articles). Others are unconvinced that others care much about their blog, and they are doing it for themselves.

My perception of what constitutes a “successful blog” has changed over time. Initially, I suppose I wanted to be read by people. My mental image was of my fingertips etching words onto computer screens around the world. The sluggish statistical reports provided by WordPress quickly dispelled that unrealistic expectation. But for a long time, it still made a big difference to me whether people visited, liked and commented. Other people’s reactions to my posts mattered.

Now, I am content to write this blog as if I am writing it to myself only. A memoir in a glass house, a digital message in a bottle. Others are welcome to read it (or ignore it, or remain blissfully ignorant of its existence) as well. However, to say, “then” and “now” is overly simplistic. There was a transformation that did not go without at least some cynicism. In fact, cynicism seems to be one of the two most predictable outcomes of maintaining a blog. (The other being apathy, if the innumerable corpses of now defunct blogs last posted to sometime in 2007 are any indication.)

Why is cynicism such an easy course to take as a blogger? For me, it was a natural product of the process and interface with the readers. I found myself opening my dashboard, immediately looking for that little box in the corner. Is it orange? Hey, someone liked a post and followed my blog!  Hang on a second. Did they only do it so that I would visit their site and like or follow them?  Did they pepper a bazillion unlikable blogs with Likes just to increase traffic to their site? And what is the purpose of a Like, anyway? Why can’t I Dislike a blog?

My blogging nadir (at least, my nadir-to-date) came in mid-November 2012, halfway through National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo). My posts just ceased for about two years. For about a year, I still had a bookmark to my dashboard on the bookmarks bar, thinking that perhaps I might get back to it. Then, realizing that I subconsciously avoided looking at that part of the bookmarks bar, I finally deleted the bookmark. (Demented, I know.)

Life continued happily. I read no blogs, and a quick scan of the stats confirms that very few people read mine. (Actually, that’s not entirely true… there are a few inexplicably popular posts. If I constantly wrote about graphic novels, I’d have some really “impressive” stats.) I wrote a lot… I just didn’t share any of it.

Then, about three weeks ago, I started posting on this site again. I’ve made a conscious decision to remain unruffled if two or two hundred or two million people click through my site daily, reading all or none of my posts. I was only able to come to this conclusion because the same process had already occurred for my writing in general. I write for me. I will continue writing, even if no one reads it.

When I picked up this blog again, I went through and read my posts from start to finish. It was interesting to see the evolution of the thing, from protozoan brag board to an online notebook with opposable thumbs. I enjoy having a record of my thoughts that I can go back to months and years later. The advantage a blog has over a journal (which would otherwise serve the same purpose), is that I  would probably not worry about the cosmetic appearance of my journal at all, whereas I have some incentive (real or imagined) to make my blog posts look good, read well, and be of interest to someone other than myself.

Hopefully, I am not the only one who will ever read this. But if I am, then at least the echo inside my own bottle sounds good.

My One-Sided War With the Editor: A Constructive Way to Deal With Rejection

I’m not sure which is worse: being continually rejected, or not caring about it anymore.

I’ve received word back from two more potential handlers of my novel manuscript (can’t call it a book yet, as that implies something that can be held). Not surprisingly, they were rejections. Admittedly, they were very kindly worded rejections, but of the “Dear Author” variety.  “I regret to say that I’m going to pass on this. But please remember, tastes are subjective, so please don’t internalize your feelings of rejection and show up at my office armed with a cheese grater.”

Under ordinary circumstances, this would be the place to cue the rant.  Beginning in 3… 2… wait!

There is an alternative. Be constructive with that soul-crushing sensation that your work, however literary and phenomenal it may be, will forever go ignored because it just doesn’t have commercial value.  Yes!  Be constructive.

So, for all of you stifled writers out there, your voices mercilessly quelled by avalanches of form rejection letters, here is a short story. I wrote it a few years ago, after a vain attempt to get published in a certain lit mag.  I gave up eventually, but not before sending this story to the editor. No, it was not accepted.

Hope you enjoy.

My One-Sided War with the Editor
How I Learned to Love My Weight

I lay all the blame on a story I wrote in grape juice concentrate on a sheet of corrugated tin beneath the baking Arizona sun. I called the story “Editor K and the absence of pronouns.” It was, I thought, a bit like buying the editor flowers. The story was short, just 40 words. Had to be. I only had so much grape concentrate. After a few drafts, it read as follows:

Editor K lapped water from a crevice in the rock like a cat. Dense fog swirled around Editor K, beaded on Editor K’s clothing, and dripped from Editor K’s limp hair. A cold wind blew, but the fog did not dissipate.

Obviously, the hook in this story was the lack of pronouns. Instead, I would use the complete proper noun. I could already taste the acceptance letter.

It seemed, however, that Editor K had other views. After waiting a few days, this reply found its way to my inbox:

Dear Jack, Thanks for hitting us with this one, but unfortunately we are unable to use it. The exposition is too heavy for our current aesthetic. Please submit again in the future. —Editor K

Strange, I thought. I tried to pull apart the words and understand their meaning. The use of the word ‘unfortunate’ led me to believe that some circumstance beyond Editor K’s control had made it impossible to use my story. The revelation that the ‘exposition was too heavy’ concerned me. Was it the simile in the opening line of the story? Or the adjectives in general? What was a dense fog anyway? Maybe Editor K has no hair, making it impossible for it to ever be limp.

