Differing from the typical blog, my vision for the Red Barn was to create a kind of digital magazine that featured regular departments each month. The plan was to release a sequence of postings that moved through eleven categories – American Affairs, Arts & Letters, Home and Garden, Newspaper Traditions, Personal Journey, Poems, Poetry Footnotes, Postcards, Quaker Practice, What’s New, and Wild Card – before starting over again. If I posted two or three times a week, this plan could cover a month. Boy, was I naive!
My initial intent had been to create an author’s website to support my submissions to literary journals and small presses, to let editors and readers know a little bit about me, including the pronunciation of my name. But the mere mention of a website drew derision from a daughter who knows my software limitations. “Why don’t you create a blog instead,” she countered.
Admittedly, there were some I’d read regularly and others I chanced across while surfing the web, but I hadn’t really thought about journaling online, which is what many bloggers do. Nonetheless, as I examined the venue, my concept took hold.
Designing a blog-cum-website within the framework of an out-of-the-box package, or theme, as it’s called (in this case, Manifest) and learning your way around the methods of adding content is another, even when it’s largely cut-and-paste. Venturing forth, however, brought many unexpected discoveries. Think about something as simple as “Like.” Why would anyone do that, I wondered. Punch a button marked “Like”? Don’t they just read it and move on?
As I said, Boy, was I naive! Following up on those Likes has led me to a host of kindred spirits, many of whose blogs I now follow and enjoy.
Follow? Another concept I hadn’t anticipated, along with the WordPress Reader itself. Now, of course, checking in on the flow of other bloggers is a fascinating part of my day. It’s like getting letters and postcards from pen pals around the world. Same-day service, in fact.
The realization my readers are spread around the globe and not just across the country has been another surprise, as has the whole range of Comment. Many days I feel those of you commenting are far more interesting than my original post. Even a pithy word or phrase can make my day. At other times we soon engage in a lively exchange. Publishing a newspaper rarely did that, apart from a letter-to-the-editor that arrived days later or maybe a stray phone call.
As you will detect, the Barn’s evolved from my original plan. Oh, my, has it! But the bones, I’d say, have held up well.
Reflecting on the evolution of the Red Barn has me thinking of related changes in my own life over the period and the ways the two have interacted.
When the Barn opened, I was still employed full-time as a newspaper editor and submitting heavily to literary journals, with more than a hundred of my poems annually finding acceptance for publication. In that first year, the blog largely focused on introducing me and the world I inhabit in a bit more depth than contributors’ notes allow. My blueprint was for a modest, text-driven site that could draw upon many of the drafts, related correspondence, journal entries, and previously published literary efforts from my four decades of practice. Easy enough, I thought. Folks would find me through Googling.
A few months into the project, though, I realized the importance of photography. It’s not that I was visually immune – I’ve worked with some of the best photojournalists in the business and had a rigorous training in visual art in high school. The central character in five of my novels is, in fact, a professional photographer. So I know how a strong image can function in garnering readership, too. My reluctance stemmed from the fact I didn’t want to take on more than I could handle. But a few trial runs on a borrowed digital camera prompted me to purchase an inexpensive Kodak, which allowed me to snap the scene around me and share the results online. Without claiming to be a real photographer – I know all too well what that entails – the point-and-shoot results have reflected the ways I frequently see people and places, and I’ve made a point of composing the shot in the camera rather than cropping after the fact, just to instill some artistic discipline.
In that first year, I never posted more than 24 times a month, and that included announcements of upcoming publications and readings.
As I learned my way around the blogging world, one of the big breakthroughs came in discovering I could schedule works to automatically appear on a time frame, rather than having to remember to post them as desired. The other breakthrough discovery was the importance of tags, both as a publisher and a reader looking for kindred spirits.
The evolution has also led to a kind of annual focus each year. The opening round stayed close to home, with all the quirky bits of our household and garden, to say nothing of the barn itself. From there, the spotlight opened out into the community where we dwell, and after that, a circle further into the Granite State and neighboring Maine.
My experiences with WordPress – and the range of material I still had in my filing cabinets – encouraged me to establish subsidiary blogs. One, focusing on Quaker theology, and another to share my genealogical findings, were launched mid-2012, followed by Chicken Farmer I Still Love You, with its initial presentation of money-related workshops, in mid-2013.
That, in turn, led to other shifts at the Barn. For one thing, not everything had to appear here. I mean, for all my blog’s variety, some focus is important. No matter your reason for checking in here, you still have expectations of finding entries that will mirror your interests. Nothing too esoteric or far afield, right? So why shouldn’t I sometimes wonder if more tightly defining the mission from the outset would have been wiser and more effective than the course I’ve followed?
By this point, I’d edged into retirement from the newspaper. A renewed flurry of writing and submitting to literary journals, increasingly an online process, crested with the release of my first ebook novel at Smashwords.com in 2013, followed by six more and a collection of poetry.
The Red Barn’s content shifted again. For one thing, my novels introduced a conversation about the hippie movement’s legacy on the American experience and popular culture – including yoga.
That, in turn, led to the realization I could move my small self-publishing imprint over from print media to online, which prompted my Thistle/Flinch site in mid-2014. Bit by bit, the Red Barn’s pace of postings picked up as a sampler for my longer collected writings.
And then we got into the American presidential year of 2016, with all of my pent-up rage from previous political battles. By now, rather than an equal balance of eleven categories, the entries were primarily American Affairs, Poems, and Arts & Letters, and I’d pretty much run through my Newspaper Traditions insights. The other categories appear sporadically.
So here we are, embarking on a new year. What’s ahead?
For all of my intent of slowing down, there’s still a busy round of new releases to share. So the Barn will be emphasizing poetry, for certain, perhaps with a poem a day reflecting my zig-zag journey to here. One small shift, though, is that many of the poems will be appearing under categories other than Poems. Let’s see how that works. I’m also anticipating a new form — with a new category — I’m calling Tendrils. Let me know what you think.
I’ve always been taken with the concept of cross-disciplinary interactions. Or, for that matter, dinner parties where you wind up in stimulating conversations with people you’d otherwise never run across. (A founder of the Internet? Right after I’d ranted about how the Web has killed professional journalism? It happened.)
Let’s see what unfolds, OK? Please stay tuned …