Alumni Feature October 2014

Blasting into the Blogosphere

blog by Diana Jenkins

The internet has had a profound impact on the business and practice of being a writer. I often think that so many things in life and art come down to timing, and I can’t help wonder if my own is always doomed to be just a little bit…well, off. In real life, I strive for punctuality, and my husband’s lax attitude around all things temporal is the source of more arguments and bloody thoughts than can be healthy, but in the virtual world I always seem to arrive after the boat has pulled out to sea.

boat One voyage for which I found myself at the check-in desk a little in advance of the final boarding call was back when I sailed out into the blogosphere, all wide-eyed and clueless. Sure, Wordpress had already registered millions of blog names by the time I added mine, but in September 2006, when I launched DoctorDi, I didn’t really know any other bloggers and I didn’t have a clue in the world about what I was doing.

waterfall Fast-forward to just over 6 years later, and I effectively decommissioned DoctorDi, exiting the blogosphere suffering from acute blog fatigue and a case of the World Wide Wearies that lingers to this day. But blogging was a useful, interesting, surprising and personally rewarding vehicle for my writing for longer than many contemporary marriages last, so this month I want to revisit the blogosphere, share what I learned from and came to believe about blogging, and invite Varuna Alumni to comment about and link through to your own blogs and/or personal favourites in the field.

Here’s just a few of the things I think worth considering if you’re flirting with the idea of launching a blog:

  1. Blogs take time

    They take time to maintain and they take time to find any sort of audience. The second one matters less in some ways than the first, because there’s simply no point undertaking a blog in the first place unless you have the time and energy to regularly contribute fresh posts. I began blogging as a means of maintaining the discipline of production: I wrote every weekday for much of the blog’s life. It was a statement of intent at a time when I had only recently started writing professionally and probably still had to prove to myself and my husband that I was, in fact, a writer, and when left to my own devices, I would, in fact, write.

    hourglass But blogs take time. What started as a daily demonstration of my compulsive need to generate words on a page became a serious distraction from the writing I most wanted to be doing: fiction. Instead of working on my manuscript whenever lulls in freelance commissions allowed, I was writing blog posts instead. And reading them.

    Which brings me to the other time-consuming element that sometimes overtook whole days: I spent an inordinate amount of time religiously reading the blogs of the blogging friends who religiously read mine. We were all in it together, which was absolutely marvellous, but also really quite demanding from a time management perspective. I didn’t want to lose my blogging friends when I stopped blogging, but personally I found I had to stop not only generating blog posts but reading them as well. Especially once my son was born – and I struggled on for two more years writing increasingly sporadic posts – I just didn’t have the luxury of sufficient time to keep it up.

    juggler Some people are able to juggle all of these separate demands: work, family, domestic chores, endless admin, health, creative output, friends, hobbies, assorted life commitments and blogging. I cannot. Ultimately, as a reader and writer operating in the blogosphere, I decided that continuing would be at the expense of other writing and reading I already felt I had too little time to do. It was a terrible wrench. Two years later I still feel awful for dropping off the comments stream of my blogging friends’ posts. I think of them all the time, but a couple of weeks ago, I was prompted to do the rounds and say g’day and catch up on all they’ve been writing and guess what happened? It took ALL DAY. All. Day. And it all came back to me in a rush: I do not have time for this if I am ever going to get any worthwhile fiction written. I wish I were one of those people who manages to do everything, but I’m not. I know that now and it was a really salutary reminder when I got to the end of the day without writing one single word beyond apologetic, borderline pathetic and entirely bloodless comments on all my blogging friends’ blogs. Danger, danger, Will Robinson, danger.

    Time. Can you afford to spend it in the blogosphere?

  2. Blogs forge friendships

    friendship I was always surprised when anyone read one of my posts and never stopped being absolutely delighted when some people – in time I had a core dedicated readership of about 6-8 commentators and about 25 silent regulars – began making a point of reading and commenting upon each new post. It was a thrill each and every time, because those 6-8 readers – who became valued friends – were all around the world and it was only the internet and blogging that enabled us to find each other. When we were in London in the summer of 2012, one of my blogging friends, Litlove from Tales from the Reading Room, caught the train down from Cambridge to come and have lunch with me. Meeting her in person was so totally normal and unsurprising and fantastic that I just thought, “Oh yes, of course – it’s you!”

