The 1000th Post: To Be or Not To Blog

Heard you didn’t miss me.  I’m back anyhow.

This is the 1000th blog post of The Domino Theory and I wasn’t sure if it would be the last one.   I took a month off to think about it. Or to put it more accurately to not think about it.

Nobody called,  nobody wrote to ask when I was going to publish again because nobody cares if there’s one less blog in the world.   All this blog is and ever will be is me sharing my thoughts on a topic most people already know about. I’m not breaking news. I’m sharing one man’s opinion and the value of that opinion waxes and wanes depending on how receptive the reader is to what I have to say.

Blogs come and blogs go.  Those that endure do so because the blogger finds ways to keep things fresh and interesting to them.   If they are lucky so will their readers.

This blog was supposed to be a means to an end. The intention was for me to keep my writing tools sharp by keeping busy between freelancing gigs. I never got into journalism to make money because unless you become a brand like Bob Woodward where you make your reputation on one or two good books and squander it by writing increasingly bad books, there’s no money in journalism. At least nobody I know is living comfortably off those wages.

I could do nothing but write about police shootings and racism and never run short of material.   The trouble is  how depressing it is to dwell all the time on blood and bigotry.   It’s not much fun to read either.   This will never be  the place to come for  your Kardashian/Jenner updates, but even I need to lighten the mood at times.   I recently read for my monthly writer’s group a personal story about a friendship which ended badly. It was a substitute for a blood-and-thunder piece I had written about the shooting of Walter Scott. One woman told me, “I was a little scared when I heard you were reading this month. You can be pretty intense sometimes.”

She’s right about that. But too much intensity wears you out.

The other night I came across a Word Press site from blogging expert Lorelle VanFossen and her post, How to Know When to Stop Blogging.  It rang true from the first sentence, “Blogging isn’t for everyone, and everyone doesn’t need to blog. There are times when you should stop blogging, and there are times to take a rest from blogging.”

As I approach the eight-year blogging mark, those are words of sage advice.   VanFossen had more of particular interest for me.

Stop blogging if you don’t have a purpose: Honestly, you don’t have to blog if you don’t want to, and if you don’t know what to blog about, don’t. If your blog has no purpose, stop blogging.

Your blogging purpose doesn’t have to be specific, but it does need to exist. A blog purpose is the reason you blog, the definition of your blog, and why your readers come back to read your blog. If you are blogging about your daily life’s activities and affairs, then that’s your purpose. If you are blogging about a specific industry such as online technology, space, transportation, or ice skating, that’s your blogging purpose. If you are blogging about a specific rare area of science, math, or research, you’ve found a purpose for blogging.

If you blog because it fulfills some deep inner need to express yourself, and it makes you happy and motivates you to get up in the morning, and that feeling lasts longer than 3 months, you’ve got a purpose for blogging. Keep blogging.

Vague, empty blogging just because it’s something to do, or because everyone else is doing it, is useless and a time waster. Stop blogging.

Pretty much this.   Taking a 30-day blogging hiatus did not offer any great revelations. Did not break through a wall of writer’s block. I had no epiphany. No startling insights. None of that. I just needed a break. I took one.

I did not reflect and I did not recharge. I am not renewed or refueled with a brand new sense of purpose. Whatever it was which made me angry or amused or confused or happy or moved to plant my butt in a chair and start typing until what was trying to get out was set free still does.

VanFossen’s parting shot is direct.  “If you are bored with blogging, or bored with what you are blogging about, or your blog writing bores you, it bores your readers. Stop blogging and find something else to do.”

That “something else to do” is to write more, blog less. Writing more means going back to freelancing.   Writing more means recognizing its okay to blog less.     Writing more means writing more stuff that means something and less to fill space because I’m not updating enough.

Too much time spent thinking about writing is not enough time spent writing. There are stories to tell and if I want to read them I’m going to have to write them.    This blog doesn’t have another 1,000 posts in its future, but I’m curious to see how many are left.


The Rules of the Writing Game

RULE #1:  Write Alone.  

