State of the Blog – Feb 2022

It’s been six months again, and here we are at another “State of the Blog” post.

I write these partly for myself, and partly for other bloggers who are interested in what someone else is experiencing. Part of creating things for other people is about presenting an experience. Assuming you’re not completely cynical and opportunistic, a blog is going to be at least a little personal, but there’s a temptation to put the best version of yourself forward. Unfortunately, that often means that nobody wants to talk about their statistics or their experiences, unless those statistics and experiences paint them in a very positive light.

This blog is largely built around the idea of openly talking about the process of writing, the ups and downs and the unaltered details. The goal of these “State of the Blog” posts is to openly talk about the blog itself, and how I feel it’s going.

Goals

Six months ago, I gave these overarching goals. These all still apply today.

  • To hold myself accountable to a writing schedule
  • To develop an audience of readers
  • To provide something useful to other writers
  • To make connections with other writers

Blogging is the best tool I’ve found so far to keep myself writing on a regular basis. If I don’t write anything else, I am still writing 2-3 blog posts per week. In years past, I have often gone weeks or even months without writing, so this is very positive for me. That said, I still want to be writing more fiction than I am, and I need to figure out more strategies to motivate myself to do that.

Developing an audience is slow going. I think that’s partly because I’m not putting out fiction quickly or consistently, and partly just because it takes time and effort to catch eyeballs, and only a certain percentage of people are going to be interested. I’m continuing to see steady growth, so I’m not too worried about that, but certainly getting more good work out there wouldn’t hurt.

Providing something useful for other writers and making connections with them go hand in hand. Again, based on the statistics, it seems like more and more people are appreciating what I’m posting. I’ve also been working on making connections with other writers who blog regularly and have work that interests me. That’s a slow and tedious process of internet search-an-find, but it is rewarding to discover someone who posts great content, and even better if they like what I’m doing as well.

I have a couple short-term goals for the next six months:

  • Post Razor Mountain chapters more consistently and more frequently
  • Find more great writing blogs to follow

Metrics

  • Years blogging: 1.5
  • Total Posts: ~165
  • Total Followers: 62 (and 9 on Twitter)
  • Monthly Views: ~175 (average over last 3 months)

I try not to put too much stock in statistics, but if I’m honest, it’s hard to not pay a little bit of attention. So I take my data points during these six month intervals. Since this is the third of those intervals, I can start to make some comparisons between those three samples.

The short takeaway is that everything is just about double what it was six months ago. In terms of raw growth, that’s still closer to exponential than linear. It’s slower than it was between the six month mark and the one year mark, but I don’t think that’s terribly relevant when dealing with small numbers. In general, if the lines continue to go up, that translates to more people finding and liking the site.

I crossed the 1,000 view mark in December ’21, after about 15 months of blogging. At the current rate, I’d expect to hit the next thousand by May ’22, five months later. Not huge numbers, but steady improvement.

“Engagement” feels like a gross web business buzzword, but what’s probably more important is that I’ve seen more engagement in likes and comments. Comments are still hard to come by, but that’s to be expected. From what I’ve seen, it’s not uncommon to see anywhere from 25:1 – 100:1 ratios of views to comments. It’s just a lot easier to get people to read what you’ve written than it is to get them to comment on it.

In the next six months, I’d obviously like to see numbers continue to grow, but my biggest indicator of success will be more comments and likes. Feedback is great. Dialogue is even better.

Reblogs

In the past six months, I’ve started doing Wednesday reblogs more frequently. Basically, any week where I don’t post Razor Mountain chapters, I’ll post a Wednesday reblog. I’ll be honest, part of this is that it’s low-effort. I love the blog, but I also limit the time I spend each week on the blog. Hopefully this is a good way to highlight something that I found interesting or useful for other writers, without taking too much time away from other projects.

So…yeah, let me know if you like the reblogs, or if they just clog your feed. I can adjust accordingly.

Razor Mountain

Six months ago, I was still outlining and doing pre-production work on Razor Mountain. Since then, I’ve finished outlining and done all of the book-adjacent tasks like writing the back cover and designing the front cover. I’ve posted five chapters. That’s progress.

