Blogvolution

If I happen to glance back at my old posts, particularly those of a few years back, I find that quite a lot of them are the sort of stream of consciousness writing that to me was the point and definition of a “blog.” Articles and points were for professional websites. Blogs were for rambling.

Over time, “blogging” has become an actual business venture, although not for me, and this makes me steer away from that sort of rambly, babbly, slice-of-mind type posts and toward ones that are at least a little bit topical. By that I mean having a topic, and not especially relevant to the time, although almost everything you will ever write is informed by the context of the time you live in, so I guess that applies too.

This blog is a personal site, not a professional one, so there’s no especially good reason not to ramble on, except that I want to put something a little more thoughtful out there. I want to feel a little bit more like my thoughts have a point. It would be nice to look back on previous posts and think “Yes, I see what I was saying here, and I think it was worth saying.”

One could argue that I should go back and delete some of my older posts, at least the silliest and/or most pointless ones. I don’t think I’m going to do that, though. I want to keep this site personal. I don’t want to clean up my image too much, to seem like someone whose thoughts just flow naturally into perfect forms of stories or essays or what have you. It doesn’t get me views or make me money, but I still feel attached to it. I’ve poured quite a bit of myself into this blog and I don’t just want to delete parts of me, even if they are smaller or more distant now than they were at the time of writing. Perhaps I am too attached to the past. Maybe it’s the influence of writer’s journals, like Virginia Woolf’s, and the idea that someday, people will be interested in my raw thoughts because I will have gained some fans through my creative efforts.

I mean, probably not. But at least I can look back on it myself.

Your Blog Needs Proofreading

I really just HAVE to take a moment out of my day, away from any of the topics I have been meaning to write about here, to wonder at the horrible grammar that permeates the internet. On personal blogs and websites, it seems to matter less. Sure it’s still annoying if you’re reading it–whether you know the person who posted the content, or you just happened to stumble across it–but if the text is still readable, you can look past small mistakes.

When it’s a big, popular website and the problem is obvious, that’s when I become so very confused.

Through an article I was reading I clicked on what is apparently one of the biggest fashion blogs in the world (although I’d never heard of it before), and upon reading the “about” page it became clear that if it was edited or proofread at all, the person responsible had no idea what they were doing.

I see this way more often than you might think. You probably see it too, although you might not notice. Blogs with large followings and professional company websites keep publishing content that’s either full of typos and grammar errors or just plain bad writing. This bothers me because it almost always makes me think, “My content is better.” Yet I have such a small viewership. My stats show what looks to me like a high number of followers, but in terms of the internet it’s miniscule, and my actual page views never come near the number of “followers” that are displayed. This tells me only that all the advice about how to get and keep an audience is only true to a certain extent. These tips can work, but they aren’t the only thing that gets you views, and there are other “secrets” that never appear in those lists of tips to boost your audience.

Basically, it’s often pretty freaking arbitrary.

Has Blogging Lost Its Lustre?

I’ve been blogging for years now. I don’t even know how many. Five, seven… something like that. And sometimes I feel like it’s become more of a burden than a useful outlet.

Back when I was first blogging, I was not aware of any opportunities for making money through the platform. I don’t think it was very common then. In order to make money writing online, you had to write for a content mill or online magazine/newspaper with a large following. I considered content mills, but never made the move, and I’ve never been that interested in journalism (maybe opinion pieces, but not news coverage). Blogging was still more of a personal/creative outlet than a money-making scheme. I liked it that way–being able to share my thoughts and writing with an audience, having a venue to put a little bit of myself out there. Originally I’m certain only my friends and family were reading, but they were my target audience anyway.

Suddenly, that all changed. Articles and job listings and all kinds of sources were telling me that I needed to optimize SEO to get more views on my posts. It was not good enough to express myself well and share something with the world, because doing so I wasn’t coming remotely close to the thousands of views per day that so many other sites claimed to accumulate. This was a few years ago, and even though I was not trying to make money from blogging, I felt utterly inadequate. These days, all the “how to blog” articles tell you have to use good quality pictures, fall within a certain word count, and talk about relevant topics that people want to read, like Kim Kardashian’s nude photos (this is a somewhat ironic example, as the topic is of no particular interest to me). If I’m only getting a handful of views on each post, then it must be because my posts aren’t good enough.