Writing is like masturbation.  It’s best done in private.  It’s awkward when done before an audience.   If a spouse, significant other, roomie, or BFF ever says, “I want to watch you write.  I’ll just sit over here and be quiet,”  gently and lovingly kick their ass out.  People are noisy and noise is distracting and distracted writing is bad writing.

My writing area is in my son’s room on the home PC.   There is a window on my left shoulder and a door on my right.  The significance of the strategic placement of these objects will be made clear shortly.

I write with music.  Jazz when I’m trying to get my thoughts straight and rock when my mind is a jumbled puzzle of chaos and disorder.  And not just any kind of rock.  The the loud, brutal, head banging kind of rock.   I serve up some KornNine Inch Nails, Ministry or Rob Zombie when I need to blow the bad shit out of my brain.  This is the kind of music you wouldn’t play for your grandparents unless you didn’t like them and wanted to drive them stark, raving mad.

I don’t have a dog but if I did, I’d keep it out of the room when I’m working.   Dogs may be man’s best friend, but not when he’s lost in a thought.   Some dogs are patient and comprehend their master is busy at the moment and does not want to play catch or get licked on the face.   Other dogs don’t give a shit.  Those dogs are every bit as much of an attention whore as a Kardashian near a camera.   They gotta go.

Cats are the same way.  When they want to petted, stroked or fed, they want what they want and don’t care what you want.   If you simply must have a pet in the room limit it to a goldfish.  A goldfish doesn’t need to be walked and isn’t going to jump in your lap breathing its hot stank breath in your face. Added bonus:  If a goldfish starts bugging you, pour it down the toilet and get another one just like it tomorrow.  After you’ve finished the Great American Novel.

A window can be a distraction if you allow it to be one.  I get inspiration from the sights, sounds (and occasionally the smells) of the world outside.  If I lived in New York City I’d be overcome by sensory overload.   I won’t say it makes the work go any easier, but it can be a welcome break from the occasional grind of getting the words to line up just so.

The door doesn’t offer as much inspiration, but it does afford a certain degree of privacy.   Privacy is important when you’re writing, but I keep the door open wide enough so when others in the house pass by they realize my groans, moans and sighs are based upon frustration with how the work is coming and not satisfaction because I’m touching myself inappropriately (I did say writing was like masturbation, remember?).

Plus, if you write in your pajamas, ratty old house coat, tighty whities or butt nekkid, do you really want the rest of the world to see you looking like a red-hot mess while you’re furiously tapping away at the keyboard?

RULE#2: Writing does not require a suggestion box.

There is a terrible misconception non-writers have about writers. Or to be specific, non-writers have a terrible misconception about me as a writer. I don’t write for them. I write for me. I have no idea what I should write to please an audience, so I try to please myself and hope an audience finds it pleasing too. This is the only way I know to make it work. I’m not sure any other way does.

” Jeff, why don’t you write about (fill in the blank)?”

Oh, maybe because I don’t want to, that’s why? I’m a opinionated and informed man, but there are many things I’m not informed of and have no opinion on. Some subjects take time, research, fact-checking, verification, analysis, data-mining and just more plain hard work than a 500 word blog post can do justice to.

There are hundreds of stories I would like to tell but can’t because of a lack of time to tell it the way it needs to be told. If you can’t go all the way, why go at all? Nothing is as obvious as sloppy writing because the author cut corners, took shortcuts and generally half-assed it.

You want to know why I can’t stand Rush Limbaugh? Not just Angry White Man persona, boorish behavior and caveman politics, though that’s plenty reason enough. How can I trust someone who never says, “I don’t know.” Limbaugh always has an opinion about everything. Whether it makes any sense is not the point. Rush will always have a point whether he knows jack or shit about the subject.

Limbaugh is what my dear departed Daddy called, “smart-ass White boys. They pontificate, they pronounce and they pose when in truth not a one of them knows nuthin’ about nuthin’. How many times are writers told to write what they know? Well, what if you don’t know anything?

I’m a writer and a journalist, not a talking head, not a professional pundit and prognosticator. Whatever little credibility I have comes from knowing when to call my shot and what the game is before I do. You can’t predict the pitcher with scorch a 90 mph slider across home plate the sport is basketball, not baseball. It makes you look ridiculous and I hate to look ridiculous.

