Current Works in Progress

Monday, February 27, 2012

Look! Categories! ------------------->

The life cycle of the common blog is a strange thing. You would think, given that every blog springs forth whole from the forehead of its creator, that they would all be individual and unique and snowflake-like. Not even remotely. What you have to keep in mind is that, while people are indeed often unique and individual and snowflake-like, they are also even more often utterly predictable.

In the course of my research1 for this post, I discovered that there are three types of blog. They are, in no particular order; the Bubble, the Blue Moon, and the Butterfly2. They all begin in the same way and for the same reason. Generally speaking, a new blog is born because the would-be blogger has something to say. Maybe they have a newly formed opinion about something, or recently had an unusual experience that they want to tell the world about, or an awesome new recipe they tried. At first they find they have lots of things to say, and boy do they say them. The first few weeks of a new blog's life are full of frenetic activity as post after post is published.

The problem is, most of us don't have unusual experiences very often (that's why they're unusual) and opinions (as they say) are like assholes; everybody's got one, and most of them aren't very interesting. What this means is that, sooner or later (usually sooner) the new blogger runs out of things to say. This is where a new blog splits off to become one of the three types.

-   -   -

If the blog is of the Bubble variety, by far the most common, it pops and disappears never to be seen again. Having run out of things to say, the blogger loses interest and stops posting. In the fullness of time they may even forget that they ever had a blog at all. Sad.

If it is one of the less common Blue Moon variety, it doesn't disappear entirely, but rather becomes reclusive. The blogger still posts when the mood strikes, randomly and infrequently, and we only hear from these blogs once in a, you’ve guessed it, blue moon.

The third type of blog, the Butterfly, is possibly the least common of all. These blogs occur when, rather than ignoring or neglecting his blog, the blogger recognizes the problems inherent in every new blog and takes steps to save its life. Wrapping their stunted, ugly creation in strands of shimmering gossamer they breathe new life into it through a radical approach known as "planning". What emerges from the cocoon is, hopefully, something far more interesting and beautiful than what went in.

-   -   -

My blog, this blog, was never going to be a Bubble - I'm too stubborn for that - but it very nearly became a Blue Moon. I'm happy to report, though, that steps have been taken. Whether what emerges from the cocoon in this case is sustainable and beautiful, or a misborn monstrosity, only time will tell. I'm excited to find out.

The steps I have taken so far to save my blog consist primarily of talking to myself. I asked myself two questions: what do I want to get out of a blog, and what do I have to offer those misguided souls who choose to read it? Put another way, why should I write, and what should I write about?

The answer to the first question was fairly straightforward - I mostly just want to reinforce writing as a daily habit (the unbreakable, unshakeable kind). I quit smoking last year after 25 years of nasty, so I know firsthand the power and inertia a good solid habit holds. As a secondary goal, I'd like to improve the quality of (as Chuck Wendig would say) "my wordsmithy". Improving my penmonkey-ship (thanks again, Chuck), though, is more of a side-effect for me. The main goal is to write more.

The answer to the second question was slightly less straightforward, but not overly difficult to figure out. I looked at the blogs I read and realized that there are two main reasons I read a blog; because the author shares one of my interests, or because the author possesses knowledge or skills I want to acquire. The question of what to write, therefore, boils down to what do I like, and what do I know?

-   -   -

And so we arrive at this. Starting next week I will be writing on a specific topic for most days of the week. My non-alliterative titles are:

l  Food Monday
l  Music Tuesday
l  Technology Wednesday
l  Stuff I Watch (on TV) Thursday
l  Writing Friday
l  So You're Moving To China Sunday, and
l  Open Letter of the Month

Mondays will be about food, obviously. Generally I will share a recipe, as often as possible with a video to show how to make it. I'm a long time foodie, as well as being fairly competent in the kitchen. Also, I have lived in China for the past 8 years, so I've been forced to start making from scratch many of the things I would normally have bought pre-made back in Canada.

Tuesdays I will write music reviews. I'm a classically trained percussionist, and have played drums (jazz, blues, rock and heavy metal) for most of my life. I'm also an experienced singer and a not-so-experienced guitar player.

Wednesdays and Fridays will have some connection with tech and writing respectively. Both topics belong more on the interest side of things than the knowledge side, I'm afraid. I've wanted to make my living as a writer for as long as I can remember, and I took my first computer apart more than 20 years ago, so hopefully I’ll be able to muster up some insights into both of these topics..

We don't watch much TV in our household; living in China doesn't afford many opportunities for quality programming. Using undisclosed methods, however, I am able to get my hands on select shows of interest. I will use Thursdays post to talk about whatever it is we're watching these days (at the moment, season 2 of "The Voice", mostly).

