The Floodgates Have Opened: A Writer and a Teacher Today

Written May 17, 2010

The university took from me the ability to write. During creative writing workshops at the University of Utah, I learned the important, but painful lesson that a lot of my writing was melodramatic, cliche-ridden, and fatty. I learned what not to write, but not how to write. I learned what to cut, but not how to produce. I dropped out of college and began two decades of obsessive revision, revision, revision. I have drawers full of well-polished beginnings, written for no one, read by no one. About sixteen years after dropping out, I went back to school. And I love it. Since the university gave me writer’s block, it is appropriate that the university has now opened the floodgates. I have become a prolific writer, who is actually read by real people in the real world. (Hello, world!)

I began this blog to meet the requirements of two classes for a masters in literature and a certificate in teaching composition at San Francisco State University. I designed for myself an independent study class on metafiction, guided by Geoffrey Green. (I prefer to call it self-study rather than independent study, however, or even better a metaclass, since that implies activities like this one, in which I examine myself and the class.) Professor Green asked me to send him short emails, “interpretive forays,” about my readings. A second class I am taking, Teaching Writing in the Digital Age, required a new media project, so I decided to combine the two requirements and create a blog as a forum for my writings on metafiction. Since my long-term goal is to teach literature and writing, I decided I would also use the blog to examine writing and teaching.

When I began, I wasn’t sure I would have any readers, except sometimes the teachers of the courses. I hoped friends, family and maybe even strangers would join me on the blog, perhaps read something on the syllabus with me. It didn’t matter if I actually had any other readers, however, because I was well-accustomed to writing for myself, an occasional friend and sometimes a teacher. In my first post, “Who is Writing This?” I wrote to the reader, “If you can’t make it, don’t worry, you are already written you into the text. All my readers are imaginary at the point of writing.” Compare then all the following statistics against the number of readers I had before I began this blog: 0 and 1.

Warning: This paper will seem shamelessly self-congratulatory — and it is — but my primary purpose here (besides wallowing in the statistics) is to show the power of new media, specifically a blog, to get a writer producing regularly and give him a real audience and an authentic purpose. The statistics also show, I feel, that academic writing will be more effective and more widely read if it is playful and irreverent, experimental and dramatic. Statistics for this blog are labeled meta-data. Since the site is about a metaclass and metafiction, it is meta meta data. Now I am going to reflect on that metadata, so I present you meta meta meta data!

I started the blog at the end of January of this year 2010. Since posts are short, I can be obsessive as I like in the revision process and still produce something. Also, I don’t have to be nearly so obsessive because I can always revise the entries later. I am not producing the final version, but a work in progress. Because of this, the blog has broken through two decades of writers block. Since I began last January (four months ago), I have posted 73 pieces (including this one) and most of them have been read, some of them many times.

At the time of this writing, there have been 729 visits to ronosaurusrex.com and 1,415 page views. Before I moved to my domain, I was writing on WordPress which has had 290 views, for a total of 1,705 total views on both sites. (The remainder of the statistics will come only from ronosaurusrex.com.)

Before you get too excited, the average time spent on the site is only 2 minutes and 16 seconds. A friend of mine who understands new technology better than me says this is above average for most sites. Still, 528 visitors have spent less than ten seconds — my most discouraging statistic. (I need to work on the opening hooks to my writing.) On the other hand, 150 people have spent ten minutes to an hour, which is enough time to actually read one or more posts. That is either 150 times more than the readers I was accustomed to (if you compare it against 1) or infinitely more readers (if you compare to 0). These visitors have left 207 comments, although some of these are probably spam, because I was approving comments freely at the beginning that I now recognize as junk mail.

As for visitor loyalty, 495 people have only visited my blog once, but 25 people from 9-14 times, 28 from 15-25 times, 27 from 26-50, 6 from 51-100, and, the most surprising of all, 9 people have visited more than 201 times! (Are you guys crazy? Don’t you have anything better to do?) One half of my visitors arrive from search engines (and my blog is now listed at or near the top of various searches), one fourth come from a referring site (Facebook and Twitter, representing my friends and family — hello, you guys!), and 17% are direct traffic (my most dedicated followers). 70% of my visitors are new and 30% returning, which is a good mix of old and new, I think.

My most visited post with 76 views is The Burden of Life: Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” This is quite significant, because I wrote the short paper for a class I took last year for Michael Krasny, Contemporary Fiction. In the first year of this essay’s existence it had exactly one reader, Professor Krasny. I remembered it and another short paper, Our Cultural and Genetic Heritage: John Barth’s “Night Sea Journey,” were about metafiction, so I posted them. “Our Cultural and Genetic Heritage” has had 38 visits, with an average of 8 minutes and 17 seconds spent on the post, so people are actually reading it! This is exactly 76 and 38 times as many readers as the essays had before.

