Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Sit Up Straight, Dammit

I am 43. I bet many of you didn't know that, did you? I am often told that I seem younger than the number of my years. I don't know why. Maybe because there is a certain goofiness about me, an informality that is most comfortable with people who are less conscious of their own dignity. Maybe, I am making up for the years I lost in an unhappy marriage where I was forced to act the part of a dutiful wife in a fundamentalist church for precisely 15 hours a day, for 12 years.

I don't know.

I have terrible posture, but I don't slouch. I bounce, stumble, skip. I walk loudly. I can't relate to those who slouch through life, they offend me on some level.

I didn't want to review you, but here it goes. I am a mother, I am often the one to suck up the task that no one else desires, and finish it. I bet you can relate.

Sometimes, we are accused of being non-objective sheep. To help counter that objection, I'm going to give you an insider perspective on how I review blogs.

It isn't particularly methodical, as I am not a particularly methodical person. I'm not a methodical writer, either. I tend to go with the flow. I find the mechanics of writing to be draining, especially if I can observe them from the outside of someone else's work.

First, I form an immediate opinion about how the blog looks. I scroll down the page, hoping to get some first impressions about the author. I look for an "about me" page that tells me some background so I can jump into the story with some fundamental understanding of who I'm reading. I look at the overall aesthetic statement that the blog makes.

Is it cleanly designed? Where does the blog's design focus my eye? The blog design should draw my eye TO the writing. It should frame the writing. It should not distract from the writing.

The purpose of a sidebar is navigational, in my opinion. The sidebar should help the reader transition through the blog, like a map, finding one's way to best posts and archives and answers to questions about the author. A sidebar is NOT a place to put advertisements. It is NOT a place to put awards. It is NOT a place to put a long blogroll or list of archives. I detest all of those.

There are ways to roll up archives to clean the sidebar so that the words in the sidebar don't distract from the words in the blog itself. This should be done, in my opinion, as it is more visually pleasing.

When I click on this blog, the first thing I see is a brilliant orange Oxi Clean advertisement. I see this before I see your writing, before I see anything else.

I hear Billy Mays inside my head, even though he's dead. I like that he's dead, because I found his presence in life an ongoing source of displeasure. Why can't Billy Mays go away, even though he's dead? Hearing Billy's voice makes me feel disgruntled, and I want to click away, immediately, but I force myself to pay attention to the template.

Are you a witch? I like the idea of Wiccans, I would find that interesting about you, but I found nothing to confirm or deny your religious views. If you danced naked in the moonlight a la Gerald Gardner, that would be even better. The concept of skyclad worship appeals, as well. I like naked.

See how distracting a badly designed blog can be?

Based upon the above paragraphs, Slouchy, you should draw the following conclusions:

1. Clean up your sidebar, it is visually distracting.
2. Create a correlation between your blog design and yourself. The blog should fit your character.
3. Create an about me page to introduce new readers to the back story about you and why/what you write.
4. Why is there an ugly ad first thing in your sidebar, above anything else?

After being annoyed by the appearance of this blog, and the submitter's clear disregard for any and all advice we've ever offered on the subject of blog design, I start looking at what she's written.

I see a picture with no explanation. Great. I feel even more less connected than I did previously.

I see poetry describing her family as a tree. I might understand this poem if the author had deigned to give me some background information on her life, but she hasn't. I get that her family life has been less than ideal. I lose interest halfway through the poem.

I find a list of her best work. I start reading through it, and read all of her best posts.

What I find is that the basic framework of posts is solid, but there is a wordy tendency towards wordiness that I find tedious.

This post, for instance.

The hotel room was standard issue and dated. Between bouts of jagged, ugly tears (his and mine), I wondered that it had come to this: mahogany veneers and gold-plated drawer pulls.

I just get the sense that this author is trying too hard at this. I see the effort, in every post. There is no poetry in this for me. It feels, to be blunt, standard issue and dated. We've ALL had this experience. We've all stayed in this hotel room. There is nothing new here that connects on a tactile level for me.

And, it's frequently too obvious.

