Baggott on Blogging, Asking a Question We Don’t Ask Enough.

This is called Language of the Birds Mural, and the image is from Flickr user jay-galvin

I read a lot about blogging.  There is a lot of advice about it.  Some people say that monetizing your blog is something you can only do if you’re as insanely popular as, for example, Shaq.  (Is Shaq still popular?  I think you know what I mean: household name, superstar status).  Some people say that bloggers who don’t monetize are wasting opportunities, but that you can’t monetize with Adsense or other ad space, so you need to monetize yourself.  I’ve written about that here.  Still others say that blogging is essential for authors–like me, and like people more successful than I am–to blog to “build a platform.”  Which somebody else says is more like being a literary citizen.  (I like that).

People build pipe dreams on blogs.  Bored housewives blog.  Authors blog.  People who are selling something or themselves blog.  People blog to give advice, to build their businesses, for personal fulfillment.

I have been thinking about my own blog a lot lately.  I took a week off so that I could spend some time thinking through some posts, and get a few in the hopper.

And I’ve been really annoyed lately by artists who work for free.  When we work for free, we steal money from ourselves and other artists.

But I work for free all the time, on my blog.  Sort of.  My blog is an investment in my future, it does not bring me money yet.  I’m aiming for 1,000 true fans over the next three years (but certainly by my 35th birthday, my 32nd is right around the corner).

And I do get paid from it.  Here’s what my blog pays me: 1.  Writing practice, 2. blogging discipline/skill set/Wordpress Savvy, 3. great connections with swell people in the writing/book/publishing world, 4. clout and authority in the same world, in which I’m hoping to be entangled professionally for the rest of my life.

Baggott recently asked some important questions

Julianna Baggott is an author I admire particularly because of her refusal to eschew commercial fiction as worthless even though she is also part of the academic literary community, and her ability to have feet in both commercial and literary worlds; and because she writes commercial fiction as it should be written: with respect for the craft, with commitment to language, and with love for her readers.  She also writes under the names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode.

She has a blog.  I read it sometimes.

She recently posted a piece entitled, “The Death of Blogging and… Blogging”  In the beginning of the post, she said she read an article about how blogging may be dying.  She admitted that it might make her happy if that is true, and she asked some other important questions, too.  Go on, then.  Click & read the whole post.

The question she asked that filled me with the most glee is this:

 I’m worried more broadly about free content in the Information Age and — amid the incredible inundation of things to read — how do writers of books convince the public that some words still need to be paid for? Have I contributed to a cultural message that words are cheap, if not free?

The truth is that good words aren’t cheap.  They are very costly, whether or not the writer is ever paid.  Good writers spend a ton of time writing: writing well can be an incredibly inefficient process.  Trouble is, we writers are more desperate to be read than we are to be paid.  After all, getting a job as a food server is easy enough.  So is getting a job for the state or at a gas station.  There are zillions of ways to get money that have nothing to do with writing.

Conversely, (unless you’re Julianna Baggott), getting articles placed in magazines, newspapers, literary journals–getting manuscripts in front of agents and editors is excruciatingly difficult.  I got a rejection kind of recently, and no matter how many I get, no matter how many times it says essentially the same thing–which is basically, “You know this is a subjective thing, kid.  Stick to your guns.”–it stings.  It sucks.  It envelopes me in self doubt and makes me want to zing back to the editor what a tasteless toad she is to not want my brilliant essays, stories, articles, or ideas.

Of course, I can’t, and I don’t, I ultimately don’t take it personally, and I will try again.  Right after I shake the self doubt.  That part of it does get easier.  At first, I’d lose a day to wallowing.  Now, gimmie four minutes.

Baggott also observed the following:

It’s hard to talk about making money as a writer in our culture, in general. Why?

1. You’re in a career where the most common adjective used to describe your job title is “starving”; Poe died in a gutter. Real artists shouldn’t expect to make money, right? (The Poe reference is an important one — as Poe was a writer who certainly wrote for money to support others.)

2. Many people believe they can write books — unlike, say, perform brain surgery — and so writers aren’t doing anything particularly remarkable.