But there was hope. That last line of the rejection letter, ‘Please submit again in the future.’ Clouds mixed with sunshine. I tried again:

The mist parted, long enough for Editor K to see that Editor K stood on the lip of a cliff. Below, farm houses dotted the fields. Then the clouds pressed in, and Editor K was alone again.

You’ll notice that I did away with the adjectives, and even the similes. I kept the exposition light. Just the facts, or so I thought. But then came the reply:

Jack, Thanks for sending this piece our way, but we’re going to pass. The exposition is just too heavy for our current aesthetic. Please feel free to send something else our way. —Editor K

Clearly, it wasn’t the adjectives. I thought maybe I could solve the riddle through a process of elimination. Perhaps I had used verbs that were unnecessarily descriptive. ‘Parting’ mist and ‘pressing’ clouds. This time, I would strike a more conversational tone. It would be a text so light that Editor K would have to tie it down to keep it from floating away:

Who lived in those farm houses? Editor K spent a lot of time thinking about that. Editor K tried to find a way down to those fields, but the cliff was just too high.

Short. Concise. And above all, not heavy. I’d sacrificed, wanted to mention the way it made Editor K feel to long and remain unfulfilled. But I held it in. Maybe unencumbered writing was all about mastering one’s urges. Suddenly the current aesthetic seemed very Zen.

Short turnaround times are a mixed blessing. Those editors who take six months to respond give you enough time to forget you ever submitted anything, and so rejection comes not so much as a disappointment, but as a surprise. As in, ‘I submitted there?’ But not Editor K. He was back in no time:

J, Thanks for giving us a look, but we won’t be using this. The exposition is just too heavy for our current aesthetic. Please keep us in mind for the future. —Editor K

Again with the references to weight. When I looked at my stories in the mirror, I saw nothing but flesh sagging from places I’d never known existed. I became an anorexic writer. In my despair, I hit the drink. I went on a bender. When I sobered up, two months later, I learned that I’d filled a notebook with scrawl, most of it illegible. But on the last page, I saw this:

A longing to be down among Editor K’s own kind gripped Editor K with such animal strength that Editor K contemplated throwing Editor K’s body over the precipice. But Editor K just clung to the cold stone and wept.

This was heavy. This was visceral, guts hanging, cellulite curdling. This would never be accepted. And something about that tasted sweet in the back of my mouth, like the Boone’s Farm I’d been swallowing by the gallon over the past two months. I had finally learned to love my weight.

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 17… and my 100th post

Day 17

NaNoWriMo will soon be at an end. But before discussing the day’s writing, it’s worth mentioning that this is my 100th post!

I will admit that I’m looking forward to NaNoWriMo being over, but not because I have disliked the process. Posting here (even if to a largely theoretical audience!) has kept me going. I’m happy to have had a reason to keep writing. It’s also nice to look back at the stuff I’ve written so far and see some tangible ways it can be improved up.

I am currently at 28,550 words. Here’s an excerpt. It makes a bit more sense if you know that in a previous chapter, Ethan fired a flare gun into one of the pirates’ faces.

(Stephan Paquet, flickr.com)

Mr. Falco guided Calypso past the seawall with the Dagger in tow, easing her to a stop in the middle of the harbour. A small launch from the harbourmaster’s office, a dinghy with a tall triangular sail, had already set out to meet them. When it drew near, the boys recognized the harbourmaster with the long, droopy eyebrows. He called up to the Calypso.

“Who are you, and what is your business here?” he asked.

Jacques was on the lower deck with Mr. Falco. “I am Jacques Cousteau, explorer, oceanographer, and film maker. This is my captain, Mr. Albert Falco. We wish to deliver these boys safely to shore, along with their boat, which is in desperate need of repairs.”

The harbourmaster looked the boys up and down for a few seconds. He also cast a long glance back at the Dagger before speaking again.

“I remember you two,” he said. He frowned. “Looks like you banged up your boat pretty bad. What are you doing going out on the sea if you don’t know how to keep your boat from running afoul of the rocks?”

Ethan felt mad at the old man’s suggestion that it was their fault for crashing the boat. “Don’t blame us! We were being chased by men who wanted to steal our boat and sell us to the mines at Karnet’s Horn.”

The harbourmaster looked at Ethan with surprise. “Is that a fact? Can you identify the men, boy? We don’t abide pirates at Fikskoljan, and if you can remember the faces of the men what came after you, there’s a chance we can bring them to justice.”

Pete cleared his throat. “You might say that justice has already been served. The men who attacked us are all dead.”

“Surely you jest,” said the harbourmaster. “Why, you’re just boys.”

“Lucky boys,” said Pete.

“Yeah. Boys who know how to fire a flare gun,” said Ethan.

I Should Of Known: Julian of Norwich and the Venerable History of Dodgy Auxiliary Verbs

For a fascinating historical perspective on what medievalist and blogger, Jeanne de Montbaston, calls “dodgy auxiliary verbs,” see her post on Reading Medieval Books.

