Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sorting Through the Data on Comments

Last week, I ran a highly technical and scientific poll about comments, so of course that means that this week, I'll reveal the results that I have carefully sorted and analyzed. Rest assured, the results are just as technical and scientific as the poll itself.

Which is to say that I went through and counted the responses by hand, and tallied up some numbers in my head and used those to come up with some rough estimates (calculator? Who needs a calculator?) to share with you today.

Granted, I had about 35 responses, and there are about 5,467,872,536 blogs out there (that's a real number based on my imagination), so that represents 0.00000001% of the blogosphere...but it's my 0.00000001%, the people who come and comment and whose blogs I read, so that counts for something, I think. I'm not sure what, exactly, but it's something

I know, I know, I'm not getting any points for technical prowess. But I did read everyone's responses carefully - and I have to say, I really appreciate the thoughtfulness displayed in most of the answers. Thank you again to everyone who weighed in.

Now, on to the results. I asked:

Question 1: Do you think it's important for a blogger to respond to all comments on a post?

Result: Almost everyone replied 'No' on this one. The clear majority - like 98% ish - thinks that unless the comment asked a question, raised an issue, or was very thoughtful, there's no need to leave a response if the blogger doesn't have time. If the comment doesn't meet those criteria, replies are nice, but it's better to use your time to visit that commenter's blog instead.

A couple of you did note that you like to see lively blogs, and bloggers who are invested in and care about their readers, and so you do try to respond to everyone who comments. To you I say thank you, and I admire you, and where on earth do you find the time?

Question 2. Do you check back to see if the blogger has responded to your comment?

Result: This one was almost unanimous, except for those of us who have an insatiable curiosity (and I love you for it! :) ). None of us go back to see responses to our comments - unless our comments met those criteria I noted in the first question. If we asked a question, raised an issue, or left a long and thoughtful response, we do check back. Otherwise, we wish we could, but we just don't have time.

Conclusion: So, what does this all mean? Well, I can't come to a definitive conclusion, because the blogosphere is too big and I am one little blog inside it, but I can share what I've decided. Based on the majority consensus that responses aren't essential, I'm no longer going to respond to every comment on my blog - but I am going to read and enjoy and appreciate every single one, so don't doubt that your words have been seen. I love comments, and I gobble them up, and I get hungry if there aren't any. If you happen to ask a question or raise an issue, I definitely will respond. I will probably also respond to other comments that tickle my fancy or make me smile, and still others for no discernible reason, because I'm the blogger and I say so.

I also will not expect any of you to respond to a comment I leave on your blog, unless, again, I ask a question or raise an issue or say something incredibly insightful and interesting and thoughtful, which of course I do All. The. Time. I am like an Insightful Comment machine.

Ahem. Anyway, don't worry about responding to me if I happen to have an off-day and say something that doesn't require any kind of response. It happens. Rarely, of course, but I'm human. Or I'm a machine. Wait, I seem to be contradicting myself.


The thing that won't change? I'll always return your visit.

Hey - look at that! I wrote two whole blog posts just about commenting. Pretty cool, huh? See how I managed to not talk at all about how my writing is going? A sure-fire sign that I am likely feeling overwhelmed and frustrated at my own perceived lack of productivity? I know, I'm a sneaky one. Suffice it to say that I have too many pots boiling and I'm worried I'm going to forget about one or more, and then the water will evaporate and before I know it I'll have a gross, ruined pot. And then what will I cook with?

Not to worry. I'm sure I'll vent talk about that next week.

So, what about you? What do you make of the poll results? Are you horrified and offended by my conclusion? (I hope not.) Will you change your own responding habits, or keep them as they are? If you didn't weigh in last week, feel free to do so now. That's the joy of nontechnical, unscientific polls. I knew I did it that way for a reason...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Commenters, Unite

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! The IWSG is an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Hello IWSG-ers and honored guests! It's that time of the year, when kids and teachers are heading back to school, summer is turning to autumn (hypothetically, anyway; here in New England someone forgot to tell summer that it's over), and, in my house at least, vacation-time is really over. I always feel like this is the real New Year, when everything starts again; I guess I was in school too long for that feeling to ever really wear off.

So, in honor of this new beginning, I'm going to finally run a little poll I've been meaning to run for months, which has to do with comments. So many of us spend a lot of time reading other blogs and commenting, sometimes to ask a question or contribute to a discussion, and sometimes just as a way of saying, "Hi! I was here and I enjoyed this!" I thought we all might benefit from knowing the general consensus on responding to comments. Not returning visits, but responding to comments left on our posts.