Which is another way of saying I not only write what I know, I write what I’ve learned and if I have learned nothing and know nothing, I write nothing. Case in point: Hey, Jeff! Did you see the cover of Vogue magazine with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West? What did you think about that?!

Insert vacant stare here. You can add a little drool coming from the side of the mouth to the effect.

I didn’t think anything about it. What do I care about people I’m not interested in on the cover of a rag I don’t read? Put Kimmy Cakes on the cover of Field & Stream or National Geographic if you want. I still cannot begin to tell you how many damns I do not give.

Easy reading comes from hard writing. For me, writing about the lives of the rich and for no reason famous is like being waterboarded with gasoline; It might not kill me, but I’d sure wish i were dead and put out of my misery.

People who make suggestions of what you should write do it to be helpful. I get that. They also do it because what they want you to write is probably something they want to read but lack the skill to write it themselves. That’s understandable, but seriously–go take a class or something and learn how to DIY.

There’s this quote from Bill Hicks I liked so much it’s on the header of my blog, “I don’t mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that’s how it comes out.” I’m not opposed to people making suggestions and bringing something to my attention, but I have my stuff to do and coming up with ideas of what to do next has never been a problem for me.

Rule#3: I am not a tortured artist.

The biggest load of bullshit since the fertilizer truck turned over on the freeway is this nonsense you must write everyday. Uh…and what if you don’t want to write today because you don’t have anything you want to write about? This thing about writers suffering for their craft is a total load. If writing drove me to drink, depression and despair, I wouldn’t do it. I’d learn how to crochet or take a long walk around the park on a sunny spring afternoon and synchronize my eyes checking out the pretty girls jogging. Who needs a splendid miseries in their life? Not me. I want to be taken seriously and respected, but it’s not so vital to my existence if I remain obscure, unsung and unnoticed that I’m going to jump from a great height and turn myself into street pizza. It ain’t no ways that important. Maybe in death I’ll earn the kudos I hoped would be forthcoming in life. More likely that’s not going to be the case.

Stressing out when the words on the paper or screen don’t line up as precisely as they do in my head is frustrating, but hardly a reason to torture myself. I’m a serious writer, but writing isn’t all that serious.

Writing has a therapeutic effect on me. I haven’t gone out and bought a gun because I can write out my anger. I haven’t killed any of the richly deserving bastards who so desperately need to stop breathing air because I can call them bastards in my writing. I haven’t broken the law with my deviant fantasies and violent tendencies by setting them loose on an unsuspecting world because all that dark, creepy stuff has an outlet with the power of the written word. All of us have our inner demons. Writers have found a way to pimp theirs out and make a buck off of them and it is a darn good thing we have. There would be a lot more socially maladjusted serial killers and sexual predators if they couldn’t get their ya-yas out pressed between wood pulp and selling for $25.95 on Amazon.

I am not a martyr for my art. I do not suffer silently in a life of quiet desperation. I am not a tortured artist craving your acknowledgment and pleading for acceptance. Far from it. I’m a good writer and dammit I know I am. That long dark night of the soul stuff? Been there and done that and got the T-shirt to show for it.

My confidence in my ability came the old-fashioned way: I earned it. I know what it feels like to be ignored, to be belittled and to be told in no uncertain terms you suck eggs. If you can’t cope with rejection, don’t be a writer. You won’t last because when the whole world seems as though its conspiring against your talent you got to believe in yourself. That’s the only thing that will pull you through and enable you to come out on the other side with your soul intact.

I do not suffer for my art. Far from it. I write what I like because I like writing. As Gloria Steinem once said, “Writing is the only thing when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”

I know what she means.

I Freelance, But That Doesn’t Mean I’m Free.

I do not suffer fools or lazy editors well.

Being a blogger has never been my ambition.  I looked at blogging as a way to keep my writing skills sharp until something better came along.   I always considered myself a journalist who blogs.   I would have never guessed four years after starting my blog, it would still be my primary outlet.

The option is always there to go back to submitting to the Black press and alternative sites and publications.   The problem with that is after you’ve graduated high school, how many times should you return to visit?    There’s a feeling everyone gets that they have outgrown certain things and for me contributing to Black and alternative publications is a step backward, not forward.

