While doing some site maintenance yesterday, I noticed that the Blog of the Courtier was going to hit 800 blog posts today. As one of the most consistent supporters of my work in recent months would say, a gentleman who is both a prolific presence on Twitter and who has done a great deal to bring new readers to these pages, “I apologize for nothing.” And although 800 blog posts in itself is not as much a milestone as, say, the 500th or 1,000th post, it does give me the opportunity to reflect on both the process of writing and the incredible utility of social media for self-publishing writers to share their writing with the world.
First off let’s consider what 800 blog posts represent. At various points in the past few years the length of the essays published on this blog varied greatly: occasionally they might be as short as a couple of paragraphs, while at other times they could reach several thousand words. Beginning earlier this year, on advice from the editors of two well-respected, more intellectually-oriented magazines with a significant online component, I began to self-limit my posts whenever possible to around 1,000 words, though I do still tend to go over that figure a little bit.
If we use this as a general indicator for the average length of essays on this blog – and admittedly the real number is probably somewhat different – that means that 800 blog posts x 1,000 words = 800,000 words, written on the Blog of the Courtier site over the past three years or so. To put that into more digestible terms, the usual estimate for the number of words on a printed page is 250; dividing 800,000 by 250 this means I have written the equivalent of approximately 3,200 pages of printed text on this particular blog. To put it another way, if a “serious”, full-length novel will average somewhere around 400 pages or 100,000 words, I have written the equivalent of 8 good-sized novels over the course of ruminating about the world in these virtual pages.
As someone who has tried and failed several times to write a novel, never getting more than a few chapters in before giving up in frustration, I found this number to be quite surprising. Of course, writing essays about things that you observe around you in daily life, see in the media, or experience personally is always going to be much easier for most of us than trying to come up with stories of great length. Just about anyone can make up a passable, short fairy tale or adventure story to tell a child as mankind has done since we first started to gather around the campfires in the evening after pit-grilling the mastodon. It was only the great storytellers, from Homer to Gogol to Tolkien, that could weave an imaginary tale of great complexity with the words they chose.
And then there is the question of, to paraphrase a famous film quote: if you post it, will they come? This is where social media has proven to be a remarkable helpmeet to the powers of even the most powerful internet search engines. When I first started blogging, I probably had a couple of visits a day, often from close friends and family. Now, an average blog post of mine is read by several hundred people, the majority of whom I do not know nor am likely to ever meet. And social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and the somewhat-maligned Google Plus, alongside internet searches, e-mail referrals from friends to friends, and even the occasional shout-out from a podcaster, help to spread my writing about as far as one can imagine.
The downfall of self-publishing, of course, is that you do not have an editor to tell you when you are writing garbage. Not everyone leaves a comment on a blog post, even if they do happen to read it or glance at it, and as I do not accept paid adverts, I have no way of knowing whether it would be possible to generate a revenue stream for these pages. By contrast, if you are working in a paid media outlet, you know that your words must generate revenue, and you must be able to efficiently and accurately produce what your editor demands, or you will not be asked to write again.
In addition, while it is not quite in the same league as being a paid professional, blogging for major publications and organizations, it is no small thing to realize that other people like reading what you have to say: it is, frankly, a humbling realization, rather than otherwise. One reader messaged me yesterday via Twitter how much she enjoyed two recent posts I had written, and that she had to read so much anxiety-provoking material during the rest of the day, that she found it “a pleasure to stop, read and think in a different direction. I appreciate you.” Any talents The Big Cheese Upstairs has given me with respect to writing, thinking, creativity, and so on, are never going to be as-fully developed as they could be. Though having given them to me, He clearly expects me to make use of them rather than hide them away in the dirt, as did the lazy servant in St. Matthew 25:14-30.
For anyone who likes to write, cares about what they have to say, and will take the time to reach out to others, through social media they can manage to make use of their abilities and interests in some pretty amazing ways. I am no Bill Buckley or John Galsworthy, nor am I making my living from the sorts of topics I cover and stories I tell on this site. And yet the people I have learned from via these pages have made not only my own life but also my own writing so much better for the effort of putting my material out there for them to read and respond to, that I cannot stress enough what a wonderful opportunity we have, in the present age, to be able to share our thoughts and our scribblings with so many people, so easily.