I write to be read, and to have what I've written be appreciated by those whose appreciation is worth having. For this reason, at some point in the not terribly distant future, I'm going to ask myself if this effort of mine (this blog and its companion site) is paying off. This does not mean that I'm going to be installing a link to PayPal. Or that I won't, really - I haven't given the matter enough thought to offer any promises - but my immediate, instinctual reaction to that is to say "no, I won't." Ever. No, what I'll be looking for are in-bound links which have not been no-followed, giving both traffic and link juice to my pages.
Sometime around my 100th real post, I'm going to see what I have. This, as useful as it can be, is not a real post. There's no meat to it, it's just something for helping visitors get to where they need to be. This, on the other hand, most definitely is a real post. By the time we're at the top of page 16, we'll have over 100 of those. If I haven't started seeing a reasonable level of linking and traffic by then, I'll start thinking about putting this blog on hiatus. Probably, by the time I've written page 20 and certainly no later than page 50, if nothing has changed, I'll act on those thoughts and why wouldn't I?
When I write a story or create a real blog post (and by that, I don't mean one consisting of lightweight goofing around or discussion of the reasons why I chose the host I did), I put a lot of work into what I do. To ask people to repay me for that effort, not even by dropping tips in a virtual jar, but simply by linking in and telling people about what they saw, so that I don't end up sitting here and talking to myself half of the time - that's not too much to ask. If I don't find satisfaction in this, I have to ask myself why, and really, in the long run, there are only three possibilities.
1. People haven't been enjoying what I've been writing. If so, why would I want to go on writing it?
2. They have enjoyed it, but they've been too ungrateful to link. If so, then shouldn't I start looking for a better audience? Wouldn't I owe myself one?
3. Nobody ever found his way here, and the blog just got lost in the shuffle - a real concern, considering the number of blogs in existence. In this case, see possibility one. What really is the difference between writing a blog that nobody reads, and reading one's work at an open mike night that nobody else has attended?
In case 3, part of the answer to that is that such open mike nights are hardly ever seen. I'm thinking of somebody I know who contributed to a very good blog on which activity ceased in 2007, never to resume. As the man would explain, he saw far more grief than buzz. Consider, he would say, the experience of being at that open mike night, surely the lowest point in a writer's career, because anybody can get up there. To be an open mike writer is to be nobody at all. It is the bottom at which one starts, a place from which one hopes to advance and at which one would not dream of staying for long. If one did not find one's way to something better in reasonably short order, he would ask, would one not soon find a more productive way of spending one's time?
After people nodded in quickly given agreement, he then asked how many people one would expect to find at that low point in one's life. In Chicago, even at an event that was so lightly attended as to be on the verge of closing, one would see more than twenty people. His blog, on the other hand, was seeing only seven visitors per day, at the most, and usually no more than four. Think of it, he would say - on their best day, what he and his fellow writers posted to their blog had an audience that was maybe a third of the size they would have seen, had they simply taken what they wrote to a failing open mike and read it to the people there. So, why not just take one's writing into the real world, and enjoy the satisfaction of meeting people face to face instead of settling for looking at a computer screen, he asked? Should one really be that eager to avoid the cost of a two drink minimum, at the cost of that much of a diminishment of the experience one was having? It's a reasonable question, one which I will ask myself at some point in the year to come. You might notice how many companion pages this blog has. I have given some thought to the question of how to give this blog a modest level of exposure, so possibility three should be ruled out. Possibility one is something that I haven't encountered much in the real world, and as for the remaining possibility, that's up to you.
I will be honest enough to admit that somebody's pessimism was contagious. He got the feeling that the whole experience of blogging had been a bad joke when he finally took a look at the work of a highly praised and much followed blogger, and what he found was clownish and embarrassing. The woman had just accused Rachael Ray of supporting terrorism, on the basis that she was wearing a paisley scarf which her stylist had picked up at a department store, which the blogger then mistook for a keffieyeh, a scarf which people in the Middle East wear to protect themselves from windblown sand and dust. An argument sometimes offered for staying in a place where success is harder to achieve is that, in being so hard won, it will bring about more growth, but to become more like that writer is not something that I would think of as growth. Sometimes, I think that a lot of people go online looking for a freak show, and aren't really interesting in the possibility of finding anything else. Feedback from such people will not make me a better writer or a better person, so if the level of response to my work on this blog tells me to give up, I will not fight that.
To which somebody will probably reply by asking if that isn't a good reason to decline a link. What will somebody be left with, after linking to one of my posts or pages and finding that I quit work, anyway, because nobody else linked? How about a link to material which that somebody enjoyed? Did you notice that my work is hosted on a collection of free servers? If this place goes into the proverbial mothballs, I'm not going to take it down. I'll leave it up, because doing so costs me nothing, and I'll submit it to the Internet Archive, so that any broken links left behind should Google ever delete my account for inactivity (something that they don't seem to do at present) will be fixed with the simple addition of this
in front of the target url. What's wrong with bookmarking old material, if it is enjoyable? Do people not read old books? The same principle applies, so, no, there is no excuse left for refusing this very modest request of mine, if you like what you're reading, and this is the understanding that will exist, because this is the understanding that should exist. This is a good deal I'm offering my readership, should it exist - free reading material, in return for little more than the giving of a good word - so people, let us not get so selfish that we end up cheating ourselves, because like any reasonably well adjusted individual, I do have other places to be. I'm willing to be here, but I don't need to be here.