Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Five years after


Rory: Are you still going to school too?
Dean: Part-time, but everything's good, I've got a five-year plan.
Rory: Five years? Cool... I've got about the next two-and-a-half hours planned... then there's just darkness... and possibly some dragons.

Gilmore Girls: ‘The Incredible Sinking Lorelais’

I am not big on reflection. Like most people I can’t pass a mirror without taking note of what I look like. It’s not vanity. I just want to make sure I don’t look like a tube. Retrospection is something I shy away from too. I have no problems with introspection—I’ve lived inside my own head for years quite happily—but although that’s where my past hangs out we tend to keep to ourselves. I’m not big on anniversaries either. I remember my wedding anniversary but since it’s so close to Christmas we never make much of a fuss about it. Birthdays have become a moveable feast.

I have been churning out these blogs for five years now. My first was on 6th August 2007. I never mentioned to anyone when I reached my first anniversary and most other years by the time I’ve realised that another year has bitten the dust it’s too late to do a post. What would I say anyway? I’d say, “It’s been x number of years,” and you’d go, “Yay you,” and that would be that. So if you feel like going, “Yay you,” don’t let me stop you. I should probably go, “Yay you,” too for sticking with me for however long you’ve been following me. If, of course, this is your first visit, all I have to say is that you’ve got a helluva lot of catching up to do. Helluva lot of catching up. Over 450 entries. Over a million words (and that’s a very conservative estimate).

The Caslon Analytics site had this to say about blogging:

Several studies indicate that most blogs are abandoned soon after creation (with 60% to 80% abandoned within one month, depending on whose figures you choose to believe) and that few are regularly updated.

The 'average blog' thus has the lifespan of a fruit fly. One cruel reader of this page commented that the average blog also has the intelligence of a fly.

The Perseus report … indicates that 66.0% of surveyed blogs had not been updated in two months, "representing 2.72 million blogs that have been either permanently or temporarily abandoned".

That page was last updated in 2009 but even then the author acknowledged that the young were moving away from blogging in droves. It makes sense. If you don’t have much to say—i.e. if you’ve not a deep well of life experience to draw from—then Facebook and Twitter are much easier waters to navigate.

DaveLooking around at the blogs I follow most have been going for years and a few even longer than mine. The oldest is now nine years old. Almost all of them are maintained by individuals who have well and truly passed the bloom of youth. I doubt many are under forty. Dave King is in his mid-seventies and has blogged regularly since December 2006. Over 1250 entries! And showing no signs of flagging. But many others have slipped away quietly and their loss has barely been noticed because if there is one thing the Internet can’t stand it’s a vacuum.

There are a number of reasons why blogs fail. For some real life takes over and that’s great. If only we all had real lives. Mostly the problem is finding stuff to talk about because few of us live exciting lives. As I wrote in a recent comment, “I read, I write, I watch TV. I’m no Stephen Fry.” I made the decision early on to not talk about myself if I could possibly avoid it. I value my privacy, yes, but the real reason was I didn’t think I could entertain people. I’m no Erma Bombeck either. Nor am I much of an expert on anything and those topics I do know a few things about were quickly exhausted which turned the focus of the blog into one of discovery which was fine; I like learning new things. I research things that interest me and write about them. But research takes time and if you’re going to post twice weekly (which is what I started doing) then that’s setting the bar quite high but I did manage that for quite a bit. But a while back I cut back to once every five days which took the pressure off and gave me a bit more time to do other writerly things.

Now I’m looking ahead rather than looking back—I said I wasn’t big on retrospection—and wondering where I’m going next year. This does require a little looking back on where I’ve been, thinking about the goals I set and what I achieved. I never had a five-year plan per se but five years on is a reasonable point to assess progress. I started this blog because everything I read about being a writer in the 21st century said, “Get a blog.” So I got a blog and I blogged—regularly but not so regularly that I bored my readers and burned out myself—and I kept self-promotion to a minimum because I hated following blogs where all they talked about was their ruddy books. And what do you know? I actually sold a few books. Not a huge amount you have to understand but enough to justify going back to the printer for a second run. Followers increased steadily if not rapidly and it looked like I’d ticked all the boxes. For quite a while now—assuming the stats are to be believed—there has been very little growth on this blog. Oh I pick up the odd new follower but mostly it feels as if I’ve levelled out. In fact I’ve just had a look at my stats for the last month and it’s as close to a straight line as you can get. And it’s been that way for months. I’m starting to think that investing so much energy here isn’t necessarily the best use of my time. Most of my hits come from search engines anyway and are rarely to the latest post. I’m also beginning to wonder whether or not even posting every five days is still a burden on my readers because one or two have admitted privately that they don’t always read everything I write. I don’t feel bad about that because I don’t have the time to read everything all my friends write; not properly anyway.

Anyway from now on, for a variety of reasons, I’ve decided to cut back again. This will give me time to think about guest blogs which I’ve only done a couple of times up until now. I’ll also be able to spend more time looking for new ways to promote my writing elsewhere. I’ve just, for example, sent out about 200 poems and stories. The last time I did a mass submission like this was two years ago and that’s no way to get read. I don’t think I approached this project with unreasonable expectations. I did the research—a lot of it—and followed what seemed to be the best advice. What I am starting to realise is that a lot of that advice was never going to work for me because of the kind of writer/person I am. I always prided myself on the fact that I was in this for the long game. Five years is nothing. I could still be here slogging away in another twenty-five. Where else is there to go?

Making Sense smallTo all my regular readers let me just say a sincere thank you for sticking with me. Starting on Sunday 12th August this will now be a weekly blog. The ratio will be three book reviews to one literary article. Not sure what I’ll do on the months with an extra Sunday. If I have news of reviews of any of my own books I may chuck in the odd ‘Aggie and Shuggie’ midweek but we’ll see. There haven’t been many reviews of Milligan and Murphy to shout about. Hopefully my short story collection will fare better. It will be called Making Sense and is a group of stories all revolving around the senses, not simply the five physical senses— ophthalmoception, audioception, gustaoception, olfacoception and tactioception (aren’t they great words?)—but the other ‘senses’ we all rely on to make sense of the world we find ourselves in: sense of humour, sense of justice, sense of impending doom etc. Not set a date for the release but it won’t be until spring 2013 at the earliest.

So lots to do. If you’ll excuse me I’d best make a start. Daylight’s burning.


Glenn Ingersoll said...

Only five years? 10 years for my LoveSettlement, 7 years for Dare I Read. LuvSet gets very few visitors, even though I post every day. Must be something unattractive about the content. DIR gets more visitors (and more visitors come over from The Truth About Lies than any other non-search-engine source), and most of those visitors are checking out my post about the tshirt Malcolm McLaren dressed the Sex Pistols in ... or my pathetic attempt to translate the dialect in Wuthering Heights ... or my quoting from a book that described how to use ants to close a wound.

My blogs haven't really turned out to be promotional tools. Rather they're extensions of the sort of writing I do in private anyway - fiction, poetry, thinking aloud, responses to reading, notes to self. I don't feel responsibility to a readership. But I do feel a responsibility to my writing, to take it seriously, to do it as well as I can. If somebody reads it - yay! - but I've long since lost much expectation that I'll have readers.

Tim Love said...

"I’ve just, for example, sent out about 200 poems and stories" - I'm impressed. People are surprised when I tell them I try to keep 30 pieces in the post. People new to writing think I must be desperate.

Only my Reviews blog is increasing in popularity, so that seems a good angle for you to focus on. Do you send out Reviews? And on the subject of stats, my Articles blog has had over 1000 accesses from , for which much thanks.

Jim Murdoch said...

Oh, I know five years isn’t that long, Glenn, but, as I point out in my article, the number that go belly up within a disappointingly short time is quite high. It’s the same with any start-up business; that first year is the killer. At first it was easy because there was so much to write about but as the years have slipped on by I’ve used up all the easy (or at least easier) stuff and every article is a job of work. And that’s fine but it’s a matter of weighing up the pluses and minuses. I have never known time to go as fast as it is right now. I remember noting that it was now August and it’s now the eighth and I have no idea where that week went. At this rate I’ll be dead in about a month and a half.

I’m not sure how effective anyone’s blogs are as promotional tools to be honest. I agree that they are necessary and I wouldn’t even call them a necessary evil but, like most things online, the hard sell doesn’t work. What works is being a decent person and taking an interest in others. The catch there is that that approach is so damn slow in working and it’s very hard to know what’s going to pay dividends. For example I reviewed a fellow’s book a couple of years ago. I’d never heard of him before but I liked the cut of his jib. Now, two years later and completely out of the blue, he posts an excellent review of my poetry collection on Amazon and has asked for a copy of Milligan and Murphy to review too. So there you go. There aren’t that many of us out there and so it’s inevitable that we’re going to end up plugging each other’s stuff but it’s so much nicer when someone asks or just does it.