3. Many people want to write and writers should be thankful to simply get published at all. Who do we think we are, anyway?

Yeah!  Especially that third one. Sometimes the sense is very much, “How dare you care if I screw up your work, how dare you care that we’ve paid you practically nothing for it! You’re lucky we’re taking your work at all!  Hell, you should pay us!”

Most of the magazines and papers I’ve worked with have been lovely, really.  And their editors are skilled, dedicated people who see the injustice, but are powerless, or are doing the best they can.

And I would add to number two that not only do many people believe they can write books, many people who have no business at all writing books do, and get paid–probably not handsomely, but paid–to do it!  I direct your attention to exhibit A: The Boddice Ripper.  I recently edited one that would’ve been particularly shredded in any college-level writing workshop.

So is the problem giving the work away for free, or is the problem that we don’t value good writing culturally because a) not enough people can tell when some writing is better than others and b) we live in the Information Age, as Baggot points out, and so much writing is free on the internet, why would anybody pay anything for any writing at all?

Regardless, writing is a profession.  It takes a long, long time to get good at it, and being a good writer is much rarer than the present cultural mood would indicate.  Baggott references the 10,000 hour rule whenever she talks to and about writer hopefuls.  And she’s right.  It’s not a craft that’s come by easily.  And there are loads of good writers who never make a dime.

So what do you think about free content?  Is it helpful or harmful?  And if it’s harmful, what can we do about it?

For Writers and Wannabes and Bloggers, and a Serious Question.

This is a drawing by Harry Clarke for Edgar Allen Poe's story, "The Premature Burial." It is from http://www.publicdomainreview.org

Yesterday I wrote that you have to read in order to be a great writer.

It’s true of blogging, too.  I decided about 2 months back that it was time to try to take this blog to the next level.

As I began to read about others’ ideas about blogging, things have more-or-less fallen into place.

Here are a few highlights of the things that have set the ball in motion for this blog, and for my future as a person who makes a living doing social media:

1. I finally focused.  Not hyperfocus or microfocus, but I figured out what I write about most often, watched my hits by varying post types, and paid attention to tweets & retweets & comments.

2.  I’ve got a schedule–sort of.  A loose one anyhow.  I (almost) always write for my blog first thing in the morning, and I post at least 5 days a week.  I don’t find this to be terribly difficult, but some folks would and do.  You do what works for you, okay?

3. I am a read like a crazy person–at least one blog post or resource a day.  It’s paying off.

Next?

1. Reorganize and purge my categories and labels.

2. Get some material in he hopper for weeks I have big projects.

3.  Post two reports for sale (hopefully by end of April): one on How to Start a writers’ group (post on the topic on Friday), and one on verb tenses.  Both inexpensive and well worth it.

4.  Figure out some kind of email subscription service (a la feedburner) and do a newsletter.

5.  Post a survey.  That’s next.   If you read here regularly, or if you’re in new blog love, please take eight seconds to click your answer or write one.  I don’t feel like I have to ask people to vote if they hate it, because haters like to hate.

Blogging Resources

279 Days to Overnight Success is an amazing resource.  And it’s free.  Read it.  That’s all.  Any type of blogger with any goals would benefit from the 12,000 words (which is not a huge time committment, either).

Stanford at Pushing Social writes a lot about how to use blogging to build your own business or brand.  I find some of his tips to be too sales-y for me, but he is not over-the-top.

Penelope’s advice about blogging which was the first place I went.  That was not–though I do love Penelope–100% all the best advice for me.  You really have to find what works for you, what’ll make you feel like doing your blog.  Now, I’d say about in the middle of my journey, I’m reaching a spot where I synthesize the voices I hear.  Pluck some advice from one, and other advice from another.

My Name Is Not Bob is Robert Lee Brewer’s blog.  RLB is an editor at Writer’s Digest which is a terrific publication.  He writes about other stuff, too, but his thoughts about social media for writers tend to be more about sharing than about bossing you around.  I dig that.

Copyblogger is more about the business of copywriting and web marketing. But they’ve got loads of free info on SEO and Keyword stuff that I’ve been meaning to get back to.

