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I read Terri Windling’s delightful essay on blogging recently, and I love a metaphor she used so much, I have to share:

“Here’s what blogging is to me: It’s a modern form of the old Victorian custom of being “At Home” to visitors on a certain day of the week…And each Comment posted is a calling card left behind by those who have crossed my doorstep.”

I doubt it will surprise anyone that I have long been a huge fan of Jane Austen’s work. I started out by reading Victoria Holt gothics in my early adolescence, and then moved on to Austen and the Brontes. I’ve read some Georgette Heyer in my time as well. As a teenager, I used to comb the fiction section of my local library, searching for likely candidates for more historical fiction in this flavor. Or about King Arthur, or the Robin Hood myths, or Elizabeth I, or Eleanor of Aquitaine. But Austen is my very favorite, and perhaps why this metaphor resonates so much for me.

Social media is so pervasive now, and I struggle to be entirely consistent. Sometimes I have more time to spend on Twitter, sometimes I’m reading more on Facebook, sometimes I post more and sometimes less.

But the blog is something different. The idea of each blog post as an invitation to all of you that I am At Home is deeply appealing. Here, I am the hostess; I set the topic and tone for the conversation, and I can moderate it at will. It is a chance for me to create a certain kind of intimacy as I allow you into my virtual home.

Photo Credit: Photomatt28 via Compfight cc

I also really like Ms. Windling’s point that the internet, and having a blog in particular, gives us a tool for creating boundaries. I get to set the rules for when I’m At Home–right now I’m At Home on Tuesdays and Thursdays– and what rules are to be followed when In My Home. I choose what topics are discussed in My Home and which ones are off-limits. When I don’t have the time or bandwidth to engage as often on the social networks, I can rest easy knowing I still have my At Home Days, a time and place where I can easily be found.

Sometimes when I think about the Internet and what it has made possible, I can’t help feeling I live in an Age of Wonders. I value my online community so much; all of you collectively add much dynamism to my intellectual life and much richness to the life of my heart.

Thank you for visiting. I hope you enjoyed the tea and biscuits, and I hope you’ll come again sometime soon.

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It didn’t occur to me when I started this blog three years ago (THREE YEARS, WOO!) that every year, I’d have two posts back to back about birthdays. I was newly returned home after attending the Taos Toolbox writers’ workshop, and I was rearing to start this new project I had in mind: a blog called the Practical Free Spirit, about…well, I wasn’t really sure what it would be about. Mostly I was sure that I was excited to give it a try.

Since that time, I have written three hundred twenty-three posts. This one you’re reading right now is number three hundred twenty-four. If you multiply that number by ten, you’ll have some idea of how many comments have gone through this site. (Arithmetic! It is surprisingly fun!)

What did I do on my blog's birthday? I went to a fancy tea!

What did I do on my blog’s birthday? I went to a fancy tea! (Technically it was to celebrate MY birthday, but I won’t tell the blog if you won’t.)

I have written about a variety of subjects, many of which I never would have guessed I’d ever write about when I started the blog. I’ve written about things I didn’t want to write about, and I haven’t written about things I did want to write about. I’ve tried to strike a balance that is personal but not too personal, which, as it turns out, requires a fair amount of skill. I’ve also tried to keep things mixed up enough to stay interesting. (I’ve succeeded in keeping myself interested, in any case, which is critical for this blog continuing to exist, so I’m going to call that a win.)

This blog has thoroughly woven itself into the rhythms of my days. If it’s a Monday or a Wednesday, I’m writing an essay. If it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, I’m telling you all that I wrote it. If it’s a Friday, I’m wondering what in the world I’m going to write about next week. And then I start the process over again.

Anyone who reads this blog eventually learns how much I love it. That love has changed over the years, but it hasn’t faded. Sometimes it is a difficult love: when I don’t know what to write about, or when I’m feeling pressed for time, or when I don’t express myself as well as I hoped I would. And sometimes it is a dazzling love: when I get feedback by comment or email or conversation that something I said resonated or helped somebody, when I get to talk about subjects I think are very important, when I get to create art.

