I’m…fairly sure I’m allowed to do this?
I’ll be the first to admit that mine is a very new site, at six months in October (although as of this writing I’ve hit the 55-post mark, and you have only yourselves to blame for encouraging me) and have a lot to learn both about the art of the thing itself and about the community, the ecosystem into which I have blorped like a pyrenees into a kiddie pool, the sides overflowing, the terrified four-year-old inside realizing all too late that his water-wings won’t save him. And so when I saw that several of the other book-blogs I follow, such as Kristin Kraves Books, Down The Rabbit Hole, and Unwrapping Words, were all posting about something called Let’s Talk Bookish, I realized that this world whose air I am learning to breathe has an aspect which has, until now, been hidden from me: posts-as-memes.
You see, it appears to transpire that Let’s Talk Bookish is a…mind-virus, I think is probably the best way to put it, that facilitates a topic-focused weekly conversation in the book-blogosphere, and this week’s symptom is Tips For Newbie Bloggers. I did ask Kristin Kraves if there was like an…application process, or if I was just allowed to do one too? I’m probably overthinking it, which is why I’m getting a head start in anticipation of the answer being “Uh do whatever you want dude, nobody here’s the boss of you? Are you okay? Why are you crying and does it have to do with why you just called me dad?”
And so in that spirit of pure give-’em-hell punk-rock anarchy and also wholesome, collaborative community fellowship, I have done something I can sincerely say I’ve never done before: I have elected, voluntarily, to participate in a group activity that doesn’t involve dice, character sheets and funny/unbearable voices, although I imagine I could probably hack some kind of game together for it, but one must learn a system before one can break its bones and put on casts in shapes that will make the limbs spell a swear when they heal, so for now: the prompts.
Without further vamping for time, I give you:
Let’s Talk Bookish,
Week Of September 16 2022:
Tips For Newbie Bloggers.
What have you learned since you first started blogging?
There’s a movie I really love, based on a book I really like, both called The Big Year, and both of which detail the efforts of three competitive birders (yes, they’re a thing) each pursuing a Big Year, which entails finding, identifying and logging as many birds as possible, across the entire United States (or wherever, but this one happens in the U.S.), within the bounds of one calendar year. For context, as of 2022 the records for a U.S. Big Year and Worldwide Big Year are 840 and 6,852, respectively, because these people are terrifying.
My point in raising this topic is not just to boost awareness for a very sweet, slightly sad Steve Martin/Jack Black/Owen Wilson joint from 2010 that was mis-advertised as a comedy, but to illustrate a point: in order to bird, as a verb, at that level, one must be a master of many disciplines: meteorology and how it influences migration patterns and mating habits, ecological and climate change and how it can shift natural habitats, the massive amount of biology knowledge one has to accrue to truly understand and identify birds that, to the lay observer, appear to be identical; it’s a daunting list of skills, and it takes the undauntable to accomplish, with stamina to match.
And while I’m no Sandy Komito of blogging–although some exceedingly enchanting Rosy-Faced Lovebirds do appear in my backyard during Arizona’s poorly-advertised monsoon season–I have learned that similarly to birding, we describe ‘blogging’ as just one thing, when in reality it requires that one become conversant in an entire language of skills. There’s the stuff you could probably guess even if you’d never so much as had a MySpace: figuring out what you want to write about, trying to come up with a decent title or sobriquet that you won’t immediately hate (I can’t tell you how many times I looked into changing “The Bageler” in the past few months; turns out it’s unfeasible, so I doubled down and refused to admit fault or defeat, as is the way of my people ((Klingons))).
But there’s so much else to learn: some coding (as much as you want, really), how to maintain a writing and posting schedule, how to build and engage with an audience, how to actually use WordPress’ (or whatever’s) tools to make your site work and look like you want which is a much bigger thing than you’d imagine, it’s a lot of project management stuff that’s challenging and rewarding, but that aren’t immediately obvious.
What advice would you give to new bloggers?
Less on the technical and more on the personal, I’ve learned to try not to worry about doing things right or wrong and just write about whatever the hell I want without trying to force it, and I would encourage you to do the same. I’d love to do more long-form articles about the Emu War or Marie Curie’s lethally radioactive bones, and I’m certain I will someday, but as much as scheduling and stretching your boundaries is important, you also can’t force yourself to write about something, even if you’re interested, if you just aren’t in the right place to bring it out of yourself and put it on the page. Similarly, you have to really lean into your voice and write the way you want to write; as long as you like what you’re writing and how you’re writing it, nobody gets to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. (For example, my posts usually follow the Izzard model, which is to say chock fulla cussin’ but not vulgarity; I have restrained myself for this specific post, designed as it is to be part of a community project. You will not be so lucky next time.)
Scheduling gets a lot of discussion and rightly so, but I think more than the question of how to schedule, you have to figure out whether scheduling is even right for you at all. It isn’t for me! I can’t start working on next week’s Let’s Talk Bookish after I finish this one, because then it would start to hang over my head and I would start to dread it and resentfully procrastinate, just like I would with next week’s New Comics Haul and just like I used to with school papers. You can’t always control when your lightning will strike, but you can understand what conditions make it more or less likely to strike, and try to cultivate those conditions.