Brian A Klems is one of the bloggers and editors for Writer’s Digest.  Most of the time I dislike his posts, but this one is truly excellent, and a pretty solid distillation of all the best blogging advice.

Of course, Jane Friedman’s collection of voices and solid advice is an invaluable resource for any blogger, writer, social media afficionado, or 21st century human.

Resources for Writers, Novelists, Self-published, and Wannabes

A note here:  You can tell when these various folks have done their due diligence about blogging and are doing it well.  Reading at these sites–though they are not as universally well-blogged or well-designed as above, sometimes they didn’t have to because their readers came before their blogs–can be educational on the point of what looks most professional or badass.

Justine Musk writes about creativity and authorship and being a badass.  I really dig her.

My friend Jamie writes about being an editor.  She gives great tips about excellent stuff to read, writing pitfalls and grammar issues to avoid, and has a generally enjoyable voice & aesthetic.

These two gals are @duolit on twitter, and their website is all about self publishing.

Julianna Baggott’s blog is probably weighted heavily toward being more entertainment than advice, but she does have an advice to writers section that she updates whenever she posts on the topic.  Always, the posts are beautifully written.

The Rumpus is great.  I haven’t spent enough time there, but there’s a lot of entertaining, smart writing.  Entertaining, smart writing is good stuff to know about if you wanna be a writer.

Kristen Lamb’s blog is all about writing and authorship.  Her voice is also spunky and fun.  My favorite thing she’s doing right now is her series of posts called “Don’t Eat the Butt!”  It’s about bad–but prevalent–advice to writers and how to avoid being bogged down.

Cathy Day is a force of nature, and her blog is pretty great.  It’s more academic than anything I’ve listed above, but reading her blog is an experience that’s a little like taking her class or being engaged professionally by Cathy.  Cathy is one of the academic authors who “gets it” about social media.

I just love this one.  I found her yesterday, via 297 Days to Overnight Success, and she doesn’t offer writing or blogging advice specifically, but boy oh is her site a fun place to be.

Coming Attraction

Tomorrow is the Weeks to Geek post.  It’s going to be a little bit headier than you’re used to, but the whole component of the event that’s for librarians has gone–so far–unmentioned in the press & on this blog.  And well, I’ve always been a softy for the underdog.

Thanks, people, for making it real.

Friday Writing: Character Sketch I

This is from PublicDomainReview.org, Public Domain Image

One of the things about writing fiction that the general public seems to be largely unaware of is the countless hours of writing that happen before the novel or story comes out.  Cathy Day has a rule for this.  She says that the first 50,000 words are when the writer finds her novel.  I agree with the theory, obviously, but I feel like it’s dangerous to make it a specific number of words.  For some writers, it will be less.  For others, it will be more.

Writing can happen in thought, too.  I’ve found that I write during life, inside. I find things out about my characters, so sometimes I get a little short cut.  Make no mistake, I still have to dig into the trenches with them, and let them meet each other and themselves and eventually me.  Julianna Baggot talks about writing without writing here.

Something I’ve tried to explain to clients with massively huge manuscripts is yes, you’ve done all this insane amounts of writing.  But that was for you and your characters not for your book.  Now you have to find the book in all of this.

That part is really hard.

In college, I used to say that I get 10 usable words for every thousand.  That ratio has gotten better with time and practice, and I expect it’ll get better still.

So since I’m out of my old stories and nearing 10,000 words of my novel, which means that I’ll probably write 200,000 or so more before I have something I care to polish, I’m going to use my Free Fiction days to share the process with you.

I generally find the action to be intuitive once I have my characters, so the warmup writing tends to be my characters looking at stuff, and telling me who they are and what makes them go.  So far, these characters have asserted themselves in my life and thinking in aggressive ways.

At the moment, I’m working from the idea that this book will be about a group of female friends who play on a Bocce League.  I got the idea for it from hanging around with my friends on our Quizzo team, but as I write, it becomes clear that the main similarities between my friends and I and the women in my book are that there’s a similar number (4-6 in life, and 4 in my book), and they are on a competitive team with fairly low stakes (free beer).  But so far, the women in my book are showing themselves to be quite different from me and my motley friends.