Thank you for coming along for the ride. I can’t wait to see what the blog has in store for us in the next year.

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I’d been wanting to write that post on forgiveness I published last week for a long time. But I kept punting it for other ideas because I was afraid to write about it. I was convinced the ENTIRE WORLD would disagree with me and be horribly upset that I didn’t think of forgiveness as something that can be forced, and somehow this would be an awful thing for me.

The longer I write for this blog, though, the more I realize that really, the world doesn’t care. Most people will never read my essay on forgiveness. And most of the people who did read my essay recognized something in it that resonated with them. So when I think the entire world will disagree, that is some bizarre thought process I am better off ignoring.

My friend Ferrett wrote some excellent blogging advice, where one of his main points was: “No, Seriously. Haters Are Going to Hate.” As a blogger or someone who is interested in maintaining a public example, this will inevitably be an issue at some point. Ferrett says that once you become sufficiently popular, there will always be people who hate you, and he’s completely right. It is amazingly hard to be sufficiently wishy washy to keep everyone happy. I don’t even know if it’s possible, although I suspect it isn’t. There will always be people out there disagreeing loudly, people looking for an argument, or people wanting to tear other people down.

Photo Credit: HeyThereSpaceman. via Compfight cc

For example, it is always amazing to me how angry people have gotten over my essay about intelligent women. They are upset because they don’t think women can possibly be as intelligent as men (seriously, what century are we living in?) or because they don’t think smart women ever encounter anything I mention so therefore I must be old and bitter (because only old and bitter people can engage with ideas about sexism?) or because of course all intelligent people must make loads of money because that’s the way intelligence should be measured in our society (I guess most artists and academics are just pretty stupid since they don’t prioritize making large amounts of money). But what is more interesting to me than the actual arguments is the amount of anger expressed because there are different opinions in the world. Opinions, it seems, can be very scary things.

But as strange as it seems to me that people can get so worked up over my six hundred word essays, this doesn’t change the fact that the world is largely indifferent. And in fact, as a writer, if my words cause anyone to feel angry or scared or hopeful or inspired or any emotion at all, then that means I’ve done my job. In the grand scheme of things, obscurity is more an artist’s enemy than controversy, however safe the obscurity might feel and however challenging the controversy might be. (And of course, how challenging the controversy feels will vary wildly from person to person.)

I think part of becoming an artist is learning to be comfortable with controversy. Not because it is bound to be necessary, but because part of an artist’s job is to express their perception of the truth. And if you are afraid of what the world is going to think about your truth, then maybe you won’t dig as deep as you can and maybe you won’t take the risks you need to take and maybe you’ll choose the easy way instead of the raw way. Creating art is a commitment to your own vision of reality.

So I wrote that essay on forgiveness anyway, even though it scared me. I was scared to write The Academy of Forgetting. I’m about to start a new novel, and even though I’m excited about it, I occasionally feel sudden spasms of anxiety when I think about sitting down and typing “Chapter 1.” I feel a tightness in my stomach and a sudden strong desire to do anything else.

But I’m glad I feel the fear. It’s like a compass, letting me know I’m going the right direction. It means I’m not taking the easy way. It means I’m challenging myself, and my writing is better because of it.

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Blog Retrospective 2012

It’s been another good year here at the Practical Free Spirit. I haven’t run out of things to talk about yet, which is certainly encouraging. The site views have more than doubled from last year, and December of 2012 was the second highest traffic month in the blog’s history. The first was April of 2012, when people got very excited that I was talking about intelligent women (or intelligence at all, for that matter, because as it turns out, intelligence is a complicated and highly nuanced concept to talk about, not least because of the difficulty in defining it).