In matters tech and matters of style–learning WordPress’s (or whatever’s) internal tools and systems and figuring out headers and separators and individual pictures versus galleries, background images, menus, templates, aesthetics, format-stuff, I say go with what feels right for you. I really enjoy figuring out those little mechanisms–for example I struggled with one of the prompt-headings’ spacing for a good twenty minutes before I figured out that I had it set as a paragraph and not as a heading–and I feel they bring richness and personality to my stuff, it makes my posts taste like my posts, but if that’s not what you’re interested in and you just want a barebones block-of-text setup that’s entirely valid! And, arguably, implies that you have more faith in your ability to say what you have to say than I do. Hm. Well played, hypothetical reader. The only thing that’s non-negotiable is making use of as many accessibility features as your given setup offers; if you use images, give them alt-text, if you include audio, give them transcriptions. Any reader who can’t access your content because of a disability access issue is a reader being actively excluded from your community, and both the readers and community deserve better than that.
Ultimately, you have to write your blog for you, on your terms, in your own voice, and on your schedule; your people will find it, and those who don’t find it or don’t like it or think you’re doing it wrong (for style reasons anyway) can safely be ignored; after all, is it not written in the Gospel According to Taytay that haters can be relied upon to hate?
What is your favorite thing about blogging?
Like many of us, my brain has been utterly infested with the worms of capitalism, which demand that I be “productive” at all times, but refuse to actually explain what that means or why I should do it or to whom I allegedly owe this effort. They’re easily my least favorite worms, as illustrated below:
Worms By Goodness
5. Your Honour
9. All Others
10. Capitalist Brain
Blogging affords me many pleasures–community, the chance to sharpen my writing, critical and pun skills, and to bug the hell out of my friends to come read listen to me yell about how Little Caesars’ botched fast-food pasta for all of us–but perhaps the greatest is looking back, usually when I’m putting a list together for my monthly here’s-what-I-wrote-this-month newsletter, and realizing that even if I’ve only written one thing a week and put out a couple of podcast episodes, I can look back at the body of work I did that month and find that it’s usually way more than I would’ve guessed, and seeing it all listed out and stacked up like that is actually a really great feeling, and reminds me that while I’m not obligated to be productive, I can choose to be for my own pleasure, and that we’re generally much better than we think we are, and deserve more credit and more slack from ourselves.
There is no ‘leaving a mark’ or ‘having something to show for it’; eventually WordPress is going to shut down at some point, and I’ll lie in peace at the bottom of the sea if all goes according to plan, and the sun will go out, and it’ll be as if none of this ever happened, and that’s as it should be, that’s a good thing, but for now I get to look at my published posts and see that I’ve made a lot of jokes I liked, read a lot of books I enjoyed, and hopefully introduced some readers to some stuff they enjoy, and that’s a pretty fine feeling.
What is the hardest part of blogging for you?
You’d think it would be topics, but it’s not; I’ve got a million things I’d love to write, and frequently I do ~fantasy menu planning~ of the kind of writing schedule I’d like to one day maintain: New Comic Book Day Haul every week, full-length book or comic review one week a month, podcast release every week, full-length topic-article one week a month, the whole gamut. But the fact of the matter is that like every act of magic–I will remind you that it is called spelling for a reason–writing consumes resources of which we have limited amounts: time, energy, motivation, focus. In fact, I simply was not feeling this past week’s New Comics Haul post and gave serious consideration to just not doing it, which would’ve been my first skipped week in the five months I’ve been doing this; I was tired, thinking was difficult, and I could be playing Valkyria Chronicles 4 instead, and anyway isn’t this a thing I’m doing for fun? Should I really force myself if I’m not feeling it, in direct contradiction of my advice above? Don’t I deserve a break? And I maintain that I would’ve been well within my rights to take that break, but I remembered an episode of The Adam Ragusea Podcast, one of my recent obsessions, where he talks about how to get started in creative work and the importance of just doing the work, knowing full well that it’s not going to be perfect every time, but that it’ll keep getting better, and in the end I think it became one of the better, more thoughtful posts I’ve done, and even if it hadn’t been, I would still have done it, and those experience points add up. So just do it, just write what you can (or whatever), when you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you need or just want a break, because you deserve it and there’s always next time.
Is there anything you wish you’d done differently with your blog?
Honestly? Started it earlier. All of the posts from before April of ’22 were ported over from my old Blogger account, where I’d been doing them intermittently for a while, and podcast episodes I’ve been recording, editing and releasing over the years, but I really wish I’d just taken the plunge and started a proper platform for myself a LONG time ago, because it’s been one of the greatest creative endeavors I’ve ever undertaken and has been more rewarding than I could’ve imagined. It’s put me in touch with some amazing other creators and given me a place that’s Mine, and that’s incredibly valuable.
Also I wish I’d chosen a better name, but I go back and forth on that and would probably do the same no matter what name I’d chosen.
AND SO CONCLUDES MY FIRST WEEK OF LET’S TALK BOOKISH. What fun, and what a great idea both to bring our community together and to help us learn more about how each other and ourselves go about this hobby/business/court-mandated therapy which we all have in common. What about you all? What terrible mistakes have you made and learned from? What kind of worm do you think sucks the most? Mongolian? The dance one? Why do you wish I’d started my website earlier? Have these answers on my desk next week. Until then, be good to yourselves, be good to each other, wear your goddamn masks, and if you see four lights, say four lights.
(Obligatory reminder to subscribe to my once-monthly newsletter here, which rounds up everything I wrote in the preceding month and includes a pice of exclusive bonus content I will NEVER repost anywhere else, ever! It’s free, fast, fun, and you’ll feel left out of the cool kids’ newsletter conversation at lunch if you don’t!)
I thought it better not to fight
I thought there was a virtue
In always being cool