Today I spent a very pleasant hour chatting to Helen Merrick (esteemed author of The Secret Feminist Cabal and 50% of the much-missed-and-anticipated-to-return podcast The PanGalactic Interwebs) in an interview-lecture on the topic of author blogging for a creative writing course at Curtin University.
Definitely the most fun lecture of my academic career, and a big wave hello to any Curtin creative writing students who have followed me over here!
I had planned out in my head a discussion about different authors and the choices they make as to content, boundaries, etc. and hadn’t realised until just before the interview that in fact Helen wanted a far more direct approach, the subject being ME. So we had a lovely hour pretty much analysing and dissecting my relationship with my blog, the choices that I make, and my views on social media. It was a delicious, crunchy conversation and I am very sorry that I can’t share it with all of you! Except those of you who are taking creative writing at Curtin University, of course.
It did have the effect of making me look back on my blogging history – I hadn’t really taken in until saying it out loud how much my bloggery is tied to my parenthood. But I remember checking the overview of my LJ history and discovering that I signed up for my journal on the day I brought Raeli home from hospital as a baby. I had spent that last month before she was born on the couch, bonding with my first laptop (it was January and I was very pregnant, it was what I did instead of nesting!) and reading blogs. So I signed up for LJ in my sleep deprived haze, and started actually writing in it a few months later.
In fact, my memory was playing tricks on me, because I now recall that I had a blog BEFORE LJ, but it was an awkward and self-conscious thing, best forgotten.
My transition from LJ to WordPress (and tansyrr.com) came in the months after Jem was born, and the first month of blogging here was perhaps the most high intensity blogging I’ve ever done. It coincided with NaNoWriMo – as I said to Helen today, I tend to blog most when also writing fiction furiously. Don’t ask me how that works!
We talked a lot about personal boundaries and self-censorship and parenthood, and how different bloggers make different choices as to the discussion of their children.
We also talked about shaping your online presence and while you don’t *have* to blog or tweet or whatever as a writer (I always wince when I hear writers saying their publishers have pushed them to do so, as it’s not always the right choice for them), it’s important to keep in mind what does and doesn’t turn up at the top of the list when someone Googles your name.
The message that I came back to, over and over again, is that as soon as any social media platform becomes more about promoting the author than about engaging with them as a person, it ceases to be entertaining/attractive to the reader. It may seem counter-intuitive, but bloggers and Twitterers and podcasters and everyone else are more likely to sell books from being awesome than from trying to sell books. I also emphasised the “Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife Principle” which is that it’s far better to not use any given social media platform than it is to do it badly. Where, of course, the epitome of ‘badly’ is screeching “buy my book” in increasingly shrill and panicky tones.
[I also pointed out that being so desperate to sell your book that you come across as stiff, awkward or just boring is not specific to the internet and you can see this in person at conventions and writers festivals too]
Also, the more fun you have with social media, the less work it is. Though of course it also becomes MORE work because you want to do it more. But really it shouldn’t count as work. Unless someone is suggesting it’s your turn to do the washing up. Then it’s totally work.
After spending the latest episode of Galactic Suburbia analysing what podcasting has done for us (aqueducts! roads! wine!) it felt oddly appropriate to hang out with Helen this afternoon, looking back on my last five and a half years of blogging, and actually thinking about the choices I have made, the boundaries, self-censorship and filters I have personally employed, the difference in community between LJ and WordPress, and what I get out of blogging, Twitter and podcasting, which are basically my three social media platforms of choice.
I did, of course, end up talking lots about other authors and what they do, and the different choices they have made, and how everyone chooses their own paths of negotiation between real life, privacy, and the public face that blogging affords them.
(for good measure I also talked about how much I suck at using Facebook, but have attempted to improve since Alisa lectured me on how Facebook is not Twitter, and I entirely failed to talk about how Tumblr and Flickr make no sense to me at all because I am TOO OLD for such things)
But yes, hello to Curtin students – if you have any follow up questions for me that stem from the e-lecture, please drop them into the comments here and I’ll try to address them!