My Last BlogHer09 Post

I see most of you as writers.   Good writers.   But few of you are as good as Tolstoy.  The main difference between you and Tolstoy is that Tolstoy would not dance with me at a party, or even return my email.   Blogging is writing + the addition of you returning my email.   I lose interest in blogs where I don’t have some sort of interaction with the author at least once a year.   BlogHer was special to me because it gave me an opportunity to do regular shit with other writers:  talk, drink, make fun of people, gossip — as well as discuss common writing and blogging issues.   For one weekend, you get the opportunity to break bread and eat Ragu-sponsored spaghetti with people you have never met in real life, but know so much about, from their marital issues, children’s quirks, and what type of vibrator they enjoy.

I was pretty impressed with the conference.  The organizers work their asses off trying to make this chaos work.  Every year, there are new dramas.  If you do some searching, you’ll find a lot of commentary about all the infamous swag bags and Nikon hating babies of BlogHer09. You’ll also see a lot of finger-pointing.   The influential PR bloggers will blame the greedy mommybloggers.   The mommybloggers will blame the party organizers.  The feminists will blame the homeschoolers.  Badges will now go up announcing a blogger’s integrity and kindness and allegiance.  None of this is surprising to me.  Everyone wants to transform the organization into their own image, like God did with Adam.

Can you see the real problem?  There is no one “woman blogger.”  Some are college professors.  Some are truckdrivers.  How do you get them all to feel happy at the same table?  It is impossible.

My friend became a rabbi after college.  He was always into spirituality.  He is now a rabbi at a synagogue in New Hampshire.  He tells me that his job deals less with religion than personal politics.  He has to please the Board of Directors who run the ship.  He has to juggle which wedding to attend when two congregants have an event on the same day.  He has to say nice things at the funeral of the town jerk.  If a congregation of 300 Jews have 300 views at one synagogue, imagine how hard it is to please so many women, black and white, rich and poor, at BlogHer.

If politics is an inevitable part of any organization, with different “tribes” fighting for their role at the table, I would like to push the writer-types to speak up a little more.  You shouldn’t let the others steal the blogging thunder away from your blogging world.  Writers should be center stage at a blogger’s conference, not those using blogging to sell things, or for self-promotion.   Creative female writers should try to force the organization to fit their own image… just like everyone else.   The personal is political.

Amy and I enjoyed doing our Storytelling Session (link to live-blogging of session), but I was surprised that the bulk of the sessions had little to do with writing.   Where is the writing at BlogHer?   Isn’t that what blogging is all about?  Writing?

Imagine a conference on the television industry.  All the writers and producers of all the network shows come together, from Judge Judy to The Simpsons to Entourage, to meet, network, and learn from each other.  Now imagine that 90% of the discussion is about the COMMERCIALS!  Advertisers are walking around, trying to interest you in product placement.  The most popular sessions are about getting corporate sponsors for you TV show.  When there are sessions about the TV shows, it is usually of the practical matter — “How will this show affect the children?”  “Should I include my real name on the credits or should I use a pseudonym?”

These are all interesting subjects, but this stuff should be the sideshow.  The WRITING should NOT be the sideshow at a blogging conference.  That’s why the community keynote is always the highlight of the event.  It is about the CONTENT… the bloggers…. the writing… about the reason we are blogging.

The other aspects of blogging are important, but they should accept their place as second class citizens in a writer’s medium.  Once you let the sponsors run the show, you get crappy TV shows.  That’s why we all watch HBO.

I’m not really complaining.  I had a great time.  I was honored to be allowed to do a room with Amy.  It was fun.   But when I read the fingerpointing about the swag bags and the greed and the sponsors, I shake my head and laugh, because no one seems to be looking at the big picture.  You get the conference you deserve.   If all the conference talk is about PR and marketing, or how to sell your book, etc. then that is what the conference is going to be about — PR and marketing.   Even the blog business cards were out of control.   The parties were too loud and focused on selling something.   I love commercials on TV, but I’m not sure that is what I want to talk about when I go to a television conference.  I want to talk about the creative content with the creative people.