This character is Sylvie.  Sylvie’s in her 40s. Something about her that hasn’t wormed its way into the book  yet is that she drives a late-model Nissan Pickup Truck with all kinds of bumper stickers on it.  Some of these are socially antagonistic, and some are enviro-political.  She’s not really at ease in her life, even though she feels like she should be.

Sylvie

It’s an unseasonably warm February day and Sylvie watches her pre teens inhabit the yard with her neighbor’s pre teens.  Spots of snow melt in the grass, remnants from the last two-inch snow in an otherwise snowless winter.  Her son’s jeans are streaked with mud, and she watches his angly, side-leaning run indicate a thing about him she’s almost not willing to face.

Her daughter’s freshly swollen chest is hidden under a t-shirt that hangs to her knees, and the two eye off with the neighbor kids, a boy and girl, similar ages, in some queer version of dodgeball meets flag football.

She remembers her own youth when going outside meant kneeling near the goats, eating sour grass and being perfectly still.  She remembers being immediately too self conscious to play with the other kids upon entering puberty, and she’s joyed that Melanie is comfortable enough in her skin to throw on a huge t-shirt and try to pretend it’s not happening.

Sylvie’s son, John, is wearing a red, v-necked soccer jersey, tight against his ribs and his long, lean waist.  His fourteen-year-old shoulders spread beneath his acned face.  He watches John’s eyes scan the other boy’s jeans, his interest in the other girl cursory, ill-fitting.

Christ, what’ll I tell Bear?  Her husband was a large, worked as a foreman on a gas rig.  Full of the swagger of manliness, drinking beer out of cans on principle and ordering his steak well-cooked.  Last year on his birthday, John requested steak medium-rare, and Bear almost grounded the poor kid.

“Why would you care how he likes his steak?  I can still cook yours well.” She told him.

“It ain’t right.” Said Bear.

“It’s what he likes.” Sylvie remembered how Bear’s excessive manliness was such a welcome departure from her previous lovers.  She’d been the sort of woman to have a lean, smooth, intellectual partner.  One with piles of books and a nuanced appreciation of high culture.  A few weeks before meeting Bear at a hunting lodge, where she went to research a specific species of wolf for the National Wildlife Federation on a Rhoades Scholarship, she’d caught her last partner with (another) grad student.  That one was only 22, and she looked practically pubescent to Sylvie’s 33-year-old eyes.  She had juvenile freckles and red curly hair, and wore a pair of leg warmers under a purple cotton skirt. Her hips still had the leaner swell of an adolescent.

Bear had sauntered up to her with a cold can of Bud and wrapped her fingers around it.  His knit cap met his sideburns and his eyes crinkled with warmth and simple adoration.  “I brought you a beer.”

Such a far cry from trying to seem uninterested while impressing her with references to Gould or Rorschach.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he’d slipped his hand around her shoulders, giving her a half hug, expressing possessiveness and affection.

She thought about the way even his impulses toward manners were different.  No pretense of, “Certainly!” or “Of Course!”

She found in the proceeding weeks that she was smitten by his demonstrative approach to love.  It was nearly wordless.  She wanted it because he wanted to listen to her talk for hours.  She didn’t know yet that it would get boring that he didn’t give anything back, didn’t interact.  Just eyed her with emphatic purity.  She hates herself that it isn’t enough.  She wants it to be as much as she wants not to have to tell Bear that their only son was likely gay.

For her part, Sylvie is more or less pleased.  Not for the social trauma John is sure to face, nor for the fact that it’s not legal for him to marry.  That it’ll be difficult to adopt before he’s almost forty.  That he has a statistically increased risk of getting HIV.  But John is a healthy, clever boy.  He will find his way. She loves that he does not seem to be embarrassed at his feelings.  He is tentative to be sure, but most fourteen-year-olds are tentative about sexuality.

Bloggers I like to whom I will award this JPEG

Here we go.  Those of you on whom I bestow this award, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to pass this award along to 15 other bloggers, and share 7 things about yourself that your readers may (or may not) know.  You can read mine here.

