Why don’t more writers’ festivals do in-session food?
Philip Thiel handed out slices of pork terrine before his session at the Emerging Writers’ Festival and they were DELICIOUS – not least because I’d skipped lunch to talk to interesting new writer friends and was feeling a little faint.
I paid close attention to everything Thiel said after that. *Festival organisers take note*.
Admittedly, I would have paid attention anyway.
Thiel and Jessica Au jointly moderated a discussion about blogging. They explained their own different motivations – Thiel (to be interesting), Au (marketing/profile) – and engaged the blogger-dominated audience in lively debate about issues like content and making a living from blogging.
In terms of content, Thiel represented the personal/confessional blog approach while Au provided insight into organisational blogs.
Thiel pointed out that blogs started out as an extension of journal keeping and often contained what he described as “almost excruciatingly personal” content.
“That traditional personal voice is still really dominant and I think it’s not going to go away because as soon as people try to get rid of it for personal reasons or branding reasons, people do stop reading the blog,” he said.
“In any case, it’s a great opportunity for people to be radically personal and lots and lots of blogs I read are not about politics, not about criticism, but about what people had for breakfast.
“The fact that there is a global audience for this material means that there are possibly millions of people wanting to know that you had a cup of tea in Collingwood and why not? What’s wrong with that? And if they want to go into more detail about that cup of tea, they can.
“What if that is actually the material that is of most interest to readers? Are we going to impose on them something more authoritative and declarative?”
He cited an article in the literary journal, Meanjin, in which the author described her daily reading of a blog by an unemployed design graduate in the United States. The blogger posted news of her job search, about her work in a cafe, doodles or photos taken while walking her dog, thoughts about books she’d read and quotes about the need to persevere.
Thiel quoted: “Her talent is clearly evident. She never complains about her situation. She just keeps plugging away and, in so doing, is leaving a lovely little curated garden that, I, on the other side of the world, can diligently read every day without her even knowing that I’m crossing my fingers for her.”
“I was incredibly moved by what was a beautiful summary of how those trivial, small but compelling details of our lives are often the very things that we want to read when we log onto our blog-feeds,” Thiel said.
“If we are going to have little lessons, one that I might offer is, don’t be too worried about the topic of your blog. There is an audience for whatever preoccupies you.”
Au, who has blogged for Meanjin, said many organisations had identified blogging as a form of communication they should be involved in. But this posed additional challenges to the blogger.
“I was mindful in blogging that it wasn’t just my voice, I had to take on the interests of the journal and put my agenda in that as well,” she said.
“The thing that I did have trouble with was the question of voice. The blogs I like reading have a strong character and I think that’s something that’s really overlooked by people that get into blogging. They think it’s just like writing an article, which it isn’t necessarily.”
Au said a lot of organisations also didn’t have the resources to dedicate to a strong blog presence. Their hunger for content provided opportunities for writers to do guest posts, cross-reference their own blogs and connect with bigger audiences.
In terms of that dread word ‘monetisation’, views were mixed.
“I think it is a very good question, the question of whether bloggers should be paid,” Au said. “It is difficult in terms of how blogs started out and what they are now.”
When blogs began, people wrote them simply because they wanted to. These days, organisations tried to harness blogging as a form of public relations or marketing, she said. The fact that blogging started out as a voluntary activity was creating a problem for those keen to see appropriate payment for effort.
Thiel felt any discussion about making money from blogging was boring. “Do something else,” he said. “Work somewhere. Blogging takes almost no time if you don’t want it to.”
To clarify, Thiel’s blogging might not take up much time, but the activities supporting his blogs definitely do. Which brings us back to the pork terrine.
A self-described ‘blog artist’, Thiel made and distributed the terrine because the i ching told him to ‘make a pork cake’. Every year, Thiel chooses a theme with a daily challenge. Last year, he kissed a different person every day. The year before, he gave a flower to a different person every day. This year, he consults the i ching every day and does what it tells him to do – or his interpretation thereof. And he blogs about it.
It’s a little out there but Thiel has created himself a devoted following, which supports his theory that everyone and everything has an audience in the blogosphere. They just shouldn’t expect to be paid for it.
As he says: “Nobody is going to pay me to give out terrine at a writers’ festival, but it is imperative that I do.”
Philip Thiel blogs at http://thiel.livejournal.com/ .
Jessica Au’s first novel, Cargo, was published this year by Picador.