Category Archives: Blog-Meta

I have been blogging for 10 years! This is where it took me.

On 7th April 2006 I set up a blog on WordPress.com, with the intention of publishing book reviews. As first blog posts go, that one is fairly typical. We tend to begin blogging knowing more that we want to write, than what we want to write about. While it can be many things, at its most fundamental I see blogging as a form of journaling, and as a cornerstone of a healthy writing practice.

I’ve been working as a writer in various guises since my early 20s. I began writing short autobiographical pieces, primarily about life growing up on a council estate, that often had a weird twist. I published a dozen or so short stories like this in the early 00s, that attracted a lot of attention and some early meetings with editors and agents. It was far too much for me at the time, and a voice of warning told me I didn’t want to spend my whole life shackled to those experiences, so I basically ran away. But it did lead me into organising and running writing workshops, which became my work.

Five years later I’d lost myself as a writer. Running workshops, fundraising to make them happen, and the endless political fight that made the work possible had sucked up most of my energies. What I learned in those years formed the basis of my first major essay for Aeon magazine on “creator culture“. But I know for a fact I’d never have made it to writing that essay, or anything much else, if I hadn’t opened up this blog as a way to kickstart my own writing again.

Just a few weeks after starting the blog, I went to the 2006 Eastercon in Glasgow, where M John Harrison was a guest of honour. I’d been drawn back to sci-fi novels by two books, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. I was a huge fantasy reader, comic book geek and RPG fan as a kid, but through my late teens and 20s I’d read mostly literary novels, poetry and plays. It was discovering M John Harrison’s novel Light that really re-engaged me with SF, by showing me it could be both the fantasy I loved as a kid, and the literary writing I hungered for as an adult. Inspired by M John Harrison’s non-fiction collection Parietal Games, I decided to make this blog the space where I explored the overlap between literature and genre.

I did not expect that to be as successful as it has been. By November 2006 I was writing around 10 posts a month, a mixed bag of reviews, critical writing, and updates on my own fiction writing. Around this time I was writing short, weird tales that were published in a dozen or so ‘zines of various sizes including Electric Velocipede and BBC Radio. Many of these stories are now in my collection of weirder tales. My early posts were getting  between 200-300 readers which really felt like a lot at the time, and it was only later I realised I was being aggregated through a few well known sci-fi fan sites.

At some point in 2007 a writer for The Guardian linked out to my blog, and I followed the link back and found that, while the books blog there occasionally mentioned SF & Fantasy, it never received any serious consideration. So I started regularly commenting, and after a few weeks was invited to write a few pieces above the line, that would ultimately become my Weird Things column. In the eight or so years I’ve been writing on the subject for The Guardian, the mainstream media discussion of sci-fi has radically shifted. When I began it was very hard to get editors to even consider serious mainstream coverage of sci-fi. Today that fight has been won, and the field’s deep engagement with various political themes is almost taken for granted.

This blog was also what took me to the Clarion writers workshop in 2008. I remember first reading about Clarion and thinking, “CRAZY! Who spends six weeks in San Diego studying sci-fi writing?” The answer as it transpired was, I DO! Clarion helped me re-focus my writing. Ironically it was attending a workshop for short fiction that showed me short fiction wasn’t my real passion. Clarion catalysed a lot of change in my life. In the first week Kelly Link warned that some of us would finish Clarion, go home, and blow up our lives so that we could re-build them in a better shape to support our writing. That’s exactly what I did. But through a long period of change, blogging remained a constant.

I’ve published 944 posts on my blog, with this being my 945th. I’d estimate that’s a solid one million words. I’ve accrued 3330 followers on WordPress.com, a mysterious cohort. If you’re a WordPress follower and reading this, shout out! The median page views of my top 15 most read posts is 12,000. Those posts reflect the central interests of my blog for the last ten years.

  1. The remarkable Neal Stephenson interview
  2. 7 literary Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels you must read
  3. Sorry Jonesy, but I can write for The Guardian AND love Terry Pratchett
  4. FUCK YOU AMAZON! Fuck you for being right! Again!
  5. 5 indispensable guides for fiction writers
  6. Writing Practice – why it’s time to stop thinking of writing as a profession
  7. 7 signs you are ready to self-publish (a checklist)
  8. What do we do about Lovecraft?
  9. Two. Four. Seven. More. How many stories are there?
  10. 6 signs your novel may be pretty damn good
  11. The Indie Sci-Fi Revolution
  12. The value of reading, and the cost of ignorance
  13. What is geek culture’s big problem with criticism?
  14. Why crap books sell millions
  15. The DOs and DO NOTs of getting your book reviewed

There’s a lot I could say about building a blog readership and other such topics. But that’s not really what I set out to talk about today. A lot of pressure is placed on blogging to perform as a marketing device. And it can certainly work as such. But if you take anything away from reading this far down a long post, it’s that blogging might be better approached as an integral part of your writing practice. Over the last decade, my writing practice has taken me on a really wonderful journey. A journey I’m still on, and that every day influences the shape of my life. That journey began with an unread blog post on an unknown blog. Where it will go next is a mystery, to me most of all.

