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This is the last of my 2015 wrap-up posts: the one in which I look over the last year of my blog. I wrote many things! A lot of them are pretty good! Hooray!

I’ve compiled a list of my top ten posts from 2015, chosen by you, ordered from least popular to most popular, with a couple of honorable mentions.

Looking down the list, about half of them are about or related to dating. Three of them are about my own personal development, including one about that perennial favorite, imposter syndrome. And two have to do with social lives and building connection. I also notice the headlines (a historical weakness of mine, alas, alas) are actually on the punchy side, which is awesome. I experimented a bit more with the blog this year, and I’m really glad I did.

Honorable Mentions:

I don’t think shared interests are that important in dating, because this perhaps sparked the most conversations this year.

I Have an Agent!, because I’ve been waiting a looooong time to write this post.

 

Top Ten 2015 Posts:

The Maybe-Date

We Are All Insane Together

On Dating as a Feminist

The Most Boring Question of All Time

How to Build a Support System

If you have a lot of assholes in your life, maybe this is why

What I Really Did Last Summer

I Was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

How I Met My Boyfriend

 

and the most popular post of the year….

A Ten Never Marries a One

 

Thanks for coming along with me for another year at The Practical Free Spirit. And now it’s time to look forward and sally forth into 2016!

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Facebook is an amazing social tool. I know a lot of us love to hate it, and it has its problems, but we don’t leave for a reason, that reason being its extreme usefulness.

Aside from allowing me to stay in some kind of light touch with people who live far away and giving me a curated set of articles to read, Facebook is the single easiest way I’ve found to grow my local social life. You friend someone and then they invite you to their events, and then you meet people at those events and friend them, and they invite you to their events, and your social circle grows with much less effort on your part than back when you had to wait to be on email address exchange terms to get an invitation. (Or phone number exchange terms, heaven forbid!)

Likewise, I’ve found Facebook to be indispensable for dating. Basically, there are two ways most of the single people I know date. One way is to use internet dating sites: OKCupid is super popular among my friends, but there are a whole slew of sites to choose between. You don’t even have to choose! Some people are on a bunch of them all at once.  (And I guess a corollary of this would be speed dating, which I kind of want to do just because then I could write a hilarious blog post about it, and we’d all have fun with that.)

The other way, the Facebook way, works like this: You go to a social event. Any event where there are people will do; parties are perhaps the most common, but this also works with game nights, group dinners, conventions, classes, dances, etc. You meet another single person and spend some time chatting. Maybe a lot of time. Sometimes they then pull out their phones and add you on Facebook on the spot. Other times you friend each other in the next day or two or three. Regardless, now Facebook is your main point of contact.

Photo Credit: Peter Samis via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Peter Samis via Compfight cc

“But Amy,” you say, “surely you could exchange phone numbers or email addresses instead!” Yes, you are right. Surely you could, and occasionally you even do. But I’d say ninety percent of the time, you don’t. You friend each other on Facebook. And then maybe you switch to email or texting after that. Maybe. At some point. Or not.

Anyway, now you’re Facebook friends, and you begin messaging back and forth. There may be some banter. At some point the possibility of hanging out in person is discussed. All of this is very casual. After all, this is the exact same way you might go about creating any new friendship. Occasionally someone is very explicit about asking the other person on a date, but more often than not it’s all unspoken subtext. (I know from my Maybe-Date post we all have lots of opinions about this. Regardless, this is in my experience what tends to happen without making deliberate effort to make it happen differently. Not always, but often.)

I was talking to my friend about hipsters because I find the hipster movement fascinating and slightly confusing, and the conversation turned to hipster dating conventions (of course it did). My friend said that for hipsters, it’s all about plausible deniability and avoiding possible embarrassment. I don’t know if my friend is right, but the relaxed technique of hanging out and testing the waters with potential romantic interests happens all the time. And Facebook forms a cornerstone of this strategy.

(Of course, my friend went on to say, “Limbo can continue for months.” Months! Who has the patience for months? I certainly don’t. I’d simply turn my attention elsewhere. But apparently this too is a thing.)

