Panel Rundown: The Great Writers Blog

| 3 min read

Place: Orycon 2006 Sunday, 12 PM Panelists: Cory Doctorow, Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal Moderator: Me

Jay and Mary were both people that I met as we sat down at the table and people that I liked quite a bit. I had a chance to talk to both in hallways later on and carry on the conversation a little further. At the absolute last minutes, as I was leaving the con Mary and I chatted about her growing up in North Carolina. I suggested she try to make Converge South next year, but she lives in Iceland so that's a big issue for her. She's got the same difficulties as I do in going to lots of cross-country cons, except hers is far longer international flights.

To be perfectly honest, this is the panel I feared the most as a moderator. That Cory is a blogger of repute and reach that swamps out the other three of us I thought might be an issue. To his enormous credit, he did not pull rank or in any way condescend to the other panelists or anyone in the room. I found that highly classy and egalitarian, treating us all as equal peers and partners in the blogosphere and the present conversation.

I did some audience calibration to begin this panel. I asked for shows of hands for a number of questions: who wants to blog but doesn't know how; who blogs; who writes or wants to write professionally; who writes and blogs; who uses their writing as a topic in or as snippets of their blog. There were only three people out of maybe 40 or 50 that were in the "need to learn" camp so I asked them to reraise their hands for someone knowledgeable near them to volunteer to buddy up with them and talk to them after the panel to help them out. Then we began.

Because I'm not a working writer I laid back for several swatches of time in the discussion, doing traffic control but not really adding much. The one thing I really wanted to throw out there was the story of my work blogging rules of the road and how I had the discussion up front before I blogged the first thing about my present company. Because people can and do get fired over this, I felt that dominating the conversation for a few minutes might be a necessary evil. I contended that getting fired over blogging is stupid, and your first responsibilities are to the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Keeping you and your children fed is a higher priority than your post. As much as I love it and don't want it removed from my life, I could live without blogging in a way that I couldn't without food or shelter. Cory took exception to that and thinks I'm giving the act of self-expression short shrift but we have to agree to disagree on this. I think it's the very definition of a higher level Maslowian act.

Mary had some fascinating stories about how she has used her blog for her artistic endeavors and also how she deals with the blog/work membrane. Cory talked about a common theme of the weekend - the collapse of multi-faceted identities to a single point and the problems that can cause when your home life is public and it make cause friction with your work life and how blogging can be the mechanism for that collapse. Jay and Cory both talked about using their blogs as repositories for their work in progress and the materials thereof. There was discussion of the "personal brand" and lots of talk about whether to have separate blogs for different topics, whether to be pseudonymous or use one's real name. We talked about the blog as a tool for engagement with ones audience and the Neil Gaiman approach of chatty blogging vs the Neal Stephenson opproach of conspicuous absence from the web and blogosphere.

At the end, Cory tried to teach me something about moderation that I was just too slow on the uptake to do effectively this time but that I'll be doing every panel I ever moderate from here on out. When we ran low on time, we got all the people with pending questions to just all ask them one at a time. Then we went down the row and each panelist answered one of the questions on the floor. It worked like gangbusters once I finally understood what we were trying to do. I thought that each question would get a volunteer to answer it, which was upside down from the real thing. At the panel he moderated he did this (much more smoothly) and it worked very very well.

Bottom Line: I enjoyed this panel a lot, learned a lot, was enlightened with a dose of reinvigoration for the value of what we do, and hope my moderation was as good as the topic, panel and audience deserved.