…but really, there are a few reasons my desire to just blog for the heck of it ebbs and flows. And it’s more often ebbing. One is that I write and edit for a living so I see words all damn day. I never realized there would be moments when I just couldn’t read another thing or feel so emptied of eloquence I didn’t want to bother writing. But that’s been happening inside my head for years.
Also, there are rules to what makes blogging work, get new eyeballs, etc. At least in professional digital publishing. So when I get to my own blog I don’t want to fuck with those. Like, “Always have an image! People are more likely to read on if there’s an intriguing image!”
Well yeah, I get that. I have no objection in my day job to ensure every post I’m responsible for in any way has a grabby, interesting image as a draw. Even better if there’s a well-chosen video or I’ve padded it out with relevant tweets. That’s the job and I’m gonna do it right.
When it’s just me, I just want to write. I write a shocking amount by hand in journals and on notebooks to get my brain limbered up and working. One of the joys in that is I only have to please myself with what’s on the page. I get to a blank blogging CMS edit screen here, I don’t want to worry that no one will bother if there’s not an image. I kind of resent the feeling I need an extra hook, I guess. Plus, choosing that media is extra mental energy and creativity that could be directed at something more permanent.
Then there is the fact that I established I could get paid for this 16 years ago and have made a living doing it ever since. There comes a point when a personal site like this feels low-key like just giving it away for free. When I have what I think is a good story idea that might not fit the publication that employs me, I don’t think, “I’ll put it on my blog!”
I think, “wonder who I can sell this to as an article/book/show or documentary idea?” Because I know that possibility is always there for me (and make no mistake, I am eternally grateful for that; I know how lucky I’ve been). I tell myself sometimes that just putting it here will make it into a throwaway.
The word “throwaway” has nothing to do with those who do read it (you, whoever you are), it just has everything to do with the way Google and social media work.
That’s perhaps my buried lede, but again, this isn’t for work and if I want to present someone with a portfolio of my work it won’t be this blog, but stuff I got paid to do. I can bury all the ledes I want here.
People still blog plenty, but as Google kept adjusting itself to point away from personal sites owned by individuals who might not be able to produce professional-level reportage and writing, ranking sites, as Twitter and Facebook began coding all sorts of arcane rules based entirely on what Silicon Valley thinks is worthwhile, readership of workaday blogs dwindled to next to nothing.
Maybe that had to happen in some way, and there is no doubt I’ve benefited from it, too. But it slowly reduced the chances that you or I might really discover a site, or a writer.
My example of this: Fifteen years ago, I was googling about an unsolved crime from 2004 and the top result I got was TrueCrimeDiary.com — the crime blog established by the late author Michelle McNamara. At the time, no one in any online true crime community knew who she was, who she was married to, that she had real journalism training, etc. — but thanks to Google and Michelle’s innate gifts as a writer and journalist, I found her quickly and she became my first choice in “solo” bloggers to check out for reliable writing, reporting, conjecture, and thinking, in general.
We became friends and it still took me two more years to put it together that her “comedian husband” was Patton Oswalt. It was about the crime stories for us, especially the unsolved.
She said later that she’d found my blog within months of me beginning it pretty much the same way I’d found TCD.
Those connections are still possible online, and I’ve seen them happen a lot on Twitter, in particular. I’ve also made a ton of good friends on Twitter. It is hard to square in my head why that’s still possible, but keeping a blog up is hard because search engines have turned into Interstate highways steering between the big cities only. Personal blogging and whatever is left of the blogosphere seems to have become like Route 66 after Eisenhower’s big roads took over America — a pleasant, even quaint relic of an earlier time, one that is slowly pixellating over time and turning into so much digital sand. To extend the stupid metaphor.
I sat down to write this to work something out, as is probably obvious, and that’s another thing blogs provide to those interested — you sometimes get to watch someone work things through in their minds almost in real-time. That’s not too interesting to many people, but it is to me. The best we get now is Twitter threads, and those are hard to write and remain organized enough to permit the reader to follow your train of thought.
Work it out I did, though. In essence, I’m aware that the problem is almost entirely in my personal, subjective perception, though I’d submit it’s grounded in realities. A way for me to both be a lazy thinker and writer and not stretch. Something that becomes easier and easier to do with age.
(Side note: Something else I do to limit myself is constantly search for new online writing venues, even as I’m thinking the things I wrote about above. I tell myself I’m ensuring I’ve got my name and identity under control in that domain so no one can pretend to be me or whatever — which is something that can happen but is truly statistically rare — but I’m really putting off pushing myself a bit.)
I’ve got some story ideas I’ll work on this summer and I’m going to at least start here. One is simply too thin to make a book, or I’d consider it. Not enough information on it to flesh out a full read. I still feel compelled to write about it. It’s the story of a killer who might make you think of the Zodiac, or if you really know your true crime history, the Texarkana Phantom. This killer was neither, as far as I know. And there’s a possibility he never truly existed at all.
Giving myself a deadline on this would be setting up a situation I’d find easy to fail, so I’m just gonna say, soon.
And if you are reading this, especially all the blather above, thank you. However you got here, I’m glad you’re there.