In any case, I would not want to be dating right now without Facebook. It is simply too ubiquitous and useful. Plus I haven’t done any online dating since January because I was so appalled by Creepy Neighbor Guy (met on OKCupid, for those keeping track) that I just got annoyed with the whole thing. So at this point in time my dating prospects are all people I’m meeting first in person, and Facebook is the easiest way to facilitate that.

Of course, Facebook is a convenient way to encourage new friendships and grow existing friendships in general. Dating is just one facet of that. But it’s definitely an interesting part of the Facebook experience!

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What I’ve learned in the last three hours of wrestling with this blog post and ultimately producing nothing I could use is that making a point effectively and concisely while maintaining and projecting empathy can be incredibly difficult.

Maybe this is part of the problem.

The troubles with internet culture are not new. From what I understand, Youtube has historically been a cesspit of bile and awfulness, which is why I never read any Youtube comments except when I’ve been unexpectedly hit by a train of stupid by my own brain. I’ve been aware of the death and rape threats routinely made via the internet for many years. And my corners of the internet have been quite troubled for the past several months, by Gamergate, by some controversy in the YA world that I speak about obliquely here and less obliquely here, by the Requires Hate reveal, and most recently by the Hugo award nomination fracas.

In short, the internet can be an ugly place to hang out. There is a cost associated with being here. There is a cost associated with being a thought leader and expressing your opinion here. It is a cost I have been aware of since I began this blog nearly five years ago.

A few friends of mine reached out to me after I published my piece on rocking the boat about #KeepYAKind. I listened to them carefully, and I’ve been thinking about what they said for the last few weeks. My main takeaway is, people are scared. People are scared to speak up. People are scared to share their opinions. People are afraid of the internet being dropped on their heads. People are afraid of the cost involved. They are afraid of the threats, the personal attacks, the harassment, the name-calling. And understandably so.

One of my friends told me, “Someday you’ll see this from the other side.” And it’s true, I know it can happen to me. Of course I’ve thought about it. Of course I’ve thought about what it will be like getting rape threats on the internet, because I’m a woman who sometimes talks about feminist issues, and no matter how careful I am, no matter how many times I read over each blog post and how thoroughly I consider my word choices, I will offend someone. And someday that someone might be a shitty person who thinks an appropriate way to respond is with a rape or death threat. And at some other point, I am bound to say something stupid. I’m sure I already have, and I’ll do it again. And the internet might fall on my head. It might be right about me, it might be wrong, but in that period of time, the rightness and wrongness will probably not be foremost in my mind.

I still disagree with the #KeepYAKind campaign. It showed an ignorance of the type of rhetoric and cultural training that have been used for decades to keep women quiet and “in their place” that I find quite troubling, especially given what it was in response to. And tactically, it was much more likely to silence the moderate and less privileged voices; the trolls weren’t going to be affected by it to anywhere near the same extent, if at all.

But I do agree that internet culture, and the harassment, bullying, and scare tactics that go along with it, are a huge problem, both for writers (my own tiny habitat in the pond) and for society in general. We can theorize about why internet culture is the way it is (the power of anonymity, the dehumanization and depersonalization of others that is perhaps an effect heightened by interaction over the internet, the attention economy, humanity’s history of only having to deal in relatively small social units, etc.). But all our theories will not change the reality.

Then we have Kameron Hurley’s recent inspirational piece about how the internet harassment she is subjected to is nothing compared to the difficulties faced by her grandmother in Nazi-occupied France. I will admit this gave me a severe case of mixed feelings. On the one hand, perspective is valuable, as is having the moxy to live loud on the internet and encourage others to do the same.

On the other hand, we’re looking at some problem comparing here. Of course internet harassment is not the same as living in Nazi-occupied France. But that doesn’t make the fear less real. That doesn’t mean anyone who is afraid or upset or angered by internet harassment should feel ashamed of those emotions. And shame is the danger that inevitably comes with problem comparing, even when such a comparison makes for a great rhetorical device.

