“Hitting “publish” may make someone a blogger, but it doesn’t always make him or her a writer, per se.
If the content is sloppy, if it wanders, if it plays loose with the facts, if opinions are ill-formed, if observations and details are lazy and bland, if nothing is really said, if the reader leaves feeling empty, is that writing? From “Taking the Art of Writing Too Casually” by Dan Langendorf
I agree with Dan. A lot of writing I have encountered on the web has been shallow. I’m guilty of low quality myself. It’s too easy to toss-up a few malformed sentences and hit publish. I’ve never felt comfortable calling myself a writer. Not because I wasn’t being paid to write or because I have not published a book. But because I’ve never felt my craft, my art of writing was of the best quality. I think quality is the difference between blogging and writing.
In the over 9 years that I’ve written on this blog, I’ve written some garbage and some real gems (in my opinion). I can tell when the quality of the writing is lacking. I can feel it. But yet, I’ll hit publish anyway. My goal in 2015 is to write more quality posts more consistently.
I am taking part in a free online course to improve my writing and blogging skills. Today’s writing prompt is Write a post about what you discovered regarding your writing patterns and behavior. What surprised you?
John asked a number of important questions that I’m not sure I know how to answer.
I do want you to write today though and it doesn’t have to be much: Write a post about what you discovered regarding your writing patterns and behavior. What surprised you? What was rewarding and revealing? What didn’t you like about what you learned about yourself? And, what pruning activities did you begin and hope to continue to do over the course of this year?
And, perhaps most importantly… what will you be writing about now with all of this new information about your historical writing patterns? Will you continue as you were previously or will you be writing about new content… and why?
My self-hosted WordPress blog only has five categories — General, Photography, Pressgram (a subcategory of Photography), Reviews and Tutorial. A few years ago I had many more but after analyzing what I had been posting about I settled on just having these few. Looking at all of my posts over the years it seems that most of my posts have been in the General category and Photography categories with tutorials and reviews a distant third. Frankly I think I have written more tutorials than indicated. A few years ago I consolidated several blogs into one and I may have assigned most of the imported posts to the General category. I know that in my early years of blogging I wrote most technical articles but that in most recent years photography has become a passion for me. I started posting more images to the blog, usually accompanied by some sort of story. A lot of the images were from my Nikon DSLR but a fair number were also from my iPhone. I think the launch of Pressgram had a lot to do with that.
I stopped using Google Analytics a while ago due to privacy issues. It really creeps me out how easy it is to use Google’s free tools but not realize how much access you give them to your data. Quite frankly, I think Google is evil so I have reduced, as much as I can, the amount of exposure I have to their products and services. I’ve come to rely on the statistics provided via the Jetpack plugin from WordPress.com. I took a look at the data for the last few years and saw some interesting patterns emerge. These aren’t patterns about my writing behavior but about the web site reading traffic.
My blog received more page views in the years prior to 2012. Page views are down 50%. Is that because I blogged less or because my content was less well received? I don’t know.
Visitors to the web site spiked in 2013 and then dropped off by about 50% in 2014. What happened there? In 2012, the Raspberry Pi computer was released. There was a lot of buzz around the RPi. I managed to get my hands on one and wrote a blog post about my success in using it to control my Nikon DSLR for HDR photography. That post was linked to by a number of online magazines including spiegel.de and wired.com. That generated a lot of inbound traffic and even to this day that article in the number one ranked article.
Based on the comments it seems that the tutorial posts generate the most amount of conversation.
I still have to dig deeper but I think that I will continue with my current patterns of posts. I like writing posts with tips to address the questions that I am often asked by family and friends. I will continue to do that. I will continue to post my photographs to the blog. I was accepted into the Arcanum and I want to document my journey as an apprentice.
I want to post on a more regular schedule. I developed some momentum at the end of 2014 and I want to carry that into 2015. I also want to either blog more about my personal insight on photography and technology or incorporate more of my personal insights into my photography and technical articles. That will be a challenge for sure and I am concerned about being vulnerable.
Time to go done some pruning (of tags).
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I’m not sure what my optimal writing environment is or should be because I have not put much thought into it. I know that when I am in the zone doing what feels like great work there are a few things that create my environment. It’s a combination of music, coffee, good sleep, and the quiet of the early weekend morning.