That, of course, is a trap it’s easy to fall into, and I’m starting to think it was created by ad companies, who are the ones benefiting most from the high number of clicks on a page. Someone out there wants us to believe that quantity (in views) equals quality (in production or content). We know this isn’t true. Some very talented people simply don’t achieve the visibility they deserve, for many reasons. Now it seems everyone’s striving for that one “viral” post, of whatever format, that will result in a steep increase in followers and, therefore, more views on each post afterward. I absolutely get it, as someone who doesn’t get enough blog views to even qualify to use WordAds (which in my opinion is not a reasonable rule), but at the same time, it’s got to stop!

I have to say that I’m really tired of worrying about my view count, why my overall number of views never seems to increase no matter how many new followers I get, and all other related things. I’m tired of wondering whether it’s better to pour my heart out, like some of the very popular blogs I’ve seen, or write extremely well-researched and crafted pieces that, in my opinion, do not belong on a blog (in most cases). Those belong in real magazines or on real sites, by real publishing companies. Blogging used to have a similar function to a diary, for me, with the small difference of knowledge that other people would be reading it. More recently, I’ve felt more of an urge, whether internal or external, to write “articles” or at least posts with a real topic, instead of just a spontaneous stream of consciousness, account of some event in my life, or whatever else blogs used to be used for.

Lately I miss the stream of consciousness. I think that if I do have specific topics to write about, a blog is as good a place as any to share them, but this idea that blog posts should always “say something” is bringing me down. The flood of blogs that are trying to be professional and presentable has given the impression that if you want to be taken seriously, you can’t just use blogging as a general brain outlet anymore. Not only is this NOT true, but I think I need the brain drain. My mind has been so stuck lately, both in a sense of feeling the need to save the “publish” button for only certain types of posts, and in a sense of being generally inarticulate and unable to think of the right word at very random but ever-more-frequent times. It’s as if so many words built up in my brain without anywhere to release that it’s become clogged, and now nothing can get through.

Does anyone have any word-Drano?

The point here is multi-pronged. 1) Your blog can be for anything you want. 2) Most of all, you should do it for you. If you’re only blogging to get views, that will probably show, and no one is interested in that. 3) You can’t predict what posts people are going to want to read. 4) Expecting to make money from almost any online platform, unless it’s through a specific site that already gets a lot of views, is a bad plan. That’s why #2 applies once again.

This post, I think, falls somewhere between the topical article and the stream of consciousness. That’s how I like to work, honestly, for topics like this. I want it to be somewhat personal and relatable, not ultra-researched and dry to the point where a lot of people click to view the post but most of them just skim over the bullet points. In a sense I could probably do better if I really took the time to formulate an essay-style post. But all that is, to me, is another false path to a “right” method of blogging, which, in case you didn’t catch it, I’ve already stated does not exist.

Sex and the City and the Internet

I’ve watched Sex and the City a lot. More than I should probably admit to if I want anyone to take me seriously… but in doing so, I’ve thought a lot about the characters’ situations and other aspects of the show that I’d expect most people would just dismiss or accept without really thinking too much about it. The other day I was watching an episode and had a certain thought about Carrie’s career.

I have seen comments in various places regarding how ridiculous it is that she can make enough money writing a once-weekly newspaper column to afford a nice apartment and support the lifestyle of constantly eating out and 100 pairs of shoes that cost $500. This is true, and I can respond to this by saying that maybe they should have worked a little harder to explain how this is possible, but the whole show is about people who live a glamorous, fantasy life, so it all fits.

My point is actually quite unrelated to this. I’ve determined that due to the blogging platforms of the internet, Carrie’s job would actually be much less secure these days.

I’m not just talking about the demise of print journalism, but the actual content of her columns. Supposedly, her success with the column and the reason it did well in book form was because she was writing openly and (pretty much) honestly about topics that were otherwise still hard to find elsewhere. She was unique, and maybe opened doors for more honest conversation on the often taboo details of sex and relationships.