Photo Credit: Roadside Guitars via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Roadside Guitars via Compfight cc

Well, I am not ashamed. I’m a recovering people pleaser, for goodness sake. Of course I was afraid when I started this blog. If I hadn’t been afraid, I wouldn’t have needed any Backbone Project. I recognized the need for me to claim my voice in spite of the fear, and I’ve been working on that ever since. And I’m still afraid, sometimes. I still worry. It’s gotten a lot easier, but when I get the internet dropped on my head, I’m sure I’ll have a miserable time of it.

As a writer, I have to keep asking myself: Am I willing to pay the price for lifting my voice? Even when the price is stupidly high? Even if I’m terrified or creatively blocked or otherwise emotionally compromised by the experience? And if the answer becomes no, then so be it. There is no shame in that. Ultimately my own welfare and safety trumps everything else.

But so far, the answer is still yes. And I hope it will continue to be yes for a long time to come.

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This post originally appeared on the SFWA blog, but I know not all of you saw it, so I’m running it here today. As you might expect, given my recent experimentation with this blog, I had several thoughts on the subject. Enjoy!

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When giving advice on writing blog posts, James Altucher says, “Bleed in the first line.” He talks about blog writing and bleeding a fair amount, actually, so I always think about bleeding when I write blog posts now. But what does that mean, bleeding on the page, and what is the correct way to do it?

As I’ve been experimenting some with my own blog, I’ve also been thinking a lot about sharing and privacy and where to draw the line. It’s something I’ve had to think about often over the years since I do this kind of personal memoir-esque kind of writing, and with opinions flying as to whether it’s a good idea for writers to share their political opinions, it is in the forefront of my mind right now. What is private and what isn’t? What is a great telling detail and what is too much? Where does that line go?

I found some wise advice where I wasn’t expecting it, in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. (This book is also a great resource both for learning about Dr. Brown’s data and how it pertains to the way humans tick and for managing common emotional difficulties that come up in the writing life.) She gives three guidelines for sharing with the public that I’d like to put into my own words and talk about.

  1. Only share experiences and stories after you’ve worked through them yourself.

I can’t overemphasize this one enough, mostly because it can be so tempting to break. But I do my best to write about things AFTER I’ve already processed them and dealt with the emotions coming from them and learned from them. This can be tricky, as experiences take different amounts of time to process (and of course, sometimes you think you’ve done so only to find out there’s more to do).

For example, I waited over six months to write this post about losing my chosen family. I couldn’t write about it earlier; I couldn’t have done so from a grounded place, and therefore I couldn’t have written a truly effective essay. That is why when people express concern at any of my blog posts, I always feel slightly surprised. By the time I’m writing about something, there is rarely any reason to worry. The stories I tell are a means to an end. Which leads us to the next guideline….

  1. Have a reason to share that serves your readers.

The point of blog writing is not to bleed indiscriminately on the page or to merely shock by flooding your audience with personal details. Every story has a reason to be told. Every shared experience should lead to some kind of revelation.

In some ways, writing blog posts reminds me of teaching. In the process of writing, I reaffirm lessons I’ve already learned and sometimes gain a stronger understanding of my subject matter. But as with teaching, I can’t write about something when I haven’t at least grasped the basics.

And I’m always writing with an end goal in mind: What ideas am I trying to communicate? What do I want my audience to take away from this post?

  1. Avoid sharing in order to get your own needs met (i.e. to receive validation, praise, support, etc.).

We want to publish every blog post from a position of strength, which means publishing it to serve our audience, NOT to get some emotional need met for ourselves. Blog posts aren’t therapy. And as writers, the more we can let go of any expectations we might have as to the response a post will receive, the freer we are to craft a powerful piece.

Sometimes, of course, a post will generate an outpouring of support, and that’s perfectly all right. What we want to avoid is needing or expecting it to do so. The more we depend on the response, the more we’ll become tempted to pander to our audience to receive that response.

These three guidelines boil down to this simple principle: So often when we’re sharing in public as writers, it is not about us. This may seem counterintuitive since we are sharing personal stories and opinions, not to mention letting people know about our work. But blog posts at their best are about not just us as the writers, but the relationship between us and our readers. And sharing personal stories can be a powerful tool for conveying emotions and ideas to our readers, as well as creating a sense of connection.

We don’t always want to hold back from bleeding on the page, but it should be a mindful act. We want to bleed for the right reasons.