The only issue is that I cannot for my life find a way to embed a simple poll in this post without a) signing up for a service I don't want, b) making all of you scroll around the page and search for it until you get frustrated and give up, c) sending you to a results page full of ads, or d) breaking my blog.

Yes, I'm sure there's an easy way, but I can't find it. I am feeling insecure about this. Moving on.

SO, I'm going to ask all of you lovely people to please go ahead and answer two easy questions in your comments, and we'll call that a poll and move on with life and pretend that I am a very tech-savvy blogger.

Before I ask the questions, let me explain: as I've mentioned, I'm struggling a bit with time. I read a lot of blogs and leave comments, and I love writing, and then there's my day job and my family and my friends...and I'm looking for something to give a little. I'm wondering if responding to comments is something I might be able to give up. I often feel like I'm just responding to let people know that I read their comments, instead of responding to an actual debate or question. And that's starting to feel like something I might not need to do. However, I will always, always respond if you ask a question or raise an important idea or even just leave a long and thoughtful response.

Here are the questions I'd love for you to answer (and please, be honest!! I will not be offended!):

1. Do you think it's important for a blogger to respond to all comments on a post?
2. Do you check back to see if the blogger has responded to your comment?

My own answers:

1. No, I don't think it's important for a blogger to always respond to comments. I know we're all busy and we all have a lot going on, and I don't take it personally if a blogger doesn't respond to my comment - unless I asked a question or raised a new idea, or left a very long, unusually thoughtful comment.
2. I'm sorry!! I used to subscribe to comments on every blog I visited, but now I visit too many and my inbox got so clogged that I had to delete everything. Now, I only check back if I did one of the things I mentioned in my first answer: asked a question, raised an issue, or left a long and thoughtful response.

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think! I'll report back on the overall results next week. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bless Me, Readers, For I Have Sold Out

I have a confession to make.

I've been avoiding this for months, but my guilt is reaching the saturation point, and I have to just come clean and and hope you'll all still respect me in the morning (and yes, I know I'm mixing metaphors, but I'm in extremis, and I think there is a link, albeit a murky shame-y needing absolution-y sort of link, between one-night stands and confession):

I got an e-reader.

Well, sort of.

Ok, let me take a step back, here, and explain.

I didn't actually intend to get an e-reader. I actually intended to get - and did get - a tablet, because I've been whining about how everyone else has one and I want one and it's not fair how come all those kids get to have iPads and all I have is this crummy laptop, and so on, for years, until finally my partner pointed out that Verizon was having some kind of super special where you could get a free tablet if you upgraded your phone.

One upgraded phone later, and I was the owner of a shiny new Verizon Ellipsis 7-inch tablet. "Small but mighty," I thought, and happily started using it for absolutely everything. I unfortunately soon realized why the Ellipsis was free; I'll spare you the boring rant and just say that you certainly get what you pay for, and I paid nothing.

To make a long story short, I found that the Ellipsis works best when it's on airplane mode and not connected to any network whatsoever, and the only things to do when it's in airplane mode are play games and read books.

So, I downloaded the OverDrive Media Console and hooked it up to my library account, and the rest, as they say, is history.

By now, I know many of you are raising your eyebrows, wondering what on earth the problem with all of this is. I know; lots of people use e-readers, all the time. I now have to confess that up until this past January, when I bought my partner a Kobo for her birthday, that I thought of all of these people as techno-sellouts. Oh, I never said anything like that out loud; I kept my snobby old-fashioned views to myself; but in my heart of hearts I was proud to still be reading only physical books. Real books, I thought, for a real reader, one who supports independent stores and independent authors and, just, everything independent. A reader who values the smell and the feel of the pages, the pleasure of flipping back and forth through the book at leisure, the satisfaction of holding an old friend in your hands year after year for your annual reread. I would never give in, I told myself, and I even believed it.

In other words, I was being pretentious and rather illogical, and I realized my own fallacy the minute I started downloading books.

It's just so easy. It's instant gratification. All I have to do is think, "Gee, I'd like to read Americanah today," and within minutes I have it right in front of me, without ever having to get dressed. It's every writer's dream: get everything you want without needing to speak to another soul or even leave the house. As a result, I've read a ton of books, far more than usual, and I'm loving every second of it.

I do miss having an actual book to hold, though. I miss seeing how far along I am, and flipping easily back to reread a passage (something that's just annoying on my e-reader); I miss seeing the spines of new and old books lined up on my shelves; I miss being able to pass a new favorite off to a friend without having to figure out how to hack a computer.