    You do know each other, that’s the weird thing. In some cases you know each other really well even though you’ve never met face to face. It’s a very powerful and for me wholly unexpected benefit of blogging: lifelong connections are possible. And you can’t put a price on that.

  3. Blogs are a phenomenal archive

    boy I blogged through some major life events: my nana’s slow descent into Alzheimer’s and permanent care; IVF, pregnancy and the first two years of parenting; my fiction manuscript’s long and troubled evolution. It’s all there. My life. Six years of it. I lamented to my husband only a day or so ago that it’s a bit of a tragedy that this second IVF pregnancy and the journey that preceded it has gone almost wholly unrecorded. I think it’s wonderful for me (and hopefully one day for my son, who’s now approaching 4) that at the time, I wrote so much about my pregnancy with him and the first couple of years of his life. Now a second baby is soon to arrive, I can’t help feeling really sad that no such daily diary exists for the coming child to read later and see how much he or she was wanted and just what our lives are like, today, before he or she properly arrives to turn everything upside down. It makes me feel a bit like howling that the words aren’t there because I didn’t write them this time around.

    The blog was such an obvious avenue for such writing and although I was a diary keeper for many, many years before taking up blogging, they’re very different, and in any case since abandoning the blog I have not really returned to a traditional diary. I just haven’t been writing anything down about life at all. In fairness, this has been my busiest year both as a parent and as a freelance journalist, so buggered if I know when I would have done all this life writing, but it’s still true that blogging encouraged creating a record that I’m so pleased exists today.

  4. Blogs that succeed are specific Julie & Julia

    If ever I were considering re-entering the blogosphere at some point in the future, it would be with a blog about one thing. Books, art, cooking, parenting, politics, running, architecture, theatre, fashion, design, travel: whatever it was, it would be about that and that alone. My blog suffered, I think, from being about all sorts of things – it was really just about me, my life, things I found interesting or funny or harrowing or diverting from one day to the next. It wasn’t at all the same as keeping a diary, my posts do not resemble anything I have ever written in diary form, but it was as changeable and personal as diaries can sometimes be. And if you are eyeing off the blogosphere with a view to growing a readership and possibly even cultivating future commercial viability, I think it improves your chances if your blog has an explicit reason for being and you are crystal clear on exactly what it’s about.

  5. Blogs make sense for authors

    Author pages and blogs are important marketing tools for today’s authors. If you have a novel coming out, you’re probably doing yourself and your work a disservice if you don’t have an online presence. People will look for you, and you should be easy to find. Some writers feel uneasy and worse about the prospect of constructing and maintaining a public profile on the web, but this is one of those timing issues we simply can’t do much about. We’re not living in the 19th century, we’re living now.

    I’m sure it’s weirdly intrusive discovering you’re ‘Google-able’ if you’ve done nothing to court the all-seeing eye, and personally I really value my privacy – despite my history of public disclosures – but the web isn’t really a space most authors can afford to ignore if they want to find and keep readers. Okay, if you’ve written the surprise bestseller of the year, you probably don’t need to create and manage an author site to promote yourself and your work, but if you’re shifting more modest numbers, you probably do. Mid-range authors are the rule, not the exception, and blogs give you another tool for engaging readers.

    garden There are excellent examples among the Varuna Alumni – including Charlotte Wood’s How to Shuck an Oyster, a personal favourite – so please, please don’t be shy, please do use the comment feed to tell us about your blog if you have one. I’ll get the ball rolling. I am constantly inspired by my friend and Varuna Alumna Jennifer Scoullar, who’s now a best-selling rural romance author whom I first met in 2008 at my first Varuna residency. Her website and blog really serve her fan-base as much as they promote Jenny’s novels. Again, it knows what it’s about: all things ‘RuRo.’ Jenny talks about conferences, fellow RuRo writers, RuRo book launches, her latest manuscript, her inspirations… Jenny’s blog makes sense because her posts are always in context, and that makes it really easy for readers to find her and to keep coming back. It’s a reliable anchor for rural romance readers in a vast, roiling, limitless ocean – and that can only be a good thing.