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When I first started blogging seriously back in 2010, I read so many blogs. I wanted to see what other people were doing, and I wanted to get ideas of what to talk about, and I followed lots of blogs from which I read almost all the entries.

Then at some point I stopped. I can’t remember if it was early this year, or sometime last year, but I do remember I was falling behind and I decided to take a break to catch up with life. And then I found I wasn’t missing most of the blogs I read, so I never came back to my blog reading in the same way.

Nala also doesn't read many blog posts. But she does have incredibly fluffy paws!

Nala also doesn’t read many blog posts. But she does have incredibly fluffy paws!

I still read a few blogs regularly. I read my friend Rahul’s blog because he is always making interesting observations and giving great book recommendations. I read my friend Ferrett’s blog because he is always doing strange things and giving great insight on social interactions. I read Theodora Goss’s blog because I feel like she’s teaching me how to lead a modern fairy tale life. I read Captain Awkward because I went so long wishing for an advice column that actually gave healthy advice and now I have one and it is so interesting and sometimes applicable to my life.  I read Nick Mamatas’s blog because he’s such an iconoclast online and that is fascinating to me. (Also, iconoclast was my new vocabulary word last week! I would probably pronounce it wrong if I tried to say it out loud.) I read Stina Leicht’s Feminist Mondays because she compiles a great list of links and backs them up with relevant commentary.

Other than that, I check in on an economics blog a few times a week, and I click on posts that people share with me on Twitter and Facebook. I’m more likely to click on said links if they’re for essays by Kameron Hurley and Robert Jackson Bennett or if they’re on io9 or if they’re shared by Mary Anne Mohanraj or Juliette Wade, but I end up clicking on all kinds of stuff.

I stopped reading some blogs because they got repetitive. I stopped reading other blogs because it was obvious the blogger was pretty messed up, which was compelling at first but then eventually mostly made me feel tired. I stopped reading most writing advice because most of it I either already knew or had nothing to do with me. I cut back on book blog reading because I’m so far behind on my to-read list (although I am hoping to catch some of the Book Smuggler’s Smugglivus this month because I do love year-end lists and reflections, what Rahul calls wrap-up season).

I still hear writers saying that they should really start their own blogs, but now I tend to respond, “Well, if you think you’ll like it.” Because it’s becoming more and more clear to me that blogs are driven by having a unique voice, just as much good fiction is. But I don’t think having a unique voice for one of those things necessarily means you’ll have it for the other. I mean, there might be some correlation, I don’t know. What I do know is that the short essay, suitable for most blogs, is its own form and as such, requires study and practice. So if you aren’t compelled to write it, I don’t know that there’s a strong argument for doing so anyway.

As we all know, I am compelled to write in this form, and all of this does beg the question of my own blogging. “What if I’m getting boring?” I wailed to my friend this weekend. He obligingly told me I wasn’t getting boring, thus proving his awesome quality of friend supportiveness, but it’s a question that is always in the back of my mind. That being said, none of the blogs I’ve stopped reading seem to be in any jeopardy, so I suppose the answer is that readers cycle in and they cycle out, and that’s as it should be.

I don’t miss the blogs I no longer read, but I do on the whole still enjoy blogs with a strong sense of voice. Perhaps I’ll stumble across some different ones that will enchant me all over again.

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New trendy social media service? Oh yeah, let’s talk about Ello for a bit, shall we?

Ello is the hot social media platform du jour. Some people are saying it could potentially take over for Facebook (especially people who really hate Facebook and who are upset about the legal names thing going on there right now). Some people are saying it could potentially take over for Twitter (especially those who are upset about the new algorithm Twitter has promised is coming that will sort its feed).

My take? It’s way too soon to say, and also, Ello is a bit of a mess right now. Apparently some designers are involved with it, and to say its user interface is not intuitive is probably an understatement. It is difficult to figure out how to do basic things like make a post, reply to a post, and find people. It’s also missing many basic features that we have come to know and love: the ability to share someone else’s posts, the ability to like or favorite a post, privacy and safety settings such as the ability to block a user, non-intrusive notifications, etc. So we’ll have to wait and see how well and how quickly Ello cleans itself up.

