THAT POPULAR TOUCH

We bloggers are endlessly in search of answers. All kinds of answers. I am, in particular, forever seeking an answer to the ultimate blogger query: What makes people follow me … and why are some posts popular while others (often, in my opinion, better) … not?

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I think I’ve got it. The answer became suddenly obvious while I was reading “Excellent demo” on Mindful Digressions site. He’s one of the bloggers I always read. One of a handful. He is like me insofar as he writes about everything, whatever is on his mind. Sometimes funny, maybe serious, frequently thought-provoking, and informative. Always well-written, entertaining, and admirably free of typos. Even if the day’s post isn’t exactly up my alley, it’s worth reading.

Excellent demo” was about a software presentation to a prospective client that goes horribly wrong. The WiFi connection doesn’t work, the hot spot tool doesn’t help. It’s humiliating. The kind of experience we have all had, in one way or another. It’s painfully universal. I can remember at least two horrible professional moments, both involving cameras. After more than 30 years, they remain cringe-worthy and painful to the touch.

Oh, his company got the contract anyhow. He wondered how that could be? I thought the answer is probably simple. Everyone in that room at some time or another had a similar experience. That the demo went badly generated a visceral empathy. It didn’t sell the product, but it didn’t UNsell the product, either.

Back on Serendipity, I noticed the last two posts that did better than usual were both about the kind of stuff that happens to everyone. THANK YOU, I THINK, about backhanded compliments and I JUST WANT TO FEEL BETTER, which talks about dealing with doctors who don’t see you as a real person.

The common thread? I looked at other popular posts. One that Garry wrote about his parents, HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, MOM AND DAD! and a similar post by me, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!. A few more posts Garry wrote about me when I was sick.

I looked at the list of my all-time most popular posts. Not including camera, movie, television, and technology reviews which have a life-cycle unique to that type of post and setting aside DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID – THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE, which has a life of its own … all Serendipity’s most popular posts have some universal theme — something anyone, everyone can relate to.

I don’t write this way on purpose. I write the way I write because I write that way. I’m betting most of you don’t design your style. It comes out of you. It is you. I can control my subject matter, but I have little control over my style. When anyone asks about my “process,” I come up blank. What’s a process?

I don’t have a process. I get an idea. I write about it. It may leap out of a conversation with Garry, a comment I make on someone else’s blog, a book I’m reading, a TV show I’ve watched. A dream I had or what the dogs did. Many are anecdotes … things that happened here and elsewhere. Often, the interesting part of the story isn’t the event, but how it affected me.

There are blogs that deal with issues. Special interest web sites which talk about current events, news, politics, religion, the power structure, education. Some are all about history or literature. Or talk only about movies. They have their audiences, people who are interested in the things these bloggers write about. Me and many of you reading this have special interests too, but mostly, we are interested in life.

That’s what we write about it. Sometimes, it’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Nice and tidy. As often as not, it’s a memory, a string of thoughts wrapped around something that happened. A wish, a wisp, a wistful moment. And strangely, other people enjoy reading it. Go figure, right?

THE WITCH PROMISES GREAT BEST-SELLERS

A BOOKISH CHOICE – A literary-minded witch offers you a choice. With a flick of her wand, you can become an obscure novelist whose work will be admired and studied by a select few for decades (phooey on that!) or a popular author whose books give pleasure to millions (definitely). Which do you choose? (Is this a serious question?)


Was I ever young enough to think money doesn’t matter? If I ever said anything that silly, I apologize. To anyone to whom I may have expressed such arrant nonsense, I must have been on drugs. They warned us about the brown acid.

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You can always write some (or many) good books if you have a publisher and an audience. If your books sell well, you don’t have to write drivel. There’s nothing to prevent you from being a best-selling author and a fine writer. I can think of a bunch of authors who succeed at both.

Great writing does not exclude popularity. Exceptional books will find their audience if they get a reasonable shot at it … which means, any exposure at all.

Go with the best-selling choice. It’s a win-win.


And Mr. Huberman, you need a course in spelling and grammar. I don’t wish to insult you, but please, take the time to proofread your posts before publishing. You are writing for writers. We notice.

AN UNBLOCKED BRAIN

Writer’s Block Party - When was the last time you experienced writer’s block? What do you think brought it about — and how did you dig your way out of it?


I suppose this is where my fellow writers heap scorn on my head, but truth sometimes hurts.

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I have never had writer’s block. I have had days, weeks, where I didn’t feel like writing because I was sick, tired, on vacation, wanted to read a book or watch television. But never have I been unable to write unless I was physically ill. I always can write something — and considering my advancing years, I figure it’s unlikely I’m going to dry up.

I’ve had times when I wasn’t happy with what I wrote, needed to rewrite it. I’ve had periods where I wrote and it was a dead-end, destined for the trash bin.

But not be able to write at all? Stare at a blank page? Never happened. Maybe the problem for some writers is a too narrow focus. Deciding in advance what they should be writing, so if they can’t write that specific thing, they don’t write at all.

