Earlier this month, I received a handwritten letter from my pal Katy. We’ve known each other online for nearly two decades, ever since LiveJournal was the dominant blogging site.
However, this letter was one of the few times our friendship has seeped into the real world. We haven’t even spoken by phone before. I think our last piece of written correspondence was when I surprised her by sending a birthday card to a radio station where she volunteered.
This month’s letter was actually the second one she’d sent recently. The first went AWOL en route from Wales – and has never turned up.
I occasionally speak here about the enjoyment I gain from writing by hand. I keep a particular style of notebook with perforated A5 pages, plus several blue pens of the same type so I can carry on if one of them runs out. Even when I’m working on a non-handwritten project, the first draft is usually done in pencil and only transferred to a computer at the second stage.
I’ll reply to Katy when I have the opportunity. She’s given me eight optional questions to think about, but I reckon I have an answer for each one.
Over time, the number of people reading it has steadily increased. Any given week, I can bank on between 4 to 6 people pressing the Like button, and they are all appreciated.
Every so often, I’ll receive replies to my entries. Most often, it’s from my pal Webgirluk, whom I’ve known for nearly two decades from LiveJournal. Then last week, I found a comment from someone I met at a poetry workshop a few years back.
This started me thinking how bad I am at reading others’ entries. I have followed a lot of people over the last eight years, but I rarely have a chance to read their words, let alone comment on them.
I spend a lot of time speaking to writers and organising events, and I wish I could say I’d make the time to read the words of my WordPress contacts, but I can’t make that promise. The best I can offer is that I know they’ll always be there for when it’s possible to read them.
Every January, I take part in a project called Fun a Day Dundee, which encourages artists to be creative throughout January. Most years, I have an idea what I’m going to do; this year, by contrast, I didn’t.
I have a tradition of keeping a handwritten logbook each year, which visitors are able to inspect at a weekend exhibition. With less than 5 hours until January 1st, I found an old notebook and began my log, and as I was writing, an idea began to form.
On the assumption that public events will still not permitted in two to three months’ time, I wanted to present my scans of my drawings and the logbook online. Instagram is the go-to site for many participants because it’s perfect for photos, and I’ll still be using it. Yet it’s not geared towards long-form explanations, which this project needs, so I set about looking for a secondary site.
The solution was to resurrect my old LiveJournal account, just for January. Recycling is one of my major recurring themes in Fun a Day, so reusing that page is very much in the same scope. When you visit it via the URL www.ladygavgav.com, it’s been set up to show only the Fun a Day posts.
I first used LiveJournal in the early 2000s, which in turn has inspired my Fun a Day art to be themed around Millennium nostalgia and pop culture as I remember it. The interface to post a new entry hadn’t been updated by the time I jumped ship to WordPress in 2013, but I was pleased to find it’s now more user-friendly, especially when embedding pictures.
Now I have a course of action, we now begin the real challenge of finding the time and motivation to update that site every day this month.
Last week, I mentioned that I’m not a lifelong fiction writer nor poet, having started in 2010. However, I had kept a non-fiction blog for some years before this.
Although WordPress was around in 2003, the most popular blog host at the time was LiveJournal, known among its users as LJ. My first entry was on 19 December of that year, when I was studying at what is now the University of the West of Scotland, although my profile has – for some reason – always said my account was created on 15 March 2004.
I was reminded of my these days though my pal Katy Jones, who not only joined a year or two before me, but still uses it. She was interviewed for a podcast recently, in which she spoke about the appeal of LJ compared to other sites.
However, we’d actually become acquainted through a media forum, entirely separate from LJ, as we were active in different hospital radio stations around the same time. In fact, we’ve never met and I don’t think we’ve spoken by phone or video chat, yet Katy remains one of my most enduring online friendships. We might even be starting pen-pal correspondence soon.
So what of my old LJ account? It still exists, and it served as a good sandbox in which to practice for this WordPress blog, which began in 2013. At that time, the paid-for features of LJ matched the free features of WordPress, so it was an obvious choice to switch for me.
But there were also duds along the way, like this one that’s disjointed and uninteresting, asking a question about football and then rambling about Firefox and the bit-rates of MP3 files. Years later, we see a desperate attempt to keep the LJ page alive with tedious #MusicMonday entries.
So one thing I’ve learnt over the years is to look at my entries from outside of my own head. If a topic only makes sense to me, then there’s no point in making it public.
Judging by the reactions and the viewing statistics I receive from this WordPress page, I do manage to engage people. I can even look back at entries from six years ago and still be satisfied with them, other than spotting an occasional sentence that needs rephrasing.
I do hope I’ll be able to read this in May 2026 and feel the same way.
I’ve discovered more notebooks, including some early drafts from my second novel, and a review of Tron: Legacy for my old LiveJournal blog. Once again, I’ve never reached the last pages of these pads. I find this rather strange, as I’m not the sort of person to leave a job half-finished. Once, I would have preserved them as they were, but I’ll use the other pages in the future if I need to.
