MYSTERIES OF BLOGGING

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Statistics are the eternal mystery of blogging. I’ve been blogging 2 years, 9 months and I’m pretty happy with where I am these days. I’m popular enough to feel my voice is heard, but not so busy I don’t have time to answer comments and interact with the people I enjoy on the big wide web.

I keep hearing about the “cool kids,” popular bloggers with large followings. Compared to the really big blogs, I’m not even a drop in the bucket, but for my own purposes, I’m in a good place. Last week, my “followers” — whatever and whoever they are — exceeded 7,000. So — does that make me one of the cool kids?

Marilyn and Bette

Me and Bette Stevens. Two veteran bloggers enjoying lunch in Skowhegan

That would be funny because never in my life have I been a cool kid. At this point, I’m no kind of kid. Senior citizen. Retired writer. Amateur photographer. I use my time to do something fun and productive. I blog. But I wouldn’t mind being cool or a kid.

Yesterday I got the most hits of any day for the last year. My view stats have been climbing all year. October’s numbers were the highest of any month since I began blogging. The beginning of November looks even better.

The first time my numbers approached this level was November 2012. I had some help from a contentious presidential election and super storm Sandy. That rising tide lifted a lot of ships, mine included. This time, though, I suppose I can take the credit. Whatever that means.

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I keep wondering why me? My husband, biggest fan, loyal supporter, says it’s because I write interesting articles and take good pictures. I will concede October was a fantastic month for photography. It was a glorious Autumn and I was well-positioned to capture it.

Can the formula be that simple? Maybe it is. But there is a bit more to it. Popularity has a momentum of its own. At some point, you become like a rock rolling down a steep hill. It’s hard to get moving, but once you’re in motion, gravity keeps you going.  Success — to some degree — leads to success.

As far as I can tell, the deepest mysteries of blogging are ridiculously simple:

  1. Write interesting posts
  2. Display good pictures
  3. Maintain high quality.
  4. Post often so when people visit your site, there’s something new to read, something interesting to look at
  5. Don’t quit.

Reuse material if you think it deserves it. Many posts get minimum response the first time around, but do much better on subsequent publication. I don’t know why people have problems with this. You wrote it, you own it. You are free to use and reuse it however you like. Networks don’t apologize for rerunning series, and you shouldn’t either.

When I started blogging, I figured there was a magic bullet, a formula that would assure success. Just do “this” and you’ll get a big payoff. It has turned out to be both simpler and more work than I imagined.

Keeping at it when you are getting very few hits and hardly anyone comes to visit is hard. You have to believe you have something to say and people will want to hear it. Persevering in the face of apparent disinterest can be disheartening.

Regardless, resist the temptation to post  junk (unless it’s especially funny junk) and reblog carefully and selectively. If you are ever going to have a following, you want them to follow you, not the stuff you found on Facebook or other bloggers.

screenshot-weekly Stats — WordPress.com 2014-11-08 23-09-22

NOBLOPOMO OR, AS I LIKE TO CALL IT, NOBLOWME

You may have noticed (maybe you didn’t) that I’m not participating in NoBlowMe this year.

Whether or not these kind of “challenges” do anything for you is open for debate. Participate because you want to, but keep your expectations reined in. I joined last year because someone I liked very much asked me to join her team. I was already posting daily, so I didn’t need to be spurred to post more. If anything, I need a whack on the head to make me post less.

It was disappointing. To me, the voting seemed nothing but a popularity contest based on how well you could organize your “troops” to vote for you. Because I refused to ask anyone to vote for me, pretty much no one did. I had thought it was about quality, but it wasn’t.

If you are looking for something to help you post more often — daily — maybe it’s worth it. Or maybe you want to do it just to give it a try. But none of these are any kind of “fix”. Do it for fun or comradeship, but don’t expect miracles.

Did participating improve my numbers? Look at the numbers for November 2013 and decide for yourself.

YOU LIKE ME, YOU REALLY LIKE ME!

I don’t officially encourage adoration nor do I try to organize anyone to do anything — except vote in elections. Even though I’m totally adorable, in an elderly sort of way.

