The Whatever: You Get What You Get

An e-mail today that I think is worth addressing:

Though I am an avid lifelong science fiction (some say fanatical) reader – I came to your blog and then your books by a search that somehow led me to ‘I hate your politics’

I know that you are about to go on a book tour and that is about promoting your work. I’m hoping that after that you will want to get out of the promotion cycle and get back to writing about the things I value most from you.

I’ve bought and read a number of books by you and it used to be that I really enjoyed Whatever, as a part of my day. I like you as a thinker and I’m sure I’ll get and read The Last Colony – I really like the Old Man’s Universe.

I haven’t been able to through Laptop/Coffeeshop and I’m thinking about deleting Whatever from my favorites, because of their promotional – perhaps even egocentric nature.

I think that if you get a chance to spend more time writing about things other than your career once this tour is over – that I am not the only reader who would be more appreciative of you and your work. Not that every post is ‘I hate your politics’ or ‘Being poor is ..’, but those and many other things spoke to me where I live. Hopefully constructively.


To begin, folks, the reason I’m not addressing a whole lot of politics and social issues at the moment is not because I’m in a self-promoting frenzy at the moment, but because I’m damn well burned out on those issues right now. My enthusiasms for particular topics come and go, and at the moment politics/social stuff is largely in the “don’t want to write about it” category. And when something’s in that category, you know what happens? I don’t write about it. Indeed, I don’t much think about it, either, which is probably the main reason I don’t write about it. I don’t doubt I will write about politics and social issues more when I’m not burned out on them and avoiding giving them any significant number of my processing cycles. That time, however, is not today.

I’m not nearly organized enough about this site to say to myself “Hmmm, you know, I have a book tour coming up, maybe I’ll do a whole bunch of self-promotey things, and then after that I’ll write some more about politics and then put up a picture of my cat, because the kids always love that.” Honestly and truly, what I write about here is whatever I’m thinking about at that moment. There is no plan, there is no agenda, there is nothing except me sitting in front of my computer banging out words. Sometimes you’ll get what you want to read, sometimes you won’t. The only thing you know that you get from it is what I want to write. That is the guiding principle.

Which means, of course, that this site is always egocentric, not just sometimes. I’m happy the site entertains the lot of you, really I am, and I’m generally fond of you all in that Internetty way. But at the end of the day, it’s more important that the site entertains me. If I decided to put ads on the site, I could make a lot of money from it, but then I would have to start worrying about maximizing returns every damn time I wrote rather than writing what interests me. If I just wrote about politics, or tech, or whatever, I could probably get more people coming in — single-topic sites are the ones that get the most traffic, as a cursory glance at Technorati’s Top 100 makes perfectly clear. But then I would be bored out of my skull. And this is exists in large part so I won’t be bored out of my skull.

In any event, regardless of what I write, there’s always a contingent of readers who wishes I was writing about something else. If I’m writing about politics a whole bunch, I’ll get e-mails telling me I should write more about writing. If I write about writing more, I’ll get people saying I should write more about what’s going on with my pets. If I write or take pictures of the pets, there are people who say “what are you, Cute Overload? I came here for serious issues!” or some such. There are 25,000 of you visiting, on average, every week day. You’re not all going to agree on what I should be writing about. And even if you did agree, the fact is, if I don’t want to write about that general area of things, I’m not going to. I’ll post pictures of cats, or talk about politics, or write stupid entries about off-brand corporate mascots, or self-promote, or write whatever the hell catches my attention, on my schedule.

If you don’t like it, that’s perfectly all right. You are entirely free to go away and come back later, when the stuff being discussed is more to your liking, or, indeed, go away and never come back, if that’s your preference. If you go back through the archives, both here and on (for the musty, pre-2003 and Movable Type days), you’ll notice that the site’s basic structure has been the same since the beginning, when there were fewer than 100 folks checking in to see what idiotic thing I was saying that day. This format works for me, which is the person for whom it is supposed to work. One day maybe everyone will finally get exasperated and it will be just me talking to a few dozen people again, or hell, just to myself. That’s fine, too.

All of that said, if you want me to write more about some particular topic, the way to have that happen is not to bitch to me that I’m not writing enough of what you want to read, since it will only irritate me and cause me to bang out one of these cranky “it’s my site, damn you” posts, which as it happens I seem to do on a more-or-less annual basis. The way to get me to write more on a particular topic is to send me an e-mail going “Hey, Scalzi, what do you think about [insert specific topic or recent event here]?” I like getting those type of e-mails, because then I don’t have to think about what the heck I’m going to write about that day, and because then maybe I’ll be jostled out of whatever rut you think I’ve fallen in and will then commence to write more things that entertain you. I don’t necessarily respond to every request, mind you, but I look on topic requests immensely more kindly than complaints that I’m not doing a monkey dance in what manner you prefer your primates to prance. Really, try it sometime.

