Happy New Year

Happy New Year.

Relax.  You’re good. Hey, have you heard? Nothing stays the same.

This year, Pluto was downgraded from a planet.

Narcissism was demoted from the status of a psychological disorder.

And we’re not the same writers we were a year ago, either. We have matured, which is the prize of a working life.

These past weeks, I’ve collected what seem like for me anyway the striking observations of the writing year—the highs, lows, and surprises.

Come January, I will spread this data out and study the consistencies, the patterns, and the ups and downs.  I will pay particular attention to the odd fact that resists explanation, which is always a learning opportunity. And from this, a picture of sorts of the recent past, I will lay out what I hope will be a decent writing plan for the year—one that suits my temperament, talent, and objectives.

My New Year’s resolutions are, thus, a deepened version of last year’s:

Simplify

Be Planful

The first requires the strength to pitch out everything that doesn’t matter.  And the second is just a highly strategic list.

Cheers, all. A great year begins. See you in January.

P.S. Happy birthday to this blog. One year old, today!

Photo credit: Champagne – viticulture-oenologie-formation.fr; birthday cake – Christy Thompsony

The Helpful Blogs of 2010

I’m a big believer in continuous learning. Fortunately, I can do this from my desk, coffee in hand. These are some of the places I go when it’s time to kick back and see what someone else is doing:

www.alltop.com Alltop—short for “all topics”— is a compendium of blogs, the best-of gathered for a number of arenas, and the brainchild of the multi-talented Guy Kawasaki. His page for writers lists over 100 blogs: http://writing.alltop.com Ranging from how-to information, to inspiration, to the demands of such diverse forms of writing from blogging, to short stories, to novels, this is the page that will deliver it all.

www.writetodone.com is the work of Leo Babauta, perhaps better known for his www.zenhabits.net. His colleague, Mary Jaksch, of www.goodlifezen.com, joined him as Chief Editor. Their mission is to explore the art and craft of writing.  Clean, concise posts on a variety of topics keep me coming back for more.

www.coppyblogger.com, the creation of Brian Clarke, is a blog on the art of blogging.  Each post is presented in a visually pleasing, list-like, and formulaic manner. If I need to know how a polished brand looks and functions, I look to Brian Clarke, a master at it. His senior editor, Sonia Simone, is also one to read, wherever you find her in print.

There is a science to blogging, as much as an art and craft, and Dan Zarella, at www.danzarella.com, lays it out in compelling, quickly digestible format, which includes easy-to-read graphs. He calls himself a “social media scientist,” which seems to suit him well. He also can be found www.hubspot.com or guest blogging at www.problogger.com. Thanks to him, I now know that the best time to tweet is Fridays, 4:00 p.m.

Carol Tice at www.makealivingwriting.com provides, as her subtitle states, “frank advice for writers,” and attempts to take away the mystery. She isn’t as slick or as branded as others on this list and that gives her work something of a refreshing air. As she experiments, like real people doing real work, we learn.

Finally, www.marketingtoday uses video as its centerpiece.  Each post is a new clip on some aspect of marketing, an area the busy writer too often ignores. In each, the founder, the amiable Dr. Ralph Wilson, interviews an expert on a specific subject, many of which pertain to improving the delivery of one’s blog. Oh, and don’t let the “God bless” of his signature line throw you. He’s all business, in his conversational way, and besides, I figure we can use all the blessings we can get.

A Last Look at the Numbers


There are still 2 weeks before New Year’s, still time to sweep out the old, prepare for the new, our writing house included.

The past  2 posts looked at what went wrong and what went right.  Today, for the 3rd and last time this year, I look at my numbers. People who favor words don’t always see the value of numbers, which is unfortunate, for a look at even loosely gathered facts can lead to very useful changes.

This blog is number 80. To date, I’ve written roughly 32,000 blog words. (By comparison, my novel has roughly 110,000 words. My most recent nonfiction book has roughly 90,000. A new essay, forthcoming, has 3,000.)

Highest number of rewrites on a single post: 7. The 2 biggest reasons a post didn’t work: a failure of heart and/or a muddled mind. Posts, on the other hand, that went like silk through the hand: 3. I am grateful.

0 posts abandoned of late, which is an improvement. The last time I looked, it was several .

Once only, and with careful deliberation, I used the blog to speak to a particular person.

Once only, and purely by chance, the photo came first, then the text.

15 times, I hit a spike of pronounced reader interest that created a stir for this modest life. My all time high this year remains 655 viewers on a single day. The least is still 1, but you can’t get much lower than that.

9 posts prompted lively conversation. Youngest reader weighing in: 17. Oldest: 82.

I’ve tested 3 things this past year: the comment feature, a series, and sidebar format.

I spent roughly 50 hours on education, studying a half-dozen blogs, culled from 5 times that. The best of these will be listed here, next week.

