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.

Why I’m Here – Overcoming Professional-Grade Procrastination

Pipedream #9

Mick’s pipedream #9 … but you gotta have ’em, right?

Fourteen years is more than enough time to turn procrastination into a profession. And from the outside maybe that’s what it looks like I’ve been doing, at least when it comes to writing fiction. My first novel, Burning Sunday, came out in 99. Just over a month ago I embarked on the challenging and some would say foolhardy, or even block-headed, exercise of serially blogging Fare Game – which will be my new novel, if things go well. And the 14 years in between? Well…

Back at the turn of the millennium I was too slow-witted and/or naïve to realise that I had any kind of literary career to throw away. Reviewers considered BS to be somewhat better than its more commonly used short-hand meaning suggested, and the book managed to sneak onto the short-list for The Age book of the year. Continue reading

Too busy killing darlings to ride

This one’s for The Ride. More Fare Game online tomorrow …

So here’s the thing… it’s kinda late, it has been a long day, I’m due to have posted something for The Ride and I’ve just been too plain busy doing the metaphorical riding – working on the transition of my days from full-time corporate functionary to thinking, feeling, creating writer – to get this blog piece done.

Well, yeah, I get the irony in that. And there’s even more ‘cos in between wrestling with the delicate balance of family and self and dollar-earning functionary and creative writer and glue-sniffing popcorn vendor – the recording of which is the exact point of The Ride posts – it’s a ride-like slice of writing that has tipped me over the precipice and left me here with so much to say that I can’t get any of it down.

Some of you will be aware of Kill Your Darlings, who describe themselves this way on Twitter: Kill Your Darlings is an independent, quarterly publication. We publish fresh, clever writing that combines intellect with intrigue.

On Friday, those very darlings agreed for me to contribute a piece to their blog about my bumpy ride. This very ride right here. As a result I have spent a good part of today doing my best to be clever, by combining intellect with intrigue, and shoe-horning the whole damn lot into a piece they will be sufficiently satisfied meets those lofty criteria and is consequently published. Bloody enjoyable it was, too.

By spending time killing darlings I am actually on The Ride. Two darling birds killed with one stone. Or one story. The keyboard is mightier than the stone, after all. You’ve probably heard that. Writing 1,000 words for them is very much a part of the ambition of this blog: do my topmost-notch job of writing Fare Game and use this blog and other relevant online avenues to raise awareness of that topmost-notch job.

Bums on seats, folks, that’s what I’m after. If some of those in the KYD audience want to mosey over and check-out some mcphoenixy Fare Game freshness, all the better. And while I’m strong on the re-animation theme here, preferably clad in a lovely rich purple, rather than the slaughter of  those I’m fond of, I’m sure we’ll learn to respect those differences.

But that’s it for now. I’m all clevered out. Clearly. Intrigue is off the agenda and I just spilt my intellect on the floor with the green tea bag. The cat – Harry – about whom it will be alleged soon in Fare Game is contentedly homosexual – has sniffed at my intellect as it seeps from the green tea bag and dribbles across my kitchen floor, turned up his nose at it all and sauntered off with his tail held high yet whiskers untwitched.