Blogging strategies against writer’s blocks

This is a brainstorm of ways to overcome barriers to blog writing and make a blog more active and interactive.

My blog’s current status is:

  • I post infrequently
  • Most of my ideas remain in incomplete draft mode forever
  • It takes a very long time to write a post
  • I write many more comments than posts (on others’ and my own blog) and they tend to be as long as posts, if not longer

Here are some ideas I’ve thought of:

 

1. When inspired by others’ blog posts, start the post as a sort of commentary and link back to the source of inspiration

I follow an obscene amount of blogs in my Google and WordPress RSS Reader apps. I flip through the feeds on my tablet several times a day* in my flip app and almost every day, there’s at least one post that incepts a train of thoughts I would like to turn into writing. For some blogs (like this one), it is almost every new post that has that effect.

That’s great, I just want to convert more of the inspiration into real output, not just thoughts & associations & sketchy drafts…

Sourcing topics in others’ posts is a good idea for several reasons. It creates or promotes a sort of blogosphere topic sync. I can add my own perspective to someone else’s analysis, and if more bloggers do it then one blogger’s idea can evolve into a sort of loose collaborative sub-network of personal insights around a theme (occasionally).

Win-win for both bloggers (relevant traffic) and interested readers (accessibility and coherence).

 

2. Convert comments into posts

My comments are much longer than my posts. Probably at least double as long as my posts on average, and sometimes sort of inappropriately long. I write comments much faster than posts and don’t find it hard to complete them… or start, they just kick off when triggered by an intriguing topic.

I’m thinking is that I could reign in some of that writing-energy by converting long inspired comments into posts. I could go hunting in the comment tracks of posts I remember was inspiring and copy-paste selected comments of mine into post drafts, then rework them into blog posts.

Additionally, I could try to set an ‘inappropriate length threshold’ warning in my mind that warns me whenever a comment I’m drafting starts to get really long; because that’s the sign that the comment may in fact be a closet-post that could have its own space on the web with a link back to the source post.

This isn’t to stop writing comments on others’ posts, not at all… comments add great value, and bloggers usually love them. Some comments, however, would be better off as posts linking to the inspiring post because it potentially

  • benefits the author of the inspiring post by giving exposure and traffic. Since search engines tend to ignore comments, they don’t directly help to direct traffic to a blog, but links from posts do.
  • benefits the readers through improved blogosphere connectivity & topic sync
  • Improves my own blog’s productivity

 

3. Quote others’ great comments and build new posts around them 

Comment tracks in general can be full of overlooked gems. I suspect many readers focus mostly on replies to their own comments, and don’t read through all the comments. They may feel other readers’ comments are meant as 1:1 conversations with the blog author (just guessing).

I remember reading posts built around quotes from forum discussions by a blogger who roamed forums about a pet hate of hers. While the posts constructed that way were sort of interesting, that method seemed unethical to me. – to quote people from heated informal discussions out of context.

However, the idea is fine as a principle. I think it is OK to quote comments from one’s own blog territory in related posts. That isn’t much out of context, and it’ll make sure that good ideas don’t get overlooked by other readers just because they are in comments.

 

4. ‘Questions to Readers’

‘Ask the readers questions’ is an idea I first got from reading Aspergirl Maybe, who usually asks her readers a question in relation to each of her posts. I like the notion that readers can give me information too, and that blogging is a dynamic writing process. The click on the ‘Publish!’ button isn’t the completion of a post, it is (potentially) the beginning of a new conversation!

I still do find it a bit weird to ask a question to an unknown number of potentially non-existing readers, so it isn’t really my favourite tactic… but with a bit more practice it may work.

 

5. ‘Related Posts’ 

Some bloggers put a short bullet point list of ‘related articles’ in the bottom of their posts with links to other bloggers’ posts related to the topic – and sometimes their own related posts.

That’s another win-win strategy: the short lists help interested readers to continue their research along networked blog topic tracks, and it may also increase the traffic to the ‘Related Posts’ (and make their authors feel good).

 

6. Post a gem

Posts don’t need to be long. Actually ultra-short posts can be very inspiring and mobilising. I reckon a blend of thoughtful, reflective long essays and brief, visual Tumblr-style share-and-comment(maybe) posts like this one could work well.

