The Evolution of This Blog
First lemme thank everybody who has signed up for FIRST LOOK ACCESS and is following the Foolscap videos (#1 last week, #2 this week) and the introduction of The Authentic Swing (all only available through FIRST LOOK ACCESS). Wow, what a sentence. Totally incomprehensible to anyone who is not a regular reader of this blog.
Thinking about this got me mulling how publishing has changed and how this blog has evolved over just the past four years. Here’s a bird’s-eye view:
When I sit down to compose a Writing Wednesdays post, I open a folder in my MacBook titled “AFGHANISTAN.” From there I go to a subfolder called “TRIBALISM VIDEO PROJECT 2009.” Finally I get to “BLOG POSTS.” Then I start a new file representing the current week’s post.
But let me go back even farther, so that crazy paragraph makes sense.
This blog started four years ago, based on an historical novel I had written called The Afghan Campaign. The Afghan Campaign is about Alexander the Great’s invasion of the Afghan kingdoms in the 330s B.C. That book evolved out of a single chapter, called “Badlands,” in an earlier novel about Alexander the Great. I had been struck, in the research for both books, by the parallels between Alexander’s campaign 2300 years ago and our own American campaign in that same part of the world in 2009 and the preceding years.
I thought American policy was wrongheaded and even tragic (not only for our U.S. forces but for the Afghan people) and that our soldiers and Marines were getting killed needlessly because U.S. strategy was not taking into account the lessons of the past.
I decided to make five short videos on the subject of tribalism in Afghanistan. From that evolved a short speech that I gave to Marines at Camp Pendleton, midshipmen at the Naval Academy, and other places. I was trying to influence policy. I wanted U.S. officials to take tribalism (and the tribal mindset among the Taliban, al-Qaeda, etc.) more seriously, in fact to see it as the central element and common denominator of the opposition our troops were confronting in Afghanistan.
I shot the videos. But what could I do with them? We tried to give them away to established channels on the web. Nobody wanted them. We updated my rudimentary static website, making it a blog-based, interactive site, and put the videos up there. We called it “It’s the Tribes, Stupid.” It was totally military. We linked to Small Wars Journal and other mil/pol sites. The blog had nothing to do with writing or anything literary. We published a 55-page paper by Special Forces Major Jim Gant called “One Tribe At A Time,” which laid out a totally new way to fight the war in Afghanistan. (Am I boring you yet? Hang in there!)
Maj. Gant’s paper made a big splash in the Pentagon and elsewhere. The blog was actually getting traction in military circles. But now a new element entered the picture:
The readers of The War of Art posted and asked about topics related to Resistance and Writing, and Callie said, “If you want to speak to both audiences, you need a blog series for writing, too. We’ll call it Writing Wednesdays and run it once a week. Each post can be like a continuing chapter of The War of Art.”
I said, “Yeah, but I’ll run out of ideas after four or five posts.” That was, what, 200 posts ago.
Gradually the Afghan element fell away. Shawn began writing posts about the publishing biz and the editorial process. Callie began writing on aspects of professionalism and publicity. That went on for about two years.
By now long-form projects began popping into our heads. Stuff that wouldn’t fit into a single post or even a hundred. In other words, books. Shawn had wanted for years to write a long, serious piece about the editorial process. His title is The Story Grid, based on the visual way he edits a writer’s manuscript.
He’s working on it now. It’ll be done in a few months.
Meanwhile I wanted to write something about the writing of a first novel, specifically my own, The Legend of Bagger Vance. That’s the book we’re rolling out now, The Authentic Swing.
Is this the future of publishing? Probably not in the broad sense. Nothing will replace mainstream publishing houses for serious fiction (and not-so-serious) and for most forms of non-fiction. But it’s possible that in certain niches, you and I (meaning the writers who read this blog and others like it) may be able to find a way to get site-specific and community-specific stuff into the hands of readers who are interested and not go completely broke in the process. Or, put another way, we might return to the original writer-writes-for-reader concept instead of the publisher-formulates-product-for-bookstore paradigm of conventional publishing. Stephen King is doing it. So is J.K. Rowling. Why not more?
Which brings us back, in some crazy way, to tribes. Seth Godin in his book, Tribes, predicted this phenomenon years ago. He foresaw the rise of virtual communities of like-minded individuals, who would share expertise on their subject of interest, whether it was cooking, horsebreeding, or writing.
Our intention here on this site—me, Shawn, Callie, and Jeff—is to see if we can make that work. The ongoing process, this week and next, is our first real attempt to see if there’s a demand and if we can contribute to the conversation.
So thanks, you guys, everybody who is participating (skeptically or hopefully) so far. This week is Foolscap Video #2. Next week the full Authentic Swing. Thanks too for the great feedback and response so far. We’re learning. And we’ll share what we’ve learned.
If we can do it, maybe others can too.