Notes on PodCamp

by Jeff Oaks

I’m at Podcamp today, sitting in a couple of sessions about basic blogging, which have been interesting and useful. I’m writing notes and making to do lists, things to change or tweak about my own blog, and to think about as I start putting together a second blog (this one for the Writing Program) that I’ll mostly curate and yet a third blog Id like to create for own teaching.

What’s immediately interesting is the kinds of people who are here at Podcamp–not at all the young’uns I expected, but us middle’uns who have an astonishing number of reasons to use blogs: some have products to sell, others issues to advocate for, or life changes to report on and find community for, or occasional and casual publication of one’s thoughts. I frankly thought there would be a lot more people here; it’s been about two dozen altogether. Have we all been assuming that everyone is blogging?

I’m finding myself thinking that rather than talks (or maybe I mean in addition to talks) about the practical tools, there ought to be a second day devoted to making or posting or writing, the Doing part of all this. Maybe a few seasoned bloggers might be on hand with an assignment or a menu of assignments depending on your particular blog’s focus.

One woman who is thinking of starting a blog approached my colleague Nancy and me, and in the course of our talking, she wished there was a way that someone could talk to her and a few of her friends about the “rules” of writing, which she felt so far from that she feared writing, certainly not for public consumption, anything. She wondered if anyone had ever gotten together a group of people who all wanted to learn grammar better and coached them through the intricacies of grammar. She used as an example her own forgetting what a semicolon was used for anymore. I forget sometimes that writing itself has been turned into a minefield of embarrassment for so many people. I told her to email me and I’d see what I could do to get her in touch with a grammar coach for her group.

Is this the new freelance job, I quietly wondered? There’s always money for professional development seminars in big companies, isn’t there? Here’s a place where writers might actually thrive

Outside, a rain fell and froze on the cement streets. It was a kind of gloomy day to be downtown, although I can see the real changes afoot here: new buildings, small flocks of young to middle-aged adults in fluorescent Spandex jogging through intersections, the absence of the homeless I remember from the years when I worked down here, the signs for new cafes, new stores, a cleanliness to the streets.

One of the assignments suggested to us when starting a blog was to actually write out Why you wanted to start a blog. I thought it wouldn’t be a bad thing to reassess my reasons. Part of the reason I started this blog is to have a public platform to try out my voice as a writer of prose. I didn’t think anything here would be publishable but might act like a public journal, a form I’ve seen in a number of print and online publications, a loose “thinking space” I might call it. I am so thankful for the feedback and attention friends and other readers have given me since I began. Last night, after I’d written my last post about procrastination, I got word that the Kenyon Review Online was accepting a long prose of mine for its site, part of which started here. Another one of my blog posts was recently accepted for an anthology of short nonfiction by my old (and now late) friend Judith Kitchen. The month of posts I made which turned out to be the last month of her life I’ve rewritten as a novella-length essay in parts. This weird space that is neither completely literary or merely casual has been an interesting place to work, it turns out, for me.

Here are two other assignments you might like, courtesy of Cynthia McCloskey and Podcamp:

1. Blog post haiku: Write a single sentence blog post. It’s good for getting yourself started or re-started. It’s good for sharpening your concision, the density of your sentences. A more advanced challenge, which I might pursue soon, is to write one sentence every day for a month.

2. No delete Thursdays: Whatever you write, you write and let alone, let stand, don’t over-correct. You practice letting go of perfection, that other silencer of so many people’s voices.