 

7. Illustrations

‘A Picture Says More Than a Thousand Words’, goes an old saying. Blogs don’t need illustrations, but visuals give the eyes something to hook onto and rest on; like islands of summarised meaning in seas of words.

A Quiet Week in the House is a lovely example of a very visually integrated blog. Each of Lori’s unique collage illustrations visually summarises the meaning she wants to convey, and her words are in themselves scenic.  A beautiful place to visit.

 

Eye Doctor

Illustration by Lori of A Quiet Week in the House**. 

 
I also love when bloggers illustrate their writing with their own photos, or with home made cartoons or other artwork. Basically any nice looking visual cue that summarises a relevant point makes a post more approachable.

 
My illustration strategy

I currently illustrate posts by manipulating images derived from the MorgueFile Archives. MorgueFile contains many hundreds of high resolution photos which are available to graphic artists, illustrators and creative souls, free of charge for derivative works (= you can use them for free if you alter them).

Alternatively, there is CC Search – an access point to images that are uploaded under a Creative Commons licence to a variety of platforms such as Flickr, Open Clip Art*** and Google Images****… so they can be used for free (and altered if desired).

I also like to retro-colour photos taken with my iPhone in the Instagram app:

 

Summer light

 
Or embed a YouTube video, especially if it inspired the post in the first place.

 
New blog illustration ideas:

  • Draw cartoons and other illustrations. Basic, childish drawings would do the trick. See for example Pete’s Stickmen. This will do for me:

 
stickwoman

  • Fun graphs. A graph can convey a cultural or psychological phenomenon in an instant and entertaining way. Examples can be found in GraphJam on LolCats where you can also create your own graphs. I was thinking to maybe just hand draw mine
  • ecards is another cute way to quickly illustrate a point – just copy the embed code into the blog. I’ve saved a little collection of ecards that I might use to illustrate posts to Pinterest, so I can find them quickly, and may also create my own ecard if I come to think of a good quote something
  • Proper photography (not just iPhone snaps). Motives can be anything that can illustrate a point. I could set up scenes and photograph toys, surfaces, street signs, insects…  anything
  • Collages. Create images out of bits of graphic elements including words used as graphical elements… The idea is obviously inspired by A Quiet Week in the House, albeit I would do it simpler since it isn’t my speciality
  • Vlogs / Audiologs (OK, I am not really planning to do this anytime soon, but I like the idea). Personal video or audio recordings embedded in posts via e.g. YouTube or SoundCloud. I would love to see a person whose writing I’ve enjoyed for ages talk…  Hear the author’s voice and intonation and observe his/her appearance and body language (but maybe I am just too curious!). People tend to do blogs or Vlogs but rarely both. They can be any type of creative audio-visual expression the author record – an interview; a music track; an audio-visual collage; an instruction manual on how to do something.

 
8. Just Write! 

Trophos ‘The Dancing Professor‘, made me aware of a lovely essay about writing by Anne Lamott, which she calls ‘a lovely meditation on the pressure of perfectionism’. The essay reminds that the writing process is naturally messy and builds on a platform of ‘Shitty First Drafts’.

 

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it

[…] For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the  only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

[…] There may be  something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go — but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.

Anne Lamott: Shitty First Drafts

 
Trophos says in her comment on “The power of blogging…” that she decided to make her blog into ‘a blog of drafts’ to free her writing. Her blog’s slogan is ‘Building Back the Habit of Writing, One Day at The Time’*****, and she mentions in her ‘about‘ a daily time target for writing. Her posts reflect over literature, communication, her work as a professor, social events and other cultural topics (by my observation; she didn’t say this), and the passion for writing and literature shines through it all.

Andraya, likewise in a comment, also advises an anti-perfectionist strategy. Her strategy is a fixed weekly blogging routine:

 

Basically, I’ve given myself permission to be imperfect, and I’ve made posting on a schedule (every monday) more important than getting posts “right.” Weirdly enough, people still respond positively to posts that I thought were imperfect or unsatisfactory.

