CATEGORY: ScholarsAndRogues

Two years adrift in the blogosphere and no land in sight

We have just marked my second anniversary as a blogger. It’s not clear what I thought I was getting into when I approached S&R for a tryout. But over the last two years I have produced 85 posts. An average post is about 800 words, so that’s close to 70,000 words, a respectable book. It feels like it, too. I know something about what it takes to write a book—I’ve written seven good ones, five of which have been published and two of which are being shopped. I have also written one more that should be buried in the back yard at midnight on a moonless night.

I’ve learned a lot over the course of this. I’ve learned that no matter how hard you work to get the words just right, someone will misunderstand it. I’ve learned that there are some people so cantankerous you can’t even agree with them without setting them off. (Yes, gun nuts, that’s you.) I’ve learned that I shouldn’t do rants. What I think is sharp and funny comes off as acrid and nasty. I’ve also learned that I won’t do series or thematic pieces, like my colleagues Sammy, Russ and Brian. I am good for five or so on a topic, then like Ferdinand the Bull, I wander away and lay down to smell the flowers. Odd, eh? You’d think a novelist would have more stick-to-it-tiveness than that.

Not that I don’t have hobby horses to ride. 80% of my posts have fallen into three categories: Politics (40%,) social commentary (25%,) and Sarah Palin and Tim Tebow (15%.) (For what it’s worth, I was a little worried when Sarah started fading, but I prayed and God sent me another Christian idiot to replace her, Little Tim. Praise to His name. Amen. I guess with Alabama and Texas God must have an unlimited supply of these buffoons. But I digress.)

The remainder of the posts were carved up between the occasional non-Tebow sports piece, book reviews, travel pieces and odds and sods. When I went back over the list, though, I was pleasantly surprised that for the most part the pieces were all fresh and new and distinct both from each other and from what others out there were saying.

As I look down my list of titles, there are not many regrets. But there are a few.

I wish I’d recognized that I suck at rants before I tried to do them. There’s an art to those. When you see Frank take off on a hilarious wild-eyed riff, know it ain’t as easy as it looks. By comparison, my attempts look like the humor column in a high school newspaper.

I wish I had never taken on the issue of obesity as a choice. My position was right, but this is one of those issues that people cannot think clearly and rationally about. Quite a few people got their feelings hurt and I am not sure I really changed anyone’s opinion. I also wrote a post that I meant to be a salute to a charity that was closing its doors, and for reasons I have still not quite figured out, the charity saw it as patronizing and hurtful. I meant well, but I goofed. I wish I’d never agreed to review a book called Sweet Heaven Before I Die. I make a practice only to review books I like. I know what a nasty review feels like. I can’t quote any of the hundred or so great reviews I’ve gotten over the years, but I can tell you word for word the gratuitous nut-shot that Publishers Weekly gave me for my second novel. But I agreed to review Sweet Heaven and at the end, had to be honest about what I’d found.

So out of those 85 blog posts, I’d say I can hold my head up about 80 of them. I’d rather be perfect, but the nature of blogging means that I will never be, and it looks like my personal Oops Factor is about 6%.

There are some things I am genuinely proud of. I called the Republican primary virtually blow for blow months before it started. My accuracy rate was better than any of the pros who work at the big organizations. I got out way ahead of the educational loan scandal and I can even argue that one of my early posts on the topic, “University of Ponzi,” helped accelerate the national conversation. I am also proud of my travel posts about Palau, Costa Rica, Berlin and Galapagos. Others who have been there tell me I captured the essence of those places pretty well.

For the most part, Otherwise is intended to be savage humor, but occasionally I broke from that to write about personal topics, ranging from my painful childhood (A long way from Waycross, Georgia) to the guilt of growing up Southern (The 9:1 Ratio) to grappling with my own latent racism (Would I have voted for Barack if he’d been white?) For the most part, readers were very kind when I put myself out there.

Of course, the thing that drives every blogger crazy is when you work for weeks on something that you think is important and exciting, and it sinks without a trace. I had a lot of those—the vote for Barack piece, my series on the apocalypse, my Dick and Jane primer on Rick Perry. Sadly, I didn’t have a lot of the reverse, unlike my colleagues Sam, Denny, Chris and Wufnik who have seen small pieces on everything from Johnny Rotten to postage stamps to zombies go viral and rack up huge hits. I am like so envious.

It’s not clear what’s next for Otherwise. It’s clear to me that writing blogs has made me a better writer, but it’s not clear that it made the world a better place, which is what we all do this for. I have recently started on a new degree and am stuck into my next novel, and how much time I have for blogifying remains to be seen. Still, writing is the best process known for sorting out your own thinking. Many times I have started a blog and ended up having to rewrite the thing because the logic made me change my position completely. Thank you for helping me think through what it is I really think. Thank you for reading.

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