Jeanne de Montbaston

Teaching Medieval Students. London, BL MS Royal 19 C ii, f. 48v. Teaching Medieval Students. London, BL MS Royal 19 C ii, f. 48v.

Thrilling title, I know.

And no, this post isn’t technically about feminism or medieval romance, so you’ll have to forgive me for a moment, because I’m going to bang on about bad grammar and dyslexia. I’m writing this because for about the ninth time this month, I’ve heard someone insist that it’s perfectly fair to judge people who make grammatical slips, because there’s no reason to do that except for ignorance or laziness.

Now, personally, I’m not wild about judging people for ignorance. It seems like educational privilege to me. But I’m even more fed up with people who assume grammar errors can only be made through ignorance of correct standard English. In my experience, the same people tend to have a wildly idealistic attitude towards the history of the English language, so it’s always fun when you…

View original post 1,110 more words

A Useful Website: Best Fantasy Books

Yesterday, I shared my opinions here about The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende. Upon reflection, I realised that it could seem as if I am a hater of fantasy writing. Not so. I am, however, a somewhat picky reader of fantasy. I did some Googling, and I found a useful website, called Best Fantasy Books, which has this to say about the genre:

Take a stroll through any mega bookstore, and you will be inundated with countless fantasy fiction books. A few will be great fantasy books, some will be good fantasy books, and most will be bad fantasy books. Finding a good fantasy novel is difficult, like sifting for gold among sand. But occasionally, just occasionally, you’ll find that rare nugget, that grain of gold to forever treasure.

Some have a negative perception of fantasy literature (especially those who read only “mainstream” literature) as being cheesy, badly written, and cliche. Yet, rest assured there are some very well written fantasy books out there — books that can compete arm to arm with “literature”. You just have to know where to look.

And Best Fantasy Books is, in fact, a very good place to look. They have a “Top 25” books list (yes, Tolkien’s on the list, but so are many you may have not heard of). They also have lists according to sub-genre, some fairly closely associated with fantasy, and some not. For example, the stewards of that website have assembled a collection of what they deem to be the best of the Tolkien Clones, as well as Asian-themed fantasy.

So, hopefully that does something to dispel any false impressions that I am a fantasy hater. Hope it also gives you some fresh suggestions for reading material.

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 16

Day 16

The weather’s been changing here, and the air is becoming dryer and cooler. Unfortunately, I inherited from my mother a head like a barometer, and when the weather changes drastically, it often results in a unique type of pressure headache. Today, I’ve had a migraine whispering at the back of my skull since breakfast.  I’m afraid it took a toll on my writing.  I called it a day with just 200 words written.  However, I did manage to chart out the next portions of the story a bit more. Hopefully, with a day to rest and plan, I’ll get a lot done tomorrow.

My word count sits at 27,300, which is about 630 words ahead of “par” for Day 16. So far, I’ve been posting excerpts, but today’s can hardly be called an excerpt. It’s practically all I wrote!

(from debbiepokornik.com)

For the second time that day, the Dagger was underwater. The boys looked down at the outline of the hull in the dark water. Pete let out a long sigh.

“Well, this sucks. What are we going to do now?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Ethan. “We go talk to the Governor.”

Pete smiled. “Nice to hear you be the one to suggest it for a change. So, do we just leave the boat here?”

“You have a better plan?”

“No. Alright, let’s go.”

NaNoWriMo: The Islands Beyond, Day 15

Day 15

Saturdays are a mixed blessing. They provide way more opportunity to write than a weekday, but because everyone else is also free, there’s much more potential for being sidetracked. Some diversions are welcome, of course, like the opportunity to play Settlers of Catan (Cities and Knights expansion) with my wife and boys. (I won!)

I ended today at 27,100 words. Here’s an excerpt:

Calypso’s Denise (from natgeocreative.com)

The young bearded man’s face appeared at the hatch above. “All set to go,” he said.

“Take her down,” said Jacques.

He closed the hatch and sealed it by twisting a wheel. The submersible lurched, and then it was lifted up off the deck by the crane. When it hit the water, the windows went dark, and Jacques switched on the headlights and took the controls. A greenish glow shone through the windows and they began moving through the water. The boys pressed their faces against the narrow circles of glass, but saw nothing but light.

Then, as the submersible slowed, a dull white shape could be seen in the gloomy water. They followed the curving outline of the hull until they reached the transom, with the word Dagger written on it. The boat was hung up on a shelf of rock that jutted out into the channel. Her sails fluttered lazily in the current like enormous pieces of kelp. Here and there, a silver fish darted to escape the unfamiliar glow of their headlights.

Jacques eased the craft towards the bow, where a large gash could be seen in hull. He whistled through his teeth.

“That’s a nasty hole,” he said.

“Can you fix it?”

“Perhaps. But it will take time. This current makes things tricky.” He moved the controls, and the submersible backed away from the hull, leaving it once more in darkness. “I’m afraid it will have to wait until tomorrow. There are only a few more hours of daylight, and we cannot risk working in the dark.”