I made quick progress initially, then slowed down around the holiday season. Thanks to some real-life factors, I ended up feeling overwhelmed by the schedule I was trying to maintain. I’m now in a more relaxed place, and thinking about trying to push chapters out with a little more frequency.

I do enjoy the cadence of putting out a chapter in 2-3 parts throughout a week, and following it up with a Friday Razor Mountain Development post to talk about the process of writing the chapter. I think it will be interesting to look back on those development journals when the book is done, to see how it has evolved since I first started outlining.

I’m continuing to post chapters to Wattpad and Tapas alongside the blog, but my audience on those platforms is just about nonexistent. It’s understandable since I haven’t put much effort into networking with other writers on those platforms, and I’m not in the more popular genres and styles that I see on their front pages. For now, I’ll keep posting. There’s no point worrying too much about promotion until you have something you really want to promote. At some point when I have more chapters posted (or maybe even the entire book) I’ll dig into those platforms and make a little more effort to draw some attention.

Next Stop: Two Years

I continue to have lots of ideas for stand-alone blog posts and series. I used to worry that I might run out of ideas for a blog, but having written for this long, I’m now confident that I won’t run out any time soon. I have one specific series in the works that I’m excited about—more on that in a week or two.

That’s all I have for now. See you again in six months, for the two-year anniversary of Words Deferred.

Burnout

This post is a bit more off-the-cuff than my usual essay-style posts about writing. It’s not prescriptive. I don’t have any conclusions or answers. I just have a few things I felt like talking about.

Writer’s Block vs. Burnout

Writer’s block is wanting to write, but finding yourself unable to get the words out. It is perpetually romanticized (by some writers, and some non-writers). If you do a google search, you’ll find millions of suggestions for how to “break through” writer’s block. I’ve made my own contributions.

Burnout, on the other hand, is losing even the desire to write. It’s writing depression; it’s losing the joy or even interest in the stories that compelled us to write in the first place.

The Grinding Gears of the Content Machine

Gone are the days when writers would toil away quietly, hidden from the public eye, perhaps producing a novel every couple of years. (Or wait, was there ever really such a time?)

To be a successful writer today, you are expected to do everything. If you’re a traditionally published midlist author, publishers are doing less and less for you. You’re expected to do more of the marketing and promotion. If you’re self-publishing, then you not only have to do everything yourself, but you’re probably paying out of your own pocket for services like editing and layout. Either way, you need to have a social media presence on a list of sites that changes every few years. You need to be entertaining. You need a Substack newsletter. You need to dance on TikTok with your book, or some shit.

The publishing industry is a massive beast, and it’s slow to change, but it’s clearly moving in the same direction as other modern media. The focus isn’t on making something amazing occasionally, it’s on making a constant stream of “content.” It’s quantity over quality, the obsession with capturing views and the fear that if you give anyone a reason to glance away, even for a moment, they’ll forget about you and never come back.

Earlier this week, I reblogged Lincoln Michel’s post, subtitled “Why are we more comfortable talking about output than art?” That was right about the time when I realized I was falling into exactly that trap.

Background Radiation

Stress is like background radiation. COVID has been stressful, but things are improving, right? It was really bad, and now it’s…better? It’s pretty hard to tell. I used to work in an office, and I’m still working from home. My kids are back in school, but they’re wearing the mandatory masks. Everything is just not quite right. Just a little bit tainted.

I have no intent to talk about politics on this blog, but political strife has come to permeate more and more of modern American life. Where you live is a political choice now. The car you drive is a political choice. Where you work is a political choice. And, of course, how you’re dealing with COVID is a deeply, deeply political choice. It taints everything it touches: a slow poison in the air.

These are the kinds of background radiation that most of us are dealing with every day. I feel bad even complaining about it, because others have it so much worse than I do. But that stress wears away our defenses. It weakens us in body and mind. Winter and the upcoming holidays pile a little more on top.

That building stress level didn’t really come front-and-center in my consciousness until this Friday, when the software development world collectively freaked the hell out over this thing now known as Log4shell, and my entire team got to drop everything we were working on to frantically search for possible exploits and figure out whatever mitigation was needed. Probably the worst computer security issue found in the last year or two.