    I recommend investing in the creation of author pages and blogs with a crucial caveat suggested by my first point, which is that blogging takes time. If you can manage the time investment so that it doesn’t unduly intrude on the primary business of whatever core writing you do, then bombs away and I salute you. But if you’re like me, a hopeless juggler who always gets sucked into the vortex, you may want to set up an author page without a blogging component, so that you can promote your book/s without committing yourself to writing regular blog posts. Personally I think you’re better off avoiding a blog entirely rather than having one that clearly isn’t getting any love. No one likes visiting a dead garden. And good luck if you do decide to take the plunge. I hope you’ll feel heartened by the main thing I learned from blogging, which is that there’s a pretty warm welcome waiting out there.

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New Alumni Profiles

New profiles last month:
Brenda Saunders and Sally Hall

Gabbie Stroud provided an update to her profile.

Read these and other profiles online at Alumni Profiles.

Alumni News

As well as the 2014 Sydney Writers' Festival photos in the Varuna Photo Gallery, there is now a video of Jill Dark's Garden Tour, filmed during the Varuna Celebration day that was held on 18 May 2014 during the Writers' Festival. (It will take a few moment for the video to load, so please be patient.)

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  • I resonate with the story of your blogging life here, Diana. I've been working on my blog, sixthinline for nearly ten years now. I started slowly but after a couple of years a couple of blog followers took me under their wings as it were and helped me along. For me blogging has been a way of practising writing. Once my blog took off I found, like you, that I was spending too much time in communion with my fellow bloggers responding to comments and the like. I enjoyed it but it took away precious and limited time from other writing. So I've narrowed my blogging down. Now I put up a post once a week and welcome comments but I don't try to respond to them all anymore. It was taking me hours and I began to resent the effort and once you resent something it's not helpful. I relish my blog now as a quieter space in which I can put up posts about whatever it strikes me as important, usually something to do with my life and then I let my blog look after itself. I agree, too, it's a marvellous archive, traces of the last ten years of my life and as such I'm glad it's in place, however feeble it sometimes appears.

    Elisabeth Friday, 03 October 2014 19:19 Comment Link
  • Great article Di - and thanks for the plug. Social media is an essential tool for authors, and I rather enjoy it. I'm quite physically isolated, being a regional writer. It's great to know that an entire community is only a click away on Facebook or my blog, ready to encourage, amuse and inspire me.

    Personally I ADORED your blog, so witty and incisive. Hysterical and a bit dark at the same time. Was really disappointed when you shelved it, but do understand why. Perhaps you were too ambitious? I only blog once a week, and that works well. My publisher loves it. BTW, I sent my new manuscript Turtle Reef to Penguin on Wednesday and am impatiently waiting for the verdict. Meanwhile a new idea is calling - all about dingoes and rewilding and a handsome Afghani wolf-whisperer!

    Jennifer Scoullar Friday, 03 October 2014 20:03 Comment Link
  • Voices and spirits like yours Di enrich the blogosphere and every other sphere.

    Julie Bail Saturday, 04 October 2014 03:42 Comment Link
  • I enjoyed that and I only blogging but only do it when I want to. It doesn't even matter if no one reads it, the writing of a blog is what I enjoy.Great article, Di.

    Susanna Freymark Saturday, 04 October 2014 16:36 Comment Link
  • You write beautifully, Di, and I so empathise with what you say. Thanks, too, for your blogging tips. Tricky trying to balance it all -- and life, too!