Which is why during a recent trip to Philadelphia, a friend asked me to contribute an article to a website called The Black Commentator, I didn’t pump my fist at the invitation.  Don’t get the idea I think I’m too good for The Black Commentator.   I still enjoy writing for predominantly Black audiences, but I’m past the point where simply getting published is enough.  Where my work is published and by whom matters just as much. As far as anesthetics goes, The Black Commentator website is an ugly throwback to the earliest days of the Internet.   It’s a text heavy, no photography, no illustrations, liberal-to-Far-Left site which has the audacity to lock away most of its content behind a $39.99 paywall.   Paywalls are all the rage these days as more newspapers such as The New York Times and Washington Post are looking at charging readers a fee to get access to their premium content.

The Black Commentator does not have such premium content to justify such a cost, but that’s an opinion.

I wasn’t fired with enthusiasm to write for the website, but I did it as a favor to my friend.   She wanted an essay about U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and the rough time she would face from Republicans in the Senate if President Obama nominated her to replace the departing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

I wrapped up the assignment in three days.  I edited it for errors and e-mailed it to my friend for her to submit to The Black Commentator.    She said it would probably run in the December  7 edition.

December 7 rolled around and I checked the website.  I had not received any correspondence asking for any corrections to the piece, so I figured it was good to go.   I figured wrong.   My friend sent me an e-mail from the publisher  stating:

We are rejecting Jeff’s piece.  There are two major factual errors in the opening graph.  

Editing is one thing, but re-writing a piece is something we prefer to avoid.

I woud (sic) have sent this note directly to Jeff, but I do not have his email address.

The standard operating procedure for writers and editors, at least the one I’m familiar with since 1992, is you submit an article for publication, the publication goes over the article and makes suggestions for clarification, accuracy, and composition.   Maybe a paragraph needs to be moved from here to there or stricken entirely.   Perhaps the editor has a question and needs the writer to explain how they reached this conclusion or where that quote came from.   This is the process and it a collaborative one.   That is how I’ve always known it to work.

Apparently The Black Commentator doesn’t get down like that.   Was I pissed off?  Surprisingly not that much.  But was I annoyed over the expenditure of time and effort for nothing?  What do you think?   I can’t speak to how the editor learned his craft, but my experience is when a freelancer submits an article and you have a problem with it, you extend them the professional courtesy to revise and resubmit. Or you say it’s too broken to be fixed.  It’s not a fun thing to hear, but you can’t make it as a freelancer if  you can’t cope with rejection.

What an editor should always do is keep your snarky quips to yourself.   I responded:

I received from Miss (name withheld) your note to her of your decision to reject my article on Susan Rice based upon “””two major factual errors in the opening graph.”

As  my friend was serving as both the point person of contact and the intermediary between myself and The Black Commentator editorial, I would have been more than willing to revise and correct any problems in the article—IF I had been extended the opportunity to do so.

Since I was only submitting in response to an invitation from Miss (name withheld)  and to the best of my knowledge I was doing so without compensation, I can’t say I’m all that disappointed by your decision.

However, your observation that “Editing is one thing, but re-writing a piece is something we prefer to avoid”   would probably be more apt had I been offered the opportunity to edit the article after submission.

It’s unfortunate my expenditure of time and effort did not pass The Black Commentator’s rigorous publishing standards, but I certainly cannot correct “two major factual errors” if no one deems it worth bringing it to my attention.   It is not presumptuous for the writer to expect the professional courtesy of being offered the opportunity to correct that which is incorrect.  

The gentle reader might wonder what was  the response from the editor?   He didn’t, which is a response of a sort.

When I write an 1,806 word article and some smart-ass editor who doesn’t know me from a can of paint gives me the back of the hand treatment, I react badly as I am not one prone to suffer silently.   Kill that noise.   You shoot my dog and I kill your cat.   That’s how I get down.

I conquered any uncertainty over whether I was any good as a writer years ago.   I’ve confirmed that I am to my satisfaction, and  do not need  The Black Commentator for validation.

