Tag Archives: blogging

Words, words every where, nor any post to link

Of all the April Fools jokes out there on the interwebs yesterday — well, of the limited number I saw, since I was mostly offline — I think the one by WordPress announcing AutoMatton was my favourite.

Here’s part of their pitch for this awesome new blogging tool:

Writer’s block? No problem! Announcing AutoMatton

As WordPress.com becomes easier to use, one piece of unanswered feedback keeps nagging at us: blogging is hard! Not only do you have to think of something worth saying, you have to take valuable time out of your day to write those things down in an appealing, easy-to-read way! Improvements to WordPress.com can speed up things like load times, but we simply couldn’t remove human nature from the equation… until now.

What is AutoMatton?

AutoMatton uses a simple machine learning algorithm to predict the posts that you will write, taking predictive text and auto-correct to the next level.

Yeah, they got me. It took me way too long to realize they were kidding. I tell myself this gullibility was because I was skimming through email not long after waking up and before a significant amount of caffeine had hit my bloodstream and I was still feeling pretty groggy . . .

But honestly? I really really wanted to believe this was an actual thing.

You see, I’m having a tough time coming up with appropriate blog posts. I’m not sure when, exactly, I started worrying about being all appropriate over here, and maybe I should knock it off, but every time lately I feel a thousand or so words bubbling up in my brain it’s usually about the drama du jour and . . . I just can’t make myself write the post.

It’s not that I don’t want to. Holy guacamole, do I want to. After all, I have Something To Say. I feel compelled to point out that People Are Missing The Point, Dammit. On all sorts of topics, Things I Feel Strongly About, including but not limited to:

  • Politics
  • Civics
  • Conformity
  • Decorum
  • Anonymity
  • Ethics
  • Pseudonyms
  • Hypocrisy
  • Courage
  • Privacy
  • Feminism
  • Religion
  • More Politics
  • More Civics
  • Common Fucking Decency

But then I stop and ask myself: do you really want to be that person? One of the usual suspects who weigh in on everydamnthing, who love the sound of their own voice above all others? One of those who jump in just to see how big a splash they can make? One who, be honest, has nothing new or interesting or enlightening to add other than their own ire or cynicism or questionable wisdom? Do you really want to get sucked into the latest internet quagmire?

And the answer lately has been, invariably, “no.”

Oh, look! Here’s a diversion picture of The White Ninja, nodding off to sleep on the back of my recliner.

A small break from her ninja activities

A small break from her ninja activities

 

But . . . but . . . I should write a new blog post and don’t know what to say! And WordPress’ AutoMatton would have made it all so easy! Just fill in a topic!

How is the content created?

AutoMatton’s job is to figure out the words that you would use given a specific topic to write about. It scours your existing words, fills in the blanks, and checks its own work. Each post AutoMatton writes is compared to your canon of work, old report card grades, everything written by Kurt Vonnegut, and Terms of Service documents from the top 500 most visited websites. AutoMatton then feeds this information back to itself to improve the accuracy of its predictions. It’s like magic.

Actually, the words aren’t the problem. I’m a writer. I can write any number of words, probably too many words, on any given topic, especially the ones listed above. The problem lately has been finding a topic. An appropriate topic.

All this self-restraint has been killing me, leaving me without words. You’d think I had killed an albatross.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Oooh, and here’s another diversion a sign of Spring! My purple-leaf sand cherry tree blooming against a Carolina blue sky.

The honeybees love these flowers

The honeybees love these flowers

 

Whoops. That was from last week and already sadly outdated, not unlike the latest kerfuffle. Here’s one from yesterday afternoon: blooming redbud branches poking through the holly bushes and catching the last rays of sunset.

Yes, the redbud blossoms are purple, not red

Yes, redbud blossoms are purple, not red

 

It’s so much easier, and far less controversial, to just keep my head down and go back to writing stories. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Giving voice to things both great and small through fiction. Not sure how much longer I can maintain that ruse, but for now that’s my strategy.

What have the rest of you all been up to? Anything inappropriate you want to discuss? Anything untoward got you all hot under the collar?

Come sit over here by me and spill it. We’ll use our indoor voices.

 

21 Comments

Filed under blogging, deep thoughts

Random thoughts in December

This is a rambling post full of random thoughts. I know you’re used to that over here and probably I don’t even need to mention it, but whatever.