Oddly enough, that huge stress spike in my day job helped me to realize the stress I had been putting myself under when it came to my writing. Somehow, it snuck up without me realizing. Nothing like realizing you’re sad and have been for a while.

Observing the Signs and Portents

In my February 2021 “State of the Blog” post, I mentioned a two-posts-per-week schedule. I talked about building up a buffer of pre-written posts. Even a whole month’s worth! And maybe, just maybe, adding a third post per week. After all, I was being careful to avoid burn-out.

In my August 2021 “State of the Blog” post, I had apparently given up on the two-month buffer. But I talked about adding a third post to the weekly schedule. Maybe. Sometimes.

I was certainly up to three posts per week when I began actually publishing chapters of Razor Mountain at the start of November. That threw the existing schedule out the window. I decided I would post a chapter of Razor Mountain each week, while still doing a weekly development journal and a weekly post about writing. That left me scheduled to write 4-5 posts per week. And my stats show that I have indeed posted 4-5 times every week from the start of November until last week.

It can also be observed that pretty much every chapter development journal contains some mention of “falling behind.” Despite having one chapter written when I started, I was behind my self-imposed schedule by Chapter 3, and pretty much unable to keep up from that point forward. That makes sense when I had been steadily increasing my expected output. Unfortunately, the power of wishful thinking makes it sometimes seem reasonable to start behind schedule and not only catch up, but get ahead.

In short, it’s easy to get caught up in a self-determined schedule despite that schedule being objectively unreasonable. In my case, I really wanted to be able to finish publishing the book in a year, and I did not want to consider evidence that the schedule was not practical for me.

The Creative Pathology

I am a naturally lazy person. I am the sort of person who absolutely delights in staying up until 1:00 or 2:00 AM, and then will happily sleep past noon. I love to spend a Sunday playing video games all damn day. Without an external stimulus, I am capable of truly astonishing feats of procrastination.

Yet, in complete opposition to this laziness, I am a person deeply concerned with my legacy (as pretentious as that word sounds). I’m terrified of dying without leaving behind any artifacts that somehow prove my worth. Is a life worthwhile if it doesn’t leave behind ample evidence?

Intellectually, I know that’s ridiculous. Emotionally, it’s a feeling I can’t shake. I’m Ozymandias, from the famous Shelley poem.

No matter what we leave behind, memory is always temporary. Some lives are remembered longer than others, but nothing lasts forever. We’ll all be broken statues in the desert eventually.

Still, this dichotomy is probably what drives me to create more than anything else. I know that I can easily fall back to that default state of lethargy. I’ve certainly done it before. There’s a sort of frantic worry somewhere down deep that if I ever stop, I won’t be able to start back up again. The feeling that I need that inertia. Moderation has never worked well for me. It’s just a stepping stone back into apathy.

I don’t think that kind of internal push and pull is healthy, but I suspect it’s the sort of engine that drives a lot of creative people. We’re all Ozymandias, trying to not be forgotten.

(a typical gathering of writers)

Perspective

In a deeply ironic twist, while I was worrying about my output, WordPress came around like an excited puppy and informed me that I hit a new record for page views in a single day. Someone sharing a link or a new reader going through the back catalog still gives me more of a bump in readership than a typical post.

So, is it really worth stressing about?

No. That’s probably obvious from the outside looking in. It’s just a blog. It’s just a novel. If there’s anything I take away from all this, it’s that it’s very easy for things to feel more important in a given moment than they are in the long-term.

I’ve taken a week off the novel, and I might take more. I’ll take a little bit of holiday vacation to de-stress. And I’ll pick back up where I left off and keep writing, maybe not worrying quite so much about schedules and the endless churn of “content.”

1K

This happened a couple weeks ago, but I figured it was worth a mention.

It’s not exactly a huge number, but it’s something. Looking back, what’s more interesting than the actual number is that the first ~500 took eight or nine months, while the second ~500 took about four months.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and special thanks to the regulars. Seeing the same names in my notifications each week makes me think I must be doing something you like.

