If you’re a sidebar solicitor, you might have noticed recently the “Realms of Wonders” category list has begun to change–“Essays” is slowly vanishing (but not quite slowly enough) while new categories like “Poverty” and “Equality” have popped up. This, I’m afraid, is but a small echo of what’s to come–tidings of the new face of the Writingwolf that I simply cannot keep secret until the forthcoming reveal.
However, instead of trying to subtly ignore these obvious alterations, I thought I’d take a moment to peer into the future (and look deeper into myself) and try to answer an important question that’s begun to bother me: Why are tags and categories all that important after all?
When I began blogging, I tagged sparingly; in fact, my first post had only three–Gay, Jew, and Writer, fitting as they have become the defining features of my blog, although perhaps “Leader” should have its place among them, too. I soon learned that tagging increases traffic, and so as time went on, I made a conscious effort to tag more thoroughly–indeed, most of my recent posts exploit the fact that posts containing a combined total of fifteen or fewer categories and tags will appear in the WordPress topic lists, thus ensuring I can reach as many potential readers as possible.
But alas, readership is no longer my only goal in tagging and categorizing my posts.
As I move toward unleashing my new blog upon the world (I shouldn’t say this, but I have folders of new material ready for the reboot), I want to firmly root this blog in my vision for it–to be a vehicle for inspiration, motivation, and empowerment–a vehicle of change.
I also want to make my blog a more complete reflection of who I am–and as such, I want my new categories to mean something, to be more than just traffic lights and “NOW OPEN” signs.
The fundamental challenge has been answering the question “What should my categories accomplish?”
On one hand, they need to be descriptive. If they’re going to do their job of attracting new readers and reinvigorating those already here, all while making it easier to find specific content, categories need to be specific and precise. General catch-all categories like “Life” and “Thoughts” need to be reimagined or completely removed–and as you’ll soon see, that’s precisely what I’m doing, respectively.
On the other hand, the true descriptive weight of WordPress stresses a post’s tags, not its categories, per se. Furthermore, the handful of new categories I first proposed were either too general or so particular that any post would fall under three or four of them–and at that point, a category loses its significance.
I was at a loss, sitting before my computer, so I did what I generally do when I need to make things concrete: I grabbed a pencil and some paper and got to work. Since I want my new blog to mirror me–my interests and my values–I wrote at the very top “Identity” and began building a flow-chart of hierarchical tiers of possible categories–and in places they did overlap, and in places I had nodes with no leaves, but in the end I had something possibly usable. But I still wasn’t satisfied.
The beauty of my current, if haphazard, category system is that it came about organically. I started with only a few categories–Writing, Life, Fiction, Judaism, GLBT Activism–and as my interests and passions expanded, so did my category cloud. Things like “Thoughts” and “Thankful Things” arose, as did “Politics” and “Poetry.” As I grew, so did my categories. But what I hadn’t imagined happening was this: That such general categories, intended at first to be merely occasional endeavors, would end up holding more than half of my blogging space. As it stands today, 46% of my posts fall under “Life” and “Thoughts”–with nearly 60% of that in “Life” alone!
Starting a new system out of the blue just seems to disregard the organic structure I’ve already got. An intelligently designed system is still a designed system–it isn’t one that’s grown and cultivated over time, slowly rising to become the amazing thing it’s destined to become. It’s static, immovable, lifeless.
Those are three things I never want my blog to be.
But as I lay there on the floor, contemplating new categories, it occurred to me that I’m not creating a new system, I’m merely reorganizing what’s already there. I’m not changing my content, and certainly moving forward it’s only going to become more focused if yet somehow equally more diverse, and so creating new categories to properly capture what I have is merely fitting the bones in a body that’s already there.
In writing we like to speak of “fleshing out” a story. For the longest time I didn’t understand what this meant, but then slowly I realized you could start with a good skeleton, some nice bones of the story, but that doesn’t mean it has all the features we like to see–it doesn’t have the muscles to stand on its own, for example, or the skin and blood that brings blush to its face when caught in a compromising position. It needs some flesh, something to give it character and identity, to uphold and define its inherent structure.
So that’s what we mean when we flesh out a story.
With the Writingwolf, however, I’ve worked in reverse–I’ve started with a whole lot of flesh, but no obvious bones amid the mass. Things are floppy and disorganized, there’s part of a smile, but the cheek bones can’t hold it up–and don’t get me started on breathing when the ribcage can’t protect the lungs. By adopting new categories and revisiting old posts to place them properly upon the blog’s new body, I’m not undoing the growth I’ve fostered here, but instead I’m helping it to gain greater definition, to at last learn to stand on its own.