I have somehow ended up with an iPhone. I’d say I’m not sure how that happened, but I know exactly how it happened.

Several months ago, my daughter decided we were paying too much for cell phone service (she and her husband are on my plan). So I told her, fine, you find a good plan that’s less expensive and we’ll switch. Because I hate dealing with that kind of stuff.

Of course, being an intrepid adventurer who did not inherit my gene for procrastination, she did just that. Only problem was, my very old cell phone was so old that it sent the new plan into paroxysms of laughter before it said, “No. You need a new phone. One from this century.”

Here’s a picture of my old phone (on the left, if you couldn’t tell), next to the new one. With bonus coasters, because I’m too lazy to crop them out.

photo

Oh, stop laughing. The old one was functional. I was able to check the time and date and send text messages and even set an alarm. I’m pretty sure I could make phone calls with it. Probably. It’s not like I have first-hand knowledge of that.

Sigh. I guess all good things come to an end.

I looked at the options for new non-smart phones (I wasn’t impressed) and decided I might as well accept the inevitable sooner rather than . . . even later. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to get a phone that could launch missiles and connect with the ISS and negotiate world peace through predictive text.

Now, I’m not a complete Luddite, but the adaptation has been predictably hilarious. And pitiful. Here’s an example of a typical text conversation with my daughter (we had been talking about the pic she sent of her Christmas tree):

IMG_0002

And then there is this inexplicably recurring nonsense from Siri, which I have transcribed from memory:

Siri: Hey, I learned a new trick! Just say “Hey Siri” to learn more.

Me: . . . [silent, wondering whether there’s a way to opt out of being spoken to like a three-year-old]

Siri: I’m not sure what you said.

Me: That’s because I’m speechless.

Siri: I’m not sure I understand. Did you say, “How do I write a speech?”

Me: Not even close.

Or I’d hit some weird combination of buttons and get this:

Siri: How can I help you?

Me: Sorry, didn’t mean to summon you.

Siri: You do not need to apologize to me.

Me: I’m going to disconnect you now.

Siri: Okay. Bye!

I decided Siri might be less irritating as a male, so I changed the voice preference the other day and haven’t heard from her, er, him since.

But I did discover — completely by accident, due to my tendency to click on stuff despite not knowing what it does — that I can text from my laptop. This is so cool, I can hardly believe it. Totally awesome to type a text message on a full keyboard rather than a tiny phone screen. This thing is really more computer than phone.

Another plus, the camera is light years better than the one on my old phone. Here’s a pic of The White Ninja, which is what my son calls her [it has been pointed out that I can’t really call her The Intruder Cat anymore, since the cat-intruded-upon is no longer with us]. See how she’s being all cooperative and shedding on a white blanket? That’s only because I moved my black sweater.

IMG_0003

As you might suspect, I’ve been feeling sad the last several weeks, missing my ancient kitty. She might have been ornery, but she was mine. There was a significant amount of time both before and after she died during which I didn’t write. At all. But I’ve been trying to get back to it in the past few days. Not easy, with the distractions of the holidays.

Speaking of distractions, my son just sent me this text message:

IMG_0005

I laughed SO HARD. That child definitely inherited his mother’s irreverent sense of humour. [I’m sorry if you don’t get the reference, and really sorry if no one forces you to watch that South Park episode every year at Christmas time, but I am not going to be the one to explain it.]

Where was I? Oh, yeah.

I’ve heard quite a few writers say they don’t like to talk about what they’re writing while writing it. As if doing so saps the words of their energy, deflating the story and rendering it lifeless. I’ve discovered over the years that I fall squarely into this camp.

However.

I will say that an interesting thing has happened with my writing in the past several months. “Interesting” being open to interpretation, I guess. I’ve been actively writing two stories at the same time. While making notes on a third. And there’s a fourth one, a short story, that is completely developed in my mind.

I’ve never attempted this before. I’m sure it’s a Very Bad Idea. There is no “right” way to write, but if there’s an inadvisable way or a convoluted way or a way that is more difficult, you can bet that’s what I’ll manage to do.

Is this procrastination? I don’t know. Maybe. I’d be worried if I completely stopped writing one story in favour of another. That’s a big red flag. But this is different, this switching back and forth and writing two at once. Yes, it means the entire process is taking a bit longer, but I’m not sure I could write these two stories any other way. They’re both proving to be . . . difficult. In different ways. It helps to alternate, for one to lay fallow while the other percolates words, and then back again.

