blogging

My experimental new rules of blogging

1. Post most days.
2. Don’t spend more than half an hour on a post.
3. Don’t go meta and write about how you’re going to blog or what you’re going to say or what new blogging approach you’re about to try. Just do it.*
4. Pick a title after you write the post.
5. Don’t make a dumb clickbaity title.
6. For the love of God, don’t post about yet another system you’re trying until you’ve actually stuck with it for a couple weeks at the very least.
7. You can break any rule about 10% of the time.

 


Note from past Ben, circa 2/20/17:

Rule 6 also says this post should never have existed.

The best I could do to get around my compulsive need to share this dumb new thing–which my smart brain objectively knows to be a dumb new thing that has a 7% chance of lasting more than two days, but my dumb brain absolutely has to share with the world right now omgz–was to schedule the post to go up two weeks in the future.

The issue with this workaround is that if, as I fear and partly expect, I have merrily forgotten all about this Glorious New System by Thursday, you’ll all still see this ill-conceived nonsense in two weeks. If, on the other hand, I’m still touching my blog most days two weeks from now, I may at that point actually remember to take down this post which, however, will at that point have a much more legitimate reason to exist.

Sigh. Brains. Can’t live with ’em. Can’t live without ’em.


 

* Regarding this post, see Rule 7.

Advertisements

Complicated, Secret, Wildly Visionary

One of the tricky things about maintaining an Author Platform™ (if you’re me, which I am) is figuring out which things to talk about when. I’m a naturally shy person to start with, and quite a lot of what I’m working on is complicated, secret, or wildly visionary in ways that I’m not used to people understanding. But it’s actually probably just the sort of thing that’s worth sharing.

More to the point, I want to stay in touch with you. You’re really wonderful, interesting people, and I like hearing from you and letting you in on what I’m working on. I don’t want to go dark for months at a time. So I’m going to try an experiment, basically start using this blog for semi-regular informal brain dumps. Schemes in progress. Experiments. Failures and discoveries. Complications. Revolutions to instigate. That sort of thing.

And when my lizardy1 brain tells me nobody will like/get/care about the complicated/secret/wildly visionary stuff, here’s how I’m going to try to fight back.

Complicated Stuff: Trust you guys to (a) be smart and (b) self-select.

I find it harder than you’d think to write about what I’m interested in and trust the right people will find me. But if I can be bold and true, I believe there are people who will be interested, even if it’s more about tech brilliance or reimagining crowdfunding than about my next story.

And honestly, I’m learning some super-cool stuff these days. Granted, it’s stuff about how to build a new kind of hybrid-publisher-slash-book-lovefest and nifty “shortcuts” that will make my job really easy just as soon as I invest several hundred hours on the front end. But still super-cool.

Secret Stuff: Stop trying to fake people out.

An ongoing question I wrestle with is how much to reveal about (a) things that are in progress and (b) unexpected behind-the-scenes facts, like how easy it can be to get a high-ish rank in a small-ish category on Amazon. I think holding off on revealing in-progress stuff is fine; revealing half-done work is no fun for you and no use to me. But the other kind gets more insidious.

It turns out it’s pretty easy to give an inflated sense of my success or importance, in the hope that I can impress and excite you and get more people into what I’m doing. But that’s not cool. So I’m going to try to be pretty transparent about how things are actually going.

And the work in progress? I’m still figuring that out, but I’ll try to pull back the curtain as much as I can without ruining the experience for any of us. And maybe even have more spoilery bits available for those who don’t mind having magic tricks ruined, so to speak.

Wildly Visionary Stuff: Be less afraid.

When I hesitate to share big ideas for the future, it’s because I care a lot and I hope a lot and I don’t want people to think the vision is (i.e. I am) dumb. But the alternative is being either shallow (not sharing what I care about) or fake (pretending to care about other stuff). So that’s no good.

And the thing is, the wildly visionary bits are the really cool part. It’s sometimes hard to make it seem plausible to the outside world—I mean, if it were clearly plausible I’m not sure it would count as wildly visionary—and that can make it easy for people to not take the ideas seriously, but I’m going to practice not worrying about that. Some of the ideas won’t happen. That’s fine. But some of them will, and either way it’s still worth sharing the dream.

My secret hope: I’m not actually nearly wildly visionary enough, and getting you in on my schemes will make everything even more awesome.


1 Per autocorrect, ‘lizardy’ isn’t a word. See? We’re already learning together.

Is Daily Blogging Worth It? Post-A-Day Challenge Pros, Cons, and Next Steps

A couple months ago I took on a more modest version of Bookshelf Battle’s self-imposed daily post challenge. Instead of a post every day for the rest of 2015, I committed to a post every weekday through the end of March. I’m a day away from completing it, having successfully avoided yetis, aliens, etc., and I’ve learned a lot.

