Note: this is something I wrote a few months ago when my writers’ marketing group was discussing blogging; I thought it might be useful for other writers too.
If I felt like I had to blog, I would immediately abandon the whole thing. But just because most everybody else in the writing world sees blogging as a way to build that required platform (a metaphor that I find distasteful on all fronts), and hence they give us onerous imperatives like “blog, blog, blog,” that doesn’t mean we have to see it that way. Blogging that’s done dutifully, out of a sense of obligation, or under duress, can feel like punishment and/or self-flagellation, no doubt! But there’s another way to approach blogging that feels more like coming unshackled—and then finding your way home.
The last post I made on my blog was a year ago, and I’m still getting visitors—admittedly, not a lot of visitors, but that doesn’t matter to me because I don’t see my blog as a marketing tool. I started blogging because I realized that such a vehicle would:
—be a way for me to say some things I want to say right now, instead of waiting until I get around to working them into a book and then get around to trying to publish that book
—let me say those things off-the-cuff, low-stakes, in pieces, in whatever way they come to me, whenever they come, without considering regularity, saleability, marketing, or even coherence
—serve as a central, virtual file cabinet for ideas, insights, ponderings, sketches, and whatnot to replace the scraps of paper, dinner napkins, post-its, abandoned journal efforts, and computer files that have vanished into the writerly Bermuda Triangle over the years (this advantage has been HUGE, because I have multiple “drawers” in the form of multiple private blogs, in which I can store drafts as well as posts: in this way, I’m working on several books or book ideas, and I’m actually reminded of what those ideas were from time to time, because they’re all in the same place)
—set me free from publishing prison, both the supermax New York version and the contemporary minimum-security Amazon: I don’t need anyone’s approval, and publishing is completely free, immediate, and world-wide (this advantage becomes more apparent as time goes by and the monetary rewards of publication continue to shrivel)
Of course, I don’t make any money at all from my blog. But when has any ordinary person made a living at writing anyway? Even poet laureate Ted Kooser sold insurance. And while it used to be possible to get a six-figure advance for a well-written memoir (nostalgic rush here), even those heady numbers won’t pay the rent if you consider the number of years it takes to produce such a thing (six, or ten, or—in my case—twenty-five and counting). A big advance wouldn’t even provide coffee money, if you consider the number of such books you have in you.
So once I accepted that, a whole ‘nuther world opened up (the title of my blog applies here). The opening widened when I realized that my real audience consists mostly of a small tribe of thoughtful pilgrims and sojourners in this strange land—so what’s the point of trying to publish my work like Fifty Shades of Grey, or any other mass-market success? Instead, I can just write something, put it in a blog bottle, and toss it out on the Internet sea, trusting that in time it will find its way to the right shore, and be passed along if it’s worth reading.
If I were writing a novel instead of memoir and essay, things might be different—although I still think I might use a blog in some similar way, since blogs are so fluid and can be updated, moved, deleted or resurrected, and made private or public at any time. I’m not saying that my approach to blogging would fit everyone, just that it turns out to fit me quite well—and maybe some aspect of this alternate view might fit you, too. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
As an unexpected side benefit of blogging, and having made no effort to advertise other than an initial email to a few friends, I have discovered a deep connection with a small but international community of kindred spirits. It startled me when I realized that most of my readers are in the UK (maybe some kind of Celtic magic is at work here). These are people I have come to know and care about, and such a virtual connection suits my introverted, writerly nature perfectly: there’s no obligation to read, or write, or respond—so everything is a gift.
It’s really quite beautiful.
When I think of some of the things these people have said to me, and vice versa, and of the numinous quality of our ordinary lives, I have to reach for a Kleenex! Right now, for example, I’m thinking of a young man in London whose observant, wry, and increasingly melancholy posts I’d read for several years, and about how happy I was when a post showed up in my inbox after a six-month silence that ended with “Apart from that, and the fact that I actually married the world’s most perfect woman, I can’t say anything of importance has happened.” :-) So I have him to thank for reminding me that despite the apparently real British need for understatement, life sometimes delivers happy endings. And for this song, from one of his earlier posts: “Even if you, like me, have no idea what it’s all about, I still guarantee that you’ll feel at least, ooohh, 2% happier after listening.” (Click if you need another 2%, or if you’re worried about the fate of the younger generation.)
I have the blogging world to thank for the miracle of connection without borders or intermediaries, and for the ability to offer aid or insight without the preliminaries and reciprocation that in-person interactions require. If I’m too buried to even sleep, let alone blog—as I have been for the past couple of years—I don’t have to explain that to anyone, or feel guilty about not holding up my end of a relationship, or beat myself up for failure to perform. The blogging world that I inhabit is the antithesis of “platform” mentality, and instead of making me feel like a captive of conventional advice, it has provided me with an antidote.
In this writers’ medium people understand long absences, emotional interference, financial exigency, physical limitations, and other constraints on how we roll. Yet our work here persists over time as opposed to being shredded after ten days on a bookstore shelf, and it exists in a searchable world not confined to amazon.com. In this medium we can find and be found by our real family—or, in writerly terms, our audience. Even more important, this medium is amenable to deep, ongoing conversations, which makes it more like telling stories around the tribal fire than conventional publication, which isolates writers from readers.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to get our work published or look for ways to make money at it; I’m just saying that we’re free to be completely happy as writers right now, and that I’m grateful for the ability to share things that matter to me without anyone’s stamp of approval and at no cost.
That’s a pretty good deal for the money.