 

The Density of Words

At anywhere between 80,000 to 150,000 words or more the average commercially published novel might seem like a huge space to fill. I know the idea of creating that many words is often intimidating to my writing students, who may never have written more than 2-3 thousand words on one story in the past. But once you start to work at the novel length, you quickly begin to realise that even with 150,000 words to fill, you don’t have words to burn.

Once you establish the scene structure of your story, the style and structure of your chapters, and the information on character, setting and action you need to give the reader to support the story, there really should not be much dead space on any given page of your novel. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.”

(The last time I posted this on Twitter I got a tweet back from @Neilhimself with the addendum “or be funny” which also works for me.)

NaNoWriMo is an excellent exercise. It’s a great way to demonstrate to yourself that you *can* find the time to write around all other commitments. And it’s great fun. But. Whether you achieve the 50,000 words in that month or not, I would suggest that 50,000 words a month is not a realistic writing goal for any writer.

Can you write 50,000 words in a month? Yes. But they will most likely fail Kurt Vonnegut’s and Neil Gaiman’s advice. Can some writers write 50,000 *good* words in a month? Yes. But only under exceptional circumstances, in an established style they can produce effectively at that speed. Do some professional writers produce and publish 50,000 *bad* words a month? Yes. But do you really want to be one of those writers?

I’m personally comfortable producing around 5000 words of fiction a week, or around 20,000 a month. That’s about what I’ve been doing every month for the last three years. At that speed my first draft is 80% of where I want it to be. Any faster and that dips radically to 50% or less. Any faster for me would certainly not be better.

What rate of wordage do you find most productive?

500th Post – Are blogs good for writers?

Well. This is my 500th blog post.

HHUUUURRRRAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

Coincidentally, it’s also effectively four years since I started blogging. I opened my blog in April 2006, but did not really start using it fully until August that year, when I moved from Blogger to WordPress. Looking back at my first post, it was quite clear I had no idea what to do with a blog. Book reviews coming soon. How insightful!

I began blogging because I wanted a focus for my writing. In 2006 I was starting to gather short fiction publications, and was taking the idea of writing more seriously. After a short conversation with M. John Harrison at the 2006 Eastercon, I decided I wanted to review and write critically about genre fiction. A blog, I thought, would be a good platform for both. And all things considered I think it was a good call.

Blogging often comes under fire, especially for fiction writers, as a distraction and a waste of time. At an average of 500 words per post, my 500 posts to date equals 250,000 words. Or 2 novels and a short story collection. Or 1 fantasy blockbuster. Or 1/10th of a Neal Stephenson tome. Surely I could have written those instead? Perhaps. They say it takes 1,000,000 to complete a writers apprenticeship. All told, including fiction (most of which will never see the light of day), professional and academic writing and now this blog, I’m probably getting close to that. So those 500 posts served at least one purpose, and I very much doubt I would have banged out the next Lord of the Rings instead if I had not started the blog at all.

But as a 500th post celebration, I’d like to share some thoughts on what blogging has helped me achieve as a fiction writer.

A Focus and a Record of Progress – At last years World Fantasy Convention, Ann Vandermeer gave a group of us Clarionauts an informal pep talk about the writing life. Writing, she said, is a long career. Things you do and learn in your twenties can still be paying dividends in your fifties and sixties or beyond. Everything you do as a writer is one more step on the path (I paraphrase, but this was the sense of Ann’s wisdom). I truly agree with this sentiment. I have been writing with serious intent for seven years, with the standard lifetime of generalised ‘I Wanna Be A Writer’ ambition before that. But beginning to blog was an undeniable catalyst for my development as a writer. Writing is easy to lose sight of, amidst the chaos of real life. But just the act of regularly updating a blog can be enough to bring you back to your goal. And it provides somewhere to reflect on your progress towards that goal. You could reflect in a private journal of course, but the public nature of a blog makes the reflection more focussed. You can, as I have done, set writing goals which you then utterly fail to achieve (three NaNoWriMo’s and two novel drafts to date…) but even those can play a part. And it’s a permanent record of what you have achieved. and in my case at least, it has contributed to progress. I’m certain I would not have had the experience to blog for The Guardian, or the focus to get to Clarion in 2008, without starting this blog first.

Research – there is a lot to learn about writing. Books to read. Genres to study. Techniques to acquire. History to get familiar with. In speculative fiction alone, there is more material than you might hope to cover in an under-graduate degree. Add in general literary theory and criticism, and keeping up outside the genre, and the task of really learning the field is no little thing. I’ve used my blog as a repository for a lot of my learning. Each new post represents an aspect of learning, and ideas that have come up as I’ve been studying various areas of SF. Again, the public nature of a blog gives it an edge over a private journal in this regard. You don’t really understand something until you have written it down coherently enough for someone else to understand.