In sum: Around here, you get what you get. But you might get what you want, if you ask.

Hope that clears up any confusion.

51 Comments on “The Whatever: You Get What You Get”

  1. Of course it’s about you. That’s why I read it. If it were about me I’d know it already (or one of my multiple personalities would, at any rate).

  2. You don’t write enough about me, you rodent of illigitimate parentage.


  3. You can’t have a pony. *I* want a pony.

    And also a lollipop.

    And a movie deal.

    And affordable healthcare.

  4. Oh gawd, who prompted John to write another one of these damn foot-stamping things again? Whoever you are, I hope you feel at least the satisfaction of being able to make John use the same two thesis statements over and over: No! Me! No! Me! Me! Me! (Nyah.)

  5. Sounds like someone doesn’t understand the nature of a personal blog. I have one. I’m not much of a writer, but I write what I want. Sometimes I just put up a link that says: “this is cool!” and that’s the sum total of my entry. Sometimes it’s a picture. Sometimes I get fired up and get off on a rant. But it’s my rant. Because it’s my blog. You get what you get.

  6. It’s almost a relief to know that you get the same complaint letters whether you have an audience of 25 or 25k. I get those letters too. At least I’m in decent company.

  7. Let’s actually not bang on the writer of the e-mail. He’s a perfectly nice fellow. And he’s really not the only one who has sent me an e-mail like this. I’m just using this one as a representative sample.

  8. elizabeth bear: You should have asked for universal healthcare (or a movie deal) first, because now Scalzi gets to just give you a lollipop. Candy is great, but healthcare or a movie version of Blood and Iron would have been better.

    Oh, wait. You just asked for healthcare for yourself. In which case, you should have asked for the movie deal first. In my world, it’s all about what’s in it for me. :)

    Although I and the rest of your fans would appreciate it if you stayed healthy enough to keep writing….

  9. I’ll bring you a lollipop when I see you at Penguicon.

    And now Elizabeth is wishing she’d left that item off the list, perhaps getting one of the others in it’s place…

  10. Wait? What? This site is really about John? I thought this was Bacon Cat’s site. I come here for Bacon Cat’s insights into the geo-political ramifications of carbon fiber tape dispensers.

  11. I’d vote for one sooper dooper gigantor sized post every week, that covers everything!

    :::: Sample ::::

    The death of the baby bunnies by my cat, is a direct result of Gonazales firing those judges, and undermining the state of America. Had those judges still been in place, Rove wouldn’t have deleted those emails, Don Imus would still have a job, and Kate Middleton would still be happily boinking Prince William. Instead, we are left with a morass of pixel stained technopeasants who fail to understand that when they issue free content, people will go insane and fail to support the troop surge in Iraq. It’s bad enough when the legions of Angry Spider Monkeys and Lee Iacocca have to kick Paul Wolfowitz’s ass, when they should be out searching for the perfect bacon sandwich, or spending more time on Ficlets writing creative blurbs.

  12. In the Preblogulazoic Era, nearly 12 years ago, my wife and I and a partner who later went away, launched a web domain.

    By the Scalzi Strategy, we put what we felt like putting on it, at the moment. This averaged an hour a day for a decade.

    Then we watched very carefully what readers said by form email. When a good argument was made by a reader to put something on the domain that we found feasible and somewhat interesting, we put that on.

    This was done in a fractal way. Feedback on a subdomain would lead to new subsubdomains, and so forth.

    I cited the readers who provided additional data, or corrections.

    After we’d established significant Google ranking in the genres of “Science Fiction” (which on the domain includes Fantasy and Horror), and “Mystery/Detective” (which includes Espionage and some Thrillers), and “Westerns”, the readers demanded Romance. So we added Romance.

    The combination of our own not wanting to be bored out of our skulls, our willingness to do hard research to put trusted information on the web (some noplace else online), and our being somewhat driven by readers, is what resulted in the 15,000,000 hits per year and the Top 10 rankings on several Google keywords. Surely not the mostly ugly design and navigation, which is 1995 with a vengeance.

    We’ve experimented with ads, which in theory could bring in roughly $10,000 annually, but chose not to degrade the user experience. We write off the web presence as a tax loss, with Magic Dragon Multimedia technically owned by our parent company Emerald City Publishing (which goes back to circa 1979). Our consulting and scientific paper presentations at conferences is in the sister company, Computer Futures Inc. (also circa 1980).