I’m also interested in the population that has “seeded” Ello. With Google Plus, Google seeded the service with people their employees invited. Perhaps as a result, the user base of Google Plus skewed heavily male and very technology-based. (Now that it’s been active for more than three years, this might have changed, I’m not sure.) This early community definitely set the “feel” of Google Plus as a site. I don’t know who all is on Ello right now, (the SF/F writers are there experimenting, as we so often are, but ultimately we’re not a huge user group) so I don’t know what “feel” might result from the initial user base, but it will be interesting to watch and see.

My Ello page.

My Ello page.

As a content creator, one of my main interests is in figuring out what role (if any) Ello could play in my content strategy. I know a lot of people simply cross-post their content everywhere, but as a content consumer, I dislike this strategy. What makes for a decent to good tweet does not necessarily (or even often) make for a good Facebook post, and having to read the same asinine observation twice does not make me twirl around singing about hills being alive before leaving a nunnery in order to join the domestic labor force.

Instead, my reaction to replicated content tends to vary from the passive zombie stare of apathy, complete with string of drool, to a slight irritation that I am wasting my time and maybe should hide some more posts from my feed. The exception to this? When someone has more substantial content to which they’re cross-linking (a blog post, article, new website, or what-have-you). That I don’t mind as much.

But if I don’t want to merely use Ello as yet another cross-posting ground, the question becomes, what is a good Ello post? To what kind of content does it lend itself? What can I enjoy posting on Ello that I won’t be posting somewhere else? And will the engagement received be worth the time to develop the content? I don’t have answers yet. It depends both on how the technology develops and in what directions the user base grows.

In the meantime, Ello users get to experiment. We get to try lots of different types of content, and we get to accidentally delete the comments on our posts (oops!), and we get to poke and prod and complain about how things work. And we also get the opportunity to begin creating content for a new platform that is not quite as clogged with content as all the older social media sites.

Should writers definitely join Ello right now? Eh. Not yet. You might want to reserve your username of choice in case it really takes off. But for right now, it’s primarily for those of us who enjoy playing in the frontiers of social media.

Interesting in experimenting? You can find me @amysundberg or at this link.

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Yes, I have now had the equivalent of a college education in blogging. I am taking a moment to bask in my sense of accomplishment.

….

Basking achieved!

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I’ve been spending more time than usual over the past few months thinking about the future of this blog. Should I continue to post like clockwork two days a week? Should I experiment with length? With topics? With styles? What about Tumblr? Should I even continue to write the blog at all?

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My very first post on this blog was “Originality: Having Something to Say.” I spent some time last week muttering to myself: “What do I have to say? WHAT DO I HAVE TO SAY?” (Okay, that last wasn’t so much a mutter as an emphatic question.)

I think it’s important to periodically reflect on that question, as a blogger and also as an artist. Even if the answer is sometimes, “I have no idea.”

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I have heard the observation that blogging is inherently narcissistic, I suppose because it requires the belief that what you have to say matters. I’d argue that if you don’t value what you yourself have to say, it is perhaps not about narcissism as much as it is about a lack of self-esteem or self-confidence.

That is not to say blogging is for everyone. It really isn’t. Perhaps you don’t have a lot to say, and that’s fine. Perhaps you don’t want to post what you have to say publicly, and that’s fine. Perhaps you’d rather say what you have to say through fiction, or through visual art, or through film-making, or through Toastmasters, or through running for local office. Perhaps you want to keep your thoughts for yourself and yourself alone.

All fine, and none of it is automatically narcissistic. Since when did having something to say become equated with narcissism? Are we all just supposed to sit around in a state of complete apathy?

No, thanks.

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In a recent post, Penelope Trunk wrote: “Because he’s a good blogger, Noa blogs as he learns….” And a lightbulb lit up for me.

Because this is what I strive to do. I blog as I learn. That’s why I never run out of things to say: because I am always learning, and I’m always thinking about what I’m learning. Sometimes you, my readers, help me along the way with your insights and experiences. And then I get to learn even more.

Thank you for taking this journey with me, dear readers. I don’t know exactly what form this blog will take in the future, but I can’t wait to find out what we’re going to learn in year 5.

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