However, I went on vacation last week (it was marvelous) and I didn't have to go through my usual agony of deciding which books to pack: I just slipped my trusty Ellipsis into my purse, confident that I could decide later, at any time, and that the whole electronic world was at my fingertips.

I surrender, everybody. I see why you've all been converted. You were right, all along.

I'll still miss my books, though.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Updates and Snippets

Before I start, just a quick scheduling thing: I'm going to be on vacation next week, soaking up the last dying rays of summer (depressing, isn't it?), far away from my computer. I'll be back to posting and visiting the last week of August.

As I mentioned last week, I'm taking a non-fiction class on writing personal essays, so I'm a little bit swamped with making mistakes muddling through working on my assignments right now. I'm also still trying to get things done on my WIP (the fiction sort), so I decided that for today's post, I'd tag myself in a cool blog hop and talking about what I'm working on!

Hmm, what's that? I can't tag myself in a blog hop? Oh well. Too late now!

1. Fiction: Despite some people's doubts, I really am still working on my novel. I have proof, too. Very heavy, large, and intimidating proof:

It's the big textbook-looking one, set next to a normal book for comparison purposes (which yes, is on my To Be Read list). And just so you can get the full effect, here's a cropped side view (and no, I don't have abnormally giant hands. It really is that big):

I felt the need to show you these pictures, you see, to validate the rather extreme feelings of intimidation and dread that strike me whenever I open this damn tome and start reading. It's a tad bit overwhelming. Unfortunately, it's also necessary, because I have no freaking idea what I'm doing with my South American lifetime yet, and I need as much information as I can get.

I, erm, haven't gotten very far yet. Ahem. I might still be skimming through the Introduction. In my defense, it's 26 pages long.

2. Non-Fiction: This is actually going surprisingly well. I'm afraid to post about it, because I am ludicrously (and yet, for a writer, typically) superstitious about talking about potential success. It's all very Jewish Shtetl Evil Eye-ish of me, but I worry that if I say things are good, they will suddenly take a turn for the very much worse.

I'm going to get over that, though, and say that my hope that writing personal essays would come naturally to me is so far turning out to be true. This is really early to be saying it (cough Evil Eye cough), since I have yet to move past the rough draft stage of anything, but thus far the stories are pouring out of me quickly and easily. I've twice written an entire rough draft of a 2,000-ish word essay (yup, still having brevity problems) in a couple of hours. A couple of hours. Which is NOT NORMAL for me.

This is in stark contrast to my pace when I'm writing fiction. I'm sure that's at least partially because I plot and research and character-develop everything to death in my novels, which I don't have to do for non-fiction. That is a pleasure.

(And no, pantsers, that doesn't mean I'm suddenly joining your team.)

I can't post any snippets from those rough drafts yet, because of many, many reasons, but I can post a little snippety thing I wrote for my homework this week. The assignment was to write an "Apology Epistle", based on this gorgeous little piece, beginning with the words "I'm sorry." It was supposed to be about 250 words, and guess what???  Mine clocks in at 257. Score one point for brevity!!!

Here it is. Feedback is welcome, but be very gentle, please - this is definitely a rough draft.

I’m sorry I didn't go out with you that night. I can imagine so clearly how it would have been: the snow sparkling in starlight, the brilliant white hiding the gray, the yellow, the black: the true character of the city, which we all saw bared for the first time that night, still cloaked in darkness and flecks of light. Walking home through the naked streets, laughing past the shadows in the corners, their menace unnoticed and ignored. The air like knives on our wine-protected skin, their blades unfelt until. Until. Then the figures like more shadows coalescing into a gang of teenagers, staining the white sparkling night, demanding with clumsy gestures our wallets, our money, our phones. Refusal, laughter; their faces so young and so foolish; our minds still shielded in warmth and soaked in booze; then the dark sinking chasm of the gun. 
I imagine that I would have stopped you. I would have taken your arm, looked in your eyes, and the question hovering on your lips would have fallen, unvoiced, to the filthy snow. Then we would have lost wallets, money, phones; gained bruises and cuts and yes, the gash under Ethan’s eye; but we would have walked away uncaring because we would also have your life.
Instead, I stayed home, and worked on the play I was writing for you and with you and because of you, and slept with innocence through the terrible night and awoke to a gray dawn, still unaware, still thinking I had nothing to be sorry for. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Insecure Writers: Extra Specially Insecure Non-Fiction

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! For those who don't remember, it's an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Hello ISWG-ers! I'm sorry I missed you last time. Don't worry, I've saved up my anxieties, and to make up for it, I am going to be extra insecure for you this month. Isn't that exciting??

