Friday, May 4, 2012

Looking Back Through the Looking Glass of A to Z

So... let's just get this whole reflections thing out of the way so that next week I can start getting everything back to normal for real. Or as real as anything is around here. After my a to z series, I'm beginning to wonder what real really is.

Okay, not really... that's mostly the fault of my kids.

But what did I think of the whole A to Z thing? That's a good question that I don't have a good answer for. So, before I get to the part where I start trying to evade that question, let's deal with the stuff I do know.

The first thing I know is, wow! I had no clue that fiction, specifically science fiction, introduced so many ideas to the world. I mean, I knew that science fiction was responsible for some stuff. I figure we all knew that. But I had no idea it introduced SO MANY THINGS. You think I talked about a lot? You should see the list of things I didn't talk about! What amazed me most was how many of them, especially the stuff about space travel, tied directly back to the fiction with people saying, "I was inspired by this." That's pretty amazing, if you ask me. And I'm really glad my wife made this suggestion, because it was all very interesting and good research.

[At some point, I may talk about more of these things, so I'm gonna keep my lists and my links to myself for the moment. Maybe, I'll post some in the future. (before anyone asks)]

The second thing I know is that there are a bunch of books I want to read now. I've already ordered Snow Crash and also have plans to pick up some Vinge novels within the next couple of weeks (crossing my fingers that they still have them when I go to get them (because, yes, I already called)). Doing this series made me want to reread a bunch of stuff, too, like War of the Worlds, but I know I probably won't actually do that even though I want to. My reading list (of things I haven't read) is just too long, and I don't think I'll be able to work a bunch of rereading in (even if I am rereading Jekyll and Hyde).

Those are the things I know. But it's also raised a question.

Doing all of this has, in many ways, caused me to question literature. Not in a "what is literature?" kind of way, but in a "what's the point of most literature?" kind of way. After seeing the impact of so much of science fiction, it makes me wonder about the worthwhileness of whole genres of "literature." If reading doesn't prompt us to do something, what's the point? It doesn't have to be science fiction. Dickens didn't write science fiction, but his novels were often social commentary that prompted people to respond (like with Oliver Twist). Honestly, this has been a question I've struggled with since, well, since high school, even back when I was reading Piers Anthony (and most of his books don't do anything). And I get entertainment. I like being entertained. But isn't providing something more than just mere entertainment something we should be striving for? Of course, writing books that say something is a lot harder than just writing books. Writing books that say something well... well, that's pretty rare.


The A to Z challenge itself... was it worth it? I don't think I have an answer to that question. Looking at the numbers, just the numbers, I'd have to say "no." I mean that in that I put a whole lot more work into it than I got back from it. It didn't raise my daily traffic by any considerable amount. I did gain followers, but it certainly wasn't a huge number. No great increase in comments. In fact, that number dropped, but I'm sure it was because people got burned out by the end of the month. At any rate, I think it will take a couple or few months to actually see what the real impact of participating was. At the moment, I'm saying it was tiring, it made me cranky, and it made my wife cranky at me. And, see, I had, like, 9 posts completed before April started, but I only finished my "Z" post two days before it was due. And I worked on these almost every single day (I think I took a total of 3 days off from working on blog posts the whole month (which is why my wife was cranky at me)).

Here's what I observed:

People who wrote short "nothing" posts picked up more followers and got more comments. On one level, I get this. People want to zip through the blogs and check them out, because there are just a lot of them. However, in relation to people that I already followed, those that took this approach, I really just didn't read their blogs the whole month of April. Why? Because they didn't post about anything. Whatever it was that I like about their blog was just gone, so I didn't even bother. In that sense, it all feels like false advertising to me. The people that pulled the most new people in were the ones that "lied" about who they are by throwing up frivolous posts. And I just don't know how I feel about that overall. I think it makes me sad.