If you’ve been reading me for any length of time at all, you probably know how much I love writing for this blog. That hasn’t changed. I continue to learn so much from doing this: my writing continues to improve, my understanding grows from having to organize my thoughts into blog post form, and you, my readers, often respond in ways that cause me to think more deeply. Writing a blog is one way to allow my voice to be heard, and it’s certainly a way that works well for me.

Most Popular Posts of 2012:

I’m really pleased to see that the five top posts of 2012 are all posts that are among my personal favorites as well. The topics: feminism, intelligence, being an artist, and personal growth.

A Highly Intelligent Woman Speaks Out

Combine two controversial topics–intelligence and gender perceptions–and watch the fireworks!

Not All Highly Intelligent People are Arrogant Pricks

I love this blog title almost as much as I love exploding some myths about intelligence.

What does it mean to be an artist?

This is a question that is, not surprisingly, of deep and ongoing interest to me. I’m thrilled that other people find it interesting too.

Strong Female Characters Can Still Screw Up, Get Upset, and Cry

I talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, feminism, and ideas about what a strong female character really is.

Nice vs. Kind

In a quest to leave people pleasing behind, I discuss the differences between being nice and being kind.

Other Personal Favorites:

Assertiveness: an Intermediate Guide

I use this post for my own personal reference, that’s how helpful I think it is.

The People Who are No Longer Here

I almost feel like this post is a prose poem.

I Know It When I See It: YA Voice

This is a writing post that I’d been meaning to write for a long time.

How To Be Resilient

Resilience was one of my favorite topics of the year.

Let’s Kick Self Loathing Where It Hurts

I love the comment section of this post, in which I encouraged all of you to brag.

Happy New Year! I’m looking forward to another year of discussing interesting topics with you.

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I believe in paying attention to the small scale.

Mind you, I have nothing against big dreams and lofty goals. You want to revolutionize modern transportation? Please do. You want to become a regular on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera? Fantastic. You want to write the next big novel, or design the next big advance in computing, or find new treatments for cancer? I’ll be cheering you on.

You want to save the world? Well, sometimes aiming high gives you the room you need to accomplish something great.

But whether we have great ambitions or not, who we are, how we behave, what we communicate, and the choices we make on a day-to-day basis can also have real impact.

This has been particularly on my mind as I watch the impact that others have on me and my life. On two separate occasions recently, I’ve been engaged in casual conversation with someone who I don’t know very well, and they’ve said something that changed my outlook and deeply influenced decisions I have since made. I don’t think either one of them was making any particular effort to do so, but both of them said something that changed me and helped me to see more clearly.

Photo by Cristian Bernal

We never know when we might do the same, when we will share a thought or insight or ask a question and change someone’s life forever.

When I was in Toronto, I was talking to a friend of mine who is a police officer, and somehow we got into a conversation about attempted suicides. My friend told me he talked to one guy who jumped off a bridge and survived, who said that while he was on his way to the bridge, if a single person had stopped him and smiled at him and asked how he was doing, he wouldn’t have jumped. A single person. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

And haven’t we all experienced that? The email or phone call at the right time, a trip out for frozen yogurt, an invitation to spend the holidays. The teacher who taught us how to think critically or write the hell out of a thesis statement, or the person who believed in our potential even when we were struggling. The sharp kick to send us back in the right direction, delivered without judgement.

I think that’s one of the reasons I find writing this blog to be so valuable. I never know when something I write here might be exactly the thing one of you needed to read that day. But the possibility that I could help someone with these essays the way certain blog posts have helped me keeps me writing.

This week in the United States we spend time thinking about gratitude. I think of the people who have helped me become who I am today, the people who have given me knowledge, advice, and wisdom, the people who have listened to me and provided moral support, the people who have blown me away with their generosity, and it is easy to feel grateful. It is also easy to see how their actions, often small and seemingly insignificant, have taken on a greater meaning.

The small scale matters, and part of its nature is that we might never know how much it matters. We often don’t find out how our influence ripples outwards, what lives we affect, how those lives touch other lives, and what ends up being different because we exist. We don’t know when we’ll say something that makes all the difference.

