This year I was invited to be part of the Manawatu Writers Festival. It’s been a tough year for many things and literary festivals are certainly among the events that have taken a hammering; how hard it must be to organise them anyway. And then the ones that have gone ahead (or are now in the planning or upcoming, WORD ChCh and LitCrawl for example) have to operate within strict guidelines.
Well, it’s a new world every day at the moment. And the chance to even have anything resembling a literary event is down to the guidance of our government and the willingness of most of our citizens.
So. I was asked to speak at the Feilding Public Library (yesterday at 10.45am) on the subject of blogging. My first response was to say yes. It’s a paid gig. My second (internal) response was that blogging seemed a very 2008 topic.
But I hoped I could speak more about writing – and we agreed that the topic title wouldn’t be about building a successful blog (I’ve arguably never done that, certainly not financially) but rather I could talk about building a successful blogging routine.
I drew on my experiences at Stuff.co.nz where I blogged daily (Blog On The Tracks) from late 2007 until sometime in 2016 – when I was cancelled by the powers that be because they were bitter about a piece I wrote for The Spinoff detailing the Robbie Williams ‘scandal’. I certainly had a good run at Stuff and arguably the blogs they were running had their day by about 2012 so I lasted longer than I should have – I’m sure.
In 2012, possibly guessing that the writing was on the wall (pardon the pun) I started my own site – which you can call a blog – and named it Off The Tracks. I’m there still. It’s where you’re reading this piece. I made Off The Tracks as a place to write reviews and to share not just music reviews but movies and books too. To write about other things if and when I wanted to. And then to host my podcast.
So I talked at the festival about my background as a freelance writer – a journalist, not just “a blogger”. I wrote for many years for the newspaper, covering gigs and albums, doing interviews and even writing housing features and lifestyle articles. I was also the music reviewer for North & South, Good Morning TV, RadioActive and had spots on RNZ and Newstalk ZB. I even wrote for The Herald On Sunday for a while, under the pen-name Mark Reid. Those were my “Bachman Books”. And it was fun. At least most of the time.
Then I got into blogging specifically and the Blog On The Tracks years, the way I let more of my own life slip out into these blog posts over the near-decade writing for a big site with my photo on the masthead than I probably at first intended. The way I went with it.
And then the move to Off The Tracks and my focus on creating content I’m interested in and building an audience for it via social media; that integration.
At the end we had questions. Good questions. A brilliant audience. They were wise, engaged (hopefully) and thoughtful. Someone asked me, as a writer, what my best and worst qualities were – or what I liked most and disliked most about myself – in the writing context. What a question eh!
I said that my best feature was that I turned up. The internet is not about winning. It’s about turning up. And I know how to turn up. Most days I even know deep down why I bother.
My worst feature? That with all of the effort I’ve put in over many years I have struggled to make anything much financially, despite the perception – at times – that I was being well-paid. Not a whinge about society man, just the truth. An observation. I’m cursed with working hard at this because it’s something that fulfills me on at least one level. But I’ve never been good at playing “the game”.
What a great chance to talk about all of this though – and to feel heard. To have a few laughs and to share a story and connect with people. That’s a big part of blogging. For me anyway. Always has been. I have learned so much from the readers, the comments, the fellow passionate pop-culture fans.
After the talk the organiser of the event gifted me a small Kauri tree to plant at home. How wonderful.
And then I gave fellow festival guest Eamonn Marra a ride back to Wellington. We had Bill Callahan on low in the background and we talked a lot about Raymond Carver. How wonderful too.