WHY I FOLLOW THE DAILY PROMPT

I’ve been asked why I bother to write stuff based on WordPress’s daily prompt, especially since the quality of the prompts has been more than a bit lackluster in recent months and I’ve needed considerable self-restraint not to snarl, growl, or try to (virtually) bite the editor.

But I do them anyway and finally, I figured out why.

I am an incorrigibly anal-retentive writer/editor. If I give free rein to my natural inclinations, I will edit everything to death. Nothing will be good enough. I will write every sentence over and over until it’s as near perfect as I can make it. What it will not be is spontaneous.

Some of my best prose is written quickly, barely edited at all. Which means that after publication, I spend the following 12 hours finding and fixing typos — a different conversation.

But what the prompts do for me is give me leave to write quickly, off the cuff about a wide range of subjects that I would never otherwise choose. I post them immediately and don’t let myself get into a never-ending round of edits. Sometimes I get a bit fancy with illustrations, but I keep the writing simple and tight. Rarely does a response to a prompt exceed 500 words. Most are fewer than 350 words.

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It’s hard for me to be spontaneous. About anything. I’m not sure if I was ever a free spirit, even as a kid. I’ve always lived in my head. Never been a party person. Never a “just do it” kind of gal. My two creative outlets, writing and photography, are the only areas where I can break free of my self-made restraints.

So I follow prompts. Occasionally, I use a prompt to publish something I was planning to post anyhow. The prompt, in those cases, provides a link so a few extra people might to read it.

I wish the daily prompts were more original, less repetitive. A “free write” exercise is not a prompt at all. It is the stuff of school assignments. Otherwise, WordPress prompts, even if they are obviously constructed using little effort and less thought, offer me an opportunity to write about something I would not ordinarily consider. Some of my best stuff has been in response to silly prompts. Some of my worst, too.

And that’s why I follow the prompts. (Phew. Finally answered that question. Took me long enough!)

AS THE LEAVES FALL, SERENDIPITY REMEMBERS

Every year, when the leaves fall and the ground is crunchy, I get a rush of nostalgia. Autumn for me is the start of the year. It’s the time of squeaky new leather shoes, of brand new notebooks and pencil cases. Book bags. A new winter coat and new wool skirts because I grew out of last year’s clothing.

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In the spirit of harvest, I thought I’d give you a dozen or so favorite posts from the last year. They aren’t necessarily the most popular posts because popular taste and my taste sometimes differs.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite posts. Kind of an author’s potpourri.

THE NANNY TRIAL – A TRUE STORY OF AMERICAN JUSTICE  - Did the young British nanny kill that infant? Even all these years later, no one is sure what really happened.

TERTIARY SOURCES. LIKE ME. – How alarming is it to realize Wikipedia is referencing me? It gives one pause for thought.

HANGING OUT – GREENWICH VILLAGE IN THE 1960s – The way it was. Hanging out. Before cell phones. Before computers. Before cable. How did we survive? We had to (gasp) talk … or (yikes) … read!

YOU MADE THAT YOURSELF? – A humorous look back on why I do not make my own clothing. And why I shouldn’t even try.

DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID: THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE - The ultimate statement of what happens when the lunatics are running the asylum. Too horrible to think about, too important to forget. This is one of the most-viewed of my nearly 3,000 posts.

I JUST WANT TO FEEL BETTER: A MANIFESTO – Feeling lousy is not a medical condition and wanting to feel better isn’t the goal of medicine. What’s wrong with this picture?

OY VAY! GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? – When a relative from the Old Country hops through a wormhole and lands in your living room just in time for dinner.

I sort of feel like Garry trying to pick his ten favorite movies. I have nearly 3,000 posts in archives. These are but a sampling of favorites from the past 12 months. There are many more, equally — maybe more — deserving of mention.

So I promise to do another “best of” post. Probably several. According the sages of WordPress, this is a good way to get you guys to go rummaging through the archives. Feel free to rummage. There’s a lot of stuff there.

