Jeffe’s #1 Tip for Being a Good Blogger

Bluebird 2 cropI love seeing the mountain bluebirds come around this time of year. They’re skittish birds though, so it’s hard to get a good shot. I’ve been leaving the tripod up with telephoto lens trained on their usual perches. Even so, this is about the best pic I’ve gotten. Mostly they’re a whirl of bright blue and rose amidst the snowflakes. 

I wrote a blog post early this week that was a bit meta – on how to write a bad blog post. Maybe that was a good example of a bad blog post because only one person commented! 

At any rate, I’ve had a note for a while to share one of my blogging tricks. Not that I claim to be a great blogger or anything, but sometimes people ask me how I come up with topics. My secret? I keep a list. I have an ongoing list in Word of various topics, and I add to it as things occur to me. Sometimes I make notes in my phone or tablet and transfer them to the main list.

The most important thing I (try to) do, and this is really key for writers, is I note topics that apply to the book as I’m writing it. You will love your past self for doing this when it comes time to write those promo blog posts. If you’ve been there, you know. It can get really difficult to think up interesting things to say about your published book. Having this list of things you researched, what gave you images or ideas, problems you encountered, people that offered needed obscure information – and so forth. 

All of these things will make great blog topics in the future, all that you would likely never remember months or a year later, depending on your publishing schedule. 

Short and easy tip there, but one I’d had on my list for a while. 😀

Happy weekend, everyone!

Speaking to the Shadows

So, several people read my post yesterday and pinged me in various ways, asking if this meant I wouldn’t be posting to the blog.

Which is such a gratifying thing to hear.

Part of being a writer is this odd phenomenon of feeling like you’re speaking to an empty room. Maybe it’s like standing on the stage with the spotlight blazing into your eyes. You have this good notion that there’s a bunch of people out in the audience – sometimes you can hear them shuffling or murmuring to one another – but you have to keep going and trust that they’re listening.

A lot of writers like blogging because it can provide immediate feedback. People comment in the blog itself, tweet about it, say things on Facebook, email about it. But not always. Sometimes they read and wander off, taking your words with them, which is always the reader’s prerogative. I do this a lot. I read blogs and don’t comment. Sometimes I don’t know what I think until days later and then I have to try to remember which blog it was and how long ago.

But people do let you know, in various ways, that they’re out there, valuing your words. This was one.

Thank you.

You Can Pick Your Nose

We had brunch with friends, Krystal and Jonathan, at Blue Heron last Sunday. The photo isn’t great, but we had a fun time. Terrible service – the place is newly re-opened and the lone waitress was completely overwhelmed that people actually showed up. An hour after we ordered, food finally arrived, but my glass of Chardonnay never did. Fortunately the spot was lovely, the sun warm and the company excellent.

The next day, Krystal sent me a bottle of Chardonnay. Now that’s a friend.

I posted Tuesday about making choices. Never mind that not one of you commented. Blogger has been messed up for a couple of days, so I’m blaming that. Tip: don’t use Firefox. You can get in better with other browsers right now. But I can’t comment in any browser, so I figure that’s the deal.

Not that it’s making me crazy or anything.

At any rate, one of the things I mentioned is how we don’t get to choose our families and we often don’t really choose our friends. Our friends very often tend to be the people who are doing the same kind of thing that you are at the same time. So, in this case, Krystal is in David’s same class at Southwest Acupuncture College, fondly known as SWAC, which always makes me think of swatting flies. Jonathan is Krystal’s sweetie, so he and I roll our eyes at each other while David and Krystal complain to each other about classes.

Will we remain friends after graduation? Hard to say. Depends on where we all end up, what we’re doing.

One thing I’ve learned is that friendships come and go. People naturally come into our lives and leave again, like the changing seasons. And that’s okay – not everyone is meant to be a lifelong friend.

However, we can also carefully choose our friends. I learned this skill from one of my sorority sisters, Karen Koonce, now Weesner. She knew how to cultivate friendships. She picked out people in class who said interesting things and invited them to lunch. She paid attention to who knew stuff she wanted to learn and charmed them into letting her pick their brains.

This skill has served me well over the years, so that I have a life rich with interesting and supportive friends.

Thank you, Karen!

I’m Starting a Blog That…

This is my partner cat, Teddy. Lately she’s taken to snoozing just next to me while I read at night. She also stares, but I think that’s love and not necessarily plotting my demise.

I hope.

