I was talking with the lovely J at work about her starting a blog. ‘It’s just the getting started’, she said, ‘When you’re faced with that blank page, how to start it…’
So I thought I’d write something about how I write.
Trust the process
Trust your own process, that is. Like child raising, like life, another person’s advice can only take you so far. You have to find your own way of doing it. The most important thing is getting started. Or rather, the most important thing is to start.
What to write about
Or, overcoming the fear of the blank page. Things I suggested to J: Use photographs. Start with a photograph and write a few lines about it. Take or find a photograph of a piece of furniture that you have restored and write about how you did it, or tell the story behind that piece of furniture. If you see a skirt or an outfit you like, get a picture and write about it. Make a note or take a photograph of any ideas you have or inspirations you see. The more you do this, the more ideas will come.
Find your schedule
Lots of people blog every day, even multiple times a day. I totally understand why that would be an attractive discipline/ strategy to have. But for me personally I’d end up getting obsessed, exhausted and resentful about writing every day whether I felt like it, whether I had time or not. (I realise people probably line up posts and schedule them.) I also get that it means your post is more often in the WordPress Reader so more people are likely to see it, hence more followers.
However, I limit the number of daily bloggers I follow. I just don’t need that much stuff to read, and I like to have a variety. Some people who only post once a week or so, I am excited when a post from them pops up, it never becomes a chore to keep up and it doesn’t clog up my reader with more than I can manage to read.
Niche or not?
Back to J. She wants to write a lifestyle/fashion blog, but more aimed at an older demographic. I relayed some things I had learned from a post I read about whether to be niche or not, and the general feeling was that (again, like child rearing, like life) you might start your blog as one thing but find yourself wanting to write about something else one day, so it might be best not to impose rigid ideas or limits as you then might have a wobble when you feel like you are going off message. The post also said that most readers prefer blogs where the blogger writes about everything and doesn’t just stick to a niche topic.
Be yourself (everyone else is taken)*
The most important message to stick with is to be true to yourself. That’s the coherent thread that hangs all the posts of a person’s blog together, even if each one of their posts is different from the other. Authenticity is all. I love it when I feel that a blogger is really just being themselves. To borrow a point from another blog about other bloggers, I don’t mind if I don’t agree with them or if they talk about things I am not interested in. If they are authentically writing about their experiences, thoughts and ideas, and I like them as a person, then I will keep on reading.
Every post is different
Each of my last three posts was made differently.
For Update, I was aware that I hadn’t posted for two weeks. Anxious thoughts circled in my mind. Should I just write something? Should I make myself a rule re writing more regularly? Does not writing every day mean that I don’t take this blog and my writing seriously? Do I want this blog and writing to become something, or not? What message am I sending to the universe, and myself, about my committment?
I batted back these thoughts. I will not post unless I have something to say, and that something turns into something I am happy with. But one afternoon, my husband was at work. I was restless, ever so slightly unsettled, and ever so slightly bored, well as close to bored as I ever get.
So I got into bed, made myself comfy and cosy, and picked up my tablet. It wasn’t like I had some brilliant idea or point to start with. My head had been spinning about all the things we’d been doing. I could just write kind of an update, I thought. Maybe people want to know the cats are okay (or that I’m okay about the cats, and aren’t still crying about them). My mum had sent me a photograph of one of the cats. I had my new tattoos. And so I started writing. It made itself into something along the way. When I had finished, not only was I pleased with what I had written, I also felt a whole lot better in myself.
For the Matrix post, the starting point was my friend’s email. It was so good, I wanted to put it out there. It explained things so well, but in a different way to how I do. So I pasted that in, added a few notes and saved it. I knew I needed to have my own material in it as well so that it wasn’t just a repost of his words. Over the next few days, thoughts and ideas came and I scribbled them down in different places: in my diary, on a To Do list, on my India packing list, on a paper bag on top of the pile at the bottom of the stairs. I often do this, I can tolerate my notes being scattered across lots of different pieces of paper. Until I can’t. On Thursday I spent the evening with my husband then he went to bed and I thought, I’ll just gather all the pieces of paper and type the scribbles into the draft, just so that everything’s in one place, I can finish it properly tomorrow. But I got into it and even though I hadn’t really felt like it I sat down and finished the post, which had become a long, muddled draft, and needed work, almost four hours worth as it turned out. Proof reading was done between one and two am on Friday morning, so I am sorry if there are mistakes. (I don’t think there are. Two things are mentioned twice, but that was deliberate. It breaks normal rules re writing, but you know what they say about rules, and I really wanted to make sure I made my point.)