Truthfully, I hesitated about posting this today. Mostly, it felt so new that I wasn't sure I was ready to share it with all the Internets. Then I remembered that I really only know a few people online, and felt better about it!

So, here's the deal: I'm taking a Grub Street class on writing...non-fiction.

Yes, that's right: I'm trying to learn how write about real events and people. I'm sure all you non-fiction writers out there are shrugging, wondering what the big deal is, but trust me: when you're used to making up an entire world of people, it feels very naked and scary to suddenly just talk about yourself. I can't hide behind my characters or my plot, or, to be a little fairer in how I present this, express myself via a situation that I myself have created. Instead, I have only me: my thoughts, my experiences. Where do I start? What story do I even tell?

Then, too, there's the sheer terror of being a beginner. I hate being a beginner. I'm so much happier being the comfortable expert. As a beginner, I fumble and make mistakes and do stupid things, and then I have to learn from all of that and forgive myself for it and really, it's exhausting.

And finally...I'm taking this class, not for fun, but because I'm hoping it will help me on my road to publication. I need some writing credits, friends, and you only get those by writing things and submitting them. Funny how that works, huh? I thought for a while that I would write and submit short stories...but they don't come naturally to me. First of all, as you know, I have a brevity problem. Second, when I create fiction, my mind naturally bends towards intricate ideas that require a longer format. This isn't to say that I can't write short stories, just that I don't have a natural bend towards them.

If I had tons of free time, I'd learn how to write them, anyway. But given the constraints most of us have, of day job plus family plus friends plus social media plus writing a novel, I have very little time. So I figured I should try for something that seems to come more naturally to me: and hence the reason I'm taking a class on writing personal essays.

So there you go, a nice insecure package wrapped up in an anxious bow. Yep, that's the kind of gift I give on this blog.

What about you? Are you trying something new, and feeling insecure about it?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer Reading

Since everyone around me (under the age of 21, anyway) is wading through vast lists of required books, tackling their summer reading assignments as best they can, I thought I'd do a little post on my own summer reading. The subject of today's post may or may not have anything to do with the fact that the problems I discussed in last week's post are still unfortunately relevant, or with the fact that I seem to be suffering from an alarming lack of motivation this season, and am having difficulty making myself do much of anything besides reading.

(Is it just me, or is everyone suffering from the same issue right now? It's like the summer version of SAD - working, writing, and any other activity not involving playing outside or reading make me depressed. No? Just me? Oh. Moving on, then.)

It's a possibility that these things are affecting my posts right now. Perhaps.

At any rate, I've gotten a ton of reading done this summer. Here's what I've been tackling myself:

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

Gasp, what's this??? I'm reading MG?? I KNOW, it's amazing! I think all of my blogging buddies are finally wearing off on me. (Ok, and my partner is a teacher, and made me read this.) I admit I was a little hesitant at first, but I loved it. It's the story of a gorilla named Ivan, and a baby elephant named Ruby, and it is smart, funny, sad, and extremely well done. My one complaint is that it starts off very slow - I wish I could edit the first fifty or so pages - but once it gets into the main action, it's so wonderful and heart-strings-pulling that the slow start doesn't matter. I may, in fact, have cried at the end. Maybe.

Kissing the Witch, by Emma Donoghue

This was described to me by a client as 'gay fairy tales', which is only half-true, and that's if I'm being generous. These are fairy tales, but they're about as gay as the originals (i.e. a few hints, but not much else). What they are, in fact, are Donoghue's retelling of the classics. They are funny, desperate, and terribly sad; they are imaginatively wrought and gorgeously written; and each one is brief and lovely and engaging, so that you can read one tale in a few minutes, or delve into the whole world for a few thoughtful, wonderful hours. Oh, and as for the gay part - there are tiny mentions of same-sex relationships in two of the thirteen stories, so if that sort of thing offends you...oh, read it anyway. It's very brief, not remotely graphic, and quite lovely.

