One of my nephews has recently spent three weeks in Nicaragua as a volunteer for Outreach360. Today he posted the first of three blog posts about his experience. As always, his writing, photos, and perspectives have brightened and enriched my day (and serve as an excellent example of a thoughtful and informative travel blog post):
“I arrived in Jinotega with a skeptical attitude, and a sort of adrift sense of orientation. But I think Jinotega is exactly what I needed. In one week the taste of coffee and honey, games with my new friends, and walking through the neighborhood with our teaching supplies to see the students all became familiar and comforting details. Normally when I listen to music, I will skip a song because it reminds me too much of a place or a time. That song will seem out of place, and will sometimes make me feel out of place. For example, listening to Clément Jacques in Arizona is sometimes too uncomfortable because it reminds me of Montréal. But in Jinotega, I could listen to anything. It was like a place where everything I have experienced was safe to be remembered. Perhaps it is because Jinoetga was so new to me and so unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. But I don’t like to analyze that too much. What I like to notice about it is that Jinotega was exactly what I needed to feel grounded in a time of transition.”
“In journeys at sea that took place before radio or radar or satellites or sonar… [logs] helped navigators surmise where they were and how far they had traveled and how much longer they had to stay at sea.” ~ Andrew Sullivan, “Why I Blog”
Why do we blog?
Andrew Sullivan answered this question in a 2008 Atlantic article in which he began by discussing the original of the word “blog” and its similarity to a ship’s log:
“As you read a log, you have the curious sense of moving backward in time as you move forward in pages—the opposite of a book. As you piece together a narrative that was never intended as one, it seems—and is—more truthful. Logs, in this sense, were a form of human self-correction. They amended for hindsight, for the ways in which human beings order and tidy and construct the story of their lives as they look back on them. Logs require a letting-go of narrative because they do not allow for a knowledge of the ending. So they have plot as well as dramatic irony—the reader will know the ending before the writer did.
Anyone who has blogged his thoughts for an extended time will recognize this world. We bloggers have scant opportunity to collect our thoughts, to wait until events have settled and a clear pattern emerges.” Read more
When I first read Sullivan’s piece several months ago, it changed my relationship to blogging. A blog’s value for the blogger often lies in its inherent imperfection and “letting-go,” in its day to day immediacy.
For example, even in a very busy month like this one, the A to Z Challenge is a way for me to think throughout the day of how a specific letter of the alphabet relates to the rest of my life. However long or short the resulting post (and even if I fall a day behind), it is a record of those thoughts, of where I am at this moment.
This post is part of the April A to Z Blog Challenge. For more on my 2016 theme of Private Revolution, see A Is for Ambition. Click here to read all posts in the Private Revolution A to Z Challenge blog series.
Whether you are doing a blog challenge or just want to post more regularly, there are those inevitable days or weeks when you want to publish a post but time or ideas are in short supply.
For writers, in particular, blogging can be a form of practice, not unlike the daily practice of musicians or athletes. One of the differences is that musicians often have lessons to keep them on track, and athletes have coaches. Writers often have only themselves for accountability, which is why the public nature of a blog and its readers can be such a good motivating tool.
Sticking to a blogging routine reinforces the idea of writing without waiting for inspiration. Musicians practice and athletes train regardless of whether they feel like doing so, but for some reason writers and many other creatives allow ourselves to be led around by our moods. Please don’t misunderstand me: being inspired to write feels wonderful, and I definitely try to ride that momentum whenever I can. But if we wait for the muse to visit us, we might wait a very long time without any practice at all. (Watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s powerful TED Talk “Your Elusive Creative Genius” on how to “show up” for creative work regardless of whether our muse shows up with us).
With that idea in mind, here are the first 10 of 30 ideas for writing a blog post when you find yourself staring at a blank screen (read ideas 11-20 here and and ideas 21-30 here). Please use the comments to share other ideas that work for you.
1. Write about your name.
Your first name. Your middle name. Your last name. The name you wish you had or used to have. Pam Parker recently did this wonderfully in “Names and Stories“:
“Why did you and Dad name me Pam Parker? Didn’t you think about what my initials would be?”
She probably stifled a giggle, but I don’t recall. What I do remember is learning that she had wanted to name me Jane. In the late 1960s, there was a popular bread company in New England called Jane Parker. “Your father said he would NOT have his daughter named for a loaf of bread.” Read more
2. Take your readers along on a recent vacation or road trip.
OK, two women traveling, worrying about a cow and her bawling calf, a situation which probably happens all the time in Ingomar, Montana…were we really going to stop and report this? Will we be run out of town on a laugh track? On the other hand, parked at the entrance of the old town is a Milwaukee Road train car. We, being from Milwaukee, we took it as an omen. Read more
3. Share a technique that helps you to manage digital technology.
We all struggle at times with social media, screen time, information overload, or finding time for focused work or pleasure. Write about an area that has been difficult for you and what you are doing about it. Cal Newport does this well in “Deep Habits: Write Your Own E-mail Protocols,” in which he discusses how to minimize the number of business emails we have to deal with:
[L]ook at this terrible reply to a meeting request that I actually sent not long ago:
I’m definitely game to catch up this week.