State of the Blog — August 2021

Has it been a year already?

In the spirit of being open about my process and progress, I decided to do a State of the Blog post every six months. This gives me a chance to evaluate my work, and hopefully will be helpful to others.

Goals

Why am I blogging?

  • To hold myself accountable to a writing schedule
  • To develop an audience of readers
  • To provide something useful to other writers
  • To make connections with other writers

This is the context that helps me decide how well I’m doing.

I started the blog around August 2020, deep enough into the pandemic to know that it wasn’t going away any time soon. Like many people, I was tired of the dread-induced lethargy, and looking for some creative outlet. I also needed something to help me keep my writing on a schedule; something to keep me accountable.

I didn’t have a plan exactly, but I did have a bunch of ideas. I’ve made vague attempts at blogging before, and they’ve never gone anywhere. This time, I was determined that if I was going to do it, I’d do it properly.

I had the idea of writing a serial novel, released episode by episode. I have a love of writing, and I knew that I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with others. So before I started, I forced myself to list 100 possible topics for blog posts — to make sure I had enough fodder to keep me posting twice a week for at least a year.

The Metrics

  • Months blogging: ~12
  • Posts: ~85
  • Followers: 29 (and 9 on Twitter)
  • Monthly Views: 93 (average over last 3 months)

These numbers are small. That doesn’t bother me. I’d love to reach a bigger audience, but the important thing is the trend line, and the numbers are steadily growing. I can still get excited when I set a weekly or monthly record in some metric, and right now that’s happening pretty frequently.

Two Posts

After the first few months, I settled into a consistent schedule. On Mondays, I post something about the craft of writing. On Fridays, I post a development journal, where I document my progress on my serial novel, Razor Mountain. I always write my posts early, do a fairly quick editing pass, and schedule them for release.

This basic two-posts-per-week model has worked pretty well. The Monday post provides variety. I can write a Reference Desk post about useful tools, or a post about writing concepts like hooks, conflict, or outlining. Meanwhile, the Friday Razor Mountain posts provide consistency.

Writing these two posts per week also gave me a good baseline for how much time I could devote to the blog. I’m not a full-time writer. I have a day job and other projects keeping me busy. I needed to make sure I wasn’t trying to write more for the blog than I could sustain long-term. Two posts per week was good for me.

Three Posts?

After months of that cadence, I’ve started experimenting with more content. Part of this was finding things that I enjoy posting about, and that readers would enjoy reading. Part of it was finding ways to avoid dramatically increasing the time I spent writing for the blog each week.

I’ve decided to add a Wednesday post to my weekly schedule. I set myself a rule that I can’t spend more than an hour on a Wednesday post. These posts can be shorter and/or sillier than my other posts. I’m also trying to tie them into my other writing projects. Some examples of these Wednesday posts are my series on Twitter microfiction and my “ground-breaking” Writing RPG™.

I still consider the Wednesday post optional. I may skip it sometimes.

The Future

My biggest goal right now is to finish outlining and prep for Razor Mountain. Once that’s done, my posting schedule will probably change again. I still plan to post weekly development journals to talk about the writing process, but I’ll also be posting the actual chapters/episodes.

Being an inveterate planner, I will be writing chapters ahead of my posting schedule, so I have time for beta reader critique and revision. I plan to post episodes on other services as well, and I’ll be going into the details of that process.

I’m also working on interacting more with other bloggers. As a classic writer introvert, it takes a bit of effort to overcome the imposter syndrome and convince myself to comment on other blogs, even when I think I have something to contribute.

I’m also trying to reblog more of the good writing craft posts that I see, especially on days when I don’t have my own content scheduled. It took me a few months to find a decent list of WordPress blogs in my wheelhouse, but now I’m regularly seeing post in my feed that are worth sharing.

Next Stop

I’ll see you back here in six months, for the 1.5 year blogiversary!

State of the Blog – February 2021

This is something I’m going to start doing periodically, maybe a couple times per year. I want to reflect a little bit on what I’ve done, look forward at what I’m planning, and try to evaluate what’s working and what I want to change.

