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The perils of blogging

My name is Mark William Jackson and I was a compulsive blogger. It has been eight weeks since my last post. At my worst I would spend up to two hours per evening posting, responding to comments and checking statistics. If I wasn’t in my dashboard I was checking my email to see if anyone had left a comment. I was obsessed and I had to stop. I started blogging as a way of promoting my poetry but the blog is a wicked beast in the hands of an addict – by the end I was writing poetry to support the blog.

It has been well documented (usually by bloggers) that a blog, along with facebook and twitter, are essential tools for the aspiring writer. Blogs are a cheap and easy way to get your work out to millions of potential readers. Start a blog and scream ‘death to the publisher infidels, we don’t need you anymore’. But, herein lies the danger, when the blog becomes the product instead of the marketing tool.

Two blogs are created every second. In publishing terms this equates to a slush pile that increases by a full-length novel every three minutes. Hoping to achieve fame and fortune via a blog is like throwing a bottled message into the ocean and hoping a publisher (or their influential equivalent) will find it.

But more dangerous than the exercise in futility detailed above is what one writer (whose name eludes me) called the ‘group hug effect’. A writer posts a piece of work which is nowhere near finished then sits back and waits for the followers to throw up their empty comments ‘wonderful’, ‘I love this’, ‘you have captured this perfectly’. The writer then receives some sort of inner glow and feels the work is complete.

Group hugs are provided by what I would call ‘blog trawlers’, similar yet opposite to ‘blog trolls’, whose aim is to offend, blog trawlers will comment on any piece of insane crap that a blogger posts. Blog trawlers maintain blogs of their own and comment in the hope of a return comment on their blog. Their blogs are usually filled with little images called ‘blog awards’ such as the ‘Sunshine award’. This community is fine if it is what you are looking for – an extended social network – but if you are serious about writing, this community can drag you down into a quagmire of shallow praise and false hope. I knew it was time for me to get out when someone offered me a ‘Sunshine award’. (The irony was totally lost in the offer.)

For any writer hoping to reach beyond immediate family and trawlers, there is a danger that once a piece of work is posted it is considered ‘published’ by many well-respected journals (Overland being one), and will not be considered for submission. This leads to a catch-22: you can either post on your blog and forget print and reputable online journals, or you can split your creativity, writing some for the blog and keeping some aside for submissions. Anyone who can do this and write effectively doesn’t need a blog to promote themselves, they’d already have a Nobel prize.

So, after a year of active blogging I ripped it all down and deleted my wordpress account, ran screaming to the darkest corner of my house and leapt into the foetal position, never again to look into the evil dashboard asking to be fed a new post. My blog was dead, I had killed it and danced on its grave.

That is, until last week.

I’d been long enough away to learn the perils. The domain is active again but not so much a blog as a minimal static website offering samples of my poetry that have been published elsewhere – this way I’m not throwing up something that should have rotted away in the bottom of a drawer. Comments are blocked on the new site so that people don’t feel compelled to comment for the sake of commenting, and I don’t feel obliged to reply. It is now set up merely as a ‘search’ point for if someone reads my work and feels compelled to search for more. So please, feel free to visit markwmjackson.wordpress.com. It doesn’t bite anymore.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Comments

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  2. How do I comment on this one without looking like a trawler?

    In my first few months I was completely addicted to the sway of my Google Anlaytics visit graph and probably did my fair share of shameless trawling to build it. It is an ongoing challenge. I can’t say how many times I’ve laid awake at night designing my own private online media empire, only to tear it all down the next day.

  3. Pingback: Overland: The Perils of Blogging « Mark William Jackson

  4. Wonderful, I love this: you have captured this perfectly!

    Thanks Mark William Jackson. It’s quite a dilemma, the being a writer business – and the business of being a writer. Profiles, websites, twitter, blogging … all that on top of the alcohol/substance abuse and relationship problems, sociopathic tendencies and poverty-in-the-garrett … etc.

    And it kind of hinges on the potentially perceived second-class nature of online publishedness, too. And amateur criticism (or not). And what you’re blogging for whom and why. And the nature of addiction.

    I’ve considered calling my new puppy Blogger. Do you think I might have a problem?