In the same way, I didn't find very many new blogs I felt were worth following. The few I did choose to follow were blogs that said something. Had significant posts that took some time to read. Some of these blogs picked up so few new followers as to be insignificant. And that makes me sad. It makes me feel like most people don't want to take the time to read something that will make them think. Actually, I know this is true, because most people don't read. And, here, among people that (supposedly) do read, they're only really attracted to the short, flashy posts with pictures of kittens.

But here's the thing, of the blogs that I skipped over because their A to Z posts were short, frivolous things (like A is for Apple (because I really came across that one (more than once))), how many of them actually have blogs worth following but were "lying" during the A to Z month because the short posts attract more flies? I'll never know.

And that... that's actually why I wrote long posts in the vein of what I normally do. I wanted the people that stopped by my blog to see what I'm actually about and make a decision based on me, not a "used car salesman" persona that I threw on during A to Z month to drive traffic in. Having said that, I did do one post that was "lighter" than  the rest. It had more pictures than any other post I did and less of me talking. It felt natural to me to demonstrate that one through pictures because of the subject matter: exo-suits. They're just cool. And that post, the one I viewed as kind of a throwaway post, got twice as many page views as the next most viewed A to Z post. And I don't know how I feel about that, because, if I were to pick my top 3 posts of A to Z, or my top 5, or, even, my top 10, that one would not be in it.

I suppose it's just going to come down to a question of quantity vs quality. I chose to not go for quantity. I did that on purpose and, even, stated my decision to go the route I was going to one of the hosts. Unfortunately, quality is more difficult to measure, to >heh< quantify, so it may take me a while to figure out if the time I spent on A to Z was worth it in the grand scheme of things. I do think I picked up, at least, a few quality people, and, for that, I'm grateful. Beyond that, we'll just have to see how it goes.

[EDIT: As a follow up to my series and as an addition (specifically) to my Cyborg post, I just saw an article yesterday about the very first bionic eyes being implanted and returning (limited) sight to some people suffering from a degenerative genetic condition that causes blindness. This is pretty big news!]


  1. If I were going to do that again I'd need a better theme. Just flogging my book all month I think got boring to everyone--including me. Maybe next year I could do a Superhero/Supervillain a day or something. That might be more fun.

    Yes the blogs I tend to read are ones that say something more substantial than "A is for Apple." Or that in some way relate to my interests. I kept meaning to go visit some of the blogs. I tried following a bunch but it seemed like the whole Friend Connect thing worked only sporadically so I think I missed a bunch. I did get some "followers" but not many actual followers and most of the ones I did get were because I followed them first, which is still the best way to get followers unless you're already famous.

    Anyway, the posts of yours I did read were pretty interesting, so kudos.

  2. I think you can still be true to yourself even with shorter posts. I came back to read, but I know most skipped longer posts. Some had themes which worked as well. And I tried to stay true to my blog with my theme.
    Random following doesn't work. Connecting and commenting does though.
    Be sure to add your link to the list on Sunday. We want all the feedback.

  3. I didn't mind the A to Z challenge at all. I liked the structure and it gave me something to focus upon which is what my brain sometimes needs.

  4. I for one was really glad your posts were in depth and analytic. I think that's what made them interesting. And I'm really honored that you followed my blog. Though my posts may not equal yours in length ever time, I try to make sure there's content in them. I want to write about something worth reading because, in the end, isn't that our responsibility as writers.

    Of course, that may not matter to all bloggers, since not all bloggers are writers in their "real" lives. But it matters to me.

    I'm sorry you didn't feel the challenge was worth it for you, but I am glad you participated so I could find your blog.

  5. Grumpy: I thought about a superhero thing, but I couldn't decide how to narrow it beyond that. Like Star Wars, it's too broad for me.

    Alex: I think you can be, yes, I just think most people weren't. I liked your series, though. It was clever and a nice gesture to your pals.