Community – but the most valuable aspect of this blog has been the extended community of writers and others, mostly in the SF community, that it has connected me with. Something I think it’s important to make clear is that a blog is not a promotional tool. Most of the people both blogs and social networks connect you with are not ‘fans’ (for lack of a less cringeworthy term), but peers. Other writers of similar experience, and a few of much more experience. Social networks, primarily Facebook and Twitter, are also valuable for connecting with your community as a writer. But a blog makes a good base to work from. Whilst it may sound sentimental, when I chat with people on Twitter it feels like having a conversation in the street. But discussing things here on the blog feels like inviting people into my home.

Focus, Research, Community. Three genuine benefits of keeping a blog as a fiction writer that I have found invaluable. I’d like to know the opinions of others on this topic of course, positive or negative.

Where next for my blog? I have the serious intention of being able to look at this blog when I’m sixty, and read back through 10,000 or so posts, at an entire career in writing (and possibly some non-writing related occurrences!). I think that would be quite something. But, I’m also intending to put the blog on hold for periods to give undivided attention to fiction writing when it is required. But until that time, I’ll continue to enjoy sharing these posts with whoever wants to read them.

Goodnight all.

The Big Five-Oh

Well. Perhaps not really that big. My blog, yes, the one you are reading right now, raced past the 50,000 visitor mark today. It’s a pretty big five-oh for me, although I might reserve the actual party for 500,000. Or maybe even 5 million!

Not that the number of visitors is really all that important. I started keeping a blog to give my writing more focus, way back in June 2006. And it has done its job and then some. I don’t think half of what has happened with writing since then would have without this blog. I’ve given a couple of talks recently on using blogs and social networks as a writer. As much as they might play a part in promoting a book, their real value for me is in providing a focus of activity. I’ve never really sat down and looked back through my blog and I’m not planning to do so for some time, but I am looking forward to doing it many years from now and being reminded of all the weird things that happen when you set out on a career as a writer. Wherever that career takes me, I like knowing that my blog can and will go with me. Until then a few stats from the last 50,000 visits:

  • The busiest month was December 2009 with 2,856 hits
  • My most popular post is To Self Publish or to Not
  • Top referrer is SF Signal. Thank you!
  • Most used tag is Neil Gaiman. Yes, I am a sad fanboy.
  • Most common search term this quarter is ‘iPad Fail’

30,000th Birthday

A little earlier this week this blog crossed the 30,000 hit barrier, only eight months after crawling over the 20,000 mark in October. To celebrate this wonderous news, a few random statistics for your bemusement.

Total Posts: 363

Best Month: March 2009 with 1,960 hits (An average of 63 hits a day, which this month is on track to beat with 67 hits a day!)

Top referrer this year: http://emilyjiang.wordpress.com (Thanks Em!)

Most read post this year: To self publish or to not

Most clicked link: Tor.com

What the ?!

All blog owners are aware of the strange (and occaisionaly dirty) search terms people have used to find them. Well today I’ve had my all time favourite….(cue the drumroll)….and Damien’s favourite ever search term is…

unlimited dessert trolley london

Yes, I’ve checked on Google and for some bizarre reason this blog is the 20th result for unlimited dessert trolley london. Wonders will never cease.

I like this because I can sense an entire story behind those four words. Who might be seeking unlimited dessert in London? Why do they need as mauch cake as they can eat? Is it simple gluttony, or some absurd life and death predicament? If the Googler in question happens to pop by again, I’d love to know more. Otherwise imagined suggestions in the comments below please.

20,000th Anniversary

Congratulations reader number 20,000! Tonight you, whoever you are, have pushed this little blog past the 20,000 hit mark. Not much in the grand scheme of things, and probably less than a nanoseconds worth of Google traffic, but a giant leap (made in very small hops) for this little blog. Thank you all who have contributed!

To celebrate, a few random blog related statistics:

Busiest Month Ever: August 2008 with 1,412 hits (Likely cause the post Clarion rush)

Top Post: Matter – Iain M Banks with 511 hits

Top Search: Damien Walter (probably aided by the highly athletic Damien Walters)

Oddest Search: land of the giants fanfic

Total Number of Posts: 290

Busiest Day Ever: Monday 28th Jaunary 2008 with 205 hits.

Thank you!

The 200th Post!!!!!

I just noticed I had made 199 posts to this blog, so thought I would make it 200! I’d better actually write something though or it will be meaningless…

I hate reading blog posts about why someones blog hasn’t been updated recently, so I’m sorry to make you go through this. Between work, freelance projects and writing, my blogging time has been quite limited and almost entirely given over to reviews for The Fix and pieces for Guardian Unlimited. (There is a new post on The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia coming up which I  will link to). I’m going to change this however, because over the years or so I’ve been using this blog I’ve found it really constructive, and don’t want to lose that.

In fact, I think I’m going to make a real, if short post right now!

10, 000 Hits. W00t!

In the early hours of the morning this blog, The Fiction Front, passed the big one zero zero zero zero. I’d been watching the stats for quite some time and menaing to make a big thing of it but I’ve been so busy I almost missed it. Congratulations to whoever visitor number 10, 000 was. There is I am afraid no special prize.

Hooray!