to blog, how not to blog...
that was a hot topic a few years ago, when blogging was new,
and indeed in 2008, for the Maryland
Writers Association conference I gave a talk on the best practices
for writers' blogs. But that was then and this is now. Now
I don't have so much advice; what I have are some conclusions
about what's right for me and, sort of maybe kind of, by extension,
for other literary writers. There isn't any one right way to
do this what might annoy this reader enchants another,
and anyway, someone is always barging in with something new.
To switch metaphors: this genre
is built of jelly. Electrified jelly in rainbow hues.
I started blogging with Madam
Mayo back in the spring of 2006. I kept at it, blogging once,
twice, sometimes more often, every week. By the end of this March
it will have been eight years. What have I concluded?
# 1. I remain
charmed by the name of my blog, "Madam Mayo." I
was a little uneasy about it at first. It seems nobody gets the
joke, that it's a play on Madam Mao. Oh well. It still makes
As a reader, I appreciate fun
or at least memorable names for blogs. A few examples:
Mr. Money Mustache
Gourds and Wikis (Liz Castro)
Jenny Redbug (Jennifer
Real Delia (Delia Lloyd)
Cool Tools (Kevin Kelly)
Metaphysical Traveler (John Kachuba)
The Blue Lantern
Chico Lingo (Sergio
Quid Plura? (Jeff Sypeck)
Poet Reb Livingston's now unavailable blog, Home Schooled By
a Cackling Jackal, that was my all-time fave.
Whoa, blogging has an opportunity cost.
For me, looking back at eight years, it's probably a novel that
didn't get written, plus a few essays and articles in newspapers
and magazines that didn't get polished up, submitted and published.
Do I regret that? Yes, but not bitterly because in those eight
years I did manage to publish three books
plus several articles,
scads of book reviews,
and over 30 podcasts. So you cannot
say I'm not a productive writer! But yes... (sigh)... I do wish
I could have written that novel.
3. But on the plus side, frequent blogging, like a jogging routine
for an athlete, helps me stay in shape as a writer.
Indeed, if I hadn't been blogging over these past 8 years, perhaps
I would not have been as productive as a writer. So maybe the
opportunity cost was the other way around! But that's probably
wishful thinking. My sense is I blogged just the right amount
for me at the time. I blogged more frequently the first couple
of years, back when I was still trying to get my mind around
the nature of the genre. Looking forward: Best for me to blog
once a week, maybe twice.
4. Although my ego would like Madam Mayo to draw legions of passionate
followers, all perched at the edge of their seats for my next
post, ready to fly to their keyboards with their hailstorm of
comments... The fact is, writing that strives for an ever-larger
following is not the best strategy for me as a literary artist
or as a person.
I think egos are rather like big dogs. They protect you, they
love you, but they bark a lot and sometimes they slobber. For
mea literary writer whose focus through several books in
multiple genres has been examining various regions and aspects
and periods of Mexico in an international context, numbers of
followers... well, let me put it this way: If what I'd really
wanted was a mass following, I wouldn't be writing the kinds
of books I'm writing. QED.
> See The
> And: Through
narrative we become more human. Truth is beauty. Exploration
5. Not all, certainly, but a sizable number of people who trouble
to comment on blogs seem stuck in Emotional Kindergarten.
One day they shall evolve to their next educational opportunity;
meanwhile, I am not in the business of managing snotty little
brats pushing each other off the swings in Blogland. Therefore
I do not take comments on my blog. But because I hope I am not
shouting into the wind here I do care about hearing from
readers I always include a link that goes to a
contact page on my website. So, with two clicks away from
my blog post, any reader can send me an email. What I have very
happily learned is that spammers and trolls don't bother. That
extra click and knowing in advance that their comment will probably
not be published, wow, that is a Mount Rainier-sized barrier.
With my no comments but email link in place, so far, fingers
crossed, I have yet to receive an email from anyone but the readers
I want to have, that is, civilized and intelligent people.
6. Blogging is very much like publishing a
literary short story or book it goes out into the world
to an opaque response.
We might scare up some numbers, say, as how many people clicked
on a blog post and at what time of day via which search engine,
or how many bookstores ordered how many copies of a book. But
even with endless hours of crunching through, say, Google Analytics,
we may never know, the reaction of every single reader. All of
us read thousands of things we never comment on, dozens and dozens
of books we will never reviewthough some of them may prove
deeply meaningful to us in the course of our lives. As anyone
who has published a blog or a book knows, sometimes the silence
can be downright eerie. So if you want to write a book or a blog
post, it helps to have the tough-mindedness to accept that maybe...
you will never know the true, full nature of the response. Maybe
the person who will most appreciate a given blog post has not
yet been born. Or maybe my
best blog post will find its biggest fan next week. Maybe
what I said yesterday changed someone's life today in... Australia.
I don't know. And that's OK. I write anyway. That is the kind
of writer I am.
7. More on the plus side: sharing what I call cyberflanerie and celebrating
friends and colleagues and books and all wonder of things is a delight.
(In the olden days, we would take scissors and cut things out
of magazines and end up with overstuffed files full of yellowing
papers. Difficult to share.)
8. Madam Mayo is not so much my so-called "platform,"
but rather, a net that catches certain special fish the
readers who care about the things I care to write about.
(And this is especially
true for my other blogs,
Maximilian-Carlota and Reading Tolstoy's War and Peace.)
This last conclusion is the one
that took me the longest to reach. It seems obvious to me now,
and it probably will for you also, but back when blogs were new
it was difficult to appreciate both their nature and their potential.
I think most people started out thinking of them as a simple
diarya web log which is how we got the term "blog."
The idea, supposedly, was to talk about yourself, frequently.
I know it turned off a lot of writers at the time. I had zero
interest in blogging about my life.
Another way writers thought about
them and at first I had a foot in this camp was as
a digital newspaper column. If you were good, if you put out
well-crafted and witty and super informative posts, you'd get
readers. You'd be famous! You could sell more of your books!
Wow, maybe even sell ads and ka-ching, ka-ching! But of course,
anybody can start a blog. The gates blown open, suddenly, there
popped up a million wonderful and a zillion crappy blogs, and
everything in between, all muddled up together, hay,
lama. Back in 2007, 2008, most serious writers I knew turned
their noses up at blogging, as something for wannabes, for kids.
But by 2009, 2010, those same writers, nagged by their publishers'
marketing staffs, I suppose, had started blogging to promote
their books. (From what I can see from all those blogs that petered
out once the book tour was over, or sometimes not even halfway
through, if marketing a book is the only goal, one is unlikely
to be able to sustain the energy to keep at it for more than
a few months, at best.)
But here's the thing: The diary
and the newspaper column of yore were not searchable the way
digital material is. The diary was tucked in someone's drawer;
the newspaper, after a day, lined the bottom of the proverbial
parrot cage. OK, a very few people might go search things cataloged
in a library. And a collection of newspaper articles might end
up in a book one day. But basically, massive an audience as some
newspapers columnists enjoyed, before the digital revolution,
their writing was ephemeral.
A blog, however, can be found
at anytime by anyone anywhere (OK, maybe not in Burma). As people
search for words, phrases, topics, names, and come upon Madam
Mayo, and its many blog posts with many links to whatever interests
me and all about my works, books, ebooks, podcasts, articles,
newsletter, and so on and so forth, it serves as a kind of net
that catches a certain kind of fish. Over time, as I continue
to blog, to add tags and links, my fishnet grows. So now, after
8 years, I have a very big fishnet. And some very nice fish have
come in. Though I don't know who you all are, I sincerely appreciate
you, dear readers. Cheers to you!