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.