A couple of months back, I attended a blogging workshop moderated by an Atlanta journalist I admire. Sure, I was at least interested in the concept, but I was more drawn to spending the day in a trendy office near Georgia Tech, sharing thoughts and mimosas (her workshop trademark) with interesting people I’d never met. I’d done my homework: I had a list of criteria I wanted to meet with my “imagined” blog, and since mine would be designed neither to sell anything OR compete in any “blogging showdown,” I looked forward to quickly becoming the teacher’s pet with my great ideas, organization, and finger on the pulse of the blogging world. Right?
After a brief rundown on the day’s purpose, we “met” the workshop participants as they volunteered their personal info and what they hoped to accomplish by having a blog. The two facilitators were well at ease in inserting a bit of their intending teachings through each participant’s story, making the getting-to-know segment an active part of the workshop itself. So far there were business people, mommies with cutesy anecdotes, a baseball fanatic, an invalid caregiver, a government psychologist and a couple of memoirists. And I’d worried there’d be too many fiction writers – this would be a piece of cake.
“I’m a retired music teacher, and I recently finished a novel,” I answered, hating the sound of my own voice.
“So you need a platform to promote your book?” she said, sounding as if this were mere common sense.
“Not really,” I said, wondering how I could be so misunderstood in just one sentence. “I mean, I haven’t actually published it, I mean, I don’t even have an agent. I have a nice stack of rejections from them, though.” I hoped someone would laugh. No one did. I continued.
“’My Neck of the Woods – Southern Writers on Southern Writing’ would generate info about living southern authors, with interviews, and book reviews, and, uh…lists of their favorite authors and favorite books and…” I was seeing it all in my head – the background map of the southern states, and with each entry, a picture of another author/book being “tacked” onto their homeland. But I didn’t seem to be explaining it too well.
“How do you see yourself making any money from this?” her male counterpart asked. “And exactly who would this serve?”
“Uh…people who like southern fiction. And southern authors. Oh yeah, I would try to post conferences, and workshops, and book festivals, that feature them. Like make a place for easy access for other southern writers who want to find good literature conferences close to home, not in New York or California.” They were all looking at me like I’d grown a third eye. “Oh—and I’d have links to other—to related articles.” It made so much sense in my head, but I sounded like a fifth grader—no, fifth graders were surely better.
“All humanitarianism aside,” the leader asked, smoothing her sleek blonde hair behind her ear, “exactly what’s in this for you? You’re going to promote your book by interviewing other authors, writing about other books, and telling your readers where to go to learn to write similar works themselves?” Her smile looked earnest and there was no sarcasm in her voice. So why did I feel like the butt of blonde joke?
“I guess my ultimate, way-down-the-line goal,” I said, still trying to dig myself out of the black hole I’d fallen into, “is that, if and when my book or books are published, I’ll have already established a perfect audience for them.” I let myself breathe, glancing out to see at least a couple of people smiling, sparking my courage for a last effort.
“And if I make this blog and keep it going, maybe it can be the basis for a book proposal on southern fiction.”
Why did I say that? Since when did I want to publish a scholarly treatise of any kind? Oh yeah. That’s what the workshop leaders had told the last few people before me—half the would-be blogs in the room had “the basis for a book proposal with a ready-made platform.” Why, at age 54, was I still doing everything possible to please the damned teacher?
She looked at her cohort (for support? As to share a joke?) then back to me.
“Okay,” she says. “I think, as a writer, you definitely need a blog, but I just don’t see the one you’re describing doing you much good. I get that it’s not to make money, but I don’t really like this way-down-the-line goal. If that’s really your goal, you’re not being honest to your readers, which is only going to hurt you when you have a concrete product to give them. What you’re advocating isn’t really honest, is it?”
She was still being so nice, and what she said was true. I willed myself not to start crying in front of the trendy office full of interesting people.
“Do you read other authors’ blogs?” she asked. Why couldn’t she stop, go on to the next person. Wasn’t she done?
“Yes,” I said softly, managing not to sniffle.
“Name one,” she said. Did she not believe me? Was she trying to expose me as a non-reader, too? Geez…
“Silas House,” I answered. The first writer I’d imagined interviewing for the blog that would never happen.
In seconds, the projection screen was filled with the lush green of Kentucky mountaintops and the heading “A Country Boy Can Surmise.”
“Great name, beautiful site,” she said. She noted the book lists, links to other articles, variety in kinds of posts. The whole room seemed to wake up and murmur their approval.
“This is your favorite author? Here’s your example. I’d say look no further, but we’ll check a few others for comparison. Very nice,” she repeated.
She clicked to another site, calling attention to how important the “uncluttered” effect was for a blog that focused on prose, unlike some of the business blogs we’d examined earlier. Forwarding to another, she explained the features of websites with blog components and direct-marketing options. When she finally concluded my allotted time in the limelight, she asked if I had any questions. I didn’t. She turned off the projector and called on her next victim.
I left Atlanta thinking I’d go home an attempt the blog idea, but as with many of my best-laid plans, it never happened.
Attending another writers’ conference in North Georgia this weekend, it seemed that every lecture presented made mention of the absolute need for “a social media platform.” I guess there’s no escaping it; if the idea has reached “Deliverance” country, the word is definitely out.
I listened, I took notes, and this time I came home and really went to work. The words of Hope Clark (www.fundsforwriters.com) kept ringing in my ears, reminding me of the need for a “virtual footprint,” flatly saying that “without a blog or website, you simply don’t exist ‘out there.’” Scary!
I pulled out my notes from the last conference, remembering I had the perfect example to follow. I surmised that clicking over to the country boy might be the best inspiration, losing myself for a while in beautiful words and pictures.
I can do this, I thought. It won’t be as prolific or profound, but I can do this. Silas is not only a favorite writer, but also a teacher, mentor, and friend from the days of the creative writing MFA program I completed less than a year ago. We share a love for a lot of the same books, and authors, and music. It’s not ludicrous to model my blog from his, it’s only common sense. To be the best, learn from the best. Yeah. That’s it. I can do this.
Except that there is one major difference between Silas and me: I DON’T HAVE ANY PUBLISHED BOOKS!
I mean, does my creative thesis from school count? How about the manuscript that’s been turned down by 37 agents so far? If so, then how about my hand-written diaries from junior high school? To me, setting up a blog “to look similar” is a sacrilege. Imagine the opening lines: Hi, I’m Elaine. I’m a writer much like Silas House, except that I have no published books, do not write for any major magazine, have no writing awards, have no editing credits, have never taught writing at the collegiate level, have never lectured about writing anywhere, and have never helped save a mountain from being blown up. But, other than that, we’re basically the same person. Right?
Last night I ordered a book called The Shy Writer, and I’m hoping it will help me get over the embarrassment of having an author-like blog with no authored books to feature down the side of the page. Have I hit on something here? Is there an unwritten rule that says we’re “writers” until we’re in print or sold online, and then we can call ourselves “authors?” Okay, I just looked it up, and there is no distinction between the two (but I did learn that the correct term for my gender is “authoress.” Damn!)
Welcome to Elaine’s blog. I’m going to do this blog thing if it kills me, since I don’t want to die thinking “I don’t exist.” One last thing from my blogging workshop notes: “350 words is the perfect length for a blog post.” I’ve already quadrupled that number, so I’d say I’m off to a pretty bad start.
I went back and checked post lengths on my “blogging example.” His aren’t 350 words either. Maybe there IS hope.
Thanks for listening…