And to do some dancing.

I hope this post doesn’t scare anyone off from going.  This weekend was one of the most interesting in my blogging career.  I would definitely go again.  In fact, I insist that all of you go to some sort of blogging conference at least once while blogging, just to jar you from the comfort of your living room.

I did a lot of running around, following people here and there, and I was exhausted by the end.  Next time, I would take things a little slower, trying to make more time with certain people, and creating an experience that is more suitable for my personality.  I was too much of a “Citizen of the Month” on my first trip, following all the rules, going to all the sessions and parties, and forgetting to make my own agenda.

Thanks for a great time.   It makes me want to eventually meet all of my blogging friends.

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77 Responses to My Last BlogHer09 Post

  1. Danny says:

    Fascinating and I loved the liveblogging of your session which sounded great. I think “blogging” has become an umbrella term for lots of different kinds of writing. I am so turned off by the idea of most of those BlogHer sessions that I can’t imagine attending a whole conference like that. On the other hand, I think you’d be very disappointed in any television conference which I’m sure would be all about the money angle, NOT the creative side of the business.

  2. Maria says:

    Hear hear. You said it all, Neil.

  3. I’m kicking myself for missing your session, just as I was kicking myself THAT DAY because I was lost and literally couldn’t find your session.

    Anyway, I love this post and would really have loved to hear more about WRITING.

    It was great meeting you, even briefly, minutes after I arrived, and still smelling of car funk.

  4. Chris says:

    What you described doesn’t appeal to me. I live close to Sundance and I enjoy walking around the grounds when workshops are taking place. Writers, directors, camera people, designers… they’re all so dedicated to their craft. Nothing false or commercial takes place.

    I think I’d be disappointed if I spent the money and took the time to attend BlogHer. I need help and mentoring with my writing. I also need time to talk, drink and dance with friends — a smaller more intimate group appeals to me for socializing. I would feel stressed trying to befriend hundreds of people in a short period of time. In the same breath, there are a few bloggers I would sincerely enjoy meeting in person. You’re one of them. :-)

    Maybe if BlogHer comes to Salt Lake City, I’ll lurk.

  5. Neil, I love this. I had some thoughts knocking around in my head about how people keep talking about the “mommybloggers”, while if one were to reference “The Indians” or “Those Catholics” with the same broad brush, there would be indignance. (Just making an analogy, not implying that Mommybloggers are “persecuted”.:)

    Your image of tribes at the table is apt, when the reasons for starting and goals for having a blog are as diverse as the people who start them, sometimes we are bound to be at odds. But I would hope that in the end, the common love of the written word would bind us.

    It was so amazing to look out at you and Maggie and Jon as I was mic wrangling my first session. You are some of the first voices I conected with through blogging, and it was amazing to see you all lined up, writers of thoughtful posts come to life before my eyes. I’m glad you came.:)

  6. muskrat says:

    Hi Neil- I enjoyed meeting you and “got” some good information from a couple of the sessions while not getting much usable information from others. I’m glad to see you offer your opinion and criticism, however, as I’m sure some of your readers have the influence to change future sessions’ content and focus.

  7. Karl says:

    This is my favorite BlogHer recap post thus far, dude. You’re spot on, particularly about getting the conference experience you deserve.

    Finally wrote my major recap here, and I apologize in advance.

    http://secondhandkarl.com/2009/07/paula-deen-bought-me-freaking-drinks-yawll-bitches/

  8. Headless Mom says:

    Gah! Just the conversation that I’ve been having with other bloggers! Let’s learn more!

    (Please put all of this in your survey that they send out to all the attendees! They really do look at the surveys to make up next year’s sessions and agenda. The more of us that do this the better.)

    And also? Sorry for scaring the shit out of you on Thursday afternoon. I really didn’t mean to pounce, I was just thrilled to finally meet you.