    We all know that there are people making serious money on blogs and web sites. But we of the Grand Duchy of Pixel-splatteria prefer to Give It Away Free.

  13. Speaking of wanting to know…things…

    I’ve always wondered, if you knew that you were going to be a writer back in the adolescent days of your youth, how you ended up with a major in philosophy?

    Just curious….

  14. Ok, pony taken…hmm…universal healthcare taken…lollipop promised to some deserving writer, da noive…hmmm…

    Oh, I know.

    Hey John, I used to live in Southwestern Ohio, too. I lived in Yellow Springs. I am always delighted when you talk about my old stampin’ ground. When you get a chance, could you talk more about your neck of the woods? Do you ever go into Yellow Springs? Do you go to any restaurants in Dayton?

    And, a ginormous thank-you for NOT posting pics of the dead baby bunnies.

  15. Uh? I ended up here after seeing a copy of OMW in the Anchorage B&N, looked interesting so I bought it and read it, and though “This is good, who the hell is John Scalzi?” So I googled your ass, and ended up here. I always understood your wrote about whatever you felt like that day (the title of the blog is a dead giveaway). If you blog about something I’m not interested in, say SFWA, I just shrug and go off and do something else. Eventually you’ll write about something I find funny or interesting – and if you don’t, somebody down here in the peanut gallery will. In fact I read the Whatever as much for the comments as I do for you, John. This in one of the very few, high-volume blogs where the comments are for the most part intelligent, literate, funny, and interesting – with a very low percentage of snark and general asshatocity. People are polite around here, usually, even when they don’t agree. I enjoy that. I’m put off by blogs where people act like juvenile punks, the comments section of the IMDB is a perfect example.

    Not that you need my approval (’cause its your site, rant rant), but keep doing what you do. And if we don’t like it, somebody will hijack the comment thread and we’ll entertain ourselves (24k daily readers, somebody is bound to say something entertaining).

  16. Bear and Scalzi are both going to be at Penguicon, in my very own neck of the woods, and as it happens today I am leaving hereabouts to dash off to DC, not getting back here-ish until Friday night, and having one rugrat home from his father’s for the weekend…


    I mean really.

    I don’t see why the American Bar Association’s Annual Antitrust Section Meeting was scheduled the same week as Penguicon. Surely someone could have seen THAT coming. I mean, the dozens of disappointed folks having to choose… :)

  17. Hmmm… Warren Ellis just had to tell people that-no, he isn’t going to make his blog more Safe For Work any time soon, thank you-so maybe there’s something in the water this week.

  18. I always thought that the title of this blog (Whatever) meant that any post could be about anything. And I haven’t been disappointed. :-)

    Sure you’re posting a lot about the upcoming book tour. It could be promotional. But maybe it’s also in your thoughts a lot these days!

    Looking forward to continuing to read entertaining posts.

  19. This site is about you? What? I though this was abotu a fiction character Scalzi, not a real life person. Wow. I’m going to have to rethink some of your posts. :)

  20. This site is about you? What? I though this was abotu a fiction character Scalzi, not a real life person. Wow. I’m going to have to rethink some of your posts. :)

  21. I’m fine with you writing about whatever you want here, but if we’re ever going to be best friends, you’re going to have to repaint your living room. That colour totally doesn’t work for me. It’s be nice if you could get some of those sad clown paintings, too, on black velvet, ’cause I really like those.


  22. Hey, Scalzi, what do you think about ponies? Are they only for spoiled rich kids who can’t stand to spend a full day in the office, or have they finally trickled down to the rest of us? How about pony-flavored lollipops, or pony-bacon? And why PONIES, anyway, and not miniature horses.

    Never mind the Poll’ticks

  23. Let’s actually not bang on the writer of the e-mail. He’s a perfectly nice fellow.

    TANGENT: Isn’t there a philosophically-poignant difference between “banging on” a person and “banging on” what they say? I suggest that the niceness of a person is completely irrelevant to whether the stupid shit they spout deserves to be ridiculed.

    But, seeing as how this is your site, I’ll do my best to observe the commenting directions indicated – no matter how desperately snark-attracting some idiotic ideas might appear to be.

  24. From Jim Wright’s comment:
    “So I googled your ass…”

    Do you think the Google guys had that phrase in mind when they came up with the name?

    And how exactly does someone get irritated at the content on a blog called Whatever? I thought the name was pretty self explanatory.

  25. Scalzi: Let’s actually not bang on the writer of the e-mail. He’s a perfectly nice fellow. And he’s really not the only one who has sent me an e-mail like this. I’m just using this one as a representative sample.

