One of the regular readers of this blog Olivier Legris was kind enough to give me some good feedback on a recent post and as part of that happened to ask me about my process for writing. I'd never really thought it through before, but doing so made me realise that I definitely have a way of doing things. Whilst I'm not suggesting that my way is the right way (everyone should and no doubt does have their own), or that I know more about writing than anyone else (for tips from people that really do know what they're talking about, take a look at some of Maria Popova's posts on the subject), I thought it might be useful to share some of those thoughts here, so here they are:
Connecting the dots
When I started thinking about how I wrote, I found I couldn't get very far without thinking about why I write. Andrew Sullivan once wrote in The Atlantic: 'Blogging is to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.' I guess for me, blogging is thinking aloud. It helps me figure out what I think about stuff. To order my thoughts and connect lots of disparate thoughts that seem to swim around in my head, often provoked by something I've seen or read, until I can write about them. Posts often combine over time to into strands of thought that I revisit or which inform thinking about other related things. It's a fantastically useful thing for me. And the feedback I get in the comments serve to make it even more so. I also write a regular column for New Media Age, which is an interesting discipline in that (unlike blogging) there's a (quite strict) word limit and I can't lazy-link out to explain concepts or ideas. I link out a lot. It's useful not only for the readers, but for me as a way of pulling disparate things together and making sense of it all.
The importance of reading
This may be a personal thing, but I've found that the quantity and quality of input directly affects the quantity and quality of output. So seeing and reading thought provoking opinions, articles, talks (and lots of them) is really important. And I'm not talking about all those list posts that lots of people seem to like to share ('10 best this, 20 worst that, 7 ways to blah, blah, blah). I once wrote about why I thought companies should be encouraged to employ people who blog. Writing about the industry that you're a part of enables you to start fires and make connections that wouldn't otherwise exist. It shows that you have an opinion and, frankly, that you are bothered. I think this is still true.
Make use of the tools
I use a surfeit of bookmarking/reading tools to help: Pocket, Evernote for some things, Twitter favourites, Delicious (I keep meaning to migrate my 6 years of bookmarks over to Pinboard as the Delicious UX is getting no better but somehow haven't got round to it yet), RSS (these days usually via Flipboard), Zite. They're all good at different things but finding your own composite of different tools to use is important I think.
The only writing app I use (despite there being many good ones) is a text file. I find it useful to list ideas/thoughts/quotes/snippets that I've found interesting there. It often helps me remember them, but they also often combine to make something new. They say you make your own luck. To a certain extent I think you make your own serendipity too.
These days I tend to write posts directly into Typepad, but I think John Willshire's Artefact cards can be a useful supplement to help get disparate thoughts into some kind of order. The important thing here is to find what works for you.
It's a Commitment
Writing takes a lot of time. At least it does for me. So it's got to be worth it. I'm all for people leaping in and trying it out, but to write continuously for years means that it has to become part of the fabric of what you do and the way you work, in order to not get squashed by the latest client deadline or episode of Masterchef. This may change but for now I can't imagine a time when I didn't blog about something. It's an itch I have to scratch.
Finding your own style and voice
Most of the blogs I go back to again and again have a strong and unique tone of voice. Finding that tone of voice can be difficult but the best advice is to write for yourself. As the audience grows on some blogs, it can feel as though the author is starting to write for what they think their audience might like rather than what they find interesting or obsess about. I can see how this might work but in my experience those are never the most interesting blogs. Another thought on this comes from Stephen King, whose On Writing is still one of the best books I've read on the subject. In that, he talks about writing for your 'ideal reader' – one person who can represent your readership, give you feedback and tell you when you've written a load of old hogwash. There's no right and wrong with what you choose to write about as long as it matters to you, and blogs should rightly evolve. Somehow, for example, I seem to be doing less of the 'saw this and thought it was interesting' type of quick post, and more of the 'here's what I think about that' type of exposition. There's clearly room for both, but I do wonder if the former hasn't shifted more permanently to the likes of Twitter and Tumblr.
Anyhow, as I said at the start, this is a personal view and simply what works for me. But I hope it's useful in some way.