  9. Neil says:

    Headless — the founders of BlogHer are amazing women. I even include Elisa as my friend. But it is a business, and they adjust their focus depending on what their audience wants, just like a movie studio. If their audience wants action movies, they give it to ‘em. When women started going to to chick flicks, they started to make more. So, this is not to say BlogHer gets it wrong. They are a cool organization. But they are like that movie studio adjusting to their audience. And up until now, it is the PR and SEO people who have spoken louder.

  10. come to the beach for a vacation and spend some time at the piano bar with me. :) forget all those other women. of course, you have to put up with my piano player.

  11. Sugar Jones says:

    It’s great to get your perspective on this. You’re right… there’s always something. I think we all played a part in whatever experience we had.

    And who does one blame if they are both a feminist AND a homeschooler?

  12. Astacia says:

    next year, I’m just buying the party pass. I am going to sit in the lobby and talk to people all day.

  13. Okay, I am still reeling with the shock of discovering that one of my favorite bloggers—YOU—was on the elevator and I didn’t know. I didn’t have my name tag on and neither did you. *Sigh* Now that your profile pic has changed, prepare for a stalker (ME) at Blogher 2010, if you go.

  14. Momo Fali says:

    I just loved connecting with the people I have “known” for so long, but never met in person. I wish I had got a chance to sit down with you, but damn…it was a whirlwind!

  15. I’ve heard a ton of great things about the session you did. Did anyone videotape it by chance?

  16. brandon says:

    you know, you asked me a question and reading this may have helped me understand why it is that i keep disappearing. the sponsors and advertisements have never bothered me. large readerships, however, make me uncomfortable. and it’s not a social phobia. i LOVELOVE people in small portions. if there is a session next year on how to reduce traffic to your blog without appearing snobbish, i will show up and leave a tip.

  17. Loukia says:

    I hope you go next year, ’cause I want to meet you.

  18. Jen Lee says:

    Neil, The only sessions I attended were the Community Keynote and the session you & Amy did. I couldn’t figure out why so few of the offerings appealed to me, but you just put your finger on it. There was a surprising lack of conversation about writing. And honestly, I can do without the rest.

    Thank you for doing your part to make writing a part of the conversation this year, and for this urging to grow its roll in future events. Us writing folk too often are content to hang out in the back and watch. Now you have me thinking of ways I can do my part in the future…

  19. Diana Lee says:

    TPTB seem to have received the message about many of us wanting more discussion of writing & the craft of blogging. I’m hopeful we’ll see that in BlogHer 10.

  20. Aunt Becky says:

    This was precisely how I felt about BlogHer.

  21. Heather says:

    as someone who can’t get to bloging conferences this made good reading & it made me think about my own practices on both bloging and tweeting So, thanks from down under and the kiwitravelwriter

  22. kelly says:

    Change is in the air, my friend. I can feel it. I think you will definitely see more focus on writing at next year’s conference.

    I just write for me, do little networking, read what I want, and stay out of the mess that can be blogging. And people still find me, still read me. I still have community. And I’m happy. There is a better way to blog, I believe.

    Blogher was so amazing because I saw so many others who “get” it, you, Kate, Schmutzie, Maggie-just fine writers who I think elevate the whole notion of blog.

  23. mrsmogul says:

    Thanks for the update. I plan to go next year. My agenda is to have a good time so I hope it’ll be a nice city!

  24. Roflol
    There is no one “woman blogger.” Some are college professors. Some are truckdrivers…..:
    And they allowed you there?

  25. Mindy Harris says:

    Neil,
    Thanks for your insight and for recognizing the “meat” of why we’re here: to write. I aim to inspire and create humor for my readers. My blog is still young but I continue to write and to learn. I am debating going to the 2010 conference. If I go, I’d like to meet you.
    ~M

  26. kgirl says:

    Reading this two weeks before Blogher ’10, which I am attending and presenting at, is perfect. I loved your Wizard of Oz recap as much as the 101 people that commented and the 1000 more that didn’t, but this is the one that will centre me and help me take a deep breath and focus on why I really wanted to be there. And I promise you, I’ll be out on the dancefloor. Any dancefloor.

  27. Pingback: The End of the BlogHer 09 Recap Lists

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