The interesting thing, to me, is the discovery that writing straight romance has helped me see that thriller manuscript I set aside more clearly. I don’t mean “straight” as a sexual definition. Is “pure” romance a better term? No, that has other connotations as well. I mean straight-up romance without a thriller plot or a conspiracy woven though it.

One thing that bothered me about that story was that the tone was uneven. Most of it sounded like a thriller, but large sections of it sounded more like a romance. This is not a good thing. But, somehow, writing romance has made it easier for me to really “feel” the genre differences between romance and thrillers. Mind you, I’m an avid reader of both genres. I understand the differences. I just couldn’t always manage to separate them in my writing. And even though I want to write both, I had come to believe I’d never have what it takes to do justice to a thriller. So it’s encouraging that I’ve been thinking about that thriller again in stray moments. Getting excited about it again. That story will require intense and exclusive focus, when it’s time, but that time might come sooner than I anticipated. We’ll see what transpires.

Anyway, due to this weird new process, it might happen that I finish several stories at the roughly same time. But who knows. I’ve learned to stop making predictions. Life has a way of thwarting even the simplest plans and there was plenty of that this year.

I’ve decided to announce new releases first via my newsletter, well ahead of mentioning them here on my blog or elsewhere. So if you want to be among the first to hear about the publication of new stories, at a discounted price, go sign up for my newsletter (here’s a link, or see the sidebar). I won’t share your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time. No pressure. You do whatever you feel comfortable doing.

Good grief, I’ve rambled on longer than even I thought I would. I do want to mention that I’m going to take an extended break from the internet after Christmas, in spite of this new iThing that insists on connecting me every time I move. I have at least two stories at the point where they need my complete focus. And another one, perhaps two, that are impatient to burst forth onto the page. Seems like a good idea to mute the distractions for a while.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, if that’s something you celebrate. Regardless of holiday preferences, I wish everyone peace and calm and clarity as one calendar year draws to a close and a new one begins.

I hope you are able to take a few days off from the ordinary and make them extraordinary. I hope you manage to share space with people you love, or at least find tolerable the ones you’re stuck with. And I hope you make time to read.

As for me, I’ll be wishing for an encore of this:

1226001016

 

6 Comments

Filed under blogging, holidays, miscellaneous bits

So, about this hiatus

I guess I should just go ahead and make it official, since my blog appears to be on hiatus. Not sure how that happened. It wasn’t intentional.

Which one of you hit the pause button?

Who hit the pause button?

Partly, this random break is a result of me being busy with other things. I know, weak excuse. It’s also due to me being lazy. And getting out of the habit. And now it just feels awkward, trying to find a way to start blogging again after [gulp] four months — has it been that long? really? — because it seems like I should kick it back into gear by saying something important. Or, I don’t know, something that matters. But the thing is, posts over here have never been all that significant. No set topic, no driving purpose. Just me rambling along about . . . whatever. That’s not likely to change.

Honestly, I’ve been wondering whether I should just call it quits on this whole blogging thing. As a practical matter, I wonder whether anyone would care. Or even notice. I pretend the answer is yes. I pretend I don’t care if it’s not.

Interestingly, I followed a link a while back to an old post from Neil Gaiman where, as a footnote to other things, he relayed the news that blogging had been declared dead by The Scotsman. That was in May 2004, way back before I even knew what a blog was, and at which time Gaiman said, “That’s an enormous relief, of course.”

Right.

So I could perhaps be excused for finally realizing that blogging is indeed dead, in Scotland at the very least, and congratulated for ceasing all efforts to maintain the practice. Seems reasonable. But then I remember what McB told me when I considered quitting a few years ago: the minute I make that decision, I’ll suddenly have a dozen things I want to say.

Sigh. Right now, I’d settle for even ONE thing.

After seven years, it feels as if I’ve said everything there is to say on every conceivable topic. I suppose there’s always the cat as blog fodder . . . actually there were two cats for a while this summer, since my daughter’s cat stayed with me for a couple months. But I suspect there’s a limit to how many cat stories you can tell before people question your sanity. Probably I’m already well over that limit.

I could write about my daughter’s bridal shower. It was lovely. She got some very special and thoughtful gifts. Defying all expectations, everyone survived what seemed (to me) to be an excessive amount of conversation. But I’ve been asked not to post pictures of it, so . . .

