Top 5 things I’ve learnt about blogging literary fiction OR What is clear now is just how little I knew

ignoranceSo here’s the thing; I’m only three posts from the end of Fare Game! That’s right folks, get out the party blowers and fill your lungs, chuck a few streamers in the air. Whoohoo!

Yup. Big deal, huh?

At the half-way point my main concern was that I wouldn’t be able to maintain the pace I’d set for myself. But I’ve just finished the last scene and it will be posted later next week.

In the three months it has taken me to get to this point I have learned enough to look back and squirm a little at my unconscious incompetence. Some of you will be familiar with the ‘four stages of learning’ model. It goes like this:

Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence – not only do you have no skills, you really don’t know what skills you need or how to acquire them

Stage 2: Conscious incompetence – you still don’t have too many skills, but you are developing an awareness that you suck and why you suck. You’re starting to see what you need to get better at

Stage 3: Conscious competence – this is a big step up from step 2 because through trial and error you’ve acquired a few skills. You’ve tried things and kept what works, discarded what doesn’t. You’re not necessarily good, you’re just not incompetent

Stage 4: Unconscious competence – you’ve practiced so much the skill has become second nature. You’re really good and you just do it without thinking about it

Now, this is a massive over-simplification, I realise that. In the blogging caper there are multiple skills you need to develop to be successful AND there are multiple definitions of success. In the beginning, not only was my definition of success wrong, but I had no idea of how to achieve it, whatever it was. If that’s not unconscious incompetence, I don’t know what is.

But at least I did know I was incompetent. I embraced my incompetence and was comfortable with it. If you’re really rubbish at something and you don’t even know you’re rubbish, you can’t start on the journey to competence.

So, of all the things I became conscious of in my journey from stage 1 to somewhere around the border between stages 2 and 3, here’s a top 5:

Success is not what I thought it was. I thought it was a big following, but it wasn’t. It was ‘Mick McCoy’s writing re-animated’. That’s what it says on my page banner. That’s why I chose to call the blog McPhoenix. I thought the measure of that would be a big following, but I was wrong about that. The measure of it was the writing schedule I set for myself and the process of bringing each post to readiness. It required an intensity of writing and a process of drafting / rewriting / editing that was of great benefit.

People who blog fiction generally don’t achieve large followings, particularly if they start from scratch. Commentary and opinion pieces are more instant, more connected to the blogosphere’s and the wider world’s stream of consciousness. That’s not a criticism at all. Bloggers who produce such work are often exceptionally talented, not to mention hard-working. They go after their audience, spending as much if not more time on finding and building community as on crafting their posts.

I didn’t do so much of that because I was so busy writing and because from one post to the next I was serialising the same story. My aims were to build character and plot, create a sense of time and place that people could recognise. That shrinks your audience. But that’s okay, I am enormously grateful to my audience for the feedback they’ve given me via comment, email and voice.

Blogging fiction can be a good idea. This is more about marketing and promotion, than writing. In that way, it’s an extension of my first point.

In my case I think blogging my fiction was a good idea. I have read plenty about why it could be a bad idea, but I have slowly teased out the detail around that and come to the conclusion that whether or not it is a good or bad idea depends on your context.

The two key points in defining my context are that I write literary fiction and, while I have had two novels published, that was 12 years ago. This is relevant because literary fiction has a smaller market than genre fiction and not only do very few people know or care who Mick McCoy, writer, is, those who do have some vague recollection that I once had a fledgling literary career might be a little dubious about my commitment, since I dropped out for 12 years.

Regarding the first point, there is a single big issue that makes people question whether blogging fiction is a good idea, That is, does the availability of a draft of my story in post-by-post serialised format mean that, if I get a publishing deal for the story, the prospects for the book would be diminished by its earlier availability in blogged format? For many reasons, in my context, I don’t think so. Here are three of the more fundamental reasons:

  1. Before it achieves publication it will undergo rewriting, so it will be different from the blogged version
  2. A published version will be compiled in one volume, a much more convenient way to consume it
  3. The reading experience is markedly different between serial 2,000-2,500 episodes and a single continuous story that the reader can consume at their own pace. This is one of the things that has become most clear from reader feedback

The second point of context specific to my situation is that it is important for me to overtly hang out my shingle. Mick McCoy, writer. I have to actively rise from unknown, step-by-step. Creating a blog and committing to posting on it are very important manifestations of that shingle hanging.

A writer must seek out and engage his audience. There are bloggers out there who are wise enough to combine or even precede their fiction posts with commentary and opinion posts. They do this to build audience, to garner confidence that an audience will appreciate their words, and sometimes to delay the commitment to writing and/or posting fiction.

The audience is readers of your kind of words. They may or may not be bloggers. They may be members of TheReadingRoom or Goodreads. They may subscribe to online journals, such as Kill Your Darlings. They may buy hard copy books (particularly readers of literary fiction, I suspect) from Readings and Dymocks and their local independent book shop, as well as ebooks from Amazon and The Book Depository. They may read the reviews and opinions of others in newspapers and online. They may like Facebook pages and follow tweets.

So it’s important to get out there and be seen. And it’s not a chore. I’ve really enjoyed the posts I’ve written for other outlets. It’s something I must do, because I want to be read.

I want to be read. I want to get back in the game. That’s what it says on my ‘About’ page and that is a stronger urge now than it was three months ago. I know I’ve got to earn the right to be read.

This is different from seeking out an audience. This is why you need to seek out an audience. I love the writing. I love invention, the crafting of words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters. But you can still do that and not have a single person read it. I write because I want people to read what I’ve written. It’s a compulsion, a very internal thing. And it demands an outlet.

The blog gives me that, but I want to be read via paperback and ebook.