    Michael: And you barely managed to stay focused on that :P

    S.L.: Well, I didn't say, yet, that it wasn't worth it to me. I said just by looking at the numbers versus the time I put into it, it says it wasn't. However, it's impossible to measure the qualitative difference it may have had at this point. That will take more time to know.

    I'm glad you stumbled in here as well :) and I quite enjoyed your series!

  6. I think the best way to handle all these blogfests is to claim that you're taking part but then just do your own thing. Wait, I definitely shouldn't admit that.

    You've hit on so much here that I want to comment on, so let me take some highlights:

    1. Attracting readers to your blog by posting something other than what you usually post is dumb. When you go back to the regular stuff, they'll fade away. It's like Sweeps Month on TV -- stunts and musical numbers and such that don't demonstrate how good a show actually is.

    2. People who complain about long posts. I worry sometimes that mine are too long. Heck, most of my COMMENTS are longer than many people's posts. There's a reason for that: My blogs are actually my main writing. The books and such are secondary to me, for a variety of reasons (mostly financial).

    So for a while I focused on getting shorter posts that people would read, and then I began to wonder why I was doing that -- why I wasn't writing what I wanted to write simply to attract readers. So I stopped. Now, I make 'em as long or short as I want and if you don't want to read it, well, your loss.

    People are always saying "Too long" or "This is so long" but nobody said that about SEVEN BOOKS of Harry Potter, and as for me, I like longer posts, even if I can't read them all at one sitting -- if they're good.

    So the A to Z stuff is helpful as an organizing principal and getting people to take a look at your blog, but, in the end, it's just like that philosopher said: "To thine own self be true."

    (That philosopher, I think, was Snoopy.)

    I liked your A to Z posts, Andrew. They were extremely informative and thought-provoking.

  7. Sigh. You know, Andrew. I wonder if you ever wonder about why I get behind on your posts when I don't do others. Well, you may not have noticed, but just so you know, I enjoy yours a great deal and tend to kind of save them for later. I want to settle back and feel like I don't have anything else to worry about and spend a bit of time thinking about what you wrote and otherwise enjoying it without worrying about all the other posts I still have to go visit.

    If I think about reading blogs, yours is often the dessert. My problem, I think, is that when I feel really bad, or get really busy, I often skip dessert. I don't do it on purpose, it just works out that way.

    Anyway, I dug your reflection, and I find your comments about the new followers and the shallowness of many posts interesting. But, you never know how just one person can turn into a superfan or something and bring you huge rewards down the road.

  8. Whew! There is a lot of content here. What I often tell one of my dearest blogging friends is: "You could have broken that post up into smaller bites and created a series out of it." In other words a book is a certain reading experience, a magazine article is another, and a blog post is another. What you get from your audience depends on what they are buying.

    I don't have a problem with short clever posts or a brief post with a deep thought or concept or bit of information. I agree with you on the trivial posts, but I didn't sense that as much as you portray in your post here. Perhaps its partly due to my role as a co-host of this massive event. There were a lot of wonderful blog posts that I know I missed, but I found many that struck me as unique, thoughtfully composed, and entertaining.

    It would be cool if somebody did a study of the hows and whys of the things you mention about gaining followers, getting comments, etc. There are so many ways to approach blogging and many different payoffs that bloggers are looking for. I guess we each have to figure out what we really want and then figure the best way to get that.

    Over all--aside from not having enough time and being generally tired (and that's a whole 'nother personal deal)--I had a blast. I got lots of wonderful comments, many new followers on all four of my blogs, and discovered more cool blogs that I had heretofore not discovered. It was a challenge as it should be, but it was rewarding.

    Thanks for your assessment. And if you get some more answers to your ponderings, I'd like to hear what conclusions you reach.

    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  9. Greetings,

    Came here by way of Elizabeth Twist - so now I'll be setting up camp and reading your posts. So glad to find someone with a good analytical approach to reviewing and posting.

    Well done.