My second most popular post is The World’s Shortest Novel: Snoopy’s ‘It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.’ Its success has more to do with Snoopy’s writing than mine, because I basically just copied the story from Wikipedia, with minimal comments of my own. There have been 58 visits to my syllabus. This is great because I have been inviting friends, family and strangers to join me in the readings for my metaclass. The independent study class has not been independent. During the semester, I have been meeting with various people and discussing the books. Others, like my brother and sister-in-law, have joined me long distance. My post Tristram Shandy ****s Up the Page, various posts on The Arabian Nights, my analysis of Las Meninas, a Metapainting, and an early history of metafiction are also quite popular.

Some of my best posts, however, have only gotten two or three visits and others have an average time spent on the post of 0 seconds, so I need to look them over and figure out why people weren’t interested. Were the titles dull? Was I missing a hook?

Before I continue looking at the figures, I have some bad news. Part of my motivation for taking Teaching Writing in the Digital Age was to apply for the Graduate Teaching Associate program, which would allow me to get valuable experience teaching freshman composition. I have just learned, however, that I was not chosen. (Those in the masters in composition program were given priority over those, like me, who were only working on the certificate, although they may hire other teachers during the summer.) This punched a hole in my research project for Teaching Writing in the Digital Age, and all my motivation drained away.

But, as I have been working on this reflection paper and examining statistics, I have realized that teaching is not something I will do after I graduate, but something I am doing now. More and more people say they want to join my metaclass and visits to my blog mean that I am teaching literature and writing now, not after I graduate. There have been 19 visits to my post on multiple, simultaneous drafts, and 15 visits to “The Draft is Obsolete,” suggesting that people are interested in the new ideas I have about revision. 11 visitors have opened, “New Literacies: What They are and What This Means for Writing.” Even my annotated bibliographies, which I decided to post even though I wasn’t sure they would be very interesting, have gotten some views. I realized that my hard work has not be wasted, as I will post my research project on my blog and people will actually read it.  Anyway, my ultimate goal was never to teach freshman composition, but to teach literature. The certificate and all that I have learned in the class will certainly help me do so.

My favorite statistics come from the map overlay, which demonstrate the potential blogs have for a global audience. My blog has had visits from six continents. 528 are from the Americas (indicating friends, family and others with cultural ties). One visit is from the continent “not set,” a penguin or an alien, I guess. (Hello, my friend!) I have had visits from 49 countries or territories. Most of these visits come from the United States, then the U.K. and Canada, not surprisingly since we share a language. What is surprising is that readers from 28 other languages have accessed my site.

Other countries include (in descending order of number of visits — and this is the part where I am shamelessly wallowing in the statistics): Spain (hola!), Malta (with 14 visits!), Germany (former English as a Second Language students, as some of the following countries might be?), Turkey, Italy, India, Australia, Finland, South Korea, Switzerland, the Philippines, Greece, the Netherlands, Austria, Norway, Romania, Israel, Poland, Serbia, Singapore, Croatia, Hungary, Denmark, Ukraine, Colombia, France, Ireland, Colombia, Belgium, Pakistan, New Zealand, U.S. Virgin Islands, China, Jamaica, Indonesia, Japan, Tunisia, Bulgaria, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Iran, Brazil, El Salvador, Moldova, Taiwan, and  the mysterious “not set” (I love you!). This worldwide audience had made me reconsider what I write, for example, I revised a comment on modern Saudi Arabia I made recently in a paper about The Arabian Nights. No one from Saudi Arabia has visited my blog yet, but they might!

There have been visits from 311 cities: San Francisco at 193 (hello again, friends and neighbors!). The next biggest group is from Columbus, Ohio! (Welcome, Ohio!) Other cities include: Beverly Hills (Don’t you think this blog would make a great movie?), Dayton (Brad? Janet?) and Salt Lake City (my hometown, with only 4 visits! jeez! my family and friends there are going to get a serious talking to).

Many visits have come from cities I have never even heard of (chosen for their names): Bowling Green, Normal, Middlebury, Tom’s River, Steubenville, Tomball, San Gwann, Cosenza, Kajaani, Kennesaw, Lilburn, Lynchburg, Palatine, Saskatoon, Paderborn, Givatayim, Leuven, Adana, Muskegon, Woburn, Wye Mills, Oberlin, Miskolc, Velbert, Grambling, I’viv, and Swansea! (Please feel free to leave comments below to say hello!)

This blog has changed my life. It has broken through two decades of writers block and turned me into a prolific writer who is actually read by people all over the world. It has also turned me into a teacher of literature and writing. The metaclass will continue after the semester ends and I will use material I am generating for my thesis on metafiction. I imagine the metaclass will go on even beyond the thesis, eventually forming a dissertation or a book. If this happens, however, the book will not be any more important than the blog already is. I can also see myself picking up creative writing again and becoming the writer I have always dreamed of being.

Thanks, Kory, for putting this powerful tool into my hands and teaching so much about teaching, and thanks, Professor Green, for helping me understand metafiction and encouraging me, and thank you so much, Omar, for telling me again and again that I should start a blog and for giving me so much technical and emotional support, and thanks to all you wonderful readers who have made writing and teaching real for me! If this sounds like an acceptance speech for an award, it’s because I feel like I have received one. Visits to the blog are the applause I write for. Thank you all!

(As of September 23, 2012, I have had 60,753 visits and 84,599 page views.)

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