Comment on “The power…” by Andraya, author of Asperger’s and Me

 
I’ve come to think that in a sense, a blog is generally meant to be a media of drafts. Unlike a book, a blog post can be edited indefinitely and updated with feedback from readers. A blog is a playground, a place for practice and an open conversation; rather than a final publication.

Thanks for the advice! I reckon that, in my case, reduced perfectionism will lead to immediate raised productivity.

 
Old typewriter with the text "Nobody is perfect"

 
What I mean is: I do aim towards perfection, but it should be a long term moving goal and not a here-and-now requirement. The advantage perfectionism gives is that it’ll make me keep stretching to do things better; when it doesn’t lead to a better result but slows down practice instead, it should be ditched.

Blogging is practice… that’s why there needs to be lots of it, and it needs to be faster (I planned to post this one 2 days ago already…). When writing is reliably a strong and steady flow, then I can take out the editor’s knife and cut it to the bone; to achieve maximal precision and shortness. My ideal for writing is intense meaning in as few words as possible… but it takes an overflow of words to get there!

 

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in.

~Leonard Cohen

(Source: Quotegarden)

 

————————————————————————————————————-

* A gross understatement… I guess I’m a tablet flip-addict

** Printed with Lori’s blanket permission to show her images without asking first

*** Warning: sponsor Shutterstock will relentless try to out compete the free clipart with great looking commercial, expensive illustrations displayed in an advertising banner right beneath while you browse through Open Clip Art search results

****Google images is of course technically not a platform but a search engine… but functionally it fits right in

*****I think! The slogan isn’t totally visible

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9 thoughts on “Blogging strategies against writer’s blocks

  1. gavinpandion

    “Blogging is practice” is exactly what was on my mind yesterday. It’s been a while since I updated my blog and I’ve been having similar nagging feelings about not posting as much as I draft and revise. You have great tips here, and I’ll have to explore the creative commons image sources you mentioned – I actually knew about morguefile but the others I hadn’t bookmarked.

    In general I don’t feel susceptible to “writer’s block” in the sense that not having written something doesn’t entail feeling stuck to me. Either I’m procrastinating on something clear-cut that’s expected of me for the usual reasons people procrastinate about anything, or I don’t feel like writing, and if it’s just the latter and there’s no outside pressure to write for a deadline, I don’t guilt-trip myself about it. Largely because if I don’t feel like writing, I assume it’s because I don’t have anything on my mind that needs to be written about.

    Where this attitude gets me into trouble is that, just like you, I have an enormous backlog of blog drafts and I’m quite complacent about finishing them and posting them, once I have the thoughts that seemed interesting to me at the time written down somewhere. The revision process can feel a lot less stimulating than the brainstorming and writing those “shitty first drafts” that you wouldn’t want to publish in raw format. A lot like busy-work. Plus I take a lot of notes on legal pads, and then I drag my feet about even bothering to type them up.

    I don’t think the rule of thumb that a blog must be updated quite frequently to gain an audience is necessarily one I’m going to worry about. For multi-author blogs it might be possible to generate content every day or even more than once a day, but in general people who write more frequently seem less selective about what to write about to me, and I like the winnowing process too. The way you prioritize what to write about sometimes says something that could otherwise be lost in the clutter of on-line journaling without a filter. And one of my favorite things about wordpress is that the longer format for writing makes it easier to communicate with depth and complexity, and less tempting to let the conversation be dominated by witticisms and trivialized.

    On the other hand, I’m trying to bridge my concept of “relevant” and my concept of “trivial” out of interest in the way politically significant everyday aspects of our lives become invisible to us because they seem so routine and banal, and that can be a disempowering illusion if you never look closely at the little things that you do every day. So I’m hoping to move my blogging habits in a direction that’s more engaged with the stereotypically neurotypical social mode of non-informative, non-discursive chit-chat revolving around relatively simple assessments of seemingly normal experiences that are only remarkable from a personal point of view. Who knows, maybe that sort of attitude adjustment could even help me get over some of my hangups socializing outside the bloggosphere too…

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    1. Mados

      Hello! Nice to hear from you again!