Sometimes the world of social media gets pretty amusing. Amusing in that “I have to laugh or I’ll claw my eyes out” kind of way. A lot of people offer advice. Usually the same advice, over and over. xkcd, one of my very favorite comics these days, had a strip recently along these lines.

This is more true than I think many people want to believe. There’s a nagging sense that most of the people who offer advice on maximizing social media don’t do much else with their days.

And a lot of their advice just isn’t very good.

For example, there is someone out there somewhere telling people that they should DM (direct message) new followers on Twitter and say hello or what have you. No no no! This is akin to being introduced to someone at a cocktail party, shaking their hand and having them yank you into an embrace, kiss you on the cheek and whisper about their website in your ear.

Yes – really creepy.

Few things on Twitter are ickier than following someone new – okay, give them a whirl, see what they have to say – and boom! getting a private message from them. Whoever out there is saying this is a good idea? It’s just…not.

The other bit of advice floating around is that a blog should be specific, focused and informative. Okay, this is not such a bad thing in and of itself. But we’re living in the Billion-Blog Ear. Yes, I made that up – snazzy, yes? No? Ah, well. It’s nearly impossible to start a blog with a new concept. Really the only thing a new blogger has to offer that isn’t already out there is themselves. But no, the Advice-Givers say that you must trumpet your new blog as filling some unmet need.

Thus, those of us on email loops, etc., are forever receiving posts that say “I’m starting a new blog that brings you the latest news in amphibian cancers!” Or “I’m starting a blog that chronicles my journey through retail hell.”

Actually, those two sound kind of interesting. Most of the notices I see involve writing and there’s just only so much you can say there.

So, in a fit of aggravation, rather than claw my eyes out, I threw this out on Twitter. I asked people how they would finish the sentence. Some of the best responses:

I’m starting a blog that…

…chronicles the minute-by-minute reactions of my cat to the royal wedding…and bacon. @theAntiM
…talks about the political ramifications of bacon. @Allison_Pang
…is nothing but randomness. @MichelleMiles
…celebrates bearded men everywhere. @pennyromance
…should have more zombies! @SullivanMcPig

Poor Sullivan has only cloven hooves and so his owner must blog for him. She tends to edit the zombie bits. So, for a bit of Friday Fun – any to add? What is the blog that Must Be Done?

(If my blog comment function hates you, email me at Jeffe at JeffeKennedy dot com and I’ll paste it in for you.)

Label Me

I’ve discovered I’m really bad at labels.

You know, like choosing labels for the blog posts. Like on yesterday’s post, I wanted some kind of label that would reference the way I fret over the animals, the small and the weak. I know it’s one of my themes that I revisit, but how do I summarize that in a word or two? That’s why I write the meandering story about the several things coming together. It doesn’t quite gel into a word or two for me.

I mean, scroll down and look at my label list at the bottom of the blog (you don’t have to – it’s a mess). I have hundreds of labels, I’m sure. So much so that I suspect it’s worthless to try to find anything through my labels. Hell, I can’t find what I’m looking for in that enormous label cloud.

I even created a spreadsheet now (you know how I love my spreadsheets) where I put in each post, which photo I use and the labels. Theoretically this should organize me. I’ve tried imposing a moratorium on creating new labels, to try to force myself to stay within the 972 I already created. (No, that’s not an accurate number – I guessed. I’m not counting them.)

Oh, and look, I created a new label today: labels.

It’s like a sickness.

I think of this when I see agents make scathing remarks about how they don’t understand how authors can possibly not know what genre they’re writing. Now, we all know agents specialize in scathing remarks. It’s pretty much a tool of the trade. But it always makes me want to stomp my little foot and whine that it’s really hard.

No, Tawna, I mean difficult.

I totally get why categorizing by genre is important. As a reader, I look for sections in the bookstore. The marketers need to know how to telegraph the story’s promise. Agents use it to target particular editors. I understand that there are genre conventions that establish the contract between the writer and the reader. All of that makes perfect sense.

But ask me to identify genre for a story and I fall apart.

It’s not just my stories, either. I’ve practiced and worked at identifying what genre a book or movie falls into. It rarely clicks for me. It’s like trying to describe a person in one or two words. He’s a Western guy. She’s a New Yorker.

The storyteller in me always wants to take it a few steps farther. He wears a King Ropes ballcap, stopped hunting years ago and carries a dog-eared copy of Napoleon Hill in his pocket. She’d leave New York, even with all its promises of glittering success, if it wouldn’t seem like such a concession to everyone who said the city crushed girls like her.