Having ‘top 5’ in your post title draws readers. That’s why there’s a fifth point here! Nothing more to say on this other than I flatly reject the notion that compiling lists is a form of procrastination and avoidance of actually doing something valuable. Shameless, eh?

Anyway, it was all getting a bit too serious there. I needed to lighten the tone before finishing, in case some of you thought I really cared about what I was doing. As if …

So thanks for coming on the ride with me this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have and I look forward to hearing from you as I post the final three episodes.

After that, I’ve got to figure out where to next … but I do have a few ideas.

1.3 Fare Game

Deutsch: Jack Nicholson bei der deutschen Film...

Film premiere The Bucket List, Berlin, 21 January 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the third instalment of Fare Game, the purpose of this blog. If you haven’t already, please
 Follow mcphoenix via email’ to the right to receive notifications of each new instalment.

Earlier instalments are available by clicking links in the Archives or Categories boxes to the right of the page. Here’s a synopsis of what happened last time:

Yep, that’s Stephanie alright – off to ride Punter’s political adversary – Driver pulls up short to prevent carnage – lifelessness outside the cemetery – the cost of Driver’s advice – a plan of revenge is hatched

And so to Fare Game, the third instalment …

Until that instant Driver had no idea what he was going to say. But he couldn’t bare the sight of Punter so full of self-pity.

‘Well you’re acting like you might as well be dead, so why don’t you just jump the fence?’ Driver said. ‘Why don’t you just jump the fence now and get it over with? Pick a stone, lift the lid and cosy up to some corpse or other.’

Punter looked at him, slack-faced. ‘You say it makes you feel sick. Big fucken deal. Go take an Aspirin, or something.’

‘I know it’s not about me, you idiot.’ Driver said.  ‘Look, I’ll make it nice and simple for you. Nice and clear. You remember The Postman Always Rings Twice?’ he asked. ‘The ’82 version with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson. You remember that?’

Driver knew he was drawing an exceedingly long bow. He knew the analogy would leave them both no better than stumbling towards some kind of clarity. But it was the only thing he could think of. It was the only way he could see forward. And it was forward. At least, it seemed that way to Driver.

‘Oh, no. You’ve got to be kidding me!’ Punter replied. ‘Please Driver, please, this is serious. Most of the time I can forgive your film-driven pop psychology. Even accept it at some level. But not now. Please.’ Continue reading

1.2 Fare Game

This is the second instalment of Fare Game, the purpose of this blog. If you haven’t already, please click ‘Follow mcphoenix via email’ to the right to receive notifications of each new instalment. 

The first instalment is available by clicking links in the Archives or Categories boxes to the right of the page. Or, there’s a two-line synopsis below.

Driver’s calling – An agitated Punter – Follow that car! – The politics of envy – Who’s in the Beemer? – The eyes have it – He’s headed to my place! – The woman in the passenger seat … is that Stephanie?

 And so to the new stuff: Fare Game, the second instalment …

But despite all the evidence on the table, Driver was acutely aware of the potentially messy consequences of drawing the wrong conclusion. Of in any way acting on a misunderstanding. Few men would be less than deeply offended if another assumed, correctly or not, that his wife was fooling around on him.

So Driver decided to continue feigning ignorance, just in case the conclusions he’d leapt to were wrong. ‘Do you want to tell me what this is all about?’

But it was as if Punter didn’t hear Driver at all. He was so lost in his own thoughts, in his own anxieties and black imaginings, that Driver’s voice apparently didn’t even register. So when his question went unanswered, Driver didn’t press it further.

‘Ha,’ Punter said, a sudden but artificial lifting of the gloom evident in his voice. ‘It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?’ He leaned even further forward and craned his neck to look directly up at the sky through the top of the wind screen. ‘I should buy ten grand worth of Italian pushbike and join you and those wanker mates of yours in their lycra, clogging up Beach Road and hogging all the tables at Café Racer.’

‘Should you?’ Driver asked him.

‘Well I can’t afford a car like his, so how else am I gunna compete? I gotta get back into shape.’

Continue reading

1.1 Fare Game

City Square, Melbourne, Australia, from Swanst...

City Square, Melbourne, Australia, from Swanston Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the first instalment of Fare Game, the purpose of this blog. If you click ‘Follow mcphoenix via email’ to the right you will receive notifications of each new instalment.

As he crossed Swanston Street the tyres of Driver’s taxi beat out a ragged rhythm against the tram lines. He loved that sound. Always had.  While it served a bitter-sweet reminder of his father, more generally the industrially sprung percussion of rubber against steel rails also evoked more positive emotions. A feeling of progress, of movement and delivery, which was perhaps the main attraction of his job. And a feeling of a very particular kind of intimacy, the audience for the beat he conducted being witnessed by no one except the occupants of his cab. A feeling of connectedness to place, that sound not being replicated in quite the same way in any other town or city in the country, or in more than a handful of cities beyond. A sense that this vocation in this city was not merely a symptom of his indecision, as Minnie liked to think, or his failure to commit to what he had trained to do. Not a diversion – albeit of six years’ duration and counting – from his proper path, but rather the path. The true and proper path, regardless of what anyone else said. That sound was the self-affirming tattoo for his chosen professional life. At least, that’s what he liked to tell himself. And while all that was about to begin unravelling, for the better part of those last six years, Driver had convinced himself that was the only thing that mattered.

Coasting up the rise along Collins Street he spotted his waiting customer on the opposite footpath outside the Westin, impatience furrowing his brow and rendering him fidgety and agitated, unable to stand still. Six-three, or six-four of him shuffling from foot to foot as if the pavement was made of hot coals and embers, or as if he was busting for a piss. It brought a knowing smile momentarily to Driver’s face, one that he guessed he’d better extinguish before his passenger joined him.

Continue reading