A month before The Forgetting Flower came out, I took on a 30-Day blogging challenge: publish posts on my blog for 30 days straight. It was a difficult exercise. I had to come up with decent content every day and even though I planned out my topics ahead of time, I had to squeeze in a post at the last minute several times. But overall, it was a fruitful experience. I learned a lot! Here’s what I can share about it.
Blogging Daily Attracts New Readers
As I blogged regularly every day, I noticed the number of return visitors increased. This means readers were excited to see what I wrote from day to day. What was up in my life, what my thoughts were. What I could share with them. Like a newspaper, I had timely content, even if it was about my own life and interests, and people who landed on my site to read about one topic ended up reading multiple posts and either became regular readers or subscribers to my newsletter.
Blogging on a Limited Amount of Topics Makes for Longer Visits
Because I decided to write again and again about five or six topics (books, my garden, my pets, writing and The Forgetting Flower, plants, and inspiration), my site became more of its own internal web of links. This encouraged visitors to stay on the site a bit longer. Hence, my bounce rate went way down and length of visits went up.
General Traffic Increased Substantially
I was shocked to see that with each passing week, the traffic to the website increased. If I remember right, the first week was 15%, then 23%, then 31%, then 52%. It was amazing. People were discovering my content and sticking around to read not only it but also about me. My About page traffic shot up as well.
The Most Popular Articles Were About The Forgetting Flower, Books, Writing, and France
This one was key for me. I’ve read that website visitors are curious about an author’s life (so write about it!) and I’ve read that no one cares about an author’s life (so don’t bother writing about it!). I was torn, had no idea which way to go. I didn’t want to bore people with stories about my creative process if they didn’t want to read about it and yet I wanted to please my readers. So I took a chance and wrote about the mix of topics I mentioned above.
Wow! I learned people are interested in how The Forgetting Flower came to be. They are interested in my creative process and where I get my ideas. They are even interested in writing advice I have in general. The posts related to The Forgetting Flower and my writing life were the most popular.
These were followed by my reviews of books I love, author interviews, and Europe (most often, France) posts. What wasn’t popular were the articles about my garden, plants, or my pets. There were a few rare posts that had some traffic but mostly people were interested in books, writing, and my thoughts and experiences with France.
Blogging Daily Helps You Get to Know What Your Readers Want
Now I know to focus on these topics. And I feel better about shelving the gardening blog I used to write but haven’t in about a year. An author coach once told me that the folks who visited my gardening website were probably not my readers. I think she was right. They are a wonderful lot but perhaps not as book focused as I once thought. And that’s okay too. I know they’re behind my work as an author inspired by plants and that’s good enough. It’s a tribe I’ll still participate in. But in the future, I’ll be focusing on my creative process, books, other authors, and my favorite city in the world, Paris.
Blogging Daily Sucks the Life out of You
Lastly, I learned that writing decent, usable content every day drains you. I could have written a kind of daily journal with random musings but I wanted to make my content lasting and something readers could get something out of. That part worked. But figuring out what that content would be was difficult. I not only had to write at least 500 words every day but I had to find a decent photo to accompany it, then process the photo with its own edits, SEO, quality control, etc. And, my posts all needed their own SEO processing. It took at least a couple hours every day.
My fastest post came on Father’s Day. I had of course focused on spending time with my husband and family all day and found myself at ten o’clock at night without a post. So I dug out a quote about being resilient, which dialed into the angst I’d been feeling, and quickly posted it. I did all of what I mentioned above in about a half-hour.
So do I recommend blogging every day? If blogging for a limited time, I do. I know Austin Kleon blogged every day for a year and I still bow down to him for this. It’s amazing. And it may explain why he now has 60,000 subscribers to his newsletter, which he also does often (on a weekly basis). But I also think he has all of those subscribers because people want and need what he has, which is advice and inspiration. I don’t think people want that same advice or style from a fiction author. But that’s okay, because now I’ve learned more about what my readers want. And in the future, I can tailor my website so it is completely and regularly for them.
Photo by Paul Hanaoka
There are a lot of books that will teach you how to write fiction. And the best ones not only address the craft of storytelling but the issues beneath the story’s surface. A main character’s wound, the overarching theme, internal versus external conflicts. But the key to a really compelling novel is expression emotion in fiction. And that’s the hardest piece to put on the page.
The Trickiness of Putting Emotion on the Page
The reason it’s so difficult is because if you just flat out say what the character is feeling, it doesn’t seem earned. The reader may not respond. If you show it, the reader will respond viscerally. And if you can show it with complexity, the reader will be the character’s ally throughout the story. A while back, I wrote about how Neil Gaiman does this in his novel Neverwhere.