On the wall a sailboat trying vainly to hold back the roiling sea.

Oh, my! The roiling sea of emotions inside, you don't mean to suggest?!! How subtle.

Never since have I gone through two boxes of tissues in one night. As the pile next to the bed grew, it took on substance, heft, until wryly I noted that it was a sculpture altogether befitting the end of a relationship.

Do you see how the sentence structure here feels stilted, and not clean?

When we talk about editing, what we mean here is that clean prose, without the trite word usages and phrases that earned us pats on the head in high school, is better. The simpler way is realer. You don't have to say "altogether befitting," you can use other words that are more active, less passive, more visual, less contrived.

It doesn't have to be this hard, and it shouldn't look this hard.

This post is better. But still, you struggle with editing.

Editing is refining. It is going through a sentence to remove every extra word that impedes.

You need to do it.

This is not a bad blog, but it should improve. Every single post needs editing to the point of spareness.

That's my opinion. Which, I suppose, is what you asked for.

I give you two stars, for effort. That's not a bad review, but I'm a long ways from loving your blog.


  1. Thanks for the review, LB. I am HTML-challenged and have long considered hiring someone to revamp my site. This is just the kick in the pants I needed. Now to find someone...

  2. I very much liked Slouchy's writing. The French Lesson especially. And The Other Kind of Freshman Year. Lovely punctuation. She also starts her posts well.

  3. Also, Calamity, I sent you a movie invitation and you haven't responded yet, and I'm still pouting. I want to drink margaritas and eat very fattening food and start fights with college girls.

    It has been that kind of week, and it's only Tuesday.

  4. Eh, some people like Hemingway, others like Faulkner. Although I agree with you entirely on the design and the need to edit more.

    Will get back to you on the movie/Mexican food/catfight issue.

  5. She's good, don't get me wrong, but where are all the bloody bloggers that write with their fists? Don't they blog?

  6. Do they have blogs in prison?

  7. I disappointed that no one, not one single person pointed out that I, ahem, design blogs according to AAYSR standards.

    Just saying.

    Oh and I mostly blog with my bowels, Rassles.

  8. betsey booms: i'll bite. tell me more. my e-mail address is on my site.

  9. I think this was an asTOUNDingly fair review considering the smackdown that previously occurred.
    Thanks for letting us in on how you do it, LB.
    As for you Mizz Razzles, I tend to blog with a crow bar, stopped up colon, and psychological problems. Hope that works for you, 'cause that's about all I've got and I think you are faaaabulous.

  10. miss missives8/04/2009 4:04 PM

    This is one of those blogs that beg for a red pen because in reading it, you can see how much more powerful it would be were it edited. I loved the tree poem, probably because I can relate to that feeling sometimes no family is better than the one you get and not wanting to be that for your own children. The good thing Slouchy is that comments to edit are the best kind because so much of what we see here could only be well-edited back to a blank page. There is a ton of great writing here, just needs a little less.

  11. Thanks for the feedback, miss missives!

  12. Yeah, I think Slouchy writes better than a LOT of bloggers. It's hard to delete a very pretty sentence, especially after you've imagined someone in comments writing, "I just loved this sentence: '(Said sentence).'"

    But it has to happen sometimes.

    That's the hardest self-editing decision, I think. Sometimes I'll look at a sentence of mine and think, "That's the kind of sentence that might get just one reader to apply the label 'Good Writer' to me." And I'll want to keep it for vanity and pride despite my instinct that it doesn't help the overall point of the story -- and sometimes doesn't even fit into the tone.

    Maybe it's best to stick those darlings in a separate file, remember that you came up with the interesting metaphor or detail or whatever, and retrieve it for a story that it better assists. Or maybe you'll revisit it with fresh eyes and be glad you never printed it in the first place!

    (Sorry, I'm blathering. I just wrote something that's printing tomorrow, it's too late to edit it and I BADLY wish that I could. So I share Slouchy's struggle.)

  13. slouchy has written some of the most beautiful phrases I've ever read. I can't really talk crap about editing, since I am so remarkably bad at it.

    I like her, can't help it :)


Grow a pair.