    Kind regards

    Mark K

  10. Briane: I don't necessarily think you shouldn't write about things you normally wouldn't post on, but you definitely shouldn't do it in a way that's not how you would do it.

    I think "too long" is a lie. Sure, most people don't want "too long," but, then, most people don't read at all, so what does that matter? If it's well written, people will read it. -I- like your long posts.

    I'm glad you liked my series.
    (Snoopy is the ultimate philosopher. Other than Yoda.)

    Rusty: Actually, I didn't wonder, because you generally get to all of them. Wow! I think I like being compared to dessert.

    I used to do everything like that, saving the best for last. My wife has caused a shift in me, because that would often mean I never got to those things. I've learned to start balancing that kind of stuff.

    And it's true, you never know the difference one person can make, which is why I made the distinction of "looking at the numbers" and quantity vs quality. I don't know what kind of quality I brought in, yet, so I have no way of evaluating that part.

    Arlee: Not to delve too deeply here, but the way it looks to me is that the "fluffy," cheerleader type blogs attract a lot of people. I understand that, but I also have no patience for it. Yes, this is a personal thing. Positive thinking is highly overrated (did a post on this, and there is a -lot- of science to back that up), and I don't need a bunch "yea! yea!" stuff. I understand that other people do. So all those blogs out there that spend all of their time telling me "you can do it" wear me out. Generally, I find they are very light on anything I would call actual content and spend a lot of time just re-posting the same lists of things over and over which invariably say "stay positive." Anyway... I'm heading into a rant, so I'll stop now.

    I do do a lot of series; however, I don't think a singular thought or idea should be broken up over several posts unless there are sub-thoughts to it.

    Mark: Thanks for stopping by! I hopped over to your blog, but I need to do some more looking around. I'm sure you'll hear from, though. (D&D has a role in my book.)

  11. EvalinaMaria: Thanks for stopping by!

  12. I'm guilty of writing short nothing posts during the challenge - but I often write short nothing posts not during the challenge, so I guess it balances out somewhat :)

    congrats on finishing

  13. Visiting from A/Z post challenge reflections. You brought up a lot of interesting thoughts with it. I am of the opinion that blogging is not a popularity contest so up until Blogger changed their format recently, I didn't even have the followers widget on my blog because I didn't want blogging to be about numbers. In the old days you used to be able to follow a blog by clicking on "follow" at the top of the page; now that option is not available any more so I had to put the followers widget back on my blog because several people expressed an interest to want to follow my blog as a result of finding it through the challenge.

    I visited a lot of blogs during the challenge and left comments, but didn't necessarily follow the majority I visited. I did visit and left comments to anyone new that visited during the challenge.

    I have to be honest, long posts unless they captured my interest in the first two or three paragraphs I just moved on to the next blog. There were less long posts that held my interest in this particular challenge.

    Did I do a few frivulous posts? I did. But on average if I was not participating in this challenge I only put up a blog once or twice a week at the most because I don't want to overwhelm my readers with too many. So to keep my faithful readers and to keep the flow of comments, I kept some short simple ones.

    All in all, it was an interesting challenge. The jury is still out on whether I participate next year. It was fun and I did pick up a few new followers and followed a few new blogs but it was very time consuming.

    again, congrats for finishing!


  14. baygirl32: Well, contrary to how it may have come across, I don't have anything against short, nothing posts in general. And, if that's your style, you certainly shouldn't change it for a challenge. But, if you don't normally blog that way, then you do it for the challenge, how can I get an idea of what your blog is really like? That's what I'm talking about.

    That corgi: (I love corgis, btw) Again, this is the kind of thing I'm talking about. I didn't choose many new blogs to follow, because most of the ones I came across didn't post about anything. They were short and easy to read, yes, but they weren't really -about- anything. I passed over them during the challenge as being uninteresting. But what if the blogger in question usually posts deep, interesting posts but changed his/her format for the challenge to attract more attention. I won't be back, because of the lack of content during the challenge. The blogger may have picked up some people based on the short style but, after the challenge, I think most of those people will feel bait and switched because they thought that blogger was one thing when, really, that blogger was another thing.