I suspect what makes a good agent is the ability to condense a story to its key element and target the right market. What makes a good writer is the ability to spin a story, an entire world or universe of people, from something minute.

It’s the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning. Not all of us are good at both.

Dammit, I just created another label.

New Life Resolutions

A brief clearing this morning in the storm. I love when part of the valley has sunshine while another is shadowed. Seems metaphorical to me.

Last night I caught up on blog-reading. I follow a lot of blogs – more than the ones I list on the blogroll to the side there. Those are my favorites. Some blogs I follow just to be supportive. I’ve never unfollowed, but I do stop reading if the blog doesn’t sing for me. Some I think are hit or miss.

Normally I use Blogger Dashboard to read recent posts. It shows me all the blogs I follow that have new posts, in chronological order. Most days I scroll through those to see what’s new. Some I read every new one. Others only if that particular post looks interesting. I confess – some that annoyed me, I hid from my feed.

Because I was catching up though, this time I clicked on each blog, which then shows me a list of their recent posts. It ended up being a good year-end clean-up because a surprising number hadn’t posted in 6 months, 9 months, even a full year. Several of those were blogs where the writer posted once or twice and never again.

This time of year, everyone is talking about New Year’s resolutions. People are making plans for 2011, citing what they’re determined to do. More than a few that I’ve seen mention posting to their blogs more often. I know a few more people than that who really angst over getting blog posts up.

It reminds me of the gym, really.

I’ve been a regular exerciser for about four years now. As in, going to the gym to work out, exercising. Before that I was in Kung Fu classes nearly every night, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. But a few years ago, several things came together – quitting Kung Fu, my middle age, a physical condition that was not, erm, lean. So I became Morning Gym Girl.

No, this was not natural to me by any stretch. I exercise first thing in the morning because I’m too sleepy to think up excuses not to. There it is.

At any rate, David and I noticed the classic New Year pattern. After January 1, the gym was filled to bursting with enthusiastic exercisers. There would be the overweight middle-aged guy, accustomed to success, determinedly jogging endless laps on his first visit, face crimson. He’d show once or twice and never again. There were the high school girls in their pajamas, who started showing later and later, then not at all. Some persisted, yes, but usually by March the gym was back to the normal numbers.

There’s this whole thing about “don’t start what you can’t finish” or, worse, “you must finish what you start.” I’m not saying that. Making a change, starting a new blog or a new exercise program is a big thing. We try all kinds of ways to make it not seem quite so daunting, but few of us have empty space in our lives just waiting to be filled by a new task. Usually something else has to go. Usually that’s the painful part.

When new exercisers ask me how long it’ll be until they stop hating going to the gym, I tell them it took me six months. Six very long months before I stopped hating it and started to enjoy it. Some days I still hate it.

But it’s important to me. So I keep doing it. Day after day.

I suspect those qualities – the ones that keep the person blogging day after day, writing their novels, sending their queries – those are what make the successful author.

Not a New Year’s Resolution, but a New Life Resolution.

We’re in it for the long term.

Follow Me, Up and Down, All the Way, All Around

4th of July was the perfect day, complete with an outdoor pancake breakfast, a parade, margarita snowcones and lots of enjoying life.

We even got a mini-parade in preview, as the parade horses came by our house on the way.

(No, I don’t know why I didn’t get a better picture than this.)

Here’s the beginning of the parade itself, which consisted of ten different emergency vehicles, all very shiny. Sometimes I think our rural area parades serve that purpose, to show off our protective equipment. Not unlike having the army march past, I suppose. All those shiny trucks allow us to have homeowner’s insurance and therefore mortgages and therefore homes to live in out here.

All hail the mighty firetruck! Honk! Honk!

My cousin emailed me yesterday with an interesting question about my blog.

(Hi Janie! I will write you back, as well.)

She said:

Can you teach me something please. Why would one sign into a blog? Why do you have members? I read your blog but you would not know it, though I love it. Am I supposed to sign in?

I thought it was worth answering here, because lots of people ask this question, actually. First off, if you don’t know what she means, if you look on the right hand side, there’s a list of my “Followers.” In truth, those fine people follow the blog, not me. Though the idea of a little tribe of followers is appealing. Like that movie (no, I don’t remember which one) where the guy hired the band to follow him around and play his theme music.

The first answer is, no, you don’t have to sign in. You don’t have to “follow.” Some bloggers get het up to get people to sign up as followers. They run contests – “all you have to do is follow this blog and comment on this post” – or send messages out on twitter, etc., saying “follow my blog!”