When I started this blog, I knew I wanted to write posts about craft, and I knew I wanted to post serialized fiction. I also had the vague idea that I’d like to document the process of writing as I do it. Beyond that, I decided I would figure it out as I went along.

Metrics

  • My first posts were in September, so the blog is about 6 months old.
  • I’ve made about 25 posts.
  • My readership is still quite small: less than 10 followers, averaging 1-2 views per day.

When I started, I had no particular schedule or planned topics, and my posts were pretty sparse and spread out. However, over the first couple months, I realized that I wasn’t very interested in journal-style posts. I like discussing the craft of writing, and if I’m going to do that I want to focus on a topic and dig into it.

Although I knew that I wanted to post serial fiction, I didn’t have a story ready to go. Some serial fiction writers advocated jumping right in blind. Others suggested finishing the whole thing before posting. Part of what I wanted from serial fiction was posting chapters as they were written, but I’m a prepper, and I didn’t think I’d be putting out my best work if I didn’t plan it out carefully. Between my day job, family, and other hobbies, it was going to be a while before I was ready to start posting chapters. Rather than quietly working for months in the background, this seemed like a good opportunity to document the process, as I was brainstorming and outlining.

Around December, all of this solidified into a posting schedule: two posts per week, with craft-focused or variety posts on Mondays and development journals for my serial writing project on Fridays.

I also began to write my posts ahead of time and schedule them. This allows me to post at consistent times of the week, even though I grab little chunks of writing time throughout the week. It also allows me to build up a buffer of scheduled posts. If something prevents me from writing for a week or two, or I just want a vacation, the blog keeps on trucking.

I’m currently keeping a buffer of about four posts (two weeks with the current schedule), but I’d like to get a full month ahead – about eight posts. As I get to that point, I may begin to introduce some smaller, ad-hoc mid-week posts. However, I’m ramping up slowly to avoid burn-out.

When I start posting chapters of Razor Mountain, they’ll take over the Friday slot. I expect to still write weekly development journals, but they’ll probably be much shorter when I’m already posting the chapter that resulted from that work.

Bloggery, Community and Readership

At this point, I’m relatively content to write for myself and send my bottled messages into the vast sea of the internet. In the long term, I’m not interested in writing only for myself. I want to grow my readership over time and get my writing in front of a larger audience.

A common refrain among content creators is that there are three main contributors to success:

  1. High-quality, original content
  2. Consistency
  3. Luck

The content is what I already spend the majority of my time on. I’ve got a consistent schedule, and plans to slowly expand that over time. And there’s not much to do about luck.

Beyond that, I’m looking at small ways to catch more eyeballs. I’ve read a bit about SEO and the interaction of WordPress tags and categories. I created a Twitter account (@DeferredWords) and set up automatic tweets for my new posts. I’ve also been finding and following other WordPress blogs to get a reader view full of good posts.

I’m probably not going to connect to other social media. Twitter is the only app I use with any regularity, and I don’t particularly want to support Facebook/Instagram.

Some community-building and cross-pollination will happen naturally through my comments on other blogs and my tweets and retweets. Some will come from search engines as I tweak my tags and categories and just continue to post on more topics.

Looking forward, I know I still have more work to do on site layout. I’ll be expanding the menu and possibly adding a few more widgets to make navigation easier and point readers to what I consider my best content.

Fiction

I want this blog to be my writing home on the web. However, I’m also planning to cross-post new chapters of my serial fiction elsewhere. Posting in multiple places adds more busywork, but it also gives me the opportunity to get more eyeballs on my work. WordPress is great, but it’s not necessarily the best place to gain visibility for fiction.

Right now, I plan to cross-post to Wattpad. This seems like the one of the largest open venues for serial fiction around today. It’s available on big and little screens, and it’s got a slick interface. I’m also thinking about Tapas for similar reasons. Tapas seems a little more focused on comics than novels, but still a good spot for serial fiction.

I’ve looked at a variety of other options. There are a few sites dedicated to fiction, and even serial fiction specifically, but some look pretty rough, and generally don’t seem to reach a very large audience.

There is some side work that I’ll have to do for these platforms as I get closer to actually publishing. I’ll need to write up things like an author bio and back-cover blurb, and I’ll have to come up with (or commission) a book cover.

