To anyone thinking about starting off a literary blog, a few observations and a couple of words of encouragement, a whole two words; watch out for them, they could be anywhere.
It was with a fair degree of reticence I returned to active participation in the World Wide Web back in August. I'd stayed clear of the Internet for eight years contenting myself with my own work and company and only using the Internet for research. A lot can happen in eight years. Blogs existed back in 2000 in all but name but they weren't the phenomenon they have become. Everyone and his dog have a blog these days.
I didn't just jump in to see if I could swim. No, I read everything I could about how blogs worked, looked at hundreds – literally – and wasn't altogether impressed with what I found. I had no real expectations so I can't really say I was disappointed as such but the more I read the more I started to expect to be disappointed. The thing is, every now and then, I wasn't. And that was the start of it. I began to run across interesting blogs. I devoted three whole months to this research.
I don't know about you but I find uncovering new-and-interesting blogs a slog, a chore, a real pain in the wrist. My approach over the months has been quite simply to click on every single outbound link and see where it takes me. Blog directories are okay but I've not run across many quality sites through them. Usually I've stumbled across them elsewhere first. When I do trip over a site that looks promising, I subscribe to it immediately and watch it progress. Or not. It doesn't take long to see if what attracted me to the blog in the first place was a flash in the pan; anyone can have the odd good day.
Often these sites are posting daily but it's what they're posting. Frequently it has nothing to do with what their blog purports to be about and often, if it's not out-and-out moaning about life, it's plain trivia. There is a belief out there where people feel they have to post every single day or they'll be forgotten and very soon they run out of decent ideas. It's simply not true. Periodically I check my list to see how long it is since a site has posted. If it's been over three weeks then I usually delete the entry there and then. It may seem a little callous but I'm looking to build relationships with active bloggers who have something to say. I would love to paint myself as altruistic but I'm not.
What I have learned about on-line marketing is, unlike so many other forms of marketing, one of the best ways to get known is by being a nice guy and, despite an unfortunate misanthropic streak that I've never been able to shrug off, I can be quite a decent stick when I put my mind to it. It's easy to be a misanthrope though when there's no one around to bring out the nice guy lurking on the inside.
So, I started to take an active interest in some of the sites I kept finding myself visiting and, much to my surprise (even though it was a part of the grand plan), people started checking out my own blog. But there weren't many. If I made it into double figures I was happy (or at least what passes for happiness with me) and this went on for several weeks. I started to register with blog directories like BlogCatalog, BlogRush and MyBlogLog. British Blogs, BritBlog and BritLitBlogs made a real difference – I began starting to get a whopping thirty odd readers a day.
It took a surprising amount of hard work to get even to that level. The big jump came when I joined the Entrecard network of blogs. I now enjoy regular daily visits of over a hundred a day but I'm under no illusions that they're all actually reading my blog. My wife talks about it as my "clickership" as opposed to readership. (It's a good term. I googled it. It's not original. So little ever is.) A mention on Ron Sillman's blog did me no harm – a spike of almost three hundred visits that day. We'll have to see how many stick with me. Blogs tend to be read by other bloggers. It's a hard thing to attract the attention of passing trade.
It is one thing to write a quality product. It is another thing completely to think that if you write it they will come. They won't. You need to send up flares and hire a brass band. You can stand atop your blog and wave your best knickers in the air but I can guarantee there are a lot of fancier and skimpier knickers which will get people's attention before yours ever will. Fact of life #973. Get over it and get on with it.
There are a lot of blogs out there with a sticky literary centre. There are students studying for degrees and fighting with their first novels, there are the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) sites and the less well publicised NaPoRiMo (National Poem Writing Month) sites, there are sites where people only publish their own poetry and stories, poetry magazines masquerading as blogs and sites where would-be-writers share their angst with the world. There are also a few sites where their authors want to talk about writing, to advance writing, to promote writing. This last group is the hardest one to find.