I will write, even when it seems off track. Inevitably, my odd brain will wind around to put me on track. Or I’ll discover what seemed to be a completely wrong direction was the right path. That’s where I should be after all.

When I write fiction, my characters tell me where to go. They are always right. It’s exactly when characters start making decisions on their own — often to my surprise and delight — that I know what I’m working on has begun to click.

If I can’t write, you can assume I’m too sick to sit up or someone wrenched the keyboard from my clawed hands. Or I’m on a big, shiny boat sailing the Caribbean and having way too much fun to sit down and write. I wish that would happen more often!

I have never understood writer’s block and I would certainly never turn it into a party, unless each writer brings his or her own food and drinks. Okay, I’ll make a dish too, but everyone else has to bring something. Hungry writers can eat you out of house and home!

STILL STANDING

Object Lesson – Sherlock Holmes had his pipe. Dorothy had her red shoes. Batman had his Batmobile. If we asked your friends what object they most immediately associate with you, what would they answer?


Interesting subject.

Depending on when they became a friend. Some of my earliest friends … like my cousins … see me as that weird, overly intellectual kid with buck teeth and frizzy hair. They would think of me with my nose always in a book — and they’d be right.

The local little girls with whom I grew up would probably remember the piano — and the books. If I wasn’t playing Chopin or Beethoven, I had my head in a book.

indian corn kitchen windowThen, we get to college. I was first a music major and the people I met then think of me as a musician — and remember the piano. But a couple of years later, I found the radio station. That group is likely to think of me as the other half of my first husband, who was a very popular guy and the Fearless Manager of the radio station.

Then, I was off to Israel. A confusing time, but call me a deck of cards. We played bridge obsessively, often until the sun rose. And the bread baking too. And the computers, which were just beginning enter my life. Israel was the bridge between old and new me.

Back to the USA and add some stuff: the omnipresent briefcase because I was always working. A computer. And most important, Garry. Then, after a while, hospitals because for the past 12 years I’ve been in and out of them. Still there are the computers and bless his heart, Garry.

Throughout this entire time, you would always finds lots of animals — cats, dogs birds — children. And cameras.

Life changes. We change. Our technology and tools evolve. But there is an essential “us-ness” that stays, forming a core which makes us who we are. I hope that’s mostly what people who really know me recognize.

I’m not my computer, my blog, my books, my collections, or my husband. I’m just someone struggling down the lumpy road of life, hoping to get through it still on my own feet. Getting to the end still standing would be an achievement.

WHY YOU HAVEN’T BEEN FRESHLY PRESSED (MAYBE)

freshly-pressed-circle3x3I got Freshly Pressed last January. Since then, I’ve put some time into figuring out why I didn’t get it earlier — and why I finally got it after all. And why I’m unlikely to get it again.

1. Freshly Pressed is not an award for general excellence. It’s not an award for your blog. It is an individual award for a specific post. The posts that win are almost always in response to a Weekly Challenge — and happen to grab the attention of one or more editors.

2. You can write superb content every day, year after year. But if you don’t respond to the weekly challenges and/or don’t write something that makes an editor’s brain go jingle-jangle, you will never be Freshly Pressed. Think of it this way: WordPress supports millions of bloggers. The editors can’t scan them all. The challenges give them a manageable number of posts to consider. If you don’t participate, you are unlikely to get noticed. It really isn’t personal.

3. What the editors think is special will probably not be what you consider your best work. I’m embarrassed at the post that got me Freshly Pressed. It isn’t — in my opinion — my finest work, nor is it representative of my writing in general. I don’t even like it. That’s why I haven’t linked it to my Freshly Pressed badge. Many other awardees feel the same way. What inspires an editor versus what inspires you can be very different.

4. Alternate theories: You don’t write as well as you think you do. You use a lot of texting abbreviations (WTF, LOL, IMHO etc.) instead of real words. You don’t understand grammar, don’t use the spell-checker, and don’t punctuate sentences. You write to a very narrow audience and your high school classmates are probably the only people who know what you are talking about. Sometimes, the problem is you, but no one wants to hurt your feelings by telling you.


Before I got Freshly Pressed, I had no idea why a blogger did or didn’t win. It has taken me all the time between getting the nod and now to figure it out.

Why I Doubt I’ll Get It Again

These days, I rarely like the weekly writing challenges, so I usually don’t participate. I check them out, but if the prompt leaves me underwhelmed or uninspired, I don’t do it.

It’s Nice To Be Recognized, But It Doesn’t Change Anything

I got my badge and rather than making me feel rewarded for my best work, I realized it was totally random. My best work is never going to be recognized because it isn’t written in response to the weekly challenge. It won’t make some editors brain go BING!