      Yes maybe it is a bit silly to talk about ‘Writer’s Block’ when writing isn’t an obligation… like making a problem out of nothing. Anyway, for me it is important to develop my writing skills not so much to keep the blog updated but because I would like to eventually write longer, complex things (like a book-like thing maybe).

      I don’t really intend to start chit-chatting in writing… I think it will always be about analysis and exploration of a topic. I would just like to be able to write faster and more… and I think I need much more practice, so I get annoyed with myself that I don’t use this brilliant opportunity more.

      And one of my favorite things about wordpress is that the longer format for writing makes it easier to communicate with depth and complexity, and less tempting to let the conversation be dominated by witticisms and trivialized.

      I like that too:-)

      Trivial aspects can be very interesting when they are seen in the context of the pattern they are a part of.

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  2. trophos

    I’m glad that essay resonated with you 🙂 I believe you when you say you struggle with finishing and letting go of writing and all that, but what you share of your writing is always so clear and lovely that it seems effortless. I look forward to seeing what will emerge from you new strategies!

    (and thanks for the props!)

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    1. Mados

      Thank you so much, that is a lovely compliment! That makes me feel really good…

      I do write effortlessly for the most part, now when I think more about it. What’s difficult is to finalise it, be relevant, get a visible result out that can be shared… and sometime to start converting the ‘draft in my mind’ into words and clarity. So I guess the transition points are the weak links in the chain.

      and you are welcome! Thanks for your inputs!

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  3. musingsofanaspie

    Great tips! I’m especially grateful for the links to sites for finding graphics because I’m trying to include more graphics in my post and it can be hard to find things that are freely available for use and are also good quality.

    I’m of the “just write” school of thought. I try to write most days of the week, always at the same time, which being a heavily routine driven aspie–if I don’t write at my appointed time I get anxious, so it works out rather nice. I try to approach blogging as more than a draft (though sometimes barely, I don’t love everything I post equally much) but less than a perfect finished piece. I can always go back to edit, as you said, and sometimes I do, when I find better information or want to link to a related post or article on another website. People are constantly stumbling upon older posts so it feels worthwhile to spend time updating them a bit as needed.

    I like your ideas of linking to other posts that inspired writing (and thank you again for the links!) and of creating a sort of web of posts on a topic. I’m one of those people who will read all of the comments and follow all of the links/related article recs for a topic that I’m interested in. Not everyone will be so thorough, but I think it’s good to share background/source information for those who do.

    ( I just accidentally double posted this beginning of this comment–oops!–please delete the incomplete one)

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    1. Mados

      Thank you! I am glad it is useful to you.

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience and advice. It is very interesting to hear about other’s writing strategies/routines. I like the strategy with a writing routine scheduled every day. It also sounds like a lovely time of day, whenever it is scheduled;-)

      The ‘Just-Write School of Thought’ seems successful as a way to churn out a steady flow of great posts:-)

      I do write every day as well (in various forms), and almost always in the evening. My weak point is that I don’t know where to stop… I can’t let it go and sometimes end up wasting time on nitpicking endlessly on something rather than creating new stuff, dead tired and unable to think anymore… and nothing read-worthy necessarily comes out of it.

      Maybe setting a fixed stop time would work (like ‘write 1 hour only’ … my husband would love that!) but I need long stretches of times without counting hours, and I find it hard to get back into my project again once I interrupt the process (sorry to keep whining about that…) – hence the accumulation of incomplete and invisible drafts.

      Does your scheduled writing time include a time limit?

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    2. Mados

      I like your ideas of linking to other posts that inspired writing (and thank you again for the links!) and of creating a sort of web of posts on a topic. I’m one of those people who will read all of the comments and follow all of the links/related article recs for a topic that I’m interested in. Not everyone will be so thorough, but I think it’s good to share background/source information for those who do.

      Me too. I like the idea of collaborative synergy in individual, uncoordinated work… Like in team work, just without the confines of a team… I find it fascinating and useful:-)

      (actually that thinking started in comments on your blog a while ago…)

      I agree that it is good to make background/source information available for the zealous readers. It is very rewarding to know that there are zealous readers, who survey the information in-depth and learn a lot from the process (including from others’ related info)… it makes the effort feel very worthwhile.

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