I hate tags. I know why they're of use but I hate them all the same. On most sites where my blog is listed it's under tags like 'writing', 'poetry' or 'literature' and they're fine but they're also so generic. I wish I had an answer – a practical answer to the problem to save people having to wade through so much … crap is probably too strong a word, let's call it … irrelevance. There are lots of awards floating around on the net. I ran across one where, once you've been granted the accolade you automatically get the right to pass it on to x number of your friends. It's meaningless really. I'd like to see something akin to a Michelin Star type of award for excellence across a whole range of topics and a directory where I could go, look up 'SEO' for example, and find the 3-star sites in a nice neat column along with up-to-date hyperlinks. Am I a dreamer or what?
Till that day I'd like to take this opportunity to direct you to a handful of sites that I think deserve your attention. I have no idea how much attention they are getting – they probably all get more readers than I do – but all of these have something more to say than, "Here's my latest poem and a photo of what my kid drew in class today." There is nothing wrong with sites like that and I read several of them. I also read a number by angst-ridden students and the fabulous Garfield minus Garfield.
Personally I don't like the word 'blog' – it's an unattractive word. It's the kind of noise your baby would make if you dropped it inadvertently into a vat of treacle. (I really must get my imagination tuned). I think of what I write more as a newspaper column. It's not a diary by a long chalk. The style is relaxed and a bit flippant at times but that's the kind of articles I prefer. Give me a …for Dummies book any day over a dry textbook. People have preconceptions about what a blog is or should be. I think they're changing. And I think it is a good thing, a necessary thing. Even if I didn't, this is the future and, although I may not exactly want to embrace it, I'm not averse to standing next to it for publicity photos.
Here are a few blogs that you may or may not be aware of. Some of them are listed on the right but this is a proactive attempt to highlight the quality of writing that's out there. It's hard work producing stuff like this. Especially when you don't get much in the line of comments. Check out a few of these. Subscribe to them. Tell them they're doing a good job. What they're on about today may not be your cup of tea but you don't want to miss what they might have to say tomorrow. They all exhibit, what Geof Huth (see below) describes, as "real thinking".
Art Durkee, who describes himself as a "wandering musician, artist, and writer, travelling across the face of the earth and sharing what is encountered", writes thoughtful posts and isn't afraid to take his time over a topic as he does with this four-parter on experimental poetry:
Moralizing vs. Experimentation 1
Moralizing vs. Experimentation 2
Moralizing vs. Experimentation 3
Moralizing vs. Experimentation 4
WORLD CLASS POETRY BLOG
Allen Taylor is an opinionated chappie. A veteran of Iraq, an experience that has clearly affected him, he has written extensively about his time there. One of the main focuses of his blog has been a call for a unifying "school" of poetics which he calls the Millennial School of Poetry. Its precepts, for want of a better expression, are laid out in the following blogs. It's a brave attempt which not everyone will agree with but, as a basis for discussion (or just something to make you think about your own work), is a good thing. He is also not averse to tackling the sometimes awkward subject of religious verse.
Poetic craft is of utmost importance
There is no room for prejudice in poetry
Form is just another element of poetic craft
Creativity and poetic craft go hand in hand
In poetry, no subject is taboo
Poetic Language Cannot Be Too Archaic
All poems are individuals
There is no acceptable method to writing poetry
All convention should be shunned
This is a blog run by John Miedema who lives in Ontario. John is an exponent of the stately art of slow reading (not to be confused with close reading – see my blog on the subject here). It's not the only thing he blogs about, which is good, but who ever imagined anyone could have so much to say about something we take so much for granted?
Slow Reading – A Series
VSR - Introduction
The Facets of Voluntary Slow Reading I: The Voluntary Aspect
The Facets of Voluntary Slow Reading II: The Meaning of Slow
The Facets of Voluntary Slow Reading III: What it is Not, What it is
The Facets of Voluntary Slow Reading IV: 10 Reading Techniques
The Surfacing of Slow Library: OLA Super Conference 2008
Slow Reading is Green Reading
Results of a Search on Voluntary Slow Reading
Voluntary Slow Reading: Table of Contents
From here you'll find links to a further fifteen articles that he's currently posting.