I’ve been writing, but I don’t like to talk about it while I’m in the process, so that’s out. I did get a FitBit and have been walking A LOT — well, these things being relative, a lot more than I had been — and have lost a good deal of weight as a result. Not sure what else can be said about that topic. I’ve been on a bit of a reading binge lately, but haven’t run across anything in particular that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

See? None of this is remotely entertaining.

The problem is, I know you guys. I know what you really want to hear. You want to know when I’ll have some fiction ready for you to read. And I don’t have a firm answer on that. Yet. But I’m working on it.

What have you all been up to? Anything interesting to report? Any topics you want me to expound upon in the near future? Given a prompt, I’m reasonably adept at rambling about pretty much anything. Or I could just continue on with nothing. It’s worked so far.

5 Comments

Filed under blogging

New ways to procrastinate

Friend and fellow writer Ann Marie Gamble has included me in one of those irritating flattering online challenges with nearly incomprehensible arbitrary entertaining rules that encourage you to post a portion of your work-in-progress on your blog so others can ridicule admire your deathless prose.

As I understand it:

Go to page 77 of your manuscript

Skip the first 7 lines

Copy and post the next 7 lines, no editing allowed

Tag 7 other writers to do the same

My gut reaction was not just “No” but “Hell no.” That particular portion of this manuscript hasn’t been touched since I first wrote it, um, well, a long time ago. It’s on the list of sections that still need heavy editing. Or deleting. Or purging by fire.

But then I decided maybe I was being a bit too sensible insecure ornery. I mean, it’s not like I’ve never posted unedited crap writing on my blog. Like, every time I post. Sigh.

So here it is:

Disgusted with himself for getting so involved in his own thoughts, JT’s response was less than gracious. “Be glad you still have enough blood circulating to leave a mark, darlin’. A few feet in the other direction and you’d be headed for the hospital right about now.” If not the morgue, he thought angrily.

“Oh please, that car didn’t even come close to hitting me.”

“My point exactly, and you’re welcome.”

But since I’m still feeling a bit sensible insecure ornery, I’m not going to tag seven other writers to do this. And honestly, if I did, I’d be likely to tag seven writers who: a) don’t know me and would ignore the challenge, b) are grumpy and humourless and wouldn’t participate, or c) are way too busy writing to indulge in this kind of nonsense fun and games. Because someone has to be sensible insecure ornery enough to put a stop to this irritating time suck flattering request to share unedited crap shining samples of fiction.

Instead, since most of you reading this are readers and not writers, I challenge you to find a book you truly enjoyed and go to page 77 and skip the first 7 lines and select the next 7 lines and paste them into a comment. Giving proper attribution, of course. Really. Because I suspect that seven random lines, out of context, even from a really good book that you loved, are going to sound like crap kind of silly.

And that will cheer me right up. Or, you know, depress the hell out of me if they don’t. One of those.

21 Comments

Filed under just for fun

Scrutiny

Well, that was fun. Most of you reading this know, or at least suspect, that there was quite the uptick in visitors over here this past week. Due to someone else’s blog post Saying Nice Things and linking to my review of Bill Cameron’s terrific new book COUNTY LINE.

Are they gone yet? Good. Because that kind of thing, while very nice and flattering and ego-boosting, can also be fucking terrifying. Seriously, it will mess with your head if you let it. And I’m telling you, as a writer: you can’t let it.

I don’t usually give advice to other writers, so I’m making an exception here. I’m going to say this once and then we will never speak of it again. Because we have better things to do.

This post is for all the relatively inexperienced writers out there, in the event they ever wander back this way. The ones who came over here last week hoping to identify some elusive quality that attracts or is supposedly worthy of attention. If you’re a successful published author, this is not for you. Go write another book or something.

Writers are a strange bunch. We spend so much of our time in these days of internet access obsessed with visibility and popularity. Twitter followers. Facebook friends. Blog hits. We jump up and down, flailing our virtual writing-cramped hands saying, “Me, me, look at meeeee.” And then people unexpectedly focus their attention on us and we’re all, “Whoa. No, don’t look. Wait, don’t leave. Hell, I didn’t wash my hair today. Come back! Just, OMG, don’t look. I mean, yes, look here!”

