I recently passed 2,000 blog posts so was pondering how they got written. Blog posts tend to get written in one of two modes, unfortunately I don’t know which one it’s going to be when I start, which I find highly frustrating.
Mode #1 – Easy: I sit I write, I review, I post
On most occasions a thought comes to me, or I read an article that sparks a thought, or someone says something and in that instant I know what it is that I want to say. I don’t always know the full content, but the outline of the story is there in my head, not just the concept.
The Office Speak posts are mostly great examples of this way of working. Someone says something that I think needs reflecting upon and off we go. One of the posts in this series is the all-time most visited post of this blog: Office Speak: “Sharpen Your Pencil”
Sometimes the inciting incident comes at an inconvenient time and I need to write it down before it gets lost, but generally I’m in a position to write something shortly after the idea arrives. Because of this the posts often need to be scheduled to be posted at a time when people are going to read it, but that’s normally the next day. So from idea to post is normally less than 24 hours.
I would like to have more posts like this, sadly there’s also Mode #2.
Mode #2 – Hard: I think, I sit, I start to write, I re-write…I post
Similar to the Mode #1 posts there’s normally an inciting incident of a thought, a conversation or something that I read which creates a spark of an idea.
“I should write something about the effects of technology on our mental health”
I think (as an example).
“Yes, but what’s the story?”
Is my immediate response.
“Well it could be…”
That’s where I move into the picture building business. I create a set of pieces, some of them collected from other people, others trying to portray an idea that I’ve had. There are snippets of personal encounters and stories that I’ve heard. There are also quotations that I’ve heard and longer form items that form the scaffolding of the idea. Sadly though, having the elements of the picture doesn’t mean that I have a narrative and I find that creating satisfactory rending can be incredibly hard.
Sometimes I try to just power through as if this was a Mode #1 post by sitting and writing, but it’s normally evident within a few minutes that the story needs more work than that. It feels a bit like riding a bike into a shallow river – it’s fine at the beginning but it’s quickly evident that you are going to grind to an abrupt halt and progress is going to require a different approach.
This may be the point in the article where you are saying to yourself “Give us your wisdom Graham, tell us how you overcome this conundrum.” Sadly, I have no wisdom for you. I don’t have a foolproof way of getting through the mire that is a Mode #2 post.
The only way that I know to get a Mode #2 post concluded is to wrestle it, sometimes I win the wrestle, but many times the wrestle defeats me. There have been numerous times when I have engaged in the struggle for far too long before concluding that it’s not worth it and regretting the time that I’ve spent trying to get to a winning position. I’m also sure that there are times when I gave up way too early and the results would have been amazing if only I’d persevered.
There’s no way of knowing which wrestling moves are going to work and which ones will just cause you pain. I find that creating a mind-map of the article ideas can be helpful, but that doesn’t always work. There are times when I write a set of paragraphs for each of the ideas and shuffle them around trying to find the narrative with limited success. At other times I pick a new beginning for the article and try to get Mode #1 going in a different direction which is fraught with frustration. Sometimes I rewrite the opening paragraph, then rewrite it, trying to find a different way out of it and into a whole new portrayal. The struggle is part of the joy of the endeavour, if you didn’t loose the joy in winning wouldn’t quite be the same, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
I console myself with the thought that there are few things in life that are worth doing that come easily, but that’s meagre consolation.
Thankfully this was a Mode #1 article.
Do you have any wisdom for me?