Lessons learned from writing (or, alternatively, where all of this comes from)


A bit ago, I received a message from a reader that read,

"I know we don't know each other very well, but I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about your process for coming up with your blogs. I just started mine, its a lot of fun, and I have written blog like stuff before, but they where always spur of the moment things that came out of being really moved by a situation. 

Today I tried to just sit down and write my first one and 45 minutes in I felt like I had written a lot but it wasn't going anywhere, and what I had written was boring and "Duh." which is frustrating because I truly believed sitting down that I had a good point when I started and a very clear vision of what I wanted to talk about, but its getting lost in the process of actually writing it.

I'm contacting you because your blog inspired mine, so being able to ask you this sort of thing is kinda cool, if yah know what I mean (I can't message Eric Clapton and ask him how the heck he comes up with his Rhythm and Blues influenced licks). But yea, hope your doing well."

Apart from fulfilling a life-long dream of being a pseudo advice columnist (Dear Abby let's be friends, please?), the question really made me think about what my writing is, what it isn't, and how things get from from conception to your eyes. Since I've had a few other people reach out since this message about blogging, blog posts, and on knowing when something is ready to post, I figured what I said might be something worth sharing. 

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Re: Where all of this comes from:


Hey Hey -

First things first, every writer's process is going to be different, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

For me, my writing is something that I think about for a while, wrestle with mentally, and then when the time is right and the concept is solid, it flows...or if I'm being more honest, pours from me. That said, a lot of my favorite bloggers are incredibly methodical about their posts, as in they have things written weeks in advance, have posts scheduled so that there is never a content interruption, and are always "there." It's a style I wish I had and something I've been told I could have if I was more "dedicated"...but I'm not like that and my writing is never something I can have pre-planned.

It took me a long time to be okay with it (mostly because I wanted to be a "great" blogger and my original definition of that meant posting all the time), but since my writing is my way of processing things rather than my job and my blog is a place where I can be intentional about creating space for things that are meaningful to me, I'm embracing the fact that I get my material when I'm ready to write about it.

So. In terms of tips, here's what I have:

1. Figure out what makes you want to write and when that happens 
Figuring out when you are most creative or thoughtful or introspective paired with when you get to a place where words flow easily is key. For me, that special creative place always happens when I have other things I need to be doing, but I'm worked up about something and therefore need to get that thing out of me before I can refocus on the other tasks. Ideally speaking, is that the process / timing I would have asked for? Not a chance. Does it work really well for me? Absolutely. By acknowledging the fact that the posts I love the most have come from that environment has (after some substantial mental bickering) meant that I have come to accept and actually embrace the fact that I will be a spotty blogger but a meaningful one. To add on to that, when I look at why I write, that fits exactly what I'm going for.

2. Listen to what your friends say you are super knowledgeable about 
The things that you can talk about for hours and that your friends come to you for are what you should be writing about. For me, my friends have always called me the "lesson" person - when they need help thinking through things or are looking for advice, I'd be the person they'd go to. That role wasn't something that I realized, but when someone called it out, I thought...huh. Maybe the way I think about things is something I could write about. Boom. Blog.

3. Don't put pressure on yourself to make it "right" right away 
If you look back at my archives, you'll see that my blog has gone through quite a few iterations. I started it my sophomore year of college because I thought my life was boring and wanted to change my perspective on that (i.e. no, it's not boring, you're just not paying attention to the interesting things), then it became a study abroad blog, and then the life lesson part started to fall into place once I came back from Europe. Where it is now isn't a place that I thought it would end up when I started it...it just naturally evolved into what it is now over time.

The common theme though is that my writing has always been for me first rather than for other people. If you start something for other people, it won't resonate with you in the way you want it to, whereas if it's for you first, regardless of who does or doesn't read it, you'll be really happy about it and the new hobby you're getting to explore. At the end of the day, we write because we enjoy it, because we learn something from it, and because we need it to process things that happen in our lives--all "us"-centric reasons--so we need to be putting ourselves first in order to start creating things that are authentic enough to resonate with others.

4. Edit like a mofo 
I write most of my posts in one sitting and in a realllly short period of time, but then I'll sit on them for a bit to tweak them and make sure they are what I want/need them to be. For the more personal posts in particular, getting the tone right is something I'm hyper-sensitive about (i.e. giving myself time to get over stupid things, not casting others unfairly, figuring out if I really want to go down a potentially dicey path, etc.), so I try not to rush my timeline. When a post is ready, it's ready, and you'll feel that as a writer. And mostly because the idea of looking at it one more time in "draft" sounds repulsive to you.

5. Practice writing until it sounds like you're speaking 
The posts of mine that people have responded to the most are the ones for which they'll say, "I could hear you in my head with every word!" For me, when I write the way I speak, it just seems to work.

Part of that, I think, plays into my inability to write unless I have something to "talk" about. In real life conversations, I don't talk just to talk, so it's pretty apt that my writing is the same way. When I'm ready to talk/write, it flows easily...if I'm not, it doesn't go much of anywhere. Since you mentioned that was one of the things you were having a hard time with, give some thought to how you talk to your friends (are you talking to fill space? Quiet until you have something to say? Like to say something about everything? etc.) and then look at your writing to see how that plays out there.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to read your posts out loud after you get to a place in which you feel good about the post. This, for me, is hugely helpful because it helps me find the areas in which I stumble (which are likely slightly awkward or "not me" phrases that I can then correct to sound more like me).

6. If pressing "post" doesn't scare you at least a little bit, it's not personal enough 
This one is perhaps the most important of all of my writing lessons learned / tips. If you want to push yourself as a writer, you have to get to a place where you're brutally honest with yourself about things, which is always a bit scary to put out there. That fear though and that willingness to be vulnerable is what makes it good. Embrace it. And press post.

Hopefully some of this helps - happy to chat about any of them more!


Cheers,
Lisa

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To pose a question in response, fellow writers - what works for you?

Comments

  1. Lisa - I thought this was a wonderful post about your process. I struggle with the writing process as well and regularly wrestle with many of the issues you mention (creative spark, time, tone, editing etc.).

    One thing I would highlight for folks to think about that you hit on is answering the question "why are you writing?" This makes a lot of downstream choices editorially and otherwise easier. You observe that not writing for a living affords a certain freedom and eliminates a drive to publish or perish on a hard deadline or schedule. I find it also allows freedom.

    I chose to start my blog for several reasons: 1) I always wanted to write 2) I got asked for and gave a lot of advice and this seemed like a way to aggregate it, 3) Short bursts of writing around key ideas seemed easier for me to write than the book I have in my head but can never organize.

    So in essence, I decided early on that I was writing for myself and a small group of folks I know who find my voice and longer form posting useful. That has made it easy to ignore the many folks who've wanted to advertise or do paid posts on my site, forgive myself when i miss deadlines as lives don't hang in the balance etc.

    I would also reinforce the don't worry about getting it "right" right away. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

    Hope all is well and to see you soon.
    Regards. Phil

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