Finishing What You Start

When I’m stuck for a blog post idea, I check my Drafts folder on WordPress to see whether I can resurrect a half-written idea. At the time of writing, however, there is little material in any of the drafts.

One of them covers the concept of life writing, which I’d already discussed last week. Another was placed there by WordPress about how to use their Guttenberg editor interface. A third entry simply contains the words ‘Jesus wept’, and I’m not certain what caused me to exclaim this.

While considering these entries, I began thinking of the prose and poetry I’ve started but not fully finished. Sure, I generally finish a first draft of what I write, but that doesn’t mean I’ve gone back to edit it. However, I do keep everything I write because sometimes it comes in useful.

A few years ago, I was reaching the end of a Masters degree in Writing Practice & Study. The course had worked its magic, encouraging me to move in different directions with my writing, which wasn’t a problem until it was time to compile the dissertation. With 80% of the mark resting on a creative portfolio, I was faced with the challenge of bringing together my disparate work into one unified piece.

I had a meeting with two tutors to discuss the matter, bringing along samples of my work to figure out how to present it. As we were coming to the end of the pile of samples, we looked at a short story written in diary form about a first-year student with a horrible flatmate. I’d written the story as a homework piece for a writing group, falling back on the diary form because I was so short of time.

One of the tutors suggested incorporating my pieces into the form of that story, presenting it as though someone else had written my work. This character was rather flighty anyway, so she could feasibly have written in different styles over a short space of time.

I went back to the draft of this writing homework, converted it into a script, and beefed out the story. It solved the problem nicely and helped me to bag an A-grade for that part of the dissertation.

I’ve since gone on to refine this into a one-hour dramatic monologue, which is now more or less finished.

A Living Document

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.

By this time, I’d more or less established my current style, as seen in an alliterative LJ entry from 2013 documenting my transition. My last detailed entry there was a look-back in December 2015. There are earlier entries that still stand up to reasonable scrutiny, like this entry from May 2004.

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.

BusyBusyBusy

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much time to construct a full entry this week. I’ve therefore rounded up two main points, ahead of a full entry next week.

  1. Don’t forget to save your work as you write it, and back it up once you’ve finished. I was reminded of this point when I lost last week’s entry by accidentally hitting the Move to Trash button in WordPress. The entry should still be recoverable, like your computer’s Recycle Bin, but it was missing.

    Fortunately, I’d handwritten the first draft, so I was able to reconstruct it. I later reported the incident to WordPress and it was found to be a bug when using the Block Editor.
  2. As alluded to in previous entries, we’ve had trouble finding an open-mike venue after our last one closed. However, we had a successful meeting yesterevening, and we now have the same stopgap venue again for August. A few of us are meeting on Friday to discuss the long-term future, plus a potential collaboration with an Edinburgh-based group.

Passing the Microphone

I feel as though I’m giving you a cop-out entry this week because it exists only to link to other posts.

This is partly because I haven’t had much time; I’ve spent a lot of it on a new long-form piece. And it’s partly because another poet has put together some excellent advice that I’d like to share.

A microphone
A microphone. It seemed like the best picture to illustrate this entry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple of weeks ago, Andrew Blair asked his friends what advice they wish they’d known before taking part in their first open-mike night. The advice he received – including mine – appear in his entry So…you want to do an open mic night.

Additionally, this seems a prime opportunity to dust off my own advice for speaking in front of an audience from earlier this year.

Helping @SuitedSorted Improve His Blog, and Hints for Everyone Else.

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.

Cartoon about spelling mistakes in blogs
Thats verry true

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.

Layout

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.

Attracting attention

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.