Which is why I think it’s important to pay attention. Tomorrow might be the day you accidentally change, or even save, someone’s life without ever knowing it.

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My social media book is stalled out right now because of Life, so I’m going to be sharing a few insights on social media for writers here on the blog in the meantime.

One of the most important truths to keep in mind when crafting a social media strategy is this: as writers, most of us are in this for the long haul. We need to pace ourselves so that we can continue to use social media to connect with our audiences over the course of an entire career. We need to find a balance so we don’t impede our own ability to write.

I talk a lot about priorities, and I firmly believe that for most fiction writers, the first priority has to be writing our fiction. Any social media strategy needs to support this goal instead of getting in its way. Otherwise it will prove to be unsustainable over any significant period of time.

So when you are crafting your own personal strategy, keep the following in mind:

1. As writers, we don’t need to do All The Things (or in this case, be on all the sites). Yes, it’s better to be using more than one form of social media. But you don’t need to be active on six or seven different sites. For most of us, that way lies madness (and a severe time crunch). It’s fine to try the newest, hottest thing in social media to see if it has a particular resonance for us, but it’s also fine to drop the services that aren’t pulling their weight. It’s generally better to choose a few places to focus your social media energies, rather than not being able to do a good job anywhere.

2. Assess your time honestly. If you need to manually track your schedule for a while in order to do this, then go ahead and do that. Between day jobs, families, and other commitments, some writers simply don’t have time to regularly blog, for example. Other writers can put aside an hour or so a week for one blog post, and still other writers have time to blog every day. But even very time-crunched writers can squeeze in five minutes most days for Twitter or Facebook. By realistically thinking about the time that is available to you, you can choose which sites to craft the bulk of your strategy around.

3. Choose your ONE top social media priority. Sometimes you’ll be sick, or you’ll have multiple deadlines, or someone close to you will be getting married, or Life. During these times, you might not have the time or energy to use social media as much as you normally do. So choose one social media activity that you’ll try to carry on no matter what’s going on. Only one. Right now, mine is this blog. But you can choose any service you want, depending on your overall strategy. And then when things get hectic or difficult, you can drop everything else and still be maintaining your presence.

What about you? What do you have time for? What sites do you focus on? What is your top social media priority?

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A couple of weeks ago, I was reading over some of my older blog entries. When I’d finished, I sat back and thought, “Huh. That was actually kind of personal.” At least, more personal than I had remembered.

There’s a place where the personal and the important intersect. And we who blog are then called to make a decision: how important is so important that I can’t stay silent about this? In my case, that means I often end up blogging about issues related to people pleasing and boundaries (and occasionally feminism). I know there are lots of people who grew up in dysfunctional families just like I did, who have similar issues, and I know how helpful it can be to know there are others out there in the world dealing with the same kind of thing you’re dealing with. It’s too important for me to stay silent.

This trade-off was brought strongly to mind during this year’s Worldcon, where I was lucky enough to spend some time with Jay Lake. For those of you who don’t know who he is, Jay is a prolific SF/F writer of some note. He also blogs. For the past few years, he has blogged in an unusually open fashion about his difficulties with cancer. He blogs about disease, about mortality, about what he feels his cancer has stolen from him. He blogs about determination, depression, despair, and joy.

He told me he gets more fan mail from his cancer blog than he does from all his published fiction.

Me and Jay at Epic ConFusion this January. Photo by Al Bogdan.

And he pays a price for being personal. I spent time with him at several points during the convention, and every single time, we were approached by people who expressed their sorrow about his health, or asked about it, or gave him their good wishes that he would recover. On the one hand, it was beautiful to see this outpouring of support from the community.

But I looked at him at one point, late-ish in the evening, after a particularly long stream of generic good wishes, and I thought, “This must get completely exhausting.”

And that is the price. Not everyone will be able to look past the cancer and see the man. Because he has blogged so openly about his disease, he can’t necessarily create a veneer of normalcy for himself when at public events like Worldcon. Part of his public identity is linked to his cancer.

But he pays the price with grace, and I admire him so much for doing so. Because it is too important to stay silent. We need to hear about cancer, about illness, about mortality, and about the physical and emotional struggles that come with these oh-so-human things. Our society tends to have dysfunctional attitudes around illness, around death and dying, around grief and loss, and part of changing those attitudes is talking about these things in a frank and open way. And people who have cancer, people who have other serious illnesses, people who have loved ones who are sick, many of them are helped by Jay’s blog, where by writing authentically about his own personal experience, he puts words to so many other people’s experiences.

So I think about this blog, which is perhaps a bit more personal than I had originally intended. And then I think about Jay. And I’m glad to have written about what I think is important.

I’m in fabulous company.

 

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This week I have a guest post up over at BookLifeNow: So You Want to Start a Blog. I go over different points to think about when you are either starting up a blog or trying to give your current blog a face lift. So if you enjoy reading me talking about social media, you might want to check it out.

And speaking of me talking about social media… I have a new project! And it’s way exciting! (Well, at least if you’re me.) I have started work on a nonfiction book about social media strategies for fiction writers.

Yes, there are already a few books on this subject out there. But not as many as you’d think. And the few I’ve seen start at a really basic level, geared towards people who don’t know how to or are uncomfortable using the internet. (For example: Here’s how you sign up for a Twitter account.)  That’s great and definitely needed, but it’s not necessary reading for all fiction writers. I also don’t agree with all the strategies that are presented. And much of the material you can find on the internet is either geared towards companies or nonfiction writers, or is also fairly basic.

So many options!

So what I’m writing is the book on social media strategy that I wanted to read. A book that is targeted for writers who already have basic internet skills. A book that is lean and not stuffed with extra padding so that you’re not wasting time. A book that goes into depth on the fundamental principles behind social media strategy and content creation as well as giving strategies for specific platforms. And while I am going to be specifically targeting fiction writers, I think much of what I’ll be talking about can also be applied to other creative professionals.

As you know, I write a fair amount about social media on this blog, and I’ve been thinking of writing this book since last year. What pushed me over the edge, however, was working on my guest post for BookLifeNow. I was originally writing an article on the different types of writer blogs, and it kept getting longer…and longer…and then I thought, this would be so much better if I could add a few case studies…. That’s when I realized that first off, what I was writing was not a blog post, and second off, I could no longer put off writing this book about social media.

My plans are still fairly fluid right now. I’m working on this book at the same time as I revise The Academy of Forgetting, which is taking priority (since otherwise I might just not do it). I don’t have a target release date yet, although you’ll all be the first to know when I do. I expect that I’ll be self publishing this book when I am finished with it, to get it out into the world in an efficient manner. My other option is Kickstarter, but I’m not confident I have enough of a base to make that work (feel free to tell me your thoughts about this!)

I’ve been avidly studying all things social media for the past few years, and I’m really looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned. My hope is that I can help fiction writers at all stages of their careers craft personal strategies that are both effective and enjoyable.

If you have any thoughts or ideas about what you’d like to see in such a book, please leave me a comment or drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!

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A month or so ago, Mike Allegra was kind enough to nominate me for a Versatile Blogger Award. Which was like an extra special birthday present for the blog. Thank you, Mike!

Mike blogs himself, of course (hence the award). He is a children’s writer too. And he tells very amusing personal anecdotes in a casual and funny style.

Anyhow, I thought this would be a great time to highlight a few other blogs that are in my own reader that I’ve been enjoying lately.