To Be Continued

So far, the state of the blog is “small, but making progress.” There’s obviously room to improve. I’d love to have more content, but I’m happy to ramp that up slowly over time. There are design improvements to be made, but I’ll work on those bit by bit as well. I want my main focus to be consistent, quality content right now.

I think I’ll probably do another one of these around mid-summer. By then, I’ll be posting Razor Mountain chapters weekly. I’m excited to see how things are going in six months!

Coming From, Going To

I’m not a big fan of introductions, and I don’t much like talking about myself. However, if this blog is going to be a teetering pile of my thoughts and opinions, it’s only fair that I provide some context so that you can decide just how much those thoughts and opinions are worth. 

I write fiction as a hobby, and have done so for more than 15 years. My first loves were science fiction and fantasy, but I find that my tastes are constantly expanding as I get older. Still, I very rarely write anything that doesn’t have at least a tinge of the bizarre or unreal about it.

When it comes to writing, I am sporadic. Sometimes, I will write every day for months. Sometimes I will take months off. Part of my reason for starting this blog was to have an excuse (or perhaps an obligation) to write on a more consistent basis. I write novels and stories. While I love writing, I also love reading. I love reading about writing, and thinking about writing, and talking about writing. Part of my reason for starting this blog is to be able to share all of that with other writers.

By day, I create software. I’ve been coding since childhood. This influences what I write and how I think. One thing I may do with this blog is create little online tools or pages that are useful to writers.

I am a husband and a father of three children. Half of the books I read now are children’s or middle-grade books, and I mostly read them aloud. I’m sure this has had effects on my writing. I certainly have more appreciation for the sound of good words, precisely spoken.

Those are a few little fragments of who I am and where I’ve been. What’s coming next is a short series of posts about a thing called Razor Mountain.

Razor Mountain is going to be a novel. But first, it’s going to be posted, bit by bit, on this blog. I have never written serial fiction before, so this will be an experiment. Whether it succeeds or fails, we will learn something. First, I will post about the process of preparing to write this thing. Then I will be writing it, and I will post about that as I do it. When it’s finished, I’ll very likely talk about editing, and revision, and some of the joys and regrets of putting a large piece of fiction onto the internet in bite-sized portions.

There will be other topics interspersed. All of them, somehow, related to writing.

While I don’t know exactly what the posting schedule will look like, I plan to stick to at least two posts per week – one blog post, and one piece of serialized fiction.

There. We’ve got our bearing. We’ve got half a map. Let’s see where the road take us.

The Blank Page

Every writer knows the daunting feeling of staring at the blank page. There’s promise and possibility. There’s a perfect story in your head, in that hazy wonderland where all characters are rounded and all plots are hole-free, and your brilliant, subtle themes give future literature professors whole semesters of discussion topics.

Unfortunately, as soon as it’s on the page, all the imperfections become obvious. Writing gets hard when you get down to the actual words. Like any other story, this blog is going to be one thing in my head, and another thing entirely when it’s on the page.

Bloggery

I’m going to talk about techniques and experiences. I’m going to point to things that I think are great, and do my best to explain why. I may review books or other media, but I’m more interested in what we can learn from it than any opinions on how “good” something is.

Serialized Fiction

Following in the footsteps of Dickens and Dumas, I’m going to be publishing free, (eventually) novel-length fiction here, hopefully weekly. This will be a fun experiment; I’ve never put work out into the world this way.

Writing…Live!

Another experiment I’d like to try is live-streaming writing sessions. The act of writing is oddly intimate, and while writers love to talk about writing, we rarely have an opportunity to see the first drafts or the editing as they happen. It may be a great way to start discussions. It might be a disaster. If nothing else, it should be interesting.

And More?

Of course, now that this post is nearly done, I find that it’s much worse than what I thought it would be, when the page was still blank. I’m sure there will be other things we do here. Other ideas. Other inspirations. We’ll keep some characters and kill off others. We’ll find the plot eventually. There will be a glorious arc. It’ll all work out.

At the very least, I’ll get it out of my head and onto the page.