These days you can find this everywhere. Granted, you might have to encounter some dumb, poorly written material in order to actually find the good stuff, and you’re more than likely to encounter pornographic sites if you choose to google certain terms, but the internet has made it possible to have access to essentially all information. There are sites like xoJane and Jezebel that frequently feature articles about sexual or personal topics that Carrie Bradshaw might have covered, and Cracked.com that presents its information with a lot of satire, sarcasm, and other approaches to humor. I would have to say, though, that blogging sites like WordPress are one of the main reasons for this explosion of honest personal writing. It allows anyone to publish anything, without having to be accepted by a publisher or a magazine or online journal or any of the more traditional (or perhaps neo-traditional?) channels, and many of them allow writers to remain anonymous. This, I’m sure, prompts more people to upload posts about subjects that embarrass them, or that they don’t want associated with their name for other reasons, and that may be very important to someone who ends up reading them.

This is bad for Carrie Bradshaw (who is fictional, so that’s ok), but good for us in general. It is my personal wish that people would learn the basics of grammar and sentence structure and not flood the internet with such atrocities of illiteracy. Leaving that aside, I think that honest communication is extremely important. In personal writing–autobiographical or opinion-based–it makes pieces better. I’m not sure if it’s harder or easier these days to make a living off this type of writing, but I’m guessing not the type of living that would allow you to spend thousands on shoes and clothes every month. The main reason I have not tried to test this by experience yet is that, anonymous or not, it is so difficult to put your private self out there for strangers or close friends and family to read. I hope I can find the guts for this one day.

Is There A Pill for This? Or an App?

So what have I been doing? Nothing.

My bedroom is a mess. So is my mind. And probably every other part of me.

