Blogging, writers and expectations

I still remember my first blog, started back in 2001.

astounding stories

A friend of mine in Daria fandom had discovered Diaryland, and was momentarily obsessed with this new wave of blogging (although, apparently blogging has been around in one form or another since the Internet began.) She told me I just had to try it, and I did. At first it was casual updating, something I thought no one in paticular read – a few people from Daria fandom, and perhaps one or two grad school friends who saw me post to it to blow off steam. My friend then discovered Livejournal, and Blogspot, and because she’s peculiar in that she’s an early adopter and yet not, she wandered off into other things. It was oddly voyeuristic to read the journals of strangers or net-only acquaintances, and even more bizzarely exhibitionistic to write them. I didn’t write terribly often at first, but when I did it was intense, cleansing, often angry stories and depth-associations about parents, my childhood, where I grew up – feelings I’d certainly cop to when asked, but online made naked and often driven into a reader’s mind through writing in a way that could be taken less seriously or downplayed when feelings are delivered verbally.

It was just one thing I did online to blow off steam when I wasn’t working on my old website (Medea’s Chariot) or writing Daria/Witchblade fantasy, or doing “serious and real world” work for graduate school. I knew vaguely I had an audience – I was recently told by a woman in Daria fandom that she discovered my fanworks though my old diaryland, which surprised me. But to be honest, I didn’t think much about my audience. Diaryland had enough ups and downs that I opened a blogspot, apparently needing to be exhibitionistic, or to publicly document myself somehow, or to try to connect to a changing world since my divorce had thoroughly upended my self-concept. But it wasn’t a “serious” thing. I enjoyed blogging, but really, I could quit anytime. Livejournal eventually happened for local reasons – people I would see at Pagan meetups would have conversations via livejournal, and it became extremely useful, especially since I really hate talking on the phone. I didn’t realize until my sister either followed me or was already there and revealed herself with a comment on my LJ that not only did I have a blog audience, I had in a way a blog audience that followed me. Even at that time, I hadn’t envisioned myself starting on the blog ventures that I have, and much of where I did end up came from a combination of real-life social pressue and becoming romantically involved with an absolute early adopter – suddenly I had my own domain in my own name, complete with blog whenever I was ready, because my partner believes strongly it’s important to have it. Social media wasn’t even a buzzword yet, but looking back, I’d absolutely been socialed into the media.

I’ve certainly gotten more sophisticated since then, and I think I’m a bit savvier about recognizing and keeping my audience, especially since the inception of Fat Chic. But Fat Chic has also been a learning experience for me: in Diaryland or Livejournal or even the old blogspot, my readers didn’t really give me a lot of thought or assume because I blogged I wanted to be involved in any way. Certainly I’d have conversations with other people on those platforms, but if something didn’t work or if a link was broken, for the most part no one really cared that much. Even my old website didn’t get much beyond a rare guestbook signing, usually promoting another site. If I didn’t answer an email (or I got to it much, much later than it was sent) no one really seemed too concerned. I don’t even think anyone tried to meet me in person through any of these sites, except for those who live near me and looked up my LJ or whatever only after meeting me and knowing me for awhile.

Fat Chic is definitely different from the blogs I used to write: it’s topic focused, and much less personal. It’s one of the blogs that have replaced websites as we know them, and is as RSS-feed driven as any other blog out there. Still, there’s no charge for reading it, and while the number of frrequent commenters are growing, it’s still pretty sparse. There are other plus size fashion blogs that get way more attention. Since I’m outside of the fatosphere politics more or less, I haven’t spent much time concerned about my blog policies. I do what feels right and that allows me my own brainspace (sometimes writing 30-45 days of posts and then just leaving it) and then I go about my life.

Yet Fat Chic has brought out a behavior in the 1 in 10 person that I’ve never seen: despite it clearly being a privately owned, mostly single-author blog (I do have three other women who have posting access but total guest posts run less than 5% of the total blog) I actually get crap about how I run things. What’s more remarkable is that the people who give me crap are never the advertisers or sponsors – it’s always someone who may or may not be a regular blog reader who doesn’t like that I filter my comments to prevent spamming, or has a problem with me banning diet talk (with the exception of my Daria friend, who is someone I know who diets in real life and isn’t just promoting a product or a narrow-minded view of what bodies “should” be) or who somehow feels entitled to me answering personal emails about personal/politic things that I just don’t want to. Answering emails is good blog practice – I make an effort to answer all legitimate business inquiries and reader requests, but I ignore things that are clearly not-so-clever marketing tactics and strange personal diatribes with questions that end with either of the following punctuations: “???” and “!!”  What happened to the grammatic standard of “!?” ?

My sister proferred the theory that I tend to write about topics that punch people’s buttons. I absolutely agree that that’s a factor. But I also think there’s an authority perception here: some readers see a profession of expertise in any way on a blog as teaching and therefore believe that they’re somehow owed explanation-attention-etc., despite the fact being that they’re not. If I wanted to, I could shut down my comments altogether. I was writing the blog from my point of view, my advertisers new where and how to reach me, and that was that. I didn’t have contact forms up and I didn’t respond to overtures for “networking” because at that phase in my business and life, I didn’t want to be bothered. It was the right decision at the time. And yes, I’ve been chided over technical issues and for not being available – and it’s the damnedest thing to me, that my audience members will track me down (it is very much appreciated in any case, even if it’s not always fixed right away) when there’s a technical problem, or a technical thing they don’t like. One case was particularly bewildering last year since the clothing I pointed to on the blog was in no way affiliated marketed – images were displayed as faded because of some weird blip in the blog template, and a person complained about the color not displaying.  I had no vested interest in displaying color since I was writing about silhouette and it’s impossible to guarantee consistent display of color across monitors. I wasn’t making any money off of someone clicking the link, and it didn’t interfere with actual use of the blog  — and I simply had other priorities. Yet someone tracked me down in comments to chew me out for not fixing it to her liking and went so far as to chide me for not publishing the comments about the technical issues.

The idea of soliciting an audience for a blog is still a brave new world for me, and one I’m not sure I always fully understand.  Fat Chic is the first time since Medea’s Chariot that I’ve had to solicit an audience, and I’m still going with my instincts about what I owe the audience – and what I don’t. The expectation – and frustration – that I don’t publish every single comment that criticizes me personally and the way I do things (I do publish critical/disagreement posts on subject matter, like one where someone asked me if I was crazy for posting a tank top you can’t wear a bra with) indicates that perhaps some people have developed a certain editorial expectation of me that’s good, or that they have developed a sense of ownership in my blog despite the void I have in community interaction at the moment. Still, I puzzle over where these expectations come from, especially since I’m pretty clear about my mission statement – and I don’t make promises about my behavior beyond that.