    • Thanks Clare, I love the tone you employed in your comment!
      The scary key word you’ve used is ‘business’- you have to assess what your objectives are; if your endgame is to build a wickedly popular blog then fill your boots. However, if you have aspirations of being a poor, substance abusing, sociopathic writer then blogs (etc.) are just marketing tools that should be kept in the context of your “business” plan.

      • Cheers Mark William Jackson – I had to pay that tone plenty, cos it’s emerged and is professional.

        Business + writer or artist of any persuasion + the age of commodification = brrr.

        Curious, though, cos a own-run-blog means the writer is the gatekeeper also – which has its appeal … and its shadow.

        I just thought ‘moderation in all things’ … who let my mother’s grandmother into my head? (She, apparently, is the source of all homily).

  5. The thing about regularly tending a blog is that it does accustom you to writing for an audience — even if it’s an implied one. That is, a lot of aspiring writers see their work as primarily about self-expression, which IMO is quite a different notion from writing as a form of communication. After all, if you just want to vent your innermost feelings, you don’t need any readers. If, on the other hand, you want to convey an idea or an emotion to someone else, then you need to think about audiences — the process is, in other words, about something more than you. Blogging encourages that sense, since even if no-one much reads your blog, it’s always possible that someone will, and so you find yourself writing with readers in mind. Which is good, I think.

    • I agree, and as I wrote in response to Clare, if your aim is to develop a blog of substance then this in itself is a worthy pursuit. However, if you maintain a blog in support of further writing goals your writing may suffer for it in ways illustrated in the article – either through loss of time, lost submission opportunities or underdeveloped pieces hitting the ‘marketplace’.

      My blog served me well in its initial stages; it helped me develop a writing discipline, it connected me with some fantastic writers and gave me the confidence to submit to journals, but unchecked, it became my main priority. I didn’t write this article to advise people not to blog, I wrote it because I had read many articles on what blogs can offer an aspiring writer but nothing regarding what blogs could cost such a writer.

      • Mmm, I wonder if there’s other alternatives between ‘self expression’ and ‘communication’ in the act of writing. They both seem like ideas more than ripe for ironisation to me. I think that Mark may be right when he suggests that blogs can cost a writer something. But then all writing has a cost; it’s not as if there’s a ‘pure’ form of ‘writing’ hanging around somewhere that’s cost-free and unproblematic.
        I’ve found blogging helpful as a kind of scrappy way of using bits that fall off other non-blog things, or a kind of doodling that enables me to find new bits to graft on to other non-blog projects. I can take a piece out of a non-blog, muck abaht with it, and run around following links and blind alleys and so forth, then post it and having re-thunk it, patch it back into its original non-blog setting with shiny new sequins on it.

  6. I’m confused by Henry Dillinger’s comment as well. I read your post, Mark, as a kind of call for a more ‘deliberate writing’ (for want of a better term) – carving out a space to devote to what you’re choosing to write, instead of just being swept up in the many avenues for self-expression.

    And I agree with you Jeff, but I find the blogging and the commenting and the tweeting and the emailing really eats into the time which I could be devoting to lengthier projects. Is that a good thing? Maybe – there are already countless lengthier projects out there. (As there are blogs.)

  7. I use my blog as a non fiction archive. I find it a perfect site for writerly self-loathing, which is why it’s set to private. Nothing is more sobering than retrospectively reading your own stale prose. That said, I’ve become a blog trawling addict since Jack inveigled me into the evil art. Will be joining BA soon.

    • Jack inveigled me, too! Bless her.

      I’m not an addict. I’m glad she turned me on to blogging and bloggers. But I’m not an addict. I can handle it. I can give it up whenever I want to. I just don’t want to.

      NB: Hey ho, Boris.

  8. Great post, Mark – I understand. Blogging can be a time leech indeed. Balance, is as you said, pretty much everything. And I’ve found a certain amount of time spent on blogging & related activities definitely eats into time that could be spent on longer projects.

    And I like the way you’ve incorporated existing work into your blog, so it acts more as a showcase.

  9. Pingback: Am I a Pair of Running Shoes? « The Echidna and the Fox

  10. Pingback: Guest Blogger – Mark William Jackson | Gabrielle Bryden's Blog

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