I’m sure I’ve done something wrong in my life to get here. I don’t believe in fate, but it doesn’t feel like I am where I’m supposed to be. I can’t go into more detail, because I really don’t know how to explain it.

~~~

 

I come up with anywhere from one to five blog post topics a day, split between this site and The No-Recipe Life, my lifestyle/food/everything else platform. I’m sure some of them are not really worth the time, but I’ve never said I wanted either blog to be perfect, and anyway, that would be a fruitless endeavor. Other posts seem like excellent ideas and I feel that I have thoughts in that area that are worth sharing. If only one other person appreciates my words–or even if no one but me appreciates them–it’s enough to be worth my time.

Lately, I have sat down and typed out none of these ideas. I’m sure many of them are now gone forever. I will never have that idea again. Out of all the possible posts that might have happened, only a few would have really contributed anything notable. But now they never will, and that should make the world just the slightest bit sad.

I’ve been really busy lately. Ok, not really busy. Really stressed. Blogging fell by the wayside, as they say (they being people who use cliches a lot, and me, apparently), because my creative impulses were very low for a while. I can barely feel them even now, but there are times when you have to decide to do something regardless. I have a lot of things to get in order before I can come back to blogging with any regularity, and I’m only starting to make a plan to get things figured out. Not that I ever expect to figure things out… but at least I can attempt to bring some organization to my life.

 

Even though I’m not feeling optimistic about anything, I still have to try. It’s definitely not ideal. It makes motivation very hard to find, for anything.

Wow, I wish this post didn’t sound so depressing. If I’m lucky this will purge some of these feelings from my mind and I will start to do better…

Blogging, Balancing, Organizing–My Latest Failings

I’ve been thinking about my blogs as they exist now, and I’m not liking what I perceive.

For one thing, I get almost no comments, and that isn’t necessarily a sign that I’m an unsuccessful blogger, but it makes me feel silly sometimes. “Well, obviously no one’s that interested in what I’m writing, so why bother?”

Why indeed. I started blogging for ME, because I wanted to, because I think it’s a good way to collect my thoughts and possibly connect with an audience, even if not with the sort of pieces I really want to publish. As time goes on and my view counts stay down, and I can never seem to become a “Blogger” (with a capital B because I’d be recognizable and maybe it would even be slightly lucrative), no matter how long I do it, I get discouraged. No one actually starts a blog because they expect it to be a mega-hit. But my constant lack of visibility is essentially the same as never being picked out of the slush pile.

The metaphor may not be appropriate, because I’ve done so little submitting that my work hasn’t had a chance to actually be in slush piles. But the state of being among a huge amount of comparable blogs and never being special enough to be noticed basically puts me in the internet’s slush pile.

It’s confusing to me. How is it I have over 100 followers and usually get only 15 views or less when I post? (Dear WordPress: please fix yourself so that I actually get views when people read my posts.)

I hate when I end up blogging about blogging. Some people write about blogging for a specific reason and it makes sense for them. I only ever do as an apology, really, to myself and the few people who are interested in reading me, when I haven’t been making good use of my blog.

I don’t like the way things are with my blogs right now, both this and the No Recipe Life, and it’s making me feel like creating a brand new blog and starting over. The thought of actually doing so is almost sickening to me. I don’t want to start over yet again. So I am trying to think instead of how to arrange things on my existing blogs so that I can post about whatever I want on whichever platform seems to fit best, and it’s giving me a headache. Many people, I’m sure, would tell me to hire a consultant, but there are several reasons I don’t want to. One of those is that I can do it myself.

Listen to me. Rambling on and on with no point. As always. I’ll end with this, so I don’t just write myself off the end of the world:

Please, readers, keep some faith in me. Don’t unfollow (unless you legitimately don’t like my blog–then it isn’t beneficial for either of us, so by all means, go on your way), don’t skip my posts. Give me some constructive criticism. I care if you like this blog, and my other one. I will get it together. It won’t be today or tomorrow but if you wait a little longer maybe I can create something people will care about.

P.S. Regarding Five Things Fridays–I started doing them with the intention that they would be a way for me to wind down from the week, and attempt to get the writing ball rolling (or something) for the weekend. It turns out Friday nights are not a good time for me to plan to blog regularly, because it’s often a social night for me. In addition, all the cool ideas I had, like posting five flash pieces or five awesome literary quotes, always seem to get sidelined in favor of me complaining about random things from the day or the week. Basically, it’s not serving its purpose for this blog. Thus, I’m going to stop using that form, and I’ll try to come up with another regular post day that will actually focus on writing. I might start FTFing on the other blog, which you should go check out if you want to read my thoughts on food and random stuff.

Five Things Friday: August 2, 2013

I’ve been blogging for a pretty long time now. I spend a lot of time these days looking at blogs and there are some blogging habits I’ve noticed that I do not understand at all. I’m not saying I’m 100% right, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people agree about these. Here they are:

 

 

Using very small or very large font honestly offends my eyes. Stick to size 11 or 12, please (or possibly a bit larger, depending on the font you’re using). When I open a page and the font size is ungainly in any sense, I will close it before reading it. Please, just think about that as you’re formatting.

 

