A Year's Long Blogging in Review

I’ve never had jet lag this bad before. I lie down. My mind is racing. I follow where it goes and end up in some kind of loop. The wind is howling mad outside. I get up, read. It’s four a.m. Yesterday, I finally fell asleep at six. I slept til noon. Why this time? Why this trip and not before? Have I abruptly lost my “youthful elasticity”? Well, so be it. I’ve got the jet lag. I’ll take the time.

Just over a year ago, I set up this WordPress account, chose a name for the blog after some teetering deliberation, and I am still happy with the name, and embarked on a year of Sunday rambles to try establishing an “online presence.” I think reflection here, at the year’s end (or rather, the next’s beginning now), is appropriate and good. How has it gone? What have I learned?

A walk yesterday afternoon in the fresh snow. The days are shorter than we left them in Wisconsin, now returned much farther north. The jet-lag-beating tips that I’ve been reading say to get out in the sun. Given the cloud and rain and winter days, we’re doing what we can!

Authenticity and the business model of social media

I started my blogging journey ambitiously and with significant lack of knowledge. What was a blog really meant to be about? Was anybody going to read it? Was I going to be strong-armed into creating a social media “persona” all retouched and false?

So much of the blogging advice out there seems aimed at businesses. People use blogs to build following for their products. I didn’t have a product, except my writing, and without published work yet, I wasn’t ready to seek readers for my fiction. What was I really trying to do? Network with people? What kind of people? Other writers? Potential future readers? People in publishing? Without a quite clear audience, what would I write about? What a mess.

I read some blogging advice, and a couple of cardinal rules kept rearing up:

  1. Post regularly.
  2. Always post in the same niche.

I think I’ve done pretty well with #1. I’ve posted every Sunday since late December of 2018 (although as I look back, I see that my first few posts were quite irregular; whenever an idea and the time struck). But I’ve come to 56 posts in all, the 57th this one here. That feels like an accomplishment.

Rule #2 has been… well, I think I have a complex relationship with the idea of a niche. I started out exclusively posting craft advice for other writers. I still do a lot of these posts, and I enjoy them. But sometimes (and I think this has become oftener and oftener) on a Sunday, I just don’t have an idea, or I’m just not up to an in-depth investigation of literary theory. Or I’ve just got some thought that really strikes me, as the masthead of this blog states, “about the universe.” I don’t think the whole universe really qualifies as a niche. And sometimes, and these are the posts my mom says are her favorites, I just find myself writing about what’s going on here at school and in my life. I expect that many a sage blogger would try to dissuade me from these forays beyond my proper subject matter.

Winging our way home. This was taken early in our flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, flying on into night.

What’s gone well?

I’ve learned much in this year of creeping out into this world of social media. Here are a few of the ways this work has helped me grow:

First, this blog has undoubtedly gotten me writing more. On weeks of crazy rush and undue stress, the commitment I’ve made to posting here each Sunday, if nothing else, has kept me exercising these fingers typing out these words. When I assuredly would not be writing otherwise. Certainly this has played its role in the significantly greater amount of time I’ve devoted to fiction itself this year as well. It’s part of a habit. That in and of itself feels like a victory.

I have also learned a huge amount about writing itself. All those Sunday mornings I agonized over some topic, that was time devoted to considering craft at a deeper level than I had before. Setting out my thoughts and knowing they would be public on the web, it became all the more important that I vet and order them, honed up and refined. The act of writing at all forces a deep examination. My thoughts on active verbs, on world building, on dialogue, and most especially on conflict are all more nuanced or, indeed, wholly different than they were a year ago. My understanding of my writing’s purpose, my philosophy of writing if you will, has been evolving in some ways more quickly than I am comfortable with. This blog has been instrumental in that evolution, and I am excited for it to continue in the year to come.

Finally, and I say this with some enduring guilt at my poor reader stewardship, but this blogging journey has helped me start connections with other writers around the world. I have been a poor responder to comments and a poor reader of others’ blogs. Raimey Gallant’s #AuthorToolboxBlogHop has been especially powerful in helping me find some great writing advice and share my own. To all of you reading, thank you. I intend to do more to reach out in the future.

Bergen Harbor, ready for the last leg of the journey, the ferry north.

The year to come–I’ve got no plans to stop blogging, a chore as at times it has felt. Once I begin, the writing is invariably a pleasure and invariably a source of growth.

Will I find my niche? Who knows. I suppose that is the challenge of a writer, for whom anything and everything, the whole universe really, is the subject matter. I might do better to just write what I want and never mind if I lose readers because a particular post is “off-brand.”

That is ultimately, I suppose, the tension between social media as a tool for networking and the raw openness of art and authentic self representation. Of course in some places there need to be constraints. In my fiction I should write what I feel the need to write. Perhaps here in this space, this blog, I should confine myself. We’ll see.

We’re back in Norway. It’s 2:20 in the afternoon now. I began writing this post about 5:00 a.m., then went back to sleep a little after 7:00. I woke at 11:00. That’s an hour earlier than yesterday, and three hours earlier than the day before. Slow change. It is pouring rain outside. Yesterday’s glorious snow is in slush puddles now. The students will arrive on Tuesday, and then we will begin again.

Thank you, those of you who have read. Thank you for your kindness and your affirmation. A goal this year is to figure out how to get better at engaging back with you.

Best wishes for the week ahead. Happy writing and existing.
Jimmy

A bit of winter sun.

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