A note about my awards: I am first awarding to people like me–or better than me, but not so much better than me that they won’t participate and re-award.  These account for about half.  I’m including Justine Musk in this category because I have a small suspicion that she would view this kind of thing as big fun, and participate to prove that she’s not too big time.  The rest will be blogs I think it is essential for you to read, but by people or organizations who are so awesome that my blog is not even on their radar, or if it is, they are really freaking busy doing all the stuff that their big-time public lives allow or require of them, so they will probably not be paying this award forward.

Also, like Smoky, I don’t think I have 15.

I hereby award this Versatile Blogger Award to (drum roll):

Neato!

1.  Marc Schuster: Marc’s blog is informative and writerly.  He tells good stories.  Go forth, friends, and read him.  And buy his books.

2. Becoming Cliche: This woman is really funny.  And her blog is inspiring because she does, indeed, post every single day, and she uses strikethrough to great effect.

3.  This is me not awarding to Solomonian, since she hasn’t posted since she got a job.  But before she became employed, her blog posts were one of the joyful parts of my day.

4. Jamie Clarke Chavez is my newest cyber-acquaintance, and it turns out, we are the same person separated by about 1,000 miles and an undisclosed number of years.  Seriously, why would you even ask?  Jamie is wonderful, so much so I’m excited to meet her in person, and will travel to do so.  So I’m hereby extending the scope of this blogging award to include exceptional social media cheerleading, friendship, and food love.

5. Ashley Jillian is funny.

6.  Justine Musk.  This is the kind of blog I can get lost in for hours.  Her writing is delicious and she is legitimately a generous soul topped with an excellent mind.

7. Penelope Trunk is inspiring and smart and obnoxious and she home schools her kids.  I love her.  I write about how much all the time.  Doubt me?  Go ahead, plug her into the search bar over there.  She’s easily the most-linked person here.

8.  Julianna Baggott is smart and incredibly prolific.  She’s like 40, and she’s written 17 books, some of poetry, most novels.  Her blog is lovely and she is so thoughtful & generous with her time and thoughts.

9.  Jane Friedman‘s blog provides amazing insight into the publishing industry, what thinking people are saying about authorship, social media, new media, etc. She collects voices.  My blog is not 100% off her radar, since she has published a couple of my posts on her blog, but she is really busy.  And really inspiring in her ability to get stuff done.

10. Copy Blogger is a great place to learn how to do any and all of the following & more: market yourself as a writer, build a platform, use SEO, use social media, find copywriting work, etc, etc.  Very helpful.  Not maybe for all of you, but there’s a lot of stuff there that can be applicable to anybody using social media for business–not necessarily all writing projects & work.

My Life as a Sound Editor

This is Julianna Baggot's upcoming release, Pure

By which I mean, of course, podcast editor.

But the double entendre strikes me now: Sound-minded editor.  I’m that, too.

I’m so sound minded, in fact, that I resist the temptation to gouge out my own eyes as I truck through Romance manuscript after romance manuscript.  As I feel simultaneously insulted and envious that people whose idea of swell writing is a hopeless monsoon of cliches and tropes and shallow characters get to write books for money.

Those of you who just joined me today will be pleased to know that I’m not typically whiny, and even this bout of green is being countered by positive action.  Podcasts.  With authors who write good books.  Whose genre fiction is riveting.  Who have taken the time and care to study the craft before hitching pants with RWA and shitting same novel after same novel into the greedy mits of the “reading” public.

Tomorrow, the podcast with Julianna Baggott will go live.  Next week, I interview Smoky Trudeau Zeidel who has a terrific and  revealing anecdote about her literary fiction book whose title and label changed–nothing more–and is now selling.  Later this month, John McNally, author of Troublemakers, and After the Workshop.

And this, friends, is only the beginning.
Shameless Plug: Swooped in to save my life and my wallet: http://www.podbean.com.  The interface is smooth and modeled after WordPress.  If you podcast, you can get a free account.  If you get to podcasting like you mean it, they will sell you tools at a reasonable monthly price.