  1. The Book Smugglers: I’ve been enjoying the Book Smugglers for a long time now. They are my favorite book review blog, and their general tastes fit so well with mine it’s almost spooky. They tend to review YA (and some MG as well) and adult SF/F, as well as a little historical and romance on the side. I don’t agree with every single one of their reviews, but they are always thought-provoking and well-reasoned. I learn both about books I’d like to read and more about writing at the same time. I especially love their “On The Smugglers’ Radar” feature every Saturday about upcoming titles.
  1. Blotter Paper: This is the blog of my writer friend Rahul Kanakia. He writes speculative fiction (and has been published in places of note like Clarkesworld, IGMS, and Redstone) and is about to move across the country to begin an MFA program. He writes a lot about the books he reads, which is interesting because he has very eclectic tastes, so I feel like reading about his reading broadens my own horizons. And he is an astute observer of society as well.
  1. Altucher Confidential: This is a bigger blog about personal development, and it amuses me because James’ personality comes out full force in everything he writes. I don’t always agree with him…in fact, I often don’t agree with him. But his world view is interesting and occasionally he says something that really resonates with me.
  1. Letters From Titan: Racheline Martese writes interesting analysis of pop culture and symbolism in pop culture. Her essays about the TV show Glee have possibly prolonged my viewership of said show, that’s how interesting I think they are. Really, my only wish is that she’d write more.
  1. Captain Awkward: This is my absolute favorite new discovery; even its name snaps with awesome. This blog is an advice column that actually dispenses advice I can usually get behind. (I know, right? Who would have thought that was even possible?) Captain Awkward encourages people to get a backbone, say no when appropriate, get their needs met, and improve their communication skills. I love this blog with all the blog love in my heart.

How about you? Got any favorite blogs you’d like to recommend? I’m always looking for new ones to check out.

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My blog, the Practical Free Spirit, turns two this week. On Saturday, June 30th, to be exact. This is my 223rd post. I just read my first post, Originality: Having Something to Say. I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s not so bad. It sounds like me two years ago, which isn’t, after all, so much different from me now.

Would you like some more data? I’ve taken time off for vacation a few times, but other than that, I reliably post twice a week. I’ve never failed to post when I was planning to do so, although I’ve come close once or twice. The blog gets an average of 105 comments per month (thank you for joining the conversation!). Probably about half of those comments are from me, although I’ve been falling a bit behind in the past few months.

The highest traffic month in the blog’s life was April 2012. The most popular post is What is a Free Spirit?, which is apparently more of a pressing question than I would think. (Thank you, Google Search.) Other popular subjects include those I was afraid to write about, introversion, and cool Star Wars pictures. I am still on a quest to bring some much-deserved cuteness fame to Nala because what good is having a blog if you can’t occasionally cute-bomb your long-suffering readership?

Storm troopers create new lives for themselves fighting crime.

I don’t know much about my readers, actually, except the ones who comment. I wish I knew more. I wonder about you sometimes. It’s a strange sort of intimacy we have because I suspect there’s a significant part of me that you can get to know pretty well if you read regularly. Not the entire me, of course, but an important part. I talk about what I care about here (really, there’s no point in me writing a 500-word essay about something I don’t care about). I talk about what I’ve been thinking about. I link to the most interesting articles I’ve read. Once in a while I get teary-eyed while I’m writing one of these posts because it matters so much to me.

I read articles about what I “should” be doing with the blog, and then I ignore a lot of what I read, because we are friends, you and I. And a lot of those shoulds sound sleazy or cheap or fake to me, and I can’t bear to do them. Not to the blog, which has taken on a life of its own. It depends on me, after all; I breathe life into it. I am responsible for it. Before I started, it didn’t ever occur to me to think of a blog as a living entity, and perhaps many blogs aren’t. But this one–well, it just might be.

I am going to ask for a birthday present now, for me or for the blog, or for both of us. Satisfy my curiosity, leave a comment, and tell me about yourself. Who are you? What do you like about this blog? What do you wish I’d do more or less of? What are you glad that I don’t do (and you hope I never start)? What subjects do I talk about that give you a burst of satisfaction?

I would really like to know whatever you’d like to tell me.

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