Ugh. As I sent the above I knew that in the interest of replying as quickly as possible, I probably tripled the number of messages required before this meeting came to fruition. Read more
4. Take a photo of something in your everyday life that catches your eye, and write about why it is interesting.
Something about the shapes of these rooflines in Downtown Milwaukee caught my attention while I walked between meetings this afternoon. One building sort of rolls away into the next, hopscotching among eras of architectural history as our gaze is pulled successively outward, from plane to plane, in the telescoping depth of field. See the post and photo
5. Write a book review.
Think of a book you have read recently that stayed with you. Jot down some representative or memorable passages. Gather links to the author’s online presence. Then put it all together in a review. A good model to use is Christi Craig’s recent post “A review of Evergreen, a novel rich in character & place“:
Evergreen is a quiet novel in which landscape not only paints the picture but sets the tone of this generational story about a young wife and mother, about the broken soul of a daughter, and about a brother’s love, devotion, and healing. Rebecca Rasmussen is an author to follow if you’re a reader and one to emulate if you’re a writer. Read more
6. Make a list of all the jobs you have ever had, with a six-word description of what you did.
resident assistant: Free room and board = good gig.
library at university – I can’t remember…data entry maybe?
fair housing investigator: Young adults investigate housing discrimination complaints.
karaoke host at bars: I did this and sang too. (seriously, in public)
security/visitors assistant at museum: Temporary gig while figuring things out.
administrative assistant: Still trying to figure things out. Read more
7. Risk writing about what matters to you—at your core.
What issues tug at your mind and heart but are hard to talk about with friends and family, perhaps because of time constraints or just because the issues are too big for casual conversation? Use your blog as another part of your social circle, a part of your tribe for whom you dare to speak your innermost mind. This recent post from another #30PostsHathSept blogger, Marianne Kuzujanakis, “A Simple Glass of Water,” is a beautiful example:
I guess it’s obvious that I’m very touchy when this topic arises, as there is repeatedly a move towards college and university for all students. College and university have their definite roles with specific career choices, but way too often the role of college is nebulous. At $100-200K+, a clearer role is needed. College is currently a standard prerequisite of many places of employment, regardless of whether the education obtained in the college was directly needed for the position. Some college experiences are even becoming one of remedial education when K-12 sometimes drops the ball on their own responsibilities. Read more
8. Point your readers to another online article or resource.
Don’t assume that everyone else’s newsfeed or browsing habits are the same as yours, or that just because you noticed something interesting, your readers have already seen it. Share a link to and excerpt from an article or blog post you like, especially one that is tied to the theme of your blog or what your readers generally enjoy. Preface it with an explanatory note and include the link to the original piece, either within your post or at the end. Cory Doctorow’s “Deep math of the folded pizza slice” shows how this can be done quickly and effectively:
Why does a flat pizza slice flop over unless you bend it into a curve? Thank Gaussian curvature, the 19th century mathematical principle that underpins everything from corrugated cardboard to eggshells to Pringles chips.
Wired‘s Aatish Bhatia uses the pizza-slice as a jumping-off point to explain one of the most elegant and fascinating parts of geometry, and once you read his work, you’ll never be able to look at a curved surface again… Read more
9. Pose a question to your readers.
Do not feel that you always have to reach an unequivocal conclusion in your posts. Best-selling author and blogger Gretchen Rubin has a series of “Agree, Disagree?” posts in which she poses a question, shares her experience and thoughts, then opens the topic up for discussion, such as her piece, “Agree, Disagree? Outer Order Contributes to Inner Calm“:
A good clutter-clearing makes me feel more energetic, more creative, and more in command of myself. And I know where my keys are!
Do you agree — that there’s a weirdly tight connection between getting control of the stuff of life and feeling in control of your life, generally? Read more
10. Draw a cartoon or comic.
How many times have you thought of a funny phrase or idea and thought, that would make a great cartoon! The next time, draw it and blog it! You don’t have to be a professional cartoonist like John Atkinson (whose Wrong Hands blog is definitely worth following—see his cartoon, “modern art simplified,” below). Have fun with stick figures or use a comic-creation app or website.
Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s Ted Talk on “Your Elusive Creative Genius”:
I am thrilled to have such good company for the September Blog Challenge (and reminded of how technology can bring together people from around the world and different parts of my life). Please take some time to visit and read the following bloggers, and consider subscribing to their blog feeds, following them on Twitter and Facebook, and commenting on and sharing their posts.
Also, there is still plenty of time to join us! Drop me a line if you have any questions.
Allyse (aka The Frog Lady) has been blogging for a little more than a year and already has found her rhythm and following. She describes her blog as follows:
“This blog is for anyone who enjoys frogs. Whether that is just to watch some of my frogs and tadpoles grow up, get ideas for a new tank or get some insight on what I do to maintain my tanks, frogs and now tadpoles.”
