Friday, November 28, 2008

Writer's Blog Progress - 286 Days (Part 1)

Part 1: There is some progress.

Last time I reflected on my progress with this blog was at 55 days in. Let me use some of the metrics I used then. In the past month I've averaged about 20 visitors per day (up from 9). I have 110 people (all friends; up from 22) subscribed to my e-newsletter and 15 people (probably all friends?; up from 3) getting me through their RSS feed readers.

Googling "ink and beans" (no quotes) brings my blog to the top of a search results list. Googling "Jim Cooney" (no quotes) my blog comes up as hit #8 (up from #25), and googling "fledgling novelist" puts me at #3 (up from #151).

Visitors don't necessarily find their way to my site via any of these search terms --- the only people googling "ink and beans" or "jim cooney" are those who know and are looking for me anyway --- but their higher placement on the list does reflect improved Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Thanks to my Google Analytics reports, however, I'm starting to identify key search phrases that are bringing visitors to my site. These are the search phrases I really want rank high on, and one of the most logical ways to do that is to write posts that focus more on the topic/phrase in question.

Example - A handful of people found their way to me by googling "starting a novel" or some close variation. Meanwhile, my push to promote the blog to my friends last month returned additional feedback from people interested in a starting a book. Thus, in an effort to leverage this popular concept, I added variations of the phrase as labels/tags on various posts, and also titled a two-part post "Starting a Novel."

Though I'm not getting deluged, I have since received somewhere between ten and twenty visitors who found their way to me via some variation on that phrase. And unlike the majority of my visitors via keywords, who leave instantly(time on site 0:00), these guys actually stayed and read a little bit (average over 2 minutes, a good attention span by blog standards).

Currently, typing in "starting a novel" (no quotes) places me at #13 in the search list.

Other phrases that appear significant, which I'll try to play to a little more in my posts, are "writing a climax," "submitting short fiction," and "submitting to literary journals."

Addendum to Part 1: I just searched those three terms now to statisfy my curiosity, and it turns out they return my blog as search result number 3, 3, and 7 respectively. Wow. If that's the case I'm surprised I haven't gotten more traffic off those terms. How many people do you think, writers or otherwise, google "submitting short fiction" every day? Maybe less than I thought?

Part [1] [2]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Are You a Honker? Die.

A fun article from my favorite online mag Slate.

From "Honk if You Know Why You're Honking: The car horn is beeping useless," by Dave Johns, Nov. 25, 2008.

"For years I've been telling my mom that she ought to learn to honk a little more. After all, honking is a venerable automotive tradition. Just over a century ago, Henry Ford's first Model T rolled off the production line. Inside, near the driver's side window, was a grapefruit-sized squeeze bulb affixed to a twice-looped brass trumpet. It was a horn—one of only a few basic amenities that came standard. Thus, the car that "put the world on wheels" also gave the world a way to complain about it: a horn for the great honking masses."

I've never had much interest in becoming a journalist --- it seems like a brutal profession especially at the ground floor (I think the breakneck pace would crush me), but if I ever do write something even quasi-journalistic I want it to sound like this. Irreverent, personal, thoughtful, well-researched, reasonably objective and fun! Love Slate. Just love it.

The article basically illustrates what most of us know (and some of us relish) that the car horn is only secondarily a safety device, at best, but primarily a tool for scolding. The majority of drivers, even many of my most gentle-natured friends, abuse the car horn, in my opinion. What I hadn't considered, but the article points out, is that there's more evidence to suggest that horns are dangerous than there is to suggest they promote safety.

Music to my ears, was my first reaction. Sudden, earsplitting noises are my Kryptonite --- I get mad at ambulance sirens, wailing babies, even a telephone that rings too loudly. When a sudden noise is both piercing and completely unwarranted, I approach (what I believe to be) the known limits of my homicidal impulses. One afternoon when I was twelve, my best friend at the time sounded an air horn inches from my one and only working ear while I napped on my father's docked sailboat, and to this day I doubt he knows how close he came to drowning in our backyard lagoon.

When roaring motorcycles approach --- you'll forgive me if I don't buy the argument that a muffling mandate for bikers is unsafe and discriminatory --- I instinctively look on the ground for heavy objects to throw.

I've never killed anyone, but if I ever do, I'm quite sure it will be a stranger standing behind me who laughs too loudly.

So I was thrilled to learn that the godforsaken car horn might actually cause more accidents than it prevents. As a member of America's unilaterally deaf population, I also found the linkage (article's citation) to hearing loss quite vindicating. Was a movement to eliminate the car horn altogether actually plausible?