A Deep Book on an Even Deeper Subject
The best book I’ve come across for delving into the art of creating emotion in fiction is Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Maas, an experienced literary agent, felt he was experiencing too little emotion in too many manuscripts. He discovered the vital missing piece of these manuscripts was not great prose or an engaging world or lots of action. It was simply an inability to make the reader feel. So in his book, he set out to articulate some solutions.
In it, he explores the inner versus outer strategy or really telling versus showing. Showing, no surprise, is more powerful but telling in a clever way can be powerful too. He discusses the emotional world, how to create a world where a character’s deep sense of self is reflected in what they see and do and how they respond. It’s a complex subject but one worth pondering.
He also discusses the importance of examining not only your main character’s outer journey (plot) but their inner journey (emotional change). And he devotes a considerable amount of time on nailing an emotional opening, midpoint, and cathartic change to your character. It’s complicated and intense. I read that section more than once.
Too Into the Weeds to Be Useful?
Later, when he gets into issues of a reader’s journey and an author’s journey, I felt the book delved too far into the weeds for me. It’s already so difficult to write a compelling novel without thinking about what a reader may experience from moment to moment. Or the unconscious signals you may be sending to readers via character choices or world building. Worrying about it all in the end can be overwhelming.
An Effort to Help Writers
But I don’t think Maas wrote the book to confuse and overwhelm writers. He wrote it to help. In fact, the questions he asks at the end of each section are the most useful I’ve ever seen. They prompt exercises that will produce amazing results. I can attest to that. I took Maass’s three-day workshop on this topic and I’ve never dug so deep into my mind about my imaginary world. He truly knows how to prompt creators to think outside of the box, how to rewire brains to bring forth some serious work of the subconscious.
But if you don’t have the money for that workshop, I recommend doing as many of the exercises in this book as you can. What you discover will change you and most certainly change your fiction for the better.
Bird by Bird is an outstanding craft book for writers. Novelist and memoirist Anne Lamott covers everything rom the nuts and bolts of craft to broader, more abstract issues. She talks about the importance of getting the sh*tty first draft on paper before diving into the mechanics of plot, dialogue, character, etc. She tackles perfectionism, finding your voice, and the let downs of publication. It’s a wise and witty manual for any writer, experienced or not. I highly recommend it.
She had these wise words to say about finding your truth.
… you can’t get to any of those truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not to go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while … then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Attention: Spoilers Ahead!
Like so many, I watched the Game of Thrones finale with great interest. I wasn’t particularly upset about Dany dying or Jon being banished to Castle Black or annoyed by the comedy in the new king’s council. I thought it was brilliant that Drogon unleashed his frustration by burning the Iron Throne. But one plot point didn’t move me whatsoever: Bran Stark becoming king. And that was because Bran himself hasn’t moved me, in years.
It isn’t that I dislike Bran particularly. He was a likable little boy and the story of becoming the Three-eyed Raven was interesting. But that he finally turned into a sleepy detached automaton was quite bluntly, a missed characterization opportunity on the writers’ part.
As a child, Brandon Stark was active and curious. As a teenager after his accident, he was warm and friendly and somewhat extroverted. He was also brave. He warged into his direwolf, Summer, and fought, he warged into Hodor and fought. But after he took vision trips with the Three-eyed Raven and became the Three-eyed Raven himself, he turned into a bore. (For some reason, even his hair, wavy and wild before, became straight and dreary.) Yes, he was able to see visions of the past and future and those visions were interesting bits of back story but after, he lost his investment in the people he loved. He became detached from emotion, unable to show affection, and sort of intellectually neutral in most situations.
Because he was so one-dimensional, all scenes containing Bran fell flat. Even unrealistic. When he reunited with Jaime and then defended him, you got a glimpse that he was grateful that Jaime had pushed him out the window, but these moments of gratitude were few and far between. He barely hugged his siblings when they were reunited after years.
I know that Benioff and Weiss might have felt as if they had to write his character that way since otherwise Bran would interfere with the outcomes of his family’s actions. However, I didn’t buy that. After having seen the big picture of humankind’s eternity I didn’t believe he would no longer care to show emotion to his family. In fact, I thought of one true life person who’s in a similar situation that the writers could have modeled Bran after. If they’d studied this person, they could have made Bran’s Three-eyed Raven personality more charismatic and complex.
