This blog post was motivated by a post from a fellow blogger, DM, who asked so many questions in a recent post that my reply was too long to be typed into the usual comment box. This blogger – Iowan, farmer, cabinetmaker, entrepreneur, husband, father, grandfather, and author – in his Heart to Heart blog, writes from his heart and writes often. This particular post had him musing about the writing process. In browsing through his writing journal, reminding himself of thoughts he had recorded for potential writing projects, he reflected on the challenges, frustrations, and joys of writing, and what compels us to put words to page (or more likely to screen these days). He ended by posing several questions for fellow writers and/or bloggers.
Here are DM’s questions:
If you are a blogger, (or a writer but not a blogger)
- Do you have any goals/thoughts/rules, etc. for how you write?
- Any tips that work for you as to what makes good writing? Define good writing as far as you’re concerned.
- What suggestions would you give someone who wanted to start blogging, but wasn’t sure of where to start?
- Any suggestions for what not to do?
- Who are some of your favorite writers and why? (Feel free to leave a link in your comment, if you have one.)
As I said, a lot of questions! Of course, people start writing for many reasons and people start blogging for many reasons. Some people know from an early age that they have something to say to the world through the written word. They know that they have a way with words. Words and writing become their life, and thank goodness for all of us who benefit from the joy of reading their novels, short stories, and poems. Others have wanted to give writing a try and have finally found the time and space to take the plunge; perhaps they think they “have a novel in them”, or a family history they want to set down for future generations, or they just want to explore their creative nature through the written word.
Blogging is another story altogether, because it can be a platform for so many things. It can be a commercial platform, where bloggers are trying to attract interest in their product, which can be anything from online services and products to promoting their self-published books. It can be a platform for writing about a very specific interest, such as wellness or politics. And it can also be a platform for writing about whatever is on your mind at the moment that you feel like sharing!
I’ll preface my answers to DM’s questions by providing my own path to blogging. I started writing when I retired, with some ideas about stories to write for my grandchildren and wanting to write the story of my mother’s life for my family. Being lucky enough to live in an area where there are frequent writing workshops, I signed up for a few, with great trepidation. Writing for Children, Writing your Life Stories, Crafting the Short Story, Getting Started in Writing; there are plenty of writing workshops out there. As a retired academic, my usual starting point in any new endeavour is to acquire books on the subject, and I admit to also having a bookshelf full of books on writing, a few of which are really keepers and worth going back to regularly. But the workshops were of huge value. Why? Because they force you to write! They force you to write what they ask you to write about and then they “encourage” you to read what you’ve written out loud so you can get feedback from the rest of the participants. As unnerving as this is, it’s far more effective at getting you writing than reading about it! And … these workshops were where I first heard about blogging.
I had no idea such a thing as blogging existed. And the reason it was mentioned in the writing workshops was because it was seen as an excellent way to practice writing. Establish a blog and start writing posts. You’ll develop an “audience”, you’ll get feedback, you’ll get a better sense of what you’re good at writing, you’ll get a better sense of what you want to say, and in the process you’ll become a better writer. OK, I obviously had to give this a try. So, what else but to take a workshop in starting a blog!
For those of you who have never blogged, as I first learned in the “Introduction to Blogging” workshop, there’s a lot to consider when you’re first starting. You have to have some idea of what you will be blogging about, so you can choose a name for your blog that will be reflective of your subject matter – or at least reflective of you. Of course, when you’re first starting you don’t necessarily know what you’ll be blogging about, and if I had it to do over again, I’d probably choose a different name for my blog. [However, five years later, I still have no idea what that would be!] You’re advised to restrict your writing to a small number of related topics. That hasn’t worked too well either. Hmm, I guess I’m not much of a rule follower!
One thing the blogging workshop did not mention is that the process becomes addictive, as seems to be the case with all things Internet-based. A blogger is provided with many stats, including how many people read each post and what countries have people are reading from (people from 159 different countries have read something from Robby Robin’s Journey!). It can morph into a case of becoming more focused on the stats than on the substance. At one point, I stopped blogging because it had become too all-consuming. But I missed it. I missed having that outlet – call it an excuse – for writing what’s on my mind. I missed using writing as a process to more clearly understand and then articulate my reflections, experiences, connections, and concerns. For me, blogging provides an important creative outlet. It helps me think. And through that process, as a bonus, I have made many new blogging friends around the world, as we follow each other’s blogs.
Now to answer DM’s questions:
- Rules on how to write. I’m not sure about the “how” part of the question, but following the Nike tag line “Just do it” is probably the most important rule. As all the books and workshops advise: put bum in seat; establish a habit of writing regularly (use writing prompts from writing sites if you’re looking for new ideas); keep a writing journal of ideas, quotes, and articles of interest; read books and notice what you like or dislike about each; let some people read your writing for feedback, remembering that your opinion remains the most important.
- What makes good writing? This is very personal. What is captivating, 5-star writing for me won’t be the same as 5-star writing for you. You know when writing speaks to you, and you know when the author has succeeded in his or her goal. You may have felt a connection to a character, you may have felt the fear – or the joy – in a scene, you may have learned something new, or with a little luck all of the above. The writing has drawn you in, has held your attention, and has affected your emotions. Great writing comes from an author who also has that rare ability of crafting sentences in ways that most of us can recognize but have no hope of replicating.
- Suggestions on starting to blog. Talk to people who blog. If possible, ask to sit next to them at their computer so you can see in advance how the process actually works. Ask these bloggers what has surprised them the most about their blogging experiences. This will help you get a clearer idea about what you want to focus on, what you want to call your blog, and who you are hoping to interact with. It will also get you thinking about what mistakes you want to avoid. Look at a number of blogs online and think about what you like and don’t like about each one. Your blog is a reflection of you.
- Suggestions on what not to do. Better to “just do it” and make mistakes than to hesitate to make a start. But a blog is public space, and you don’t want to misspeak or offend people unintentionally (and hopefully not intentionally), so keep that in mind when reviewing your writing prior to pressing the “Publish” button.
- Favourite writers and why. Hmm. I don’t know if this question relates to books or blogs. Since my favourite bloggers cover an eclectic range of topics, including writing, running, quilting, farming, and life, listing them probably wouldn’t be too useful to others. But I enjoy them not just because of their topics but because of the empathy and intelligence that comes across in their writing. I feel a connection and I learn from them. Two of my all-time favourite novels are Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible and Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of Loss. Both are brilliant.