You now have one more follower of LoveSettlement by the way and I have a 258th blog to follow. (Sigh.) But that’s what leaving this comment got you. Now if only every comment we left got us an extra reader, eh?

And, Tim, I think keeping thirty-odd submissions in the air is reasonable especially if, like you and I, we have been writing for donkey’s years. I really do have so many decent poems that no one bar my wife have ever read and I have just been terrible at submitting the stories, really lax. My big problem with submissions is this: they say that the best way to gauge if your work will be a good fit to read a copy of the journal and I do that and unless the thing is full of Language poems or something equally esoteric I can never tell so I just chance my arm. And it’s much the same with the stories. I’m always amazed at what people take.

As for reviews, no, I don’t send them out. I used to post a review every month on Canongate’s site until they revamped it and then, some months later, I’d repost it on my own blog and I have found another site where I can do that but they only post literary reviews and I don’t get as many literary novels to review as I’d like but I don’t mind as long as I get good books to read. Due to a mix-up at Canongate an overly-enthusiastic intern sent out copies of the “bonkbuster” Lace to all the reviewers on their books. I will never read it. My wife will never read it. My daughter will never read it. It’ll end up in some charity shop I’m afraid.

I am also happy to report that just as I’ve sent 1000 readers your way you’ve also sent 378 my way, all gratefully received. I just checked my stats too and today I’ll pass 250,000 hits which isn’t too shabby, not too shabby at all.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad I landed on this post, Jim. Five whole years. Congratulations.

I owe much of the very limited success of my own blog to you. You gave me the confidence to go on.

As you know I've never tried to post more than once a week, though occasionally I let an extra post slip in. Once a week is enough for me. I hope it feels enough for you.

I started blogging in 2006, but only became active two years later. It's been a slow process but somehow it's become so much a part of my life I can't imagine giving it up. And I'd hate for you and others - the Daves and Glenns and many more besides - to leave.

It feels to me to be such alive and vibrant community however infrequently or otherwise we drop in on one another.

Happy fifth anniversary. May you enjoy many more.

martine said...

You really can't beat starting a blog post with a Gilmore Girls quote, always gets my attention:-)
Yay you! Keep on truckin'

Jim Murdoch said...

When I first started out blogging, Lis, everything I read said that a regular blogging schedule was essential. One of the things my wife complains about with regard to TV here in the UK is the fact that shows often don’t start at the same time every week. One week it’s be 7:00, the next 7:30, maybe 7:10 after that and I think that is the mentality behind the recommendation to follow a regular blogging schedule. The thing is the Internet is not a TV and these days even TVs aren’t TVs, not in the way they used to be. Carrie and I virtually never watch live TV these days with the exception of the breakfast show. The TV fits around our lifestyle not as in the past—I’m thinking about my childhood—where we had to be home at 4:00 on a Saturday so Dad could watch the wrestling.

I don’t know how anyone else manages their time online. I use a program called FeedReader which acts as an inbox for all my RSS feeds which I get round to when I get round to them but it also means I never miss anyone’s post and often, even if they delete it, I have the original saved; I’ve surprised a few people by sending them e-mails in response to posts they thought they’d pulled. I know a lot of people use Google Reader but my program integrates with it and I think it has a better interface. The thing is I don’t think there is anyone out there waiting for me to post whereas every weekend I look for (and look forward to) your posts. And that is how it should be. I remember a scripture from my childhood which I’ll have to paraphrase but it basically said: Don’t visit your friends too often. Or in entertainment parlance: Leave ’em wanting more. I don’t think there is anyone out there really looking forward to my next post but I bet there are a few who haven’t read the last one and maybe even the one before that. So, for people like you, we’ll have one post a month where we talk about stuff and the rest of the time the book reviews will be there for the casual visitors to catch. By focusing more on commenting on different blogs I can talk about what’s interesting other people too and that never hurts. That’s why I like your site. I basically get to do mini-blogs in your comments on subjects I would never write about on my own site. And that’s fun.

I am delighted that I was able to encourage to in your blogging endeavours. You now have an active following (over a hundred more followers than me but only about half as many as Dave King) and I’m genuinely pleased for you. My followers goes up by about one a month. I remember when I was sitting just under two hundred and would it pass the two hundred mark? Would it hell!

