When you want to give up your New Year’s Resolution after two weeks…

A harsh reality I have had to admit to myself: if I had the ability to write insightful, well-crafted book reviews of serious non-fiction then I would be writing for publications not just this humble blog. Sad but true, as they say, sad but true.

So yeah, I am having second thoughts on the future of CM 19 days into 2021.

One of the many reasons this blog has slowly dwindled in readership and content is that I have lost my “voice” – my sense that I have something interesting or important to say.

This is sort of the flip side of the lack of audience. The two are probably related in some in-direct way. As I posted less and less, and interacted with other lit-blogs less and less, my audience drifted away; into the world of social media and away from the world of blogs and RSS feeds.

That same social media, and the complications of life, that distract and take up precious time so that posting requires more work and commitment. At the same time, despite reading a great deal, I don’t feel the urge to post. I don’t have something I just have to put down in words and in the back of my mind is the sense that no one will read them anyway.

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The Future of Collected Miscellany

Once more into the breach…

As the one or two people who read this blog with any regularity know, I have been struggling with whether to keep going. Traffic has gone down year by year. No one leaves a comment or links to this blog. On occasion a publisher might retweet or tweet a review or an author might say thank you for a review, but for the most part this site is visited by those led here from Google searches with a small trickle from social media.

My motivation and energy for posting, let alone quality posting, had all but disappeared. Largely because of the above. I admit, I struggle when I get no feedback or interaction; when it seems like no one is listening. I was hanging on mostly because I still like getting books from publishers and having a website where you post reviews helps with that.

As the end of 2020 approached, I thought it presented a good opportunity to make a clean break one way or the other. So I began to think about what I wanted to do.

The biggest motivation for me to keep this site going is the realization that social media and other distractions had undermined my ability to concentrate and focus on writing. And in 2021 I want to prove to myself that I can do the hard work necessary to write engaging and thought provoking book reviews and cultural criticism.

I also felt frustrated that I had read a great many books without coming away with much insight, opinion, or reaction. I was too passive. Writing is one way to force yourself to pay attention and get more out of reading.

The question was then whether I had the time and energy to make it work and how I would go about setting myself up to succeed. I decided that I owed it to myself to try. I didn’t want all the years CM has been around to simply disappear with a whimper.

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Pondering the death of a blog or Deja Vu all over again

More than halfway into the second decade of CM I am again pondering quitting.  This is something I have been doing since before the tenth anniversary.

It is the history that makes it hard to just quit.

What to do with all the reviews, interviews and opinions offered over the years?

But if I am honest with myself, I don’t get much joy out of posting and there certainly is no interaction or traffic on the blog anymore. I can probably get review copies just posting to NetGalley, Goodreads, Amazon, etc.

It also bugs me a little that quitting would feel like failure; reflect on my character in some way.  I always wanted to prove that I could improve my focus and writing and offer quality book reviews here again.  But the motivation just isn’t there. I’m not sure people read personal blogs anymore anyways.

I’m going to ponder things a bit more but it seems depressing to limp along for months again and come back and read another “Is this blog dead?” post.

Old School Blogging and Social Media Decluttering

As you might have guessed from my post on the nature of being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I have decided to blog about more than books.  The idea is to get the creative juices flowing and get back in the habit of posting by writing about my life and perspective. This is what blogging used to be about in many ways before niche blogs and social media changed the landscape.  Although, I suppose there are probably still a lot of personal blogs out there you just don’t run into them unless you see a link in your feeds or are friends with the blogger.

Speaking of social media, I am in the midst of a 30-day social media declutter exercise inspired by Cal Newport. I am trying to stay off Twitter and Facebook for the month of January.  I have been quite good at avoiding Facebook but have struggled to stay away from Twitter.  I have avoided political Twitter but have dipped into sports twitter.  Not as much as I used to (everyday) but frequently.  I am going to try and avoid even my sports list on Twitter for the remaining 15 days. Should be easier now that football is over for my teams <<sigh>>.

Look for some reflections on social media and this experience.  Maybe disconnecting from social media will also allow me to regain my focus and start posting regular book reviews as well.  I guess we shall see.

To blog or not to blog?

For those of you scoring at home, my last blog post was roughly two and a half months ago. I think I have posted something like 16 times this year (a higher number thanks to a flood of posts in June). Clearly, this blog is a hit or miss type of thing (mostly miss without Jeff). To be fair, it does say “Occasional Bloggers” in the tag line …

So the question I have been mulling for the last couple of months (but not for the first time) is whether to keep blogging or call it quits after 14 years.

I think I want to give at least one more try at making it work. Let me give you some insight into why.

The basic reason I want to give it another try at making it work is that I still love to read and find books and authors fascinating.  I have read 75 books this year so that part hasn’t dropped off.  What I want to see if I can do is combine this love of books and ideas with the discipline and commitment to good writing and regular posting.  This is what I have failed to do for some time.  But I think it remains a skill and habit I can and should redevelop.

So what happened anyways? Why the steep drop off in blogging?  Obviously, a lack of time plays a big part.  My kids are older now and have activities that suck up lots of time and energy.  My wife is working full-time and that means a more complex schedule as well.  Throw in the distractions of social media (more about that in another post) and my interest in sports and it is hard to find time to sit down and write.

The other part is the combination of focus and motivation.  In addition to finding time to write, you need to have the focus to sit down and actually post something (particular if you want quality as opposed to just quantity) but you also need motivation to overcome the inertia of not posting.

And this is where I have been lacking.  I just haven’t felt like posting or that posting was worth the hassle.  To unpack this, allow me to offer Holtsberry’s key to communication: insight, clarity and persuasion.

Insight: you need to have something to say.  Why communicate if you don’t have something interesting, insightful or useful, right?  Insight means you have something worth communicating.

Clarity: you need to be able to clearly and effectively capture the insight.  Having something to say isn’t all that useful if you can’t explain what it is and why it is worthwhile. You may thinks your thoughts are brilliant.  Clarity means you can share your insight with others.

Persuasion: you need to be able to change someone’s mind.  This is the pinnacle of communication to my mind.  If you can share your insight clearly but also in such a way as to actually change the way someone thinks.  This might be through information or it might be through storytelling but changing someone’s mind or getting them to think differently is the ultimate in successful communication.

I had a real hard time getting motivated to blog because I didn’t think I could accomplish any of these three.  I wasn’t sure I had any insight, if I did wasn’t sure I could say it with clarity, and if I posted it I wasn’t sure it would reach anyone let alone change their thinking. Whenever I thought about posting a review, I had this nagging feeling that it wasn’t really worth the effort.

And like so many things, once you get out of the habit of doing it the easier it is to just keep not doing it.  Next thing you know months have gone by and you wonder whether you should hang it up.

So why not just give it up?  Been a good run, but lots of blogs close. Move on, as the saying goes.

I guess I don’t want to go out like this.  One of the reasons I started blogging was to improve my writing skills and engage with people and ideas.  I still want to do those things and I feel like I owe it to myself to do the hard work necessary to do them well. Basically, I want to use blogging as a tool to build focus and discipline and to prove to myself that I can write with insight, clarity and persuasion. [Plus, the free books and access to authors, etc.]

Time will tell if I have what it takes. So stay tuned …