    Tangea Tansley Sunday, 05 October 2014 22:08 Comment Link
  • Dearest Diana, thank you for this moving and honest post. I feel sorry I didn't know about your blog while you we're writing it. But it sounds like you made a great, considered decision to stop.
    Personally, I enjoy blogging (I blog about the writing process), but I can only manage it by blogging once a month + publishing a monthly guest post. I admire you for having blogged 5 days a week! What a feat. I wonder - maybe there are seedlings of a memoir in those 6 years of posts?

    Lee Kofman Monday, 06 October 2014 20:16 Comment Link
  • Di, your blogging was always a perfect combination of clever and engaging, conversational and polished - and your output amazed me! Now I enjoy reading your Varuna features for the same reason - and as a reader it's far easier to keep up!

    Does any mother ever manage to juggle everything without any regrets? I suspect it's only those who have pretty amazing support networks. For the rest of us it seems to be a choice between greater and lesser compromises.

    My tip for the baby-record guilt-trip is that when the first goes off to school you will have some very special time with the second - and a little more time to document it.

    Deborah Rice Tuesday, 07 October 2014 23:25 Comment Link
  • I'm working on the premise that if I make myself *look* like a real author online, then people will believe I'm a real author in real life! (And maybe I'll start believing it myself.) You make a good point Di - we can't pretend we are in the 19th Century. The virtual world is here to stay.

    G J Stroud Saturday, 11 October 2014 12:12 Comment Link
  • Hello, everyone - thanks for all these lovely and interesting comments.

    Elisabeth - nearly a decade! Wow. That is such a significant commitment and sounds anything but feeble! Your experience sounds very similar to my own; I didn't ever resent the time, though, I simply felt compromised by it in the end. I think getting that balance right is the key - something I never managed. But yes, you're right, it can be a lovely vehicle for writing that would otherwise struggle to find a home.

    Jenny, I think you're absolutely right: daily posts proved far too ambitious and were debilitating to the entire enterprise by the end. Blog Burnout: get yours here today! Thank you for the lovely words about DoctorDi; it means so, so much to me that you enjoyed it. Meanwhile I think you are MUCH smarter about blogging than I ever was and are hopefully reaping the rewards of that - I can imagine the benefits for regional writers are manifold.

    Julie, I'm left a bit speechless every time I read your comment (and I confess to having read it a few times now...) - thank you. What an utterly gorgeous, outrageously generous thing to say!

    Susanna, yes, it is a really pleasurable form of writing, isn't it? Unusually enjoyable given some writing requires far bloodier extraction! It's very interesting you say it doesn't matter if no one reads it...I feel that way about an awful lot of writing I do, but I doubt I would have lasted anywhere near six years as a blogger had I not connected with people who seemed to appreciate whatever it was I was doing. I was definitely writing *for* a reader in the blog - one of the key distinctions between it and diary keeping.

    Oh, thank you, Tangea - like Julie, you have been so kind in your estimation of my scribbles since you began commenting here - too kind, really. But yes, you're right, balancing it all is tricky and has thus far defeated me!

    Lee, the same goes for you! Yes, I have wondered about possible memoir options out of all that writing but haven't figured out an angle that seems coherent enough to take seriously in amidst all my banal and quotidian observations! The one storyline that may have sufficient guts is the series of posts about Nana and her Alzheimer's - but even then, I'd need to think of a way to make it about more than our tiny tale, I think. Food for thought, though, and thanks. I enjoy your blog enormously whenever I manage to visit - it's another good example, I think, of the benefit of having a clear remit.

    Thanks, Deb - it makes me feel SO nostalgic about DoctorDi to read your and Jenny's thoughts on the blog! That's really lovely - and I am so pleased to still have one foot in a bloggy kind of universe through my role here. I suspect you're right about the guilt. And the time ebbing and flowing in line with different parental periods. Ever since having Iggy I have been so amazed by all of you people who have managed to write manuscripts after having kids. It floors me.

    Gabbie, absolutely! I applied exactly the same logic and it kind of worked, too, though not at all as convincingly as in your own case. You have a great site to promote your books - exactly the type of thing I believe published authors today need to have.

    Diana Jenkins Monday, 13 October 2014 20:42 Comment Link

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