During the week, the demands of commuting to and from a full time consulting project account for most of my time. To function at my best I want to get a good night’s sleep. I get paid to think and solve problems for my client. I won’t do an effective job if I’m tired due to lack of sleep. I also noticed that my diabetes management worsens when I don’ get enough sleep. For me, this means getting into bed early, preferably by 10PM, so that I can catch at least 8 hours of restful sleep. There are some very negative consequences1 to me getting less than those 8 hours of sleep on a consistent basis so getting up earlier is just not an option for me. By the time I get home at 6PM, my mind is spent so I find that I do my worst writing at night.
I do most of my writing on the weekend. I write early in the morning, before my two kids and my wife wake up. This is any time between 7AM and 10AM on the weekend. I won’t get up earlier than 6AM and lose sleep to get things done. Writing early in the morning is the best time for me. That’s when my mind is the freshest. As soon as my family wakes up the distractions start. Even if I put of a giant flag and a banner saying “Keep away! In the zone!” I will still get interrupted.
I sit in a comfortable office chair and desk we purchased at IKEA a few years ago. It’s worn from use but I’ve grown to love its nicks and scratches. It has height adjustable legs and I spent about an hour finding just the right height for me. For me the desk is distraction free. There are a few desk ornaments and at least two incomplete electronic projects on the side but nothing that would distract me from writing.
I keep the lights off in the “writing” room. It’s not that I need a dark room to focus. It’s just that I dislike artificial light. I’m a sun-worshipper. If every day could be like late spring/early summer I would be happy. In the summer, the early morning sun light coming through the window is enough to light the room. In the winter, I turn on a desk lamp. I do the least amount of writing in the winter.
I’m the coffee drinker in the house. Coffee helps me get started. It gets my brain going. No coffee. No thinking. Every morning I brew exactly two servings of coffee. One for me and one for my wife. She likes here with cream and sugar. I drink mine black with a packet of Monk Fruit in the Raw.
I write while listening to music. I have an iTunes play-list of my favorite trance-music tracks. It’s the same playlist I use when driving on long trips or when writing code. I actually have two, one is called Aural Opium1 and the other Brain. Something about trance music helps block out all distractions and focuses my mind. Most of the music is by Armin Van Buren but the play-list includes music by Tiesto and Deadmau5. Sometimes I’ll fire up Spotify and play anything from the State of Trance. Fifteen minutes into my playlist I’m in the zone. Sometimes I get in so deep, time and place cease to exist for me. If it all works well, I notice the words (or code) on the page, my thoughts and nothing else. It’s as though the writing app, the words and I are one. No other kind of music will work. I’ve tried chill out jazz, classical, top 40 etc. They don’t work for me when writing (or driving). Trance music just works.
I use the same headphones while I write. A worn pair of Grado SR60 open-back headphones. They fit comfortably over the ear and are not heavy. Once the music starts and I get into the groove of writing, I don’t even notice them.
I have do-not-disturb turned off on my iMac until 8AM. I want to avoid any distracting updates from twitter or Facebook etc. I love my social media but it’s a time suck. With the best of intentions I will pop into Google+ or Twitter for a quick update and easily lose 30 minutes. Closing down notifications on all devices is important. I have the same setup on my iPhone and iPad.
On the iMac I open my writing app. I have several of these including Byword, Desk and MarsEdit. Why so many? Byword is the most distraction free writing app I have. It’s just a blank canvas for my Markdown text. It’s also the only one of these apps that has an iOS version and iCloud sync. I can start a post on my iMac and finish up on my iPad. But it’s not very good for post that involve a large number of images. The steps to get images uploaded from Byword to WordPress are too complicated. Byword doesn’t allow editing of existing posts so I don’t dear hit publish until I am sure I’m ready. It’s best for spell-checked text-only posts. Desk is better at handling graphics and images and text together. However, I find that sometimes Desk puts too much HTML around my text and images. It’s also the only editor that can format a post for Facebook. So I mostly use Desk when I write posts that are mostly text with one or two images. MarsEdit is clunky and quite frankly the GUI isn’t modern or attractive. It has the least distraction free environment. However, it does offer easier and faster control over image sizing and it’s the only one of the three that provides a true preview of how the blog post will look. This is my default writing tool for most of my photography posts.
To avoid the temptation to launch other apps, I will run the writing app in full screen mode. No email apps. No browser. Just the writing app.
Then I start.
I am taking part in a free online course to improve my writing and blogging skills. Today’s writing prompt is “optimal writing environment”.