Using irrelevant tags pisses me off, honestly. As I’m scrolling through my “coffee” feed and there’s nothing about coffee in your post, or it’s mentioned in passing while really being about something entirely different, I’m bothered. Very. There are some exceptions, but only if the post is one I would read for other reasons.

 

Not having an “about” page is just confusing. How much information you want to put on it is a judgment call, although I really like to be able to click on the “about” tab and have some real idea of who you are and/or what kind of blog I’m looking at. A minimal about page is ok, because at least it’s something. None at all just says “spam blog” to me.

 

Not everyone is born to be a writer, I get it. The blog world is a forum that covers people from professionals all the way down to people who just want to put down their thoughts somewhere and share them with others, or… something along those lines. Not everyone has to be a master of wordistry (that’s a real word [now]). But people who seem to lack any understanding of grammar in their posts make me sad. I don’t know what the reason is for this. Maybe some of them had really deplorable educations. Maybe they just don’t speak English very well, but for reasons that just confuse me chose to write a blog in English anyway. Not everyone has an interest in actually being a writer, nor the ability to move people with words. However, I believe that everyone can learn basic grammar and sentence structure. Even if you’re just writing for yourself, you have chosen the written word as a medium and you should have enough respect for it, and the readers and YOURSELF, to get that core knowledge down. (Side note: if you’re writing just for yourself or your family, then maybe you shouldn’t be making your posts viewable to the general public. Just saying.)

 

Blogs that have only been around a short time and have somehow racked up thousands of views make me extremely doubtful. Maybe you had a post that went viral, and isn’t that nice for you … but generally speaking, it takes much longer than a few months to get that level of total views. I don’t mean to offend anyone if you fall into that category of people who happen to be really lucky, but honestly, unless you’re bringing an established fan base from another forum, I am very skeptical of your numbers. Besides which, it makes the rest of us, who have been around a while and get an average (I’ll admit sometimes disappointing) number of views, feel quite resentful of you. Don’t make me want to press “unfollow.”

 

 

 

…I’m just kidding, mostly, about the last one. I mean, it does confuse me, but really it shows that “success,” if you define it in the sense of the external validation you get from having large audience, whatever that audience might be, is somewhat arbitrary. I’d bet you actual money (like $10 maybe–don’t judge, I’m just a responsible gambler) that there are hundreds or thousands of good blogs/songs/youtubers/books/etc./etc./etc. that few people have found because they just have not managed to bridge that gap to the audience. Fame works like capitalism: the more views (money) you already have, the more you tend to gain. The rest of us just kind of scrape for what we can get at the bottom, or lower middle (which, I think, is where I would be).

But where did the word “Milestone” come from anyway?

From Memidex.com:

First definition is “stone post at side of a road to show distances.”

Oh, yeah. I knew that. The things you forget as time goes on… how embarrassing. I’m supposed to be one of those smart people. I’m sorry, the origination of the milestone got pushed out of my brain by the Russian Cinema Reader I just finished copyediting.

And the point: I have 100 followers! Congratulations Kevin Cullen, you are number 100. I would give you a prize, but I really don’t have anything… but on a related note, if I ever get a million followers, the millionth will get a prize. 😉 *Cough* never happen *cough*

It took over three years but people in the triple digits like my writing enough to click a button that will tell them when they should come back for more. I am fairly certain that I would have gotten more followers more quickly if I didn’t sometimes go so long without posting.

You can always go back and re-read some of my posts. It would be especially helpful if you commented. But, considering how few posts I comment on myself, I understand why you don’t.

I see exciting things in the future of my writing blog. Maybe even revamping the categories section so that it doesn’t look as stupid. You don’t think it looks stupid? Well it does. And if I keep writing regularly, how long will it take to get to 200? I think I should make that an experiment.

That made me feel much better about life. Maybe even good enough to write a story.

May is almost over and I’m stressed again.

I think you guys should check out this blog:

http://aregularcupofjo.wordpress.com/

He left some very nice comments on some of my posts so I went to have a look at his blog, and he writes well and his posts are interesting. If you would like something new to read, check it out.

Luckily I’m only having the average level of stress about work right now. I’ve done all that anyone expected from me for monthly goals, and I’m getting a pretty good start on June, even if it isn’t quite as much as I had hoped. The commute is still awful. It just takes too long, and therefore cuts into either my sleep or my morning routine time.

What I’m really stressed about is (surprise!) money. When the Press hired me full time, and I calculated how much money I would make every month, I completely forgot that I would be taking home far less because now they would actually take taxes out. Which means I won’t be able to catch up on my debt sources nearly as fast as I thought I would.

In addition, I got one of those “you own us taxes” notices, which, DUH. The IRS, I swear, is a collective idiot. But the problem, really, is that I set up an automatic debit to pay in installments at the same time as filing my taxes, and it said that it was accepted, and I got a mailing a bit later that said to wait to contact them about it because sometimes it doesn’t process the first month. The first month it was set to pay was this month, around the twentieth or so, I think. As far as I can tell it didn’t come out. Obviously they want their money. But they should have a damn system that shows them who already was responsible enough to set up payments and therefore shouldn’t be bothered with extra stupid things in the mail.

