Updated to add: I made a quick and (in keeping with the topic) totally unedited audio recording of this post, if you’d prefer to listen. I just used the voice notes app on my phone, and to close up some longish pauses, I selected the “skip silences” option, which has pros and cons. It’s good enough for now.
Am I doing the math right? It’s about to be 2023, and I started my blog in Jan. 2005—so: it’s about to turn 18? Holy cats.
Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reflection about this blog and all the other places I’ve engaged in online discourse. I’m holding most of that reflection close to the vest for now, but what I can say is that my line of thought this past year has been heavily focused on the way this blog used to support my writing life, and the ways my pattern has shifted over the years.
One thing I’ve been keenly aware of is that navigating multiple platforms—necessary at times, for good reasons—has often left me feeling scattered, digitally speaking, unsure what to put where. My Patreon (in addition to paying off the hefty medical bills of 2017) was meant to cover the overhead costs of Bonny Glen. In practice, though, I found myself constantly waffling over what to post where. Here or there or social or where?
During the pandemic years, the decision fatigue—bane of my existence—has had a dampening effect on my writing process overall. I’ve begun, and left in drafts, dozens, possibly hundreds of posts. Blog, Patreon, newsletter, Medium, Instagram. As my old Astoria landlord used to say: It’s too much! It’s too much!
Another major factor in diminished blogging was the end of Feedburner’s posts-by-email function. Some of you will remember when I tried a substitute, with unfortunate (ad-icky) results. Absent that feature, and with social networks playing algorithm games with us all the time, readers have to actually go to a blog to see if there’s a new post. A few readers still use an aggregator, like Feedly, but not many. (I do have extremely high hopes for Reader, though—a new offering from Readwise, which became my favorite platform of 2022.)
Substack has perks as a platform, but—like Patreon—much of its content lives behind a paywall, and as a reader I thoroughly grok the impossibility of paying for individual subscriptions to a whole bunch of Substacks. Medium, at least, offers access to all paywalled posts for about the same monthly cost as a single Substack sub. But getting any kind of visibility on Medium is a whole nother challenge, a boring one.
And it’s all—aha, here I’m getting to the heart of it—work. It takes time. A lot, lot, lot of time. But this blog was never intended to steal time from writing my books—it was meant to support my work. I’ve written often about the role it has played in my reading/writing/thinking/mothering life, and that’s part of the more recent reflections I’m holding close for now.
What I will say is this:
Over the past several years, I’ve experimented with half a dozen strategies for refocusing my blog habits. Nothing succeeded at beating back the scatter factor. So in September, I tried something new. I put my Patreon on pause and dialed back on all forms of posting. No newsletter, not much action here on the blog, very little social media activity. I needed the break.
But privately, I was trying to restore the practice of daily blog-style writing—capturing my thoughts about what I was reading, watching, experiencing. And now, with lots of things bubbling behind the scenes, I’m ready to return to posting. But posting within some self-imposed parameters.
1. Since work and family responsibilities tend to come in intense waves, keeping to a regular posting schedule has been difficult-to-impossible for me. For that reason, and to mitigate the scatter factor, I’m keeping my Patreon on pause indefinitely. I’ll miss the egg money, but right now it’s more important that my blog is a delicious respite from work rather than another kind of job.
2. I’m not going to bother with affiliate links anymore either. I switched from Amazon to Bookshop.org a while ago, but (much as I love Bookshop) that creates even more work. (Amazon’s tools are faster, basically.) I may leave affiliate portal links in my sidebar, but I’m not going to take the extra time to grab specific book links any more.
3. Photos: another form of busywork. What I’ve been doing this past year is just entering loosely related keywords into my WordPress media library and choosing one of the old pics that pops up. I may also take advantage of Readwise’s lovely quote graphics because they require only a quick tap.
4. Similarly, I’m not going to bother much with design. My WordPress has a built-in analysis feature that loves to scold me for using too many words/too few keywords/too few subheadings/too few images/too complex a vocabulary. To which I say: Pffffttthhhht! See, what I’ve learned is: subheadings make a piece of writing feel like an essay or article, not an old-school chatty blog post, not an even-older-school letter from a friend. And essays and articles, while a form of writing I love to read and sometimes write, are not what I’m turning up in this space for. I need a place for shoes-off, hair-down writing. Warty writing, even.
5. How to let people know there’s something new! Last year I planned to round up posts in a monthly newsletter. This required both a) posts and b) sending a monthly newsletter. I did not much of either. What I think I’ll try instead is just sending a newsletter whenever I have three or four posts to share. No fixed schedule. You can sign up for my newsletter here, if you’d like.
6. And finally, as for posts themselves—the heart of this endeavor. There again, no pressures, no expectations. Just thinking out loud about what I’m reading and doing, as of old—but without any of the busywork that has often made it feel like a job. (Sending a quick newsletter isn’t arduous if it’s just to say—like Tonia Peckover or Three Ravens—here’s something new I wrote.)
So that’s what I’m thinking about my digital writing life as 2022 rolls to a close.
This year, I stopped wearing a Fitbit because I was weary of feeling like I hadn’t taken “enough” steps yet. I stopped caring about streaks in everything except Duolingo. (I’m learning Welsh, and I’ve been obsessed for [checks notes] 112 days.) I think I’ve logged barely half of my year’s reading at Goodreads—another intensely busyworky site, if you care about certain fiddly details. I’m sick of metrics. I keep thinking about that bit in A Ring of Endless Light where Vicky’s younger sister, Suzy, is more or less volunteering at a bait shop (something like that), and she comes home every day and flops into a chair with melodramatic fatigue, and the rest of the family is like, well if it’s so exhausting, why are you doing this totally voluntary thing? How about you just…don’t?
Here’s to walking away from the bait shop, friends, if that’s what you feel like doing. Here’s to a year of rest and restoration for all of us. Here’s to reading what you feel like reading, and deleting what you feel like deleting, and writing like your best friend is going to college on the other side of the country in 1989.
In the course of writing this post, I’ve thought of about six other things I want to write about. Which is, of course, the reason I blog in the first place.