The author of this blog is a study abroad student beginning the first of two semesters at the Université de Montréal (after having spent a year studying in Paris recently). He is also my nephew, and I highly recommend his blog to anyone interested in travel, language, culture, and youth. A recent post, “Linking Language with Power, Understanding, and Sharing,” is a good example—a thoughtful reflection on how our understanding and use of language affects our access to power and our ability to understand others.
His final words about his first day in Montréal, where there’s “maple syrup-flavored everything,” captures his sense of adventure and optimism:
“So perhaps my first impression of Montréal was not what I was expecting after listening to Michel Rivard’s Styromousse. Maybe my excitement and confidence wasn’t as infallible as I believed. But these are important feelings to acknowledge, to understand, and to overcome. I don’t need to convince myself to love Montréal, I need to find the reasons that make me love it. So here’s to another year. Another country. Another blog, and more memories than I will ever be able to fit into my crowded journals and photo albums. I’m up for it.”
Marianne wears all of her many hats as a “pediatrician, homeschool educator, gifted advocate, and writer” as she writes her blog and shares beautiful original photographs. Her most recent post, “Beautiful Imperfections,” is about the Japanese idea of wabi sabi and is indicative of her style and voice:
“[W]abi sabi is the accepting of imperfections and impermanence precisely because the imperfections and impermanence are the key elements of beauty. Character. History. Wabi sabi is the life journey that emanates from an old desk or china cup, as much as a grizzled old tree trunk, or the caring face of a beloved parent or grandparent.” Read More
Mary’s first post in the Blog Challenge is titled “Sharpened pencils and fresh notebooks,” in which she writes, “What I love about back-to-school is the promise of new beginnings, pencils sharpened to a perfect point and fresh notebooks with empty pages begging to be filled.” I couldn’t agree more.
For anyone thinking about blogging or want to blog more, Mary wrote a good post this summer in honor of her one-year blog anniversary on what she’s learned so far:
1. Momentum is key, as it is with so many habits. The more frequently I blog, the more motivated I am to keep up with it. It’s very hard to get back to blogging after neglecting it for weeks or a month at a time.
2. My motivation to blog has to be simple – write it and share it….
3. I’m still learning to let go of being a perfectionist when it comes to writing, and blogging has certainly helped me make progress in that regard. Read More
Blog series, blog hops, and blogging challenges have been good ways for me to get back into blogging after a dry spell. This month I want to invite other bloggers to join me in a #30PostsHathSept Blog Challenge designed for anyone who wants to give their blogging a kickstart for the fall.
Click here for details and a button where you can add links to your posts. I hope you will join me! The rules are fairly simple and the pacing flexible—all you need to do is commit to publishing 20 to 30 blog posts during the month of September.
Let the blogging begin!
Blogging with Authenticity
We blog for many reasons, but one of the most important can to use the constraints of tight deadlines—leaving little time for overthinking and second-guessing—to write and perhaps even live with greater authenticity.
The news article “‘Covering’ to fit in and get ahead,” from Harvard’s School of Public Health, features work by legal scholar and New York University School of Law professor Kenji Yoshino, who studies “the ways people ‘cover’ or downplay those aspects of their identities that are based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability, in an effort to ‘fit in’ and get ahead professionally and personally.”
According to Yoshino, we can “cover” in many ways:
“Appearance– steering clear of grooming, mannerisms, or attire that could be identified with their group. For example, an African American woman might choose to straighten her hair to downplay her race.
Affiliation – avoiding behaviors that might be identified with their group. For example, a woman who has small children may downplay that she is a mother and take on night or weekend work to show that she is committed to her job.
Advocacy – avoiding activities such as demonstrating or speaking out that could be seen as advocating for their group.
Association – avoiding spending too much time with individuals who are also members of their group. A gay person might choose not to bring his same-sex partner to a work function so as to not appear ‘too gay,’ Yoshino said.” [bold emphasis added]
The article has caused me to think a lot about the quest for authenticity and whether it is easier or harder not only to be oneself but to know oneself in the 21st century. Social media, for example, offers a broad and diverse range of voices, friends, and followers, but for someone who is overly intent on pleasing others or suffering from social anxiety, the fear of offending might lead to more rather than less authenticity.
While Yoshino focuses on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability, we can think about how we downplay our identifies for other reasons, as well, and we can remember that disabilities are often invisible even to close family members and friends. Those whose work is primarily creative and solitary might be sacrificing authenticity by overcommitting socially to avoid being thought of as a loner, even when they would rather be creating. A writer or visual artist may “cover” by not writing about topics and questions of gender, religion, or other issues important to him or her, for fear of what friends or family may think.
A Culture of Authenticity
From the article: “[H]elping members of a work or school community understand the ways in which so many people in all groups are engaged in ‘covering’ behaviors and encouraging a culture of authenticity is one route to breaking down barriers between groups….”
How do you “cover” in your writing or creative life?
How can we encourage a culture of authenticity and help others to be more authentic in our presence?