This reminds me of trying to figure out the financial side of studying abroad. When they didn’t have a payment by a certain date, they don’t send you a first notice saying “send this payment immediately” or anything like that. No, they sent something called a “Termination Notice” (meaning from the study abroad program). Of course, I panicked and called my mom, and it got sorted out and I went abroad. But then I was pissed off, because I thought their method was horrible. College students tend to be pretty stressed out, often depressed, and even more often lacking in money. And you think it’s a good idea to send them a letter saying their plans for next semester are just about to fall apart? Honestly, it seems pretty sick to me.

Even though it’s not something I really want to do, I’m kind of feeling an urge to go live on a hippie commune where everything is done on the barter system and I can trade spontaneous poetry for a backrub (or, something).

Basic Writing Advice

I’m no certified writing expert: let’s just get that admission over with. I “only” have a bachelor’s degree, and I have not had a lot of time to pursue writing professionally up to this point. However, I have years and years of experience with writing and literature–honestly, so many that I find it impossible to truly count them–and significant experience as a copyeditor. (That is, I consider it significant, as I have reached a point at which I feel absolutely confident in my editing.) I am a talented writer, and I read a lot. In professionally published writing, I do not usually see the problems about which I intend to speak.

This advice is geared particularly toward internet writing. These days, anyone who wants to can go online, to various platforms such as our lovely WordPress here, or create a website, or even hop on twitter. People can write absolutely anything they want and put it out there for hundreds or even thousands (and, in rare cases, millions) of others to read. I do think that is fantastic. It is at this moment the only outlet I have for my writing, although I am really trying harder to create more opportunities for myself to write.

However, in that wonderful freedom lies an extremely irritating problem. While you can publish any written piece you want online, whether it be 140 characters or 50,000 words, you might want to just take a moment to proofread your thoughts before you click on that “post” button. I suppose everyone should feel free to post rambling, ignorant, or substance-less writing if that’s how they choose to express themselves. I’m not complaining about the content–that’s just freedom of speech, man! (I find myself saying “man” a lot lately. Mostly when talking to myself. I’m not sure why.) But when you don’t know the rules of grammar, why do you think this is the best way to convey your thoughts to others? If I’m looking over a very thoughtful blog post and all of a sudden I come across a glaring grammar mistake, it kind of just ruins the experience.

With that in mind, I have just a few small tips for you to start off with.

The first piece of advice I have for you is to read. Find something you enjoy reading and read a lot of it. It can be incredibly helpful to develop your writing style and voice to just absorb properly edited, published writing. I honestly think that is how I learned a lot about grammar and using language.

Second: KNOW YOUR APOSTROPHES. I’m not going to rant on and on about their, there, and they’re, because I’m sure you’ve all heard that one before. I even recall reading over a blog post before publishing it to find that I’d somehow substituted one for another (see, proofreading is your friend!), and that was quite recent. However, the one that I can never seem to get over is its and it’s.

I suppose I understand why people get confused there. Using specific nouns, the possessive always uses an apostrophe. I would really like everyone to please learn, however, that when you’re using pronouns, if there is an apostrophe in the word, it is NOT a possessive form, but a contraction. It’s means “it is.” Please, please stop confusing them, it really is one of the biggest day-to-day frustrations for me in terms of reading anything printed on the internet. I have even seen this mistake in advertisements, and that makes me sad. Don’t advertise your business with incorrect grammar, please.

While I’m talking about apostrophes, I want to tell you that the correct way to write about a decade would be, for example, “the 1950s.” If you have written “1950’s,” then your thought in fact says “of 1950.” You need to know this. It’s important. If you are abbreviating the number, then you would use an apostrophe: the ’50s. It’s not confusing, really, even if it seems that way.

My third bit of advice: what do people have against the oxford comma? Granted, it is often not completely necessary, but there are definitely times when its use is beneficial to expressing the proper thought. To demonstrate, I’ll share a picture you may have all seen before:

I don't know, maybe that was the intention...

I don’t know, maybe that was the intention…

 

If you don’t like oxford commas, you can rearrange word order to avoid confusion. “We invited JFK, Stalin and the strippers” does not have the same potential for horrible (or awesome?) mental images.

I think this is long enough for one post, but I can post more writing advice in the future if anyone finds my thoughts helpful.

To close, I want to say this: I am not writing this to mock people who don’t have a talent for writing, or to pretend I’m the queen of grammar, or anything else like that. I understand also that each person’s grammar skills can be affected by their background, their education, and the speaking and writing habits of their family and friends. I do not think, however, that basic grammar is difficult to learn; I think it is possible for most people. It’s about how you present yourself. Potential and present employers, college admissions, other writers and bloggers and people out there reading what you have chosen to show them … none of these people are going to take you seriously if you publish writing with such simple mistakes in it. Have enough respect for yourself to make your writing better.