It isn’t egotism or over-confidence to place a value on your writing and decline lesser offers for the service you provide.   Pay me what I’m worth, cross my palm with coin of the realm and congratulations!  You’ve purchased my services and all that entails.   But while I’m a cheap date, I’m not a free one.   That’s what people like this particular editor do not and can not understand.  I don’t care about your titles, I don’t care about your degrees or how much you make or how fine your woman is, how diversified your portfolio is or how big a bat you’re swinging.

That doesn’t impress me.   What does impress me is are you producing a quality publication with high standards of journalism and professionalism?   If you are, then you are the type of person I want to be associated with.

If  you are not, then it’s probably a good thing our first date turned out to be our last date.

Breathing Life Back into the Dead.

These are my instruments.  May I play something for you?

These are my instruments. May I play something for you?

I play a keyboard, but I’m not a musician.

I’m a writer.  I don’t read a note of music, but every now and then I can compose something beautiful on those black keys.

I am a writer.  Every so often someone has to remind me because I have this tendency to forget.  Or maybe just take it for granted.   That’s when circumstances conspire to slap me upside the head .

When I was just starting out I used to run my ideas past my family. Not because they knew shit about writing (they don’t). But because I needed somebody else’s approval to take the next step.   I craved validation like a kid craves sugar.

Now I don’t talk to anyone about what I’m writing. I show them what I’ve written. I’m my own worst critic and while I take in account the criticisms of others, I can’t allow it to shape the work.

…so I was down in the basement engaged in some late summer cleaning (I’ve got too much basement to do it all in spring) and I came across a box filled with rejection letters, notes, tapes, and a book proposal.

“Whoa,” I thought. “Talk about ghosts…”

I sat down and read again all my notes, my proposal and the rejection letters from literary agents. Months of interviews had gone into the research. Every year Jeff Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents came out, I had to buy it. I dutifully sent out my query letters and SASE. I even got a contract from one agent. Too bad he turned out to be a permanent fixture on Predators and Editors as a unreliable goof.

If youre an writer dying to get pubished, this is your bible.

If you're an writer dying to get pubished, this is your bible.

Nothing like a bad experience with a literary agent to do like Marvin Gaye and say, “Makes me wanna holler/way they do my life.”

I had to smile because if I didn’t I’d be pissed at myself for giving up, being a quitter and walking away from the dream I chased for at least four years. I had allowed all the rejection and false starts and setbacks to be the excuse I gave for bailing out.

It used to be I’d hear, “Hey, how’s the book coming?” I’d smile and reply, “Fine. Just waiting to hear back from the agent.” When the wait turned from days to weeks to months, people stopped asking how the book was coming. They knew as well as I did there was no book coming.

Oh, I still write. I have a blog and a few websites I contribute articles and reviews to. It’s not much, but it’s enough to allow me to continue calling myself a writer even if I’m not really enthusiastic what I’m writing about.

Because buzzing in the back of my head like a sound I can’t quite identify is the feeling I should have knocked one more time. Tried just a little bit harder. Gave it one more good shot.

Now I dabble at writing.  I still enjoy it, but the joy of writing has faded.  I  have became that which I once hated: A poseur. A dilettante.    Once there was a larger prize I had my eyes on.  Now?   There’s nothing.

Writers write because we are convinced the world needs what we have to offer it. This only applies when we commit the words to paper. Nobody goes to Barnes & Noble asking for a book that hasn’t been written.

Then I came across this quotation I had written down to remind myself why I was putting myself through this punishment.

No one is asking, let alone demanding, that you write. The world is not waiting with bated breath for your article or book. Whether or not you get a single word on paper, the sun will rise, the earth will spin, the universe will expand. Writing is forever and always a choice – your choice.

~Beth Mende Conny

Dammit, Beth, whoever you are. I hate it when you’re right.

I am thinking I very much need to breathe life once more into this cold corpse of a book idea. I hesitate when I contemplate all the interviewing I will have to do again. I detest transcribing. Writing query letters suck. Getting back on the literary agent merry-go-round is a nightmare.

I can think of a thousand reasons why I don’t want to try and write my book.  But only one reason why I know I should.

It’s going to be an itch I can’t scratch if I don’t give it one more good try.