    Ah, good to see this. I was about to say, “How does this qualify as bitching? This seems like an honest, non-ranty version of a reader saying ‘I like the Whatever *in principle*, but not so much lately,’ ” which is something anyone who writes *anything* should *kill* to get.

  26. A very civil response!. There were a few things that seemed rather unnecessary about the viewer e-mail– particularly the whole thing about “You aren’t writing what I want you to write (and you should, damn you!), so I may have to delete you from my Favorites list”. That would definitely rub me the wrong way if someone had written it to me and chances are I’d be less polite about it, too. Probably something snarky about getting what you paid for.

    I’ve always understood that Whatever isn’t a single-topic blog and that it’s about whatever Scalzi wants it to be about. If I weren’t okay with that premise, why on earth would I be reading it?

    (And if I were dissatisfied with the content, I’d simply go elsewhere rather than writing to the author and saying, “You ought to change this, otherwise I’m going to take my ball and go home. Neener!”)

  27. Today I added something to my list of Things Not to Do in Cyberspace: Don’t threaten to stop reading someone else’s blog if their topics don’t please you. Announcing that you might stop reading someone’s blog just makes you look bad.

    Mr. Scalzi, I want you to blog truthfully about what it is like going on a book tour. Is it possible to do that honestly without ruining one’s career (lol)?

    Oh, and I want Elizabeth Bear to have affordable health care. :-)

  28. John, I think this is the time I need to ask you to post more on your feelings about the growing monkey-chicken-on-duck porn issue. I feel you’re sidestepping it.

    Also, please post more pictures of Krissy kleaning.

    (I type this as my wife is vacuuming behind me and drowning out the sound of music from my laptop.)

  29. But but it’s MY right for YOU to do whatever I want! Don’t YOU know that? *sigh* Let’s go over this one more time…
    The earth (large blue and green planet) revolves around ME (Jeremiah, all important internet nobody)


  30. I have to admit, I like the variety here. I like not knowing what I will read about until I get here. And if it is something I’m not interested in, well, that is my problem, I figure.

    John, I have a suggestion: would you write about authors you like? I need some new to me authors, and you are in “Teh Know” as it were….


  31. Personally, I get bored when a blog is about the same thing every day, even if it is something I like. When introducing new people to the writings of John Scalzi, I always include Whatever, which I describe as “more entertaining than most authors’ novels.”True, there is sometimes stuff on here that bores me to tears. On those days, I just go away. The good stuff will return shortly.

  32. Jim Wright said: And if we don’t like it, somebody will hijack the comment thread and we’ll entertain ourselves (24k daily readers, somebody is bound to say something entertaining).

    *runs past thwacking self over the head with an inflated pig bladder*

    Dragon boobies!!! :D

    *exits, stage left*

  33. You know people… We might want to tone down the pony references. John’s sense of humor is such that he might start sending out actual autographed ponies instead of books.

  34. I still don’t understand people who want blogs to be about what they want. Folks, 99% of them (this number completely not backed up by any sort of, y’know, data) are online journals. It’s the writer, not the reader, driving content.

    *eyes roll onto floor*

    I will agree with that pony wish, though!

  35. I love your books and I am thrilled to see you have a new one out now. I don’t usually read your blog though because I don’t much care for it. About the only reason I come here is if InstaPundit links. What I have trouble understanding though is why some people that if everything written and said is not to their liking then something is wrong with the author.

    I think you are an very talented author and you would be fun to have drinks with. I don’t really care about your personal life except for as it relates to the quality of your work. I the case of your books they are great and I wish there were more of them. In the case of you blog I leave it alone but I am glad it is there for others.

  36. Dear John;

    First, let me say I hate your politics… then let me castigate you for obviously allowing Guardian Readers to tell you what to think. Then admit I live in Enon. {John will get it, think ‘whitebread village’}.

    Then let me point out I dont read your SF stuff. ‘Course I seldom read ANY of it, lately.. so..

    But, since I come here from time to time on a link from some ‘right-wing hater site’, I do somewhat enjoy your non-controversial musings on family and surroundings. Including this one.

    Perhaps all would be served if you set up a blogger account for the writer of the email, rewrote his rant as a blog-piece, then sent him the account data so he could proceed from there.

    Be sure to post the blog name here so we can all advise him on what we want to read on it.

    While we’re on the subject of telling the famous and near famous what we want them to do, I’m thinking of getting on my bike and heading over to Dave Chappelle’s farm and telling him what a putz HE has been lately.

  37. .. oh… and while we’re on the subject; since you’re a member of the SF writers’ secret society, please send me Leo Frankowski’s email address so I can tell him to write more on ‘The Cross-Time Engineer’.

    Thank you very much.

    the exit 49 philosopher.