We’re psychotic. And horribly vulnerable. But mostly psychotic. Or maybe that’s just me.

This is not the first time that some random “something” out there on the internet has led a bunch of people to my blog. Far from it. It’s not even the first time an agent has linked to my blog. Although this was the first time so many people visited in such a short period of time. Not big numbers by most standards, not even close. Still, pretty big for me.

But for every person who chose to comment on that post (nine at last count), there were at least 100 who did not. That’s not 100 total, but more than 100 for each person who commented. And they’re still coming. Think about that.

Then think about the fact that some publishing houses and literary agencies have a web host name that is their company name rather than, for instance, Verizon or Road Runner. So while you might not know who your visitors are, you look at your blog stats and you know where some of them work. Or that they’re in New York. Or Canada. Or the UK or India or Australia. Or that they came over to read your book review and then spent two entire days clicking on dozens of past blog posts. Posts you don’t even remember writing at this point.

You want that kind of attention? Are you sure? Because this kind of thing has the potential to make you crazy. Crazier.

The double-edged sword of having access to blog statistics, and everyone with an ounce of sense does these days, is that it’s a really great feeling to know so many people made their way over to your dusty corner of the internet and visited your obscure little blog. The downside, and you might not realize this until it happens to you, is that you have NO IDEA what any of them thought. But I can guarantee you that a good number of them rolled their eyes and left wondering what the big deal was. “Voice? Nope, I just don’t see it.” And many who didn’t comment were simply following their mother’s sage advice: “If you don’t have anything nice to say…”

Now before people start jumping all over me, I’m not putting myself down. My ego is just fine. I’m being realistic. For every person who loves your “voice” or your writing, there will be several more who are unimpressed or who actively hate it. You don’t believe me? Go pick out ten books at random in a bookstore and read the first three pages and tell me how many you love enough to want to buy them. One? Two? None? And yet several people loved those books enough to publish them. Opinion about writing is subjective. Granted, some opinion is more experienced or respected than others, but it’s still subjective.

In light of that, the other thing I want to tell all you new writers out there is that “getting attention” is not, should not be, your GOAL. Attention by itself is meaningless. Worthless. Well, unless someone is paying you per blog hit. If you’ve found someone willing to do that, please contact me immediately. After which you will meet with an unfortunate accident and I will generously offer to take your place. You’re welcome.

This should be a separate post, but let’s just get this over with. I know this contradicts every piece of advice out there that tells unpublished writers how important it is to be seen, to gather followers. I disagree. And I’m serious about this. Your goal should be to produce great writing. Period.

The thing about getting attention for its own sake is that, once you get it, people will think it’s undeserved. Unwarranted. Unfuckingbelievable. You have a popular blog? So what. How many books have you published? How many have you sold? How many readers are willing to stand in line at midnight before the release date of your next book? How many people are shoving your book into the hands of strangers, telling them they just have to read it?

I’ve been over here quietly writing blog posts for almost five years. I don’t promote this blog other than a tweet, maybe two, when I write a new one. Sometimes I post a link on Facebook, if I remember. I suck at Facebook. I haven’t even put up a sidebar link over here to my page. But when I comment on other blogs, in that little box that says “website (optional)” I dutifully enter my URL. If people want to find me, they will. Several do.

This blog is a place to say things I want to say when I have no other place to say them. The place where I practice, where I stretch and warm up and get comfortable with my voice. Where I make mistakes. Get feedback. Where my writing has space and time to get stronger and more confident. A place to stay in touch with people who like me and want to read my books someday. I do it because I enjoy it.

But my ultimate focus is not on “promoting” myself. It’s on writing a great book. Great writing promotes itself, compels other people to talk about it, share it and come back for more. Without that, all the attention in the world doesn’t do you a damn bit of good.

For me, the internet is about making friends and having fun. Pushing back the encroaching dark edges of writerly solitude. I wander around hoping to do that and sometimes I get lucky and meet interesting people who like me back. Last spring, I made a new friend. He wrote a book. I read it and loved it. I could not wait to tell my other friends, the handful of people who read this blog regularly, how great it is.

In my opinion, that’s the only kind of “self-promotion” worth doing, the kind done in support of others. The only kind that has a chance of standing up to the scrutiny of strangers.

If you’re a writer and you’re doing anything other than that, you’re doing it wrong.

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Filed under deep thoughts, writing