  15. Yea I tend to agree. It was way more effort than return. I didn't have TIME to check out many other blog posts, and I wish it had been organized more effectively. By genre, perhaps.

    And because I didn't have time to check out other blogs, I didn't get many new followers.

    I enjoyed the challenge of writing every day but all it taught me really was that I'm better when I do not write every day (or at least do not publish it, just to publish it).

    I am delighted to be done with it and back to the joy of reading things I discover and writers who put effort into their stories and language, pacing and tension, humor and information, mood and emotion.

    Thank you for not giving up on me!

  16. Pish: Yeah, I agree that there should be categories, but I also understand the organizers motivation to keep people looking at blogs that they wouldn't normally look at. Still, you always have the choice to look at other blogs, so...

    And sure thing!

  17. I can see where you are coming from, because I'm going back and visiting some blogs now, and they are nothing like the ones done for a to z. But in their defense, I guess mine wouldn't seem as though it was the same either at first glance, in that I am taking a bit of a break! But I often write poetry for April, and for other posts also. So mine is much like I would ordinarily do. I completed two months of blogging each day two years in a row now in March and April. Thanks for following and commenting on mine. I really enjoyed yours...very, very informative and not one I would have necessarily sought out. But I'm glad I tried it...and I liked it!

  18. Donna: I liked your poetry. And that's saying something, because I'm not much for modern poetry. But, eventually, I'll have a post or three about that.

  19. I think a lot of people were using the month to try something new or different than what they usually do. I actually bookmarked several people who struck me as thoughtful or good writers, but whose April content didn't appeal to me, so that I could circle back around to them later.

    I didn't see your blog until the end, and at any rate I think the first post I saw I very much disagreed with, but I like your writing style and your humor, and I don't mind longer posts as long as it's well-written and engaging. So btw I'll eventually be poking through your backlog.

  20. Callie: Wait! Disagreed with? Having posted mostly on factual matters, what did you disagree with? Unless it was my pro-cyborg stance on the whole cyborgs vs zombie thing? I must know!

    And go poke all you want!

  21. I hear the pro-cyborg argument. I just disagreed with the anti-zombie stance. :P In fact, I just read a book with cyborgs in it and definitely liked that aspect. I plan to read that new Cinderella book too, the name of which currently escapes me, but basically Cinderella is a cyborg.

    Anyway, I was trying to pay you a compliment: I disagreed with the anti-zombie stance but still enjoyed your writing and found it compelling.

  22. Callie: I did appreciate the compliment, but I also have to deal with the controversy first! :P
    I'm glad you liked my writing enough to come back!

  23. You know, I forgot to note how many people I had as followers in advance, so I'm not sure how it impacted me in that way, but I had fun with the theme I chose. Hopefully you did, too, because yours was a great theme. I enjoyed reading the posts. I've long maintained that a lot of things wouldn't exist had not some writer or screenwriter invented them first.

    One thing I do during the A-to-Z, which takes up more time, is to go back through pre-A-to-Z posts and see what they normally write. I can't follow people based on their A-to-Z posts because they aren't usually consistent with what they normally post, which is why I tried to make my posts two-fold and do what I was normally doing at that time, plus the Wild West posts. I don't know if that was a good solution, and it certainly took up a bit more time, but I was hoping people could see what my blog was actually about that way.

    I'm waiting for the bionic eye to replace the one I have macular degeneration in. Some day, some day. Until then, the brain is an amazing thing, and I hardly know there's a problem...until I get an eyelash in the good eye while driving...

  24. Shannon: Yeah, I tried to do that looking back thing, too, but I found I just didn't have time to keep doing it. Eventually, it just became following a blog so that I could see what it was like after a-z.

    That bionic eye thing may not be as far away as you think.