Andrew Philip, a fellow Scot, writes poems that are often strange and beautiful. At least so the blurb on his website would have you believe. He is very passionate about the medium but in particular on of the most unappreciated poetic techniques: rhyme. His involved series, Reasoning Rhyme, is fascinating but don't expect to get through it in half an hour.
Reasoning Rhyme: Prologue
Reasoning Rhyme: The Intolerable Wrestle With Words
Reasoning Rhyme: Making It New
Reasoning Rhyme: More Complex Phenomena
Reasoning Rhyme: Supplement on the Features of Consonants
Reasoning Rhyme: To Begin at the Beginning: the Role of the Onset 1
Reasoning Rhyme: To Begin at the Beginning: the Role of the Onset 2
Reasoning Rhyme: Tiel Aisha Ansari's Objections 1
Reasoning Rhyme: Tiel Aisha Ansari's Objections 2
Reasoning Rhyme: Lightness that Drew Me: Rhyme in Gaelic
Terry Heath is a busy guy. He doesn't post a great deal on his literature site but that doesn't mean he's away twiddling his thumbs. What he does upload is well-written. He's posted detailed articles on Hardboiled Crime Fiction, Film Noir and The Canterbury Tales. His current preoccupation is The Great Gatsby. So far he's posted the following:
A Feminist Critique of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
A New Criticism View of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
A Psychoanalytic Criticism of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
A Marxist Critique of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
Indeterminacy in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Northrop Frye’s Theory of Myths
It's hard to know where to start with this guy. Basically if you want to know about visual or minimal poetry Geof Huth's websites are a good place to start. (The link above is actually to his Blogger profile which lists all the sites he's involved in). I've picked five posts pretty much at random because this is a site to get lost in even if you haven't a clue about visual poetry or perhaps especially if you don’t have a clue.
An Introduction to Visual Poetry Written on the Fly
The ten laws in this article are a great guide for writing any kind of poetry.
Catechism of Visual Poetry Doctrine: Faith (1 – 12)
Catechism of Visual Poetry Doctrine: The Visual Poet’s Creed (13-15)
Ten more blogs are promised to cover the whole 'catechism'.
Oh, I did mention at the start a couple of words of encouragement didn't I? Here they are: BE REALISTIC. The thing about optimism is that it's only time before you'll get tripped up. If you're a pessimist, you may think nothing will ever disappoint you but you'll also set your expectations a tad on the low side. Pessimists are not renowned for seizing the day, grasping the thistle or living in the moment. If you're a fatalist you've probably already given up before you got to this paragraph.
Since I've started my blog I've seen several blogs fall flat on their faces. In one case the author had unrealistic expectations about her ability to commit to a daily blog; the other expected everyone else to do all the work for them. The thing is both blogs were good ideas. They could've lasted under different circumstances. The first lady managed to build up a bit of an audience who ended up chasing her up to see what was happening. The second sat there and waited and waited… but no one came. Kevin Costner has a lot to answer for. Roughly 98% of all blogs fail according to Terry Heath who sums up what blogging is all about quite succinctly in his post Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?
- Blogging is writing
- Blogging is marketing
- Blogging is doing the same thing over and over
A realist realises that marketing is not a dirty word. A realist realises that content is king. A realist takes an interest in his readers. A realist knows that it takes time to write a decent blog, to edit that blog and to proofread that blog. A realist makes sure that all those things get done. A realist does research. A realist doesn't believe the first thing he reads or hears. A realist tests things, does dummy runs. A realist double-checks. A realist doesn't hope or wish or guess or pray. A realist has a plan. And a Plan B. A realist might not know but they have a pretty good idea. Realists don't always expect to win big but they know when to cut their losses. Realists get a good night's sleep. Realists take backups. Realists count their pennies. A realist is a businessman and business is business. A realist lives in the real world where postage costs money, phone calls cost money, time is money and a shark that stops swimming drowns. And sometimes a realist gets lucky but that's just gravy.
And if all of that hasn't put you off, I look forward to reading what you have to say.