If You Really, Really Want To Be Freshly Pressed

For those of you who wonder how come you write so much and so well — yet never get the editors to notice you, this is the answer. Stop writing what you feel like writing and start writing what they want to read. It’s also possible that your style is just not what they’re looking for. It isn’t a judgment of your writing and again — it isn’t personal. Consider that William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe would probably not have made an editor’s brain tingle. Blogging is what it is and has its own parameters.

Afterglow

The best part of winning is having the badge to display on your site. It’s like getting into an exclusive country club, then realizing you don’t play tennis, don’t like the food and have little use for the other members. You can brag about membership, but you don’t really want to go there and hang out.

TECHNOLOGICALLY UNTETHERED

Writing Space – Where do you produce your best writing — at your desk, on your phone, at a noisy café? Tell us how the environment affects your creativity.


If you’d asked this question a year ago, I would have said “my office,” because that was where I did everything. These days, I do everything on the laptop in the living room, often with the television in the background and dogs jumping on and off the sofa.

75-OfficeHDR-CR-2This probably doesn’t sound like an ideal arrangement for a writer but it suits me — at this point in my life. As recently as a year ago, I would not have been able to write like this. Even now, I can write much faster in a less distracting environment … but it seems I can write anywhere if I have a:

  • Computer
  • WiFi
  • Comfortable chair.

Note: If it’s morning, I also need coffee.

You’ll notice the list is bulleted, not numbered. This is because I don’t want to imply an order to these requirements. I need all of them, but not necessarily in sequence. (Once a tech writer, always a tech writer.)

The rest of the stuff I need is in my brain, which is convenient because I don’t have to remember where I left it.

WiFi and laptops changed everything. As long as I had to be wired to the network and the only powerful computer I had was on the big oak desk, that was where work had to be done. I worked at home much of the last 15 years of my professional life and built a structure at home to accommodate it. I also needed a door to close when I had to work without interruption.

The world, my life, technology … everything, really … has changed. I’m not on anyone’s clock, not even my own. I don’t have deadlines except for those I create for myself. My granddaughter grew up. My husband settled into retirement and developed his own rhythm, avocations and interests. The phone stopped ringing.

It’s a quieter life, even with televisions and nutty dogs. WiFi and a laptop let me do whatever I want anywhere it’s comfortable.

We used to dream about “a portable office.” I was working at Intel while they were refining wireless technology. It wasn’t entirely reliable yet, but I was assured it would be very soon and then, everything would be wireless. I was dubious, but here we are. Aside from needing to plug into an electrical socket, we are free to roam.

Roam was not built in a day, but it’s here. Now, if we can develop a way to get electricity without a cord or build batteries that work like the battery Jeff Goldblum had in “Independence Day,” we will be totally untethered.

I would also like to grow wings and fly. Is Intel working on that?

FIVE DAYS OF BLOGGING – PROMPTS TO CHALLENGE YOU

There is a trend here on WordPress to give titles and themes to each day of the week, thus heralding the nature of that day’s post. I’m a big fan of challenges and prompts because well, they prompt and challenge me. I thought “Gee, Marilyn, why not dip your oar in those waters.”

Here are five great themes for you. Or should I call them challenges? Prompts? Challenging prompts? All to help you, my good friends, get through your blogging week without ever encountering a moment of writer’s block.

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Mawkish Monday – I dedicate Monday to overly sentimental remembrances of the past, especially childhood and former marriage partners. Omit anything bad that happened. Everyone, everything was perfect. It never rained on your summer picnic. Your parents were fantastic. Your relationships were stress free. You were always amazing.

Because we’ve all had that kind of life, right?

Tantrum Tuesday – Rant day! Whatever you are pissed off about, let’er rip! Don’t hold back. How do you really feel?

Whiny Wednesday – Today I encourage you to rake up all the self-pitying bullshit you suppress the rest of the week. If you suffer from baseless feelings of entitlement and believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that life has cheated you, this is your day.

Complain how everyone else gets the good stuff while you get the dregs. Full details of any appalling thing that’s happened to you are welcome.  Let me wallow in your misery because I don’t have nearly enough angst of my own.

Thankful Thursday – Praise the Lord! Forget what you said on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Today you praise God (or whoever, whatever) for the wonderfulness of your life, friends, family, marriage, job, shrink, unemployment benefits and social security checks. And food stamps. You can get back to sniveling next week. Today, you are full of joie de vive and want everyone to be jealous of your extraordinary life.

Freak-out Friday – Whatever your mental illness, this is the day to discuss how crazy you are. The bizarre shit you do that you would never tell your closest friend, but given the anonymity of the Internet, you can tell everyone in the electronic universe everything and it won’t come back to haunt you. You can be as weird as you want. I will understand.

After the bragging you did yesterday about your terrific life — you made me feel like crap, but that’s what you had in mind, right? — today you can tell me what a load of garbage it was. Because really, you’re a sociopath, narcissist and maybe a serial killer.

Whatever secrets you’ve been hiding, this is your day to let it all hang out.


I’ll leave weekends unstructured because frankly, I’m exhausted from the last five days. Aren’t you?