Sunday will be my way of writing about life in China. I want to write about living in China, but it’s been done so many times by so many other Westerners in China that I came up with a conceit to make it more interesting (for me, not necessarily for you). I will write about living in China as if I were giving advice to an imaginary person who is planning on moving here. Woohoo, let the good times roll!

I'm also planning to do an "Open Letter of the Month".  My goal is to take various "-isms" and "-ists" and put them under the microscope. This will allow me to exercise my essay writing and rhetorical skills, and will give me a soap-box from which to pour forth my opinions. I'm a very opinionated person and if I don't let them out from time to time my head explodes.

So there you have it, a new era for the Lived-in Life. To the 7 of you who already read my blog, I hope you enjoy what I have in store. And to anyone who tags along in the future, I hope you find something here of value.

1. No research was actually performed
2. Pure coincidence that they all start with 'B'

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Click Here, Searchmonkey!

As I travel around the intertubes these days, I see more and more articles and blog posts and Google+ conversations about marketing and SEO (search engine optimization, as it turns out) and, while I don't get why so many people spend so much time trying to game the system instead of just doing what they do, I thought I'd give it a go with this post.

I don't really care that much how many hits my blog gets in a day (a week might be a more useful time frame, actually). I know I will never be as popular as Justin Bieber or Jeremy Lin (until a few days ago I’d never heard of Jeremy Lin). I don't write about Apple or iPhones, or about Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. I'm just an as-yet-unpublished author (much like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Stephanie Meyer once were) carving out my little space on the internet. Oh, apparently J.K. Rowling is writing a new book. Aren't we all?

I could write about the iPhone, actually. My wife owns an iPhone, and I am responsible for iphone maintenance. We live in China, as you might know, so I am also responsible for jailbreaking the iphone and installing iphone apps on the iphone. I won't write about iphones, though, because I despise that iphone. I've lost track of the number of hours I've spent trying to get that iphone to do what I want it to do rather than what Steve Jobs wants it to do. It's my iphone Mr. Jobs, not yours. I've also lost track of how often I've had to reinstall all of the iphone's apps and media after someone plugged it into a new computer and itunes wiped everything from it. Stupid iphone.

After owning an iphone and an ipod touch for a few years now, I will never buy another Apple product, so no writing about Apple and iphones, and certainly nothing about the ipad, the ipad 2, or the ipad 3. I'm writing this post on my ASUS eeepad (Transformer TF101), which suits my needs more than an ipad 3 ever could. The transformer has a keyboard and USB ports, the ipad 3 does not. The transformer runs flash, the ipad 3 does not. The transformer allows me to work with common document formats and actually create content, the ipad 3 does not. No, I have nothing to say about the ipad 3, so I won't write about them.

I could write about Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich, but writing about politics makes me too angry. I think Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are both insane, Newt Gingrich is a liar, philanderer and a waste of skin, and Ron Paul isn't even a real conservative (I’m halfway convinced he’s not a real human – he certainly looks like some sort of zombie puppet). Also, my politics are generally well left of center and I'm not American, so I find it difficult to care very much about Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and their friends.

I could write about Jeremy Lin. I live in Zhejiang province (in China). Jeremy Lin’s mother’s mother was born here. She moved to Taiwan in the 1940s, married Jeremy Lin’s mother’s father and then gave birth to Jeremy Lin’s Mother. I am not sure when Jeremy Lin’s mother’s parents moved to the United States, but that’s where Jeremy Lin was born and raised. This doesn’t stop everyone in Zhejiang province from claiming that Jeremy Lin is also from Zhejiang province, of course. People are weird.

As to Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Stephanie Meyers; well, I really just included their names to get hits. Of course, if your only goal is to get hits, the best word you can try to work into your writing is “porn”. I did a quick check on a list of search word trends, and porn was far and away the most searched term in the whole world. Porn, porn, porn as far as the eye can see. I guess it’s true what they say about the internet having been invented solely to distribute porn. I don’t know if pr0n is as popular as porn… it looks like it isn’t. Porn is absolutely the king of search. Hooray for porn!

I'm not sure why anyone would bother with this sort of thing, though. Anyone who gets here as the result of searching for the keywords I've included will almost certainly be disappointed by what they find. Unless you are only trying to turn a quick buck through ad revenue (good luck, by the way), tricking people into landing on your page is a useless endeavor, and actually does more harm than good to your brand or image. A much better strategy would be to provide something of value to your target market/audience, and grow that audience organically.

I'd rather 10 people read my blog regularly because they enjoy what I write than have 10,000 people glance at it once and decide that I’m a douchebag; even if none of those 10 people is Jeremy Lin.