My pencils are a different story. I have dozens of them around the house, and I don’t like to waste them. In fact, here are my two smallest ones joined by a rubber grip. I’ll use them until I physically can’t hold them any more:
I’ve also discovered from Mental Floss that every new prime minister leaves a handwritten letter about what to do in the event of a nuclear conflict if both he and his assigned second-in-command are dead. It seems a little strange that such a format is still used. If I was PM, I’d make sure I spelled it out in 16-point Helvetica so the commanders aren’t standing around asking, “Does that say, ‘load weapons,’ or, ‘lower weapons?'”
More poignantly, ListVerse posted a collection of last words written by people facing certain death. Not all of them had the luxury of pen and paper, including the prisoner of war who scratched out a memorial on a rock, and a diver who wrote his on a slate.
Lastly, I’d like to show you the paper books I plan to read throughout the rest of the year, including modern writers such as John Twelve Hawks and Richard Dawkins, a selection of Penguin Classics, and a number of local anthologies:
If you want more information on any of these, let me know.
I hadn’t written a response blog for years, and now this is my second in a fortnight. But this time, it was requested.
Scott Graham runs Suited Sorted on Blogspot, where he has recently re-focused on Android technology, although he has back entries discussing music, television, holidays, and weight loss. He has asked for some constructive criticism about the page, and with ten years’ blogging experience, I reckon I’m qualified to pass on some tips.
Tone, spelling, and grammar
Scott wonders if he’s a little too conversational. There’s a certain style that many bloggers go for, whether they mean to or not. The closest off-line equivalent is an opinion column in a newspaper. You’re telling the reader your view on a particular matter, but using everyday spoken words. For instance, you’ll say asked for rather than requested, or use contractions like can’t instead of cannot.
But this isn’t a licence to spell words any old way, or leave out punctuation where it’s needed. Almost every piece of blogging software has a spellchecker. Spelling extensions are available for Firefox and Chrome, most mobile phones have the facility built-in, and the latest edition of Microsoft Word even lets you post to WordPress directly. If the reader doesn’t have to decode what you’re trying to tell them, your message will come across much stronger.
Scott, you’re doing fine on that front.
Newspapers and magazines learnt early on that long articles do not translate well to the Web. When you’re reading a three-page printed interview, your neck automatically moves downwards as your eyes follow the text, where scrolling down with your hands requires more conscious effort. A normal screen – not an e-ink display – is also brighter than a page, so it’s harder to read from.
That’s why I restrict my paragraphs to about three to six lines, and leave a clear line between each one. A lot of people will give up reading a wall of text, if they attempt it at all.
Your paragraphs can be quite long, Scott, but certainly not the dreaded wall.
Using the site analytics tools on WordPress, I’ve found that my posts attract more attention and reaction if I post them between around 6pm and 10pm Monday to Friday. Entries made at any time on Saturday or Sunday simply don’t seem to be noticed. Certain tags also seem to generate interest, while others have no effect.
For years, I posted with LiveJournal and tagged my entries. I very much accepted that hardly anyone except my friends read the page, as they were the only ones to comment. But when I moved to WordPress, I realised I’d been missing out on this vital piece of analysis. Everyone will be different, and some will find that daytime or weekend posts work for them.
So keep tagging your entries, Scott, and have a look at Blogspot’s analysis tools to find out exactly when people are reading you. I hope you’ve found this critique helpful.
To everyone else, I’ll be pleased if any of my suggestions help you with your own blogging.
When you speak to a lot of authors, it’s common to hear that they were always writing stories as children or experimenting with poetry as teens. However, I’ve only been writing for three years, since 29 October 2010, in fact. That was the day I signed up to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) on a whim, since everyone else was doing it.
From high school until that point, I’d written hardly any fiction. Since then, I’ve entered NaNoWriMo every year and written dozens of short stories, many of them under the tutorship of Zöe Venditozzi, whom I’m sure would like you to buy her book. I’m also pleased to report that I’ve had a flash fiction piece published in The Fiction Desk, while FourW will publish one of my short stories next month. More on the latter when it happens.
Although I didn’t write fiction until three years ago, I have kept a blog for a long time, and it’s still a powerful way of spreading your message, even in these days of Twitter and Facebook. I don’t plan to give up my with ageing LiveJournal for my day-to-day activities, but I did want to start afresh with WordPress for discussing my writing.
I’m viewing this as an experiment, and it might not last. After all, the more you write about writing, the less time you have to write. But I hope I can whip myself enough to keep this place updated, and more importantly, to make sure you want to read it.
One final thought: I’ve used the tag-line Carry on for a long time, before that Keep Calm poster ever came out. I’m debating whether to have a tag-line at all, and if so, what should it be?