TIME AND THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK: 11/22/63, STEPHEN KING

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is about a lot more than time travel, the Kennedy Assassination or any single thing. It’s about life, loss, change and human relationships. What makes it so brilliant is that all of these elements are bundled together into a book that will make you laugh, cry, and think. If you are of a certain age, it will also make you remember.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is so good it took my breath away. I’m not a Stephen King fan per se, though I have liked several of his books and stories. I never have a problem with his writing. He’s a great writer, but I don’t always like his subject matter. Horror is not among my favorite genres.

11-22-63 king

This is not horror. Although small sections of the book touch on it, it merely grazes the outer edge of familiar King territory. 11/22/63 is science fiction. It is as good a book on time travel as I’ve ever read. Considering that I have read everything about time travel I could find, that’s a big statement.

Stephen King does the genre proud. Beyond that, this book is beautiful. It is not merely well-written. It is eloquent, poetic, lyrical. My husband, is not a King fan — except for his stories about baseball and the Red Sox — was dubious when I handed him the book and said “Read it. You’ll love it, I promise!”

Typically, he makes faces and argues with me, but this time, he read the book. Once he began, he couldn’t put it down. He read portions of it out loud because he felt they were perfect and like poetry, deserved to be read aloud.

The story is rich and complex in the telling. A writer determines to go back in time and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His attempt and travels in time produce many repercussions both for him personally and for our world. The “Butterfly Effect” has never been better illustrated.

Whether or not you usually like Stephen King’s books, if you are a science fiction and/or time travel fan, you owe yourself a trip through this wonderful book. King’s version of time travel is history-centric, omitting the technical details. I’m fine with this approach. He uses the classical dodge via the tried-and-true “hole in the time-space continuum” ploy. It lets him move his characters without explaining how it works. King does it well and makes it an interesting part of the journey.

Many of us feel this is the best book King has written, bar none. Granted that this is a subjective statement, but I guarantee if you read this book, you will not be disappointed.

This is a master story-teller at the peak of his abilities. Stephen King gives us emotion, poetry, depth, beauty, intelligence and does it without taking any short cuts through the complexities he creates. It’s an amazing book.

If you like science fiction reader, history, or are just looking for an exceptionally well-written book, you should read 11/22/63. It’s too good to miss.

11/22/63 is available from Amazon right now for just $2.99. It includes a 13-minute film, written and narrated by Stephen King and enhanced with historic footage from CBS News, that will take you back—as King’s novel does—to Kennedy era America.

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE – DAILY PROMPT WAS DOWN. AGAIN.

Today’s Daily Post in a Nutshell: Locked and Sealed, is locked and sealed. And — how ironic — was hit with the old “where did it go” bug. But, it’s back up. Sing hallelujah. Till the next time.


Can you keep a secret?

Yes.

Have you ever — intentionally or not — spilled the beans when you should have stayed mum?

Not that I can recall.

Note: Your secret is probably safe with me because I will forget it almost as soon as you tell me.


Well, I’m glad that’s out of the way because I wanted to talk about communicating on the Internet and how ridiculously easy it is to misunderstand each other.

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE, BOSS

This is the big problem with electronic communication. I suppose it’s a problem with any communication that isn’t face-to-face. People probably misunderstood each other’s handwritten letters too.

:-D I believe the :-) was invented entirely to convey that what you wrote was not meant negatively :-(

I use emoticons liberally, though they are considered bad English (they aren’t English) and childish. Children are good at conveying feelings, so I’m not averse to being childish if it improves communications a little.

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I tend to be brusque. Short. I try to be witty, but it doesn’t always come across that way. My attempts to be “cute” can easily be misread as snide, snippy, and dismissive. So:

1) If I’m being snide, snippy, or dismissive, you’ll know it. I’m not that subtle. Really.

2) My wrists hurt. My typing is getting worse. Of the emerging issues caused by pain in wrists, the most malignant are missing words. Not misspelled or otherwise mangled. Words that aren’t there at all. Particularly unfortunate when the missing word is “not” — exactly reversing the meaning of a thought yet appearing grammatical.

SOLUTIONS?

Lacking fonts that clearly express sarcasm or irony — both of which are better expressed by tone of voice, body language, and facial expression — maybe we (me) should consider alternate forms. This is difficult since I have always tended to be sarcastic. (I used to be worse, but I’m in recovery.) That kind of wit (?) doesn’t translate well in text. Not yet, anyhow and until it does, I’m considering humor less likely to be misread.

The second solution isn’t a solution, but might help. Before you decide you’ve been insulted, dismissed, treated with scorn, etc., check with the comment’s originator. Make sure what you know is what was meant. That it wasn’t a complex typo, or a failed joke.

PARANOIA

It’s easy to read everything as a form of criticism. I’ve seen people slide into this by degrees until they successfully misinterpret everything. You need some toughness to live in the virtual world. You also need patience, in the sense of not jumping to conclusions. Finally, you have to remember you are not the center of everyone’s world.

One of my many problems with the whiners, complainers, oh woe is me-ers is they have sunk so deep into their own “issues,” they forget other people have lives. People can be brusque — dismissive — and it hasn’t got anything to do with you. They are responding to something going on in their world to which you are not privy.

Usually, you will never know what is or was going on unless they choose to tell you. Because many of us like to keep our private things private. I deal with intimate issues intimately, face-to-face. Or telephone-to-telephone. Not on my blog.

PRIVACY IS A GOOD THING

Which brings me to the final point.

Bloggers can easily contact each other privately. If you have a bone to pick with someone — or think you do — try email. Directly. To the individual. Even if your position is righteous and your cause is just, public isn’t the best place to resolve a dispute.

Why not? Because it invites strangers to jump in — which won’t help anyone fix anything. Because once you’ve publicly insulted someone or hurt their feelings, they may be disinclined to forgive you. Ever.

And finally, because squabbling about personal stuff online is tacky. Totally teenage, very Facebook, and not classy at all.

NO GOALS? NOT MUCH CHANGE … SHARING, WEEK 35

Share Your World – 2014 Week 35

Have your blogging goals changed?

I never had any blogging goals except to post pictures and write stuff and hope some people outside immediate friends and family might see it. It’s easy to meet or exceed ones goals if you don’t have any. Goals.

Stats 9-1-14

I didn’t expect I would enjoy blogging as much as I do. Nor did I expect my writing and photography to be so well received. That has been a very pleasant surprise. The writing I did professionally wasn’t the sort that wins awards, gets applause, or attention. It was “bread and butter” writing. Honorable work. It didn’t save the world, but it didn’t harm it, either. And it paid well. Best of all, I got to meet great people, some of whom are still friends after many years.

community-9-1-14But blogging — it’s the first time I’ve written for myself and have an audience. A responsive audience. An encouraging, often flattering audience. People say the nicest things.

My current blogging goals? I still don’t have any. I plan to continue to do what I have done.  I hope it continues to be as much fun and as satisfying as it has been for the past two and a half years.

If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?

No need to think about this one. I want to be a flyer in the trapeze act. I want to cannonball through the air, weightless and free of gravity. But … keep the net in place, okay? Just in case.

If you could go back and talk to yourself at age 18 what advice would you give yourself?  Or if you are younger than 25 what words of wisdom would you like to tell yourself at age 45?

As I am not getting any younger (no one except Dorian Gray gets younger and it’s Dorian’s portrait, not the real him that’s aging backwards), I would tell myself to relax. Stop wasting all that time worrying. Worrying is useless — and ruins the moment. I would NOT marry the second husband — talk about a waste of time and energy. I would always carry a camera and write more just for fun. I guess I should have done better with my money. Okay, I’ll tell myself to start saving money.

What is your favorite comfort snack food?

Unchanged since the last time this came up, it’s crystallized ginger. In many and varied forms.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Charter finally fixed our bad connection at the pole on the street. After 13 years of malfunctioning, our cable is working the way it is supposed to. Imagine that!

Next week? There is a get-together with old friends in Boston. That should be a nice diversion.

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?

Serendipity-Blogging-Map

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?