Then I recalled a fateful encounter I had driving on the highway years ago. About to change lanes, I signaled, checked my mirrors but not my blind spot, and began to shift just as a loud blare from the car passing on my left startled me into swerving back to my lane. I reluctantly confess that a horn has saved me from at least one nasty accident that I can remember.

So how do we (how do I) reconcile horn abuse with the fact that horns can be vital when maneuvering to avoid an accident is not an option? Well I tell you, I really, really love the idea of increasing the volume inside the car (article's citation). If you really feel the need to honk, you ought to at least experience your offense the way everyone else does.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blue Pens or Black Pens?

Blue pens. Of course blue pens. Because they contrast better with the documents you're writing on, which invariably use black ink.

Most recent example: Every so often I glance over a draft of my first chapter that has been sitting in my satchel for a while (usually when I have nothing else to read). This draft was marked up by one of my friend/editors who, for reasons I can't fathom, is partial to black pens. Every time I pick up the chapter, I see another of her markings that I'd missed on previous scans. Why? Because the black pen blends in with the black type-face. If she had used blue, I wouldn't have had to go back to my now-posted chapter to add a comma here, a period there. What good is an editing suggestion if I can't see it? What am I paying her for? (In case you're wondering, I pay my editors in friendship).

Okay, you say. But what if you're writing on a clean sheet of paper? Still blue. Why? Because it's a color. Color stimulates the visual cortex. It stimulates. Color is beauty. Blue jeans. Blue eyes. Old blue eyes. The great blue ocean. A big blue sky. Smurfs.

Black is the absence of color. The absence of light. Black is depressing. It's evil. Black sucks.

Blue pens are better. The choice seems perfectly obvious to me, and yet black pens seem to be the office standard. Half the time I can't find a blue pen when I need one. I have to make a special request through our office manager. My mom literally gave me blue pens for Christmas last year.

It gets worse, because now I'm starting to suspect that black pen dominance does not merely reflect some fallacious though easily correctable business standard. I'm getting the sense that I may actually possess a minority opinion on this issue. Is the rest of the world that stupid?

Let's find out. If you're delusional, cast your vote for black pens in the top right corner of my blog. If you know what's up, join me in voting for blue.

Honor code: One person, one vote. Don't try to be cute and vote multiple times (from multiple computers or what have you). I want a clear and honest winner here. Polls close in one month, on December 19th. Blue!

Addendum: The results are in!  Check 'em out.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Whine and Cheese

October and early November are turning out to be pretty uninspired months for me. I'm going to chance whining a little bit here, hoping that it will either magically turn into interesting writing, or that it will cathartically dispel some pressure and other icky feelings. At the very least, when these writing doldrums pass, as I'm confident they will, I'll have documented yet another case of "This too shall pass," to reassure my fellow writers as well as my future uninspired selves.

Getting word out about the blog turned out to be a real time sink, and an hour here and an hour there of adding names to my address list, finding people on facebook, editing and resending an invite, etc, doesn't leave me feeling very accomplished. Not like writing a good post or a couple of good paragraphs. And, go figure, now that I've got a hundred people roped in I have less than usual to say. Want your money back?

I just now finished revising chapter two, which took longer than chapter one even though I rewrote less of it. Definitely not filling me the way fixing chapter one did. It feels substandard and yet there's not much more I can do right now. I anticipate each subsequent chapter will require less work but still, this is taking way longer than I thought. Meanwhile, my magic bank account --- the savings that partially fund my current part-time writing schedule --- which miraculously avoided shrinking for the first few months, has not just shrunk finally but "caught up," which means my new routine will have to come to an end at some point.

And speaking of disappearing money, I paid a hefty sum two weeks ago to get my hellishly slow computer up to speed, and it performed like a normal computer for maybe ten days, and is suddenly slower than ever.

I wish someone would invent a computer you could punch without damaging.

Circumstances like this make it easy to question a lot of things, not so much about my writing ability (thankfully that's not suffering this time), but about my plans, my goals, my strategy. Is this blog worth the time? Will I be revising my manuscript for years before I can submit it? Will it be years before I can start a new project? Should I look into methamphetamine?

I need a boost dammit. One or two good days of kick ass writing and revision. Even if I'm not as far as I thought by next summer I want to be able to look back on significant progress.

Silver lining: Thanks to the puppy we're dogsitting, whose bowels have no snooze button, I'm getting to the gym every morning. Complimented with a no-carb diet I've been able to lose five pounds in the last ten days. I'm eating a lot of cheese.

And then there's that well-spoken young man getting elected president, which I rather enjoyed.

Chapter 3 here I come. Wheeee.