Since we live two time zones apart, I seldom meet face-to-face with Caitlin Geier, the user experience designer for my website. But once when we were in the same air space our conversation turned to the processes we use to create our blog posts.
We found that both of us keep lists of our ideas.
Mine is a Word document that resides on my computer and for some topics it includes a few notes about how I may develop an idea. I also write and revise the first drafts of my posts within that document. As a post gets closer to completion, I copy and paste it into a separate document, which I send to a colleague when it’s ready for editing, and then I copy and paste the revised document onto the website.
In a similar way, Caitlin uses Evernotes and Google Documents in combination. She uses the web-based note-taking application Evernote to jot down ideas for posts and, in some cases part of the writing. Then she switches to Google Docs, which she describes as a simplified, online word processor, to compose her posts, which she pastes into WordPress after writing and editing.
“I’ve been using Evernote to take notes on academic articles and books I’ve been reading for research projects for school; a lot of my blog ideas these days are very closely related to what I’m researching, so it made send to have notes on blog ideas in the same place,” she reports.
She favors Google Docs because it’s easy to access across devices. “I sometimes work on my desktop computer and sometimes my laptop, so it’s nice to be able to easily access documents,” she writes. “Docs are also easy to share with other people—you just send them a link, rather than emailing a document as an attachment.”
Legendary musician Jerry Garcia told Rolling Stone magazine that he didn’t like writing. He said, “…. I mean anything is more interesting to me than writing a song. It’s like ‘I think I’d like to write a song. … No, I guess I better go feed the cat.’”
It seems the more important a project is, especially if it’s close to my heart, the more likely I am to dance around it.
When I finally sit down to write, I sometimes think about how I want readers to feel when reading. This can be especially important when my monkey brain is doing overtime obsessing about some other topic. I often use a technique that I first read about in Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It involves listing the letters of the alphabet vertically down a page and then brainstorming words that fit the mood.
If I’m writing something joyful, then A may be abundant, B may be beautiful and C may be courage. If I’m writing something with a more doleful message, my list may contain words like alienated, betrayal, callous and so on. Some letters may have multiple words while others – especially X and Z — may have none.
I likened this activity to a painter loading paint onto a palette, while Caitlin compared it to making a mood board as a step in user experience design.
In classes where I substitute, writing assignments often start with a prompt. Any idea in the incubator can serve as a prompt. The more developed it is, the more readily the words will begin to flow.
Of course, a good, old-fashioned outline can provide a helpful roadmap for a suggested route.
If all else fails, I can just sit down with either pen and paper or my computer and do what writers do: WRITE!
With a background in journalism, my writing schedule has usually been driven by deadlines. When I’ve worked for newspapers, magazines or clients, these have been externally imposed. They were self-imposed when I did travel writing on speculation, as they are now when I write a monthly post for my blog. Self-imposed deadlines require greater discipline on my part.
Caitlin sometimes commits to writing for a certain amount of time every day. Some writers take this practice a little farther, designating a certain time of day as their writing time, even if means giving up sleep. Some also insist on a dedicated place for writing. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough isolates himself in a small shed called the bookshop behind his Martha’s Vineyard home. “Nothing good was ever written in a large room,” he said.
Caitlin is thinking about reaching out to her fellow techies to form a blog writing group, which reminds me of times when I’ve enjoyed the company of writers. In particular, I liked our team on a certain disaster recovery where I met Joe Yogerst, an international journalist who has written a several noteworthy books recently.
In addition, the primary reason I ask colleagues to edit my posts is that I strongly believe all writing benefits from good editing. But a secondary reason is to stay in touch with other writers and editors and to learn from them.
Caitlin and I didn’t get around to talking about rewriting. But, as I was feeding the cat (metaphorically – I don’t own a kitty) before writing this post, I scrolled through several inspirational quotes for writers. I found this from Stephen King:
When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.
If you’d like help with a writing, editing or content project, I’d love to talk to you. Please contact me.
Caitlin Geier, the user experience designer for this website, reviewed this article. A graduate teaching assistant at Michigan State University in Lansing, she is a self-described “nerdy researcher” whose interests include “how people communicate within video games.”