Truth and Beauty, by Ann Patchett

I am becoming a huge Ann Patchett fan in my old age; I also read her collection of essays recently, but as I already talked about that, I'll leave them out for now (but go read them. Seriously.) This one is another piece of non-fiction: it's about the late writer Lucy Grealy, and Ann's friendship with her. Like everything Patchett writes, this is engaging and very funny, with gems of hidden beauty and truth (yes, I may have done that on purpose), and also heartbreaking. I lost my dearest friend, also a writer, years ago, and this book was in some ways like reading our story, too.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Ok, confession time. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but in the spirit of honesty that I try to maintain on this blog, here goes: I know this is an award-winning book, and is considered a masterpiece by many; but I cannot get through it. Yes, the writing is wonderful, and the characters are so clearly drawn that they spring off of the page; yes, it's literary and character-driven, and therefore a bit slow; but I still can't get through it. I like slow, literary books sometimes, but this one is so slow that I feel like I'm suffering from the same heatstroke as the characters. Plus, when things do start to happen, they're so awful and so frustrating and unfair that I want to bury my head in the sand and pretend they're not happening. Which is what I've actually been doing, since I stopped reading it and have yet to pick it back up. Not without a good bit of shame, I should add.

I've also been revisiting The Dragonriders of Pern series for my annual dose of nostalgic childhood reading, and it's providing the wonderful, engaging escape that I hoped it would. I have realized, though, that my summer reading list is made up of Western white people. How did that happen??? I need to diversify, and I'll gladly take suggestions!

What are you reading this summer? Any recommendations? Should I keep reading Atonement, or give up completely?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Ninth Circle of Writer's Hell

Do you ever have one of those days when you sit at your computer, staring at the blank 'Compose' page on Blogger (or WordPress or whatever your bloggy poison of choice may be), and think, "I am boring. I am a boring, boring person. My life is boring; my thoughts are boring; my clothes are boring; I am bored just writing this?" Or, if you prefer slightly more straightforward language, do you sit and think, "WHAT ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH AM I GOING TO WRITE ABOUT TODAY?"

I know you'll be shocked to learn that I feel that way right now.

I think there's nothing like the panic that overcomes a writer when we cannot think of anything to write. It is all-encompassing, it is pervasive, it creeps into every vein and every nerve until our palms are sweating and our hair is falling out and our bodies are vibrating with anxiety, and we would give our left arms (or legs or souls or lives or firstborn sons) for just ONE good, or even mildly mediocre, idea. It is, I believe, the ninth circle of a writer's hell, and it is the place we will all go to when we die without EVER WRITING ANYTHING.

Does this sound melodramatic?

GOOD. Because it is. It feels that melodramatic. Which is why I'm using so many italics and CAPITALS.

How can I be a writer, we think, if I can't come up with anything to WRITE? My very identity is being called question! My very soul! The very fiber of my being!! WHO AM I IF I DO NOT WRITE???

(As a side-note, this should be fairly obvious, but let me add that this extreme, panic-stricken melodrama does not help the situation. In no way is it useful, or even inspiring. It's rather more like asking for directions and then putting on a giant pair of noise cancelling headphones while someone is trying to give them to you, and getting anxious and angry because you can't hear what the person is saying, and telling them sternly to just SPEAK UP, for God's sake.)

And then of course, we realize that the answer to that question - WHO AM I IF I DO NOT WRITE, that is, in case you lost track of the thread of this post like I did - is that we are no one. Which then sends us into an unending spiral of depression and more anxiety.

Surprisingly, this also does not lead to any actual writing.

You know what does? Writing. Yes yes, I know, it's a catch 22. We have nothing to write about so we don't write, but the only way to start writing is to write, but we don't have anything to write about so we don't write, but the only way to start writing is to write...

Fun as that endless circling logic is, I hope you'll pardon me if I step away from it for a bit, and point out that I just spent an entire blog post writing about not writing. So, there it is: I can write, after all

Yup, there is a point to this post. Who would've thought?

I know it might sound ridiculous, or useless, but this truly is the only way I've ever found to break that panic, unblock the blockage, and escape from the ninth circle of writer's hell: write. It doesn't matter what I write about. More often than not, I write about how I can't write. It feels impossible, so I write about that, too. I give myself free license, and I do NOT edit, ever. I bitch and moan and whine to myself, I indulge every ounce of my own melodrama, and then, somewhere around page ten of my insane ramblings, it stops. The complaining turns into brainstorming; the panic turns into curiosity. 'What if I write about the ninth circle of hell', I think? What if I write about that time I did a swan dive on the streets of Manhattan, or the time I sat in the passenger's seat in a car in Ireland and became convinced I was going to die because I didn't have a brake on my side - or a steering wheel?

So I write about those things. Or I write some more about not writing. Either way, I am writing, and that is the entire point.

Plus, it's really sort of fun when you get to post about not having anything to post about...