Number of times I’ve adjusted a title or a first line with SEO in mind: 0. Number of times I’ve reflected on how this is not smart: many.

Days I had no interest in writing: a few, here and there. Days it went particularly well: some. The rest of the time, it’s the usual ebb and flow of a writing life. Along the way, many things have happened in real life and you have read 0 about it here. This is a blog for writers, not a diary, though real life is certainly a feature.

Daily, I call upon 2 resources for sustenance and inspiration: the newspapers and public radio.

Number of times I’ve read this year that there aren’t any readers left in this world, just techno-consumers, just browsers: 58.

Number of times I’ve ignored this reality to pay attention to my writing: 58.

Photo credit: Ralph Aichinger, sxc

What Went Right

We’re pushing into the end of the year, which is a great time to assess what’s what, our writing lives included.

Take this blog, for example. Last week, I looked at what went wrong. Today, I consider what went right.

At nearly a year old, I can report that a few things came together well: I had a plan that was based on a good idea of what I wanted, and why. I also had great tech and editorial support, and I found the hours to work. This is all good, but in addition to these basics, I received some gifts—three things I never expected, which helped me out and taught me a lot.

Buzz

When I sit down to write a post, I think about what I’m trying to say and if I’ve achieved it. I’m not thinking of how it will play. So when something catches fire, it comes as a shock and it’s a chance to learn. What’s this? Was a particular theme involved? A tone? A story? Was it the one about the kiss, or one of the China posts? Was it the one about crashing a party through the alley? Keeping secrets? Creating illusion? When something flares, I learn and will use this information as I plan my next year.  

Tenderness

I was unprepared for the spam. I visualize it as nasty robots tossing trash around cyber ground, and it turns out that’s exactly right. My garbage came largely from the Netherlands and Russia. It was only after I seized control of my mailbox that I could hear my real readers. Their remarks and questions held an honesty, even vulnerability, which I admired. I was grateful for the real deal. I took it as a gift, and of course, I always answer.

Direction

No matter what I write, I aim for clarity, illumination.  It’s a direction, not a destination.  When it comes to an art form, there is no final destination. There is only where you’re headed, your thumb stuck out and a pleasant look plastered on your face. And once in a while, if you’re lucky, someone stops and gives you a ride. That’s luck on top of luck, the bedrock being that you’re on the road at all, pointed in a well defined and chosen direction.

So, in this mini-series, as we wind up the year, my tally is that five things went wrong and three things came as gifts. All learning moments, but there’s still more. Next week, we look at what else came, the smaller packages, the penny candy.


Photo credits: both images: Stockvault.net

What Went Wrong?

It’s December, a good time to assess all kinds of things including our writing lives.

Take this blog, for example. It started simply enough. I had a reached a point in my writing life—books, essays, short stories, nonfiction, fiction—when a new format sounded appealing.

So, I did some research (always more fun than writing). And eight months later, I had my focus, my reader in mind, my design, learned a few rules of the game, filled a notebook, and hooked up tech support. I launched a year ago, New Year’s Eve.  400 words max, twice-weekly.  And it’s been off to the races, ever since.

See a problem here? I do. Lots of them.

Pace.

Twice weekly is a lot to do well.  I know writers (two only) who can get it right the very first time they pen it, and that’s not me. I revise. A lot. Eight months into the game, I shouted “Uncle” and dropped this blog back to a weekly. It’s a more sustainable pace, but let’s not kid ourselves: it’s still plenty hard.

Word Count.

For reasons ranging from creative preference to market viability, I still believe that 400 words is a good target number. The problem?  With so little fat, from concept to execution, all the words have to count. I found myself working all the time, refining, refining, refining . . . as if grapes turned to sweet, thick balsamic vinegar.  

Vision.

My vision was, and remains, to investigate and lay bare all things related to the writer’s art and craft. Simple, right?  Well, not so simple, as it turns out. I had to watch for relevance. I had to guard against the dominance of a few key themes. I had to remain on target. I had to provide answers, real things people wanted to know.

Technical.

I’m a writer. I am not a techie. If I didn’t have instant access to one, a need I vastly underestimated, this blog couldn’t have run around the block let alone be on post number 78 (this one).

Education.

In the 8-month start-up, I learned a lot and was energized for it. But it’s much harder now to pursue continual learning at a pace I’d like. The danger is a stale mind yielding stale work.  I had to carve out time to continue to learn.

So where does this leave me? With room for improvement, considered strategically and gleefully anticipated. (Clarity is a happy thing.)

Next week, I’ll be looking at what went right in year one of this blog, with exactly the same goal of improvement in mind.

Photo credits: Bill Clinton in address at Michigan State University, picasaweb.google.com; Perplexed gentleman, Pietro Izzo