And I agree it is an “alive and vibrant community” but it’s not as large as I had expected it would be when I first started out. We all read the same posts. I do try and expand my circle but it’s a lot harder than I ever imagined. I subscribe to blogs I think will be interesting—because I’ve stumbled across a post that has piqued my interest—and all they talk about after that is the places they’ve visited and the new recipes they’ve tried out and I really don’t much care about any of that. That’s not why I’m here.

I have achieved some of what I set out to five years ago. I’m established. I’m known. I’m respected. I’m liked. I call that a success. I’m not going anywhere.

And, Martine, I’m afraid I have never seen a single episode of The Gilmour Girls. I’ve read about it and forgotten everything I read but I was looking for a quote to open the article and stumbled across and I don’t care who I quote from as long as they have something worth saying. Also, as I was saying to Lis, I have every intention of keeping on truckin’. Yay me.

Marion McCready said...

Congratulations, Jim! I'm also exceedingly impressed with the 200 submissions, in fact I'm completely bowled over by it!! I tend to submit mine not long after completion, which means I rarely have a decent bundle of poems to submit at any one time. I particularly look forward to reading your guest posts.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks, Marion. I could actually have sent out more but got tired. It really is a time-consuming job and whole afternoons can pass and you’ve only done four or five. I’m very bad at sending out stuff. Always have been. I’d write half a dozen poems, send them out, one would get picked and I’d forget about the other five. Well after a while they start to mount up. New poems come along and you lose interest in the older stuff which is a shame because they’re perfectly good poems most of the time. I sent some poems to Ink, Sweat & Tears a while back and Helen picked one but the one she picked was the last one I would have. It was written for a writing prompt and not quite my usual style which is maybe exactly why she picked it. I do look at magazines and sites before I submit stuff but I can never tell what will be a good fit. Short stories are a little easier as magazines tend to specialise. I’ve just had one accepted in fact and it pays which is always nice. The problem with this site is that they have a very low word count limit (less that 1200 if memory serves right) and most of my stuff winds up being about 2000-3000 words. The guest posts will be a real challenge because very few sites will be interested in posts 3500+ words long but we’ll see what we can do. I’m in no rush. I have a couple I owe something to to start me off and we’ll take it from there. My very early posts were all very short so I can do it but I’ve kinda got used to the broader canvas.

Anonymous said...

We've been blog-neighbours (sorry) for pretty much all of that time, Jim, and in many respects our priorities and approaches couldn't differ more, but I'm very glad that you've bucked the statistical trend. For all my reduced engagement with blogging, 'The Truth About Lies' is one of the very few whose absence I would actively miss. Bon voyage for the next five years!

Jim Murdoch said...

No, I can see the differences between us, Dick, but I’m sure the world would be a less interesting place if everyone was like you and especially if everyone was like me. But right from the start I knew you were a poet I wanted to be friends with which is odd because we write very different poetry. On the whole I don’t like nature poetry and yet the very first poem of yours I read was, if memory serves right, about a fox and it just struck a chord. Good writing lifts anything. I remember when I heard the premise for Buffy the Vampire Slayer I expected it to be awful but the writing was so good it was impossible not to get dragged in and that’s how I felt about those early poems: this was a guy who not only knew how to string a sentence together but one who could string more metaphors that I write in a year and make them work. Always amazes me how you can pull that off.

Lisa Cohen said...

Jim--I'm so glad you stumbled upon my blog and left your comment. Because now, I've stumbled upon yours. And a 'yay, you' right back at you.

I wonder how many words I've churned out on my blog in the past 7 years. My posts tend to average around 500 words each, so my blog represents about a half-million words. Not too shabby. :)

I've added you to my RSS reader, and I look forward to reading your musings.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m glad to meet you too, L J especially as you’re also a Doctor Who fan although I started watching it long before Watergate. I was there right from the Kennedy assassination on: the first episode aired on the BBC on 23rd November 1963. We’ve just seen the trailer for the forthcoming Autumn season so you can look forward to more daleks and more weeping angels. I do like much about the revamped show but as they keep trying to outdo previous seasons the climaxes have just got sillier and sillier (e.g. the Tardis towing the Earth through space). The same complaint could be levied at Star Trek. When the Borg first appeared they were genuinely menacing but by the time Star Trek: Voyager was done with them they were beating them off with one arm tied behind their back. All you have to do is look at Christopher Eccleston in ‘Dalek’ to see the difference; that was a good episode. But the new shows are never less than watchable.

Thanks for following my blog. I’ve returned the favour even though I’m already following way too many blogs. (Note to self: must do a cull soon.)

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