I get that statement a lot in emails and comments from followers of my blogs, along with the question, how you do decide what to write about? How do you get started? So, I thought I’d write a little riff on that topic.
As all of my followers know, I get lots of inspiration for what I write about from another blogger – Jack Freed. Jack is a retired ELCA Lutheran pastor who has found a new calling and a new congregation on-line with his blog Jack’s Winning Words. Jack posts to that blog every day during the week, but never on the weekends. Jack’s format is simple and consistent. He starts each blog post with a quote that he has found and adds usually no more than a paragraph of his thoughts about the quote. Jack’s posts often take the form of questions about how the reader interprets the quote or what it may mean to them.
So, I read Jack’s post every morning and most of them (but not all) inspire me to write something in response to the quote or using the quote as the theme for my expanded remarks. Sometimes I’ll end up with a few paragraphs, sometimes more. But it is that approach that I try to pass on to those who as me about writing blog posts. Write about what something means to you. Do you have an opinion on that topic; then, let it find a voice through your writing. Does the quote resonate with you in some significant way, perhaps a life experience? Then write about that. Does the quote inspire you to take some action? Then write about that and the actions that you took. Does the quote beg a response? What is your response to it? Write about that. Is the quote too negative for your? Why? Write about that. Is the quote a positive inspiration to you? Great, write about that.
Some days I don’t have much of a personal reaction to Jack’s blog (not many to be sure); so, on those days I have to look elsewhere for inspiration. Many days I find it in the news, in stories about things happening in my area of beyond that I have some reaction too or feeling about. That is actually how I get most topics for my real estate blogs. Yes, I do post to multiple blogs; although most of them not on a daily basis. In the real estate world I get 3-4 daily news feeds from various national sources. It is usually easy to find something in them to react to and write about. In the case of real estate my point of view is slightly different than just “what does this mean to me?”; it has more to do with what does this news mean to my real estate clients? Whenever and whatever the Federal Government does something with a program aimed at homeowners, whether good or bad; that supplies a topic for a blog post, maybe many posts.
For my more personal blog (this one) I also made the conscious decision to try to write from a positive perspective, instead of letting cynicism or negative vibes creep in. I’m not always 100% successful in filtering out the negative, but I try. There are enough blogger out there already spewing hate and negative posts about almost any topic. I don’t want to be a part of that group. Sometimes I find inspiration I the daily newspaper comic strips. Anyone who experienced the amazing and entertaining wisdom of the Calvin and Hobbs strip knows what a great source of inspiration that can be. Sometimes I just do a Google search
for quotes on a topic of interest. If there is nothing that sparks an interest or a reaction that day; I just don’t write that day.
So, how do I write? Well I will admit that I’m a stream-of-consciousness style writer. I usually write in the first person and I just take off on a topic and see where my brain leads me. Many times that means a lot of editing and rearranging things. Sometimes it means abandoning and deleting entire paragraphs or multiple paragraphs. Most of the time it also involves a lot of typing corrections (I’m a terrible typist) and spelling or grammar corrections. Even spell check can’t save me from myself many times and really weird or incorrectly used words end up getting posted, that I have to go back and correct later. As I write, I’m less concerned about those errors than trying to capture my thoughts on the topic. I don’t get hung up on the mechanics the first time through. I can fix those mistakes later. That’s what great authors had editors for.
Another “technique” that I sometimes use and almost always advise others to consider is that your writing should be the same as if you were in a conversation with the intended reader, maybe at a cocktail party or maybe on a park bench. This conversation isn’t really all one sided, it’s just that you have to give a “voice “to the questions that the other party might ask. Often when I get around to asking myself the “why” questions that I imagine a listener might ask, I find that I have written myself into a corner and there is no good answer to the question. Delete, delete, delete and start over again. I am occasionally surrounded by an imaginary pile of wadded up paper that has been ripped from my imaginary typewriter.
Is there a right or wrong to what I write about? I suppose that on occasion there are things that others will not agree with – an opinion after all is just that and not necessarily the point of view that is shared by all. Advice given to others, as well meaning as it might be, may not fit the situation that the readers finds themselves in and thus is not well taken. However, taken in the spirit that it is written, my writing is my opinion or feelings about the topic at the time, shared in hopes that others might find it of some use. There is a term in comedy writing for an item that is tossed into a routine to see if it can get a small laugh. It is called a throw-away. It’s usually a single line or thought that may be added in the middle of a longer routine or even in the midst of a larger joke. Much of my writing could probably be considered a throw-away, but I toss it out there to see if it gets a laugh or a smile or a reaction. It has no big, earth shattering, life-changing intent or meaning. If you like it, great; if not, oh well, I enjoy doing it anyway.
For all of the stymied writers out there who can’t seem to figure out how to get started; just do it. Pick something out of today’s paper that you have some reaction to and write about that. Just start writing and see where it takes you. Post it and see if anyone comments. If no one seems to care, write something else and post that. Keep at it as long as you have something that you want to say.