This is about blogs – but it is also about transition, and writing for different purposes, and about a changing sense of self.
People often ask, politely in passing, ‘… and what do you do?’ Since leaving full-time paid employment I had always answered this question by referring back, describing what I used to be: ‘I used to work for the City Council’ or ‘I used to be in education and skills ….’ or ‘I used to manage a multi-partner, multi-million development project.’ I remember the day when someone asked me and I said, ‘I am a writer.’ It rather shocked me. That was the turning point after which I ceased to define myself solely as ‘ … used to be …’ and started to describe what I felt I had become.
When I started to really think of myself as a writer, what kind of writing did I think this entailed?
I saw myself writing ebooks: mostly fiction, with a small attempt at poetry. The aim was to get a sufficient number of ebooks up on my bookshelf in the Amazon store that when anyone went to look they would come away having bought more than one. This was contrary to the usual approach of writing a first novel, getting it published and selling well, before heading off to write a follow-up, and so on. To me, at that time, writing was more important than selling. If I was opening up a shop window on my writing then I at least wanted there to be a reasonable display of goods in that shop.
My website (www.thewordsthething.org.uk) was seen as a route to that window display. It was carefully designed around me being a writer. The various pages and categories related to writing about places, writing about art interests, writing about employment and so on. The aim was that I would write stuff for fun, put it on the website and whenever the site was visited that person would linger there for a while before being funnelled off through a link to my page of ebooks. Similarly Twitter, blogs and any other social-media activity would be there to interest and amuse – and direct readers to the ebook page directly (or, shunt them sideward onto the website – which would inexorably direct them on to the ebooks once more).
Soon, however, the content of the website took on a more and more significant part of what I regarded as my writing. I was a writer of ebooks, with four available (even if selling very spasmodically). Increasingly my interest included being a writer of (hopefully) informative and interesting articles that were lodged on the website.
As I used the website more and more for broader purposes its original structure started to creak a bit. The clue was when the ‘Miscellany’ section started to contain much more material than all the other sections. This has led to a recent substantial restructuring of the website to make it work for the writing rather than trying to squeeze the writing into an outmoded structure. It was a bit nerve-shredding (A bit of me still believes that if I click on the wrong thing I might just break the internet or something …) but has freed me up to think about the writing not the mechanics that support the writing.
I have written before about my views on social media, especially Twitter. During the developments of various writing-approaches I tested out different uses of Twitter. I used it as a research tool (to look at contemporary issues in thinking about cities). I also used it as a way of gently getting my website address noticed – by picking my top 25 website articles and tweeting one per day, from #25 to my top #1, using the hashtag #GeoffsTop25. It was a bit of fun and brought several new contacts. Through reflection on my own use of Twitter I began to view tweets as another form of writing, with the need to take care with style and to edit well.
Twitter then had three purposes: To put out well-written, witty or helpful tweets in their own right; to make occasional reference to the http://www.thewordsthething.org.uk website; and to make rare reference to the availability of my ebooks.
So I can honestly describe myself as a writer of a number of varied (and hopefully increasing) ebooks; and a writer of rich and varied content on a website; and a writer of carefully-worded bits of Twitter content. So where do blogs fit into my writing?
My main website is built around a blog structure, so one of the first things I had to do was to get familiar with the basics of WordPress as a way of putting written stuff up there for others to read. This was nowhere near as difficult as I imagined. In the same way that the best advice I had when fretting about how one gets an ebook published for Kindle was “Geoff, just do it.”, so the best way to get to grips with WordPress was to get on with doing it (with a helpful ‘WordPress in 10 Minutes’ booklet as my constant guide). This has all added to the learning that I have had to do, and enjoyed doing. I write to learn as I learn to write.
Once familiar with the basics of WordPress it was easy to set up a blog (The one you are reading at the moment) that would be a place for me to jot my own ideas about writing. It started simply as a way of getting my own thoughts down, reflecting on them, and thinking about how I may want things to develop. It has become of interest to others. In a tiny way I can start to think of myself as a Blogger. So my sense of myself as ‘being a writer’ has expanded to cover books, poems, web articles, tweets and – now – blog posts.
Any other blogs? I had a character in one of my ebooks that I didn’t want to let free. I didn’t want to write a sequel to the book but the character wouldn’t get out of my head. A solution was to give that character a continued existence separate from the book. The character would write a blog! This allowed me to give that character several more experiences and to write them up as his accounts of things, until I felt that I had exhausted the character (and my interest in him) and the blog could end and just sit there until I decided what to do with it. Ultimately it was cut and pasted from blog-format into diary format and appears on the main website as a separate piece of writing under the heading ‘Thinking outside the box: Just another glorious day’.
So this brings me to now. I am far more definite in saying ‘I am a writer’; and that I write in different formats for different purposes. Blogging is one strand of that writing – as text in its own right not as some marketing tool sitting behind my ‘real’ writing. My intention is soon to have three or four different blogs on the go, each serving a different purpose and each being an outlet for a different style of writing.
Blogs are written by many people and take a range of forms. There are personal diary blogs, money-making blogs, political opinion blogs, shared interest blogs, academic blogs and many others. Some approach their blogs as journalism and thus focus on crispness, brevity and storyline. Others write blogs that are closer to fiction with a need to consider characterisation and drama. An analysis by a blog search engine indicated that the majority of bloggers (60%) did it to personally share their views, 18% blogged professionally, 13% blog as entrepreneurs, and 8% blog for their employers.
There is plenty of advice from successful bloggers keen to share their checklists of what makes a good blog;
- Catchy headline
- Well-structured to tell an engaging story
- Written with a particular audience in mind
- Edited and spellchecked as thoroughly as any other credible form of writing
- Graphics and sidebars – but only where these enhance the text
- All the advice you might expect about any writing.
There is contradictory advice about how frequently to post blog content, the appropriate length of posts, and so on.
Treating any such advice as a formula to write against will always bring some difficulties, and I think of the advice as a framework for thinking about my own preferred style. Certainly, it would be silly to ignore the advice of those who have been blogging successfully. At the same time I write for my own purposes, on my own topics, in my own styles. I feel comfortably trying to find a particular approach and voice that works for me.