Take a Look at a True Monk
If you’ve ever read or watched interviews with the Dalai Lama, you might be surprised by how much he smiles and laughs. He does so a lot. (I heard him speak in person once and it was eye opening.) It’s because this deeply spiritual man is removed from day-to-day life through his Buddhist practice. He isn’t personally invested in a career or family or money or any of the usual institutions or desires the rest of us need to survive. He’s always been focused on larger issues of compassion, community, altruism, and peace.
And because the Dalai Lama has lived this way for decades, he sees the rest of the world as well, silly. All of our rushing around, our need to get ahead, our greed, our desires are all ways to bring about more suffering. (See China’s oppression for the most glaring example.) I think the world seems weird to him, oddly competitive where one wins and another loses. The Dalai Lama believes being kind and loving toward each other is better than selfishness and competition. And yet he’s forgiving of this behavior. He’s advised us to remember, when we’re irritated by others’ behavior, that that person simply wants happiness and is trying to get it. It’s amazing. It’s as if he’s a compassionate father of everyone. A kind of modern day Jesus Christ.
A Lesson from the Dalai Lama
So if Bran were detached from the goings on of his civilization as the Dalai Lama is, why wouldn’t he behave similarly? Why wouldn’t he find everyone warring to be strange and silly? Even perhaps laugh at it? If he knew full well that the life experience is all humans have, then why wouldn’t he be at least interested in preserving it peacefully in small ways? Because he knew he was supposed to be king? Doubt it. I don’t think he cared.
Also, I don’t believe his large vision of time and humanity would trump his ability to love his family. Why wouldn’t he be happy for Jon to be a Targaryen and the true king? Even if he knew it wouldn’t work out for him? He would be happy that Sansa was treating the people of Winterfell well and planning for winter so no one would starve. He’d be thankful to have Arya safely in Winterfell with him. Because he’d know that these experiences, as life, are fleeting. He would probably cherish them even more, knowing he shouldn’t interfere with life’s natural chain of events. He would at least show a fatherly like affection.
Bran Needed a Motivation
And that could have been Bran’s motivation. To preserve what is good in the small ways he could. Instead, at least in the TV show, the writers never gave him a motivation, I guess in the name of him being as Sam said, “Whatever Bran is.” It was as if Sam spoke the words of the writers: they didn’t know what to do with him.
Obviously, the show is what it is. But outside of the characters shrugging and letting him be weird, I saw no true drama around his transformation. And no meaty development of why he chose to detach. Even with the Night King’s mission to kill him. I’ve heard viewers shrug and say, “He’s supposed to be a tree now.” Well, even trees communicate, heal their wounds, and do what they can to preserve their tree families. It would have been nice to see Bran continue to participate in the world in a more meaningful way than just sitting on the throne. Oh well, at least he’s looking for Drogon.
Photo by Mauricio Santos
Hey everyone! We’re about a month away from The Forgetting Flower‘s release so I thought it would be fun to do a 30-day blogging challenge. I’ll blog every day until the book’s release on Tuesday, June 18th, at which time I’ll fall flat on my face on the floor!
The Topics of the Day
Spring is here so I thought I could tackle a few gardening-related topics as well some book inspiration, travel memories, and writing. So in no particular order, here’s what I’ll be tackling:
- My Garden. It’s starting to fill in so I’ll share what I’m doing in it and some advice for newish gardeners. I’m also trialing some new plants from Proven Winners and I’ll let you know how those do.
- Paris Memories. In the year 2000, I worked and lived in Paris with a corporate job. It was an interesting, wonderful, and lonely experience. I’ll share some snippets of my time there and other travel memories.
- Book Ideas & Writing Advice. I glanced at my book shelf today and realized I have a bunch of craft (and other) books I love that I need to share with my fellow readers and writers.
- Weekly Inspiration. I used to post inspiration weekly on Mondays to inspire readers to take on their workweek as best they can. I set it aside as I grew busy with my novel but it’s time to bring it back.
- Fun With Kids & Pets. I have three kids and four animals. Yes, that’s a lot but those little souls mean the world to me. I’d like to post some thoughts on my kids/mothering and pics of my two dogs (Zeke, Olive) and two cats (Maddie, Aleksy). The idea of it already makes me smile!
- The Latest. This will be a post where I talk about what’s happening in the world and how it’s affected me and/or my writing.
- The Forgetting Flower Tour. I have a few friends around the world who have photographed themselves in a TFF T-shirt. I’ll run short interviews with them and the books they love. We’ll start in Seattle and end in Paris!
I hope you’ll join me. This should be a fun challenge. Not sure if I can do it, but I’ll try!