Pros

  • Daily posts have helped me build a back catalogue. Just a couple months in and I have a rich variety of useful posts for new readers to check out.
  • It helped me see what’s occupying my attention. Turns out it’s mostly writing projects. (Surprise!) This is helping me get more self-aware and work to diversify what I think, talk, and blog about.
  • I grew in discipline. The ability to write when you have nothing to write is a good skill for a professional writer. I learned again that there are always ideas if you’re willing to work for them.
  • I started finding my voice. This is early, but the math-y, spiritual, geeky, whimsical, overthinky parts of me are starting to show through. My fiction deeply reflects who I am and I love it. I can’t wait until my blogging does so more fully as well.
  • It clarified my goals. The habit of writing a monthly review and monthly goals has been surprisingly transformative. It’s crazy how much focus one blog post gave me.
  • I made friends! Through blogging I’ve started getting in touch with some really cool authors and bloggers like Kara Jorgensen, Kate M. Colby, Dave S. Koster, and Bookshelf Q. Battler. (Man. Talk about a name that lends itself to a cool blog title. Lucky.)

Cons

Mostly this is variants on “daily blogging takes too much of my writing-related time and energy.” Here are some specific angles.

  • It’s incredibly time-consuming (for me). I can’t seem to stop at two sentences, which meant uninspired days became long slogs. This is also why I’m bad at Twitter, incidentally.
  • Daily blog posts have a relatively low ROI. It’s been really useful having a blog in general. I’ve found some great people and—well, see above. But I think I would have gotten 80-90% of the value with 20-40% of the post frequency.
  • This means misdirected word count. I’ve posted around 8,300 words on my blog this month. Some of that was reposted from elsewhere, so say I’ve written 7,000, but even so that’s more than a full week’s word count target. If that were Hubris Towers instead of blog posts, I’d be finishing up Episode 1 about now. The blog posts are worth it if I’m saying something worthwhile, but not if I’m just trying to fill space or meet my quota for the day.
  • Blogging done my way has lots of peripheral time costs. It’s not like every 500 words on my blog is 500 words I didn’t add to a novel. While my composition speeds are comparable, I do a lot more editing and restructuring for non-fiction, and then I spend time on cool links and pictures and all. So really it could be that the opportunity cost of a 500-word blog post is 1,500 words on a story. And the stories are what I really love and am called to (and can sell, and what people might still be reading decades from now.) Kind of mind-boggling to realize I could maybe have written an extra 20,000-ish words this month. Maybe not—I mean, I also get distracted and dither and research and edit when I’m writing stories sometimes—but I’m curious to see how next month goes with lower blogging targets.

Conclusions and Next Steps

Broadly speaking, I think it’s really clear that it’s worth having a blog and updating it regularly, and (given the particulars of my case), that it’s not worth posting to it every day. I’m proud of myself for following through on my challenge to myself, and I think it’s more worthwhile early on in the life of a blog just to skip over the sparse, navel-gazy, getting-your-bearings phase. But I’m not planning to stick with daily posts.

Right now I’m leaning toward posting once or twice a week. This provides a bit of flexibility (to avoid wasting time when I have nothing to say) but also a bit of structure (because sometimes the good ideas don’t come until you sit and try for a while). It also maintains enough frequency to give you readers something worth coming back to with some regularity.

I’m also looking forward to branching out a bit into other topics like worldbuilding, games and game design, productivity, the many splendors of Baltimore, communal living, Christianity and the invisible world, food, language, and fun tidbits and background about my stories and their settings, characters, etc.

One question that’s still up in the air is whether I should pick regular days—say, Tuesdays and Fridays instead of just “two posts a week.” Could feel a little restrictive (though publishing as scheduled posts can help with that) but also sets up a dependable rhythm for readers. I’m probably going to go more freeform at least for April and see how that works out. But I’d love your thoughts.

How frequently would you like to see me posting? Does it matter if it’s regularly on the same days? Any broad topics or specific subjects you’d like to see more (or less) of?

Cheers!

—Ben

Origami Lunchbox: Butt-Kicking Thoughts on Life, Fear, and Creative Work

Hey everyone! It’s been a crazy day, so this will be quick. My friend, sounding board, and unofficial publicist Joe recently launched a very stylish site that I think you’ll enjoy. It’s called Origami Lunchbox and it’s—well, think inspiration the way it should be. Not fluffy thoughts about imagining success and feeling good, but honest, no-nonsense, and surprisingly vulnerable advice and reflections to get you pointed in the right direction again. If you’re an idea person or do creative work, check it out.

OrigamiLunchbox

Sometimes you need a kick in the butt, sometimes you just need a reminder that others are in this with you. Origami Lunchbox will give you both.

Cheers!

—Ben

A Thought Experiment for Better Blog Ideas

Out of ideas for blog posts? Drifting into boring or repetitive territory? Here’s an idea.

Pick a few of your good friends, the kind who get your jokes and like what you like and get embroiled in long late-night conversations/debates/frank exchanges of views with you. If you don’t have friends like this, make a few up.

Now write those friends a note that says something like:

Hey guys,

I just found a new blog that you’re going to love. Seriously. Look at the kinds of things they put up.


Plus they’ve got a thing on ______ and a bunch of stuff on ______ and _______. It’s totally going to make you <fill in a desirable reaction, e.g. think, laugh, see Firefly in a whole new light>.

Seriously. Go read it now.

Yours in haste,
Me

Except fill in the blanks. Those are probably the kind of things you should be writing about.

Cheers!
—Ben