Like leaving a trail to follow, like giving yourself hooks, clues and rewards, which I actually don’t do almost as much as I now think it would be a good idea to, the pieces of paper chaos is a method. I get my ideas down, they are not lost, whether I have them on the drive to work and scribble them in my diary in the car park before I rush into work, or in the two minutes waiting for the kettle to boil, or on the drive home, hence scribbles on the paper bag at the bottom of the stairs, captured before I even take my shoes off and go inside the house properly.
For this blog, I just woke up on Friday morning and almost straight away started having ideas. I crept downstairs and got my tablet, put off my husband when he called me, pretending I was still sleepy, which I was, but I didn’t want to lose the ideas which were coming thick and fast. About J, about my writing process, my thoughts and opinions as a reader. Most of this blog was written in one draft in bed during that session, with a couple of additions that I scribbled on a notepad over breakfast. Today was just editing.
Timing and scheduling
I’m more art than science. When I first started blogging in 2014 a friend and fellow blogger asked me what time I posted. ‘It tends to be on a Sunday afternoon’, I said, ‘when my husband is taking the kids back to London and I have the house to myself.’
‘That’s absolutely the worst time’, she said.
‘Well that’s what time I write it’, I said.
‘You can schedule them to post at a better time’, she said. I have done that a couple of times when I first started regularly blogging again in summer 2017, but nowadays, when they are written, they are posted. Yes, I do believe timing is everything and for me, whether it’s sensible or not, when it’s finished that is the time to post it.
The past couple of months I’ve been training myself to write blogs purely on my tablet (Samsung Galaxy), ready for going travelling. However, when I was writing an article, I started using the laptop again, and realised how much easier it was. Then a fellow blogger wrote a post about getting a Chromebook. My husband had already suggested that I get one of those, having kindly spent some time researching the best laptops for travelling bloggers, and now I am fully decided that that is what I will buy to take travelling. I will take my tablet as well as a back up and because it takes good photographs.
Everyone says WordPress and blogging is all about making connections with fellow bloggers and readers. It is, but where to start? When you go to search and it says, ‘Search billions of WordPress posts’, it can be a little daunting. I can’t remember how I discovered all the different people who I follow. The only words I ever remember typing into the search box are ‘veganism’ and ‘menstruation’. As with the rest of the internet, one thing leads to another and eventually you come across people you are interested in. I also only ever follow people I am genuinely interested in reading the posts of, and I only comment or press the like button of a post if I really do. I just feel that the writing and my interactions with fellow readers and bloggers need to be genuine. I kind of feel that if I stick to that I won’t go too far wrong.
Get to know and trust YOUR creative process
My ex boyfriend used to say that even if he knew the song in his head or half composed on his guitar wasn’t that good, he’d still finish it, ‘to keep the channel open’ he said.
I always have plenty to say, or rather, I don’t open a blank page until I do. So there may be a gap of two weeks or more between posts. During a recent two week gap my husband innocently commented that I hadn’t posted for a while, only to be met with me defensively explaining all the other things I had been doing instead. ‘I wasn’t criticising’, he said. It wasn’t his fault, I need to trust my own process so completely that I don’t feel even a flicker of anxiety if I don’t post anything for a couple of weeks.
Likewise, when they come, I need to write them down. Which is why on Thursday night I went to bed at 2am, and why I started writing at 7.45 am Friday morning.
When I get like that, blogging at 2am, up with ideas at 7.45, I need to make the most of it. In the past, I might have worried that I was going manic, not because I might actually go manic in the pure sense, but because I used to worry about everything. What if the ideas don’t stop coming, what if I can’t do anything else? But I know it’s not always going to be like that, which is reassuring because I can’t be writing at 2am and 7:45am every day. (Not right now anyway)
But then when it stops and I go two weeks without having any urges or urgent ideas to write about, I worry that it has gone forever and that I might never write again.
Well I used to anyway. Right now, I trust the process. I’m still conflicted about what it all means, what is the goal, what is the point, but I think it’s best not to dwell on any of those things and just write.
Thank you very much for reading.