I don’t do this.

I love to see new followers, but I find trolling for them kind of distasteful. I believe you all should be free to come and go as you wish. I’m putting this out there. You owe me nothing.

The reason people want followers is to demonstrate a “platform.” Theoretically at some point you could show an agent or editor that you have umpty-billion followers and they’d extrapolate that all those people will buy your book. Never mind that you bribed them all to sign up in the first place.

There are two main reasons one would sign on to follow a blog: to show support and for ease of reading.

I follow blogs I like to let the person know that they have my support. Among bloggers, this is common courtesy and people will usually reciprocate follows, though it’s far from required.

The other big reason for me is ease of reading. Because I have a Blogger account, I have what they call a dashboard. It pops up and shows me who has posted recently on the blogs I follow. This is a wonderful feature for me. Any of you can set up a blogspot account (www.blogger.com) and use the dashboard. You wouldn’t have to create a blog to do it. There are other programs that do this, too, (Google Chrome, maybe?), but I’m not familiar with them. This saves you clicking through all the blogs you like to see if someone has posted recently.

And I do kind of know that you lurkers are out there. I have a counter that follows metrics of visitors to the blog. I can see which days see a lot of visits. It’s easy to get obsessed with the metrics, though, so I don’t look often.

A lot of you comment to me – on Facebook, Twitter, blog comments, via email or in person. All of those conversations mean a great deal to me.

Once I figure out my theme music, I’ll hold auditions.

Joyful Narcissus


I love how Ho Tai looks like he’s celebrating the daffodils here.

Of course, the lovely thing about Ho Tai is he looks like he’s always celebrating everything. I suppose it says something that we have him in our garden. It tells you what I worship most. What I strive for.

Is it silly to say joy?

There are so many opportunities to read and watch the awful, the hateful, the depressing. People are angry and afraid and feel more free than ever before, it seems, to vent that to the world.

Heather Armstrong, better known as Dooce, and a blogger I admire, was recently invited to D.C. to participate in a forum on workplace flexibility. She’s kind of a poster child for it, because she was famously fired from her job back in the early 2000s for something(s) she wrote in her blog. So much so that being “dooced” means having that happen to you. A phenomenon of the new era. Now she supports her family from her blog and works from home.

But apparently, people were angry that she was chosen. It doesn’t surprise me, I suppose, though I didn’t read any of the comments. Heather elicits a lot of strong emotions from people, largely because she lays it all out there and doesn’t mince words. She also, like many people who are very good at what they do, makes it look effortless. So, she seems to be succeeding for doing nothing more than taking pictures of her dog and yakking about her children.

I’ve been going back and reading through her archives from the beginning. It’s like a long, real-time memoir. I’m fascinated by the window she’s allowed us into her life. That’s the best kind of memoir-writing, in my opinion.

What people don’t understand about writing memoir, or personal essays, which is what many blogs truly are, is that you’re still making artistic choices.

In short: you don’t tell every damn thing.

Even if it seems like you do.

There have been a number of discussions lately about how much of yourself to put on the internet and how much to keep private. Authors are encouraged by their agents and publishers to blog, but not everyone is good at it. Some authors are so concerned with their privacy that their blogs end up being little more than updates on books and appearances. Good information, but not interesting reading. Others go too far the other way and use their blogs as a dumping ground to vent about what makes them unhappy. Which, while it can be a way to connect with other people, runs the risk of being, well, not entertaining.

Kev warned me early on not to yield to the temptation to turn my blog into a rant, which annoyed me at the time. Most likely because he was right.

It’s hard to predict, of course, how people will react to what you write. I’m still surprised by which of my posts get attention and which don’t. I always enjoy seeing which elicit the most comments, both here and through other venues. It’s fun, because no other kind of writing garners immediate feedback like blogging does. But then, I rarely get negative comments.

I find myself moving to shield myself from the negative these days. I stay away from most “news.” I unfollow people who say things that depress me. I don’t read the nasty things that people say about Dooce.

Am I burying my head in the sand? I don’t think so. There’s plenty of pain out there. I know what’s going on politically – though my philosophy is to find out what I need to about candidates, elect the ones who stand for what I do and then I let them handle it. I feel like I hire them to worry about it so I don’t have to.

Sometimes I share my pain here – mostly if I feel like it helps to tell the story. That’s what it’s all about, telling the story. Sometimes I even have a point.

Maybe that’s why talking about joy seems silly sometimes. There’s not much of a moral there.

Except, oh look! Pretty daffodils!