How my blog posts are born
What is it with blog posts on blogging? Every time I write one, my blogger friends want to comment, stirring up an online word fest that recalls the distant days when every poet worth his quill wrote poems about poetry and sprinkled his work with allusions to other people's verses on the mysteries of their craft. If you care about writing, you want to talk about where it comes from and why it works---or doesn't.
That was the gist of the questions put to me last week by Claudette Sandecki, a writer and frequent visitor who'd just read "Blogging as spiritual practice." She asks, "I've often wondered how you tackle an article---outline first? mind map? forge ahead and see what develops? And do you have any systematic way of finding topics to write about?"
Hmm. No outlines here. No system, either. That much I knew right away. Mine is a free-form approach, which doesn't mean it lacks rigour. Just because your poems lack a rhyme scheme or a metre doesn't mean you toss them off, and I feel the same way about blog posts. I do have a method, if not two or three. But trying to describe it is like walking a sister cook through one of those idiosyncratic recipes that evolve by feel and taste, to be filed in the creator's hungry brain.
I'm always on the lookout for subjects that intrigue me. I keep a mental inspiration drawer, as jumbled as the one where I stash the extra buttons and free moisturizer samples that might come in handy someday. The drawer in my head contains all the gleanings that might make a future blog post but aren't quite there.
What's inside? A conversation that annoyed or encouraged me. A passage underlined in a book. A newspaper story that stayed on my mind (my Twitter feed makes a handy online notebook for links). In short, a lot of little things that get bigger when other things coalesce around them in unexpected ways and add up to an idea with traction.
I've seen bloggers build wonderful posts around a single incident or scene, so lovingly described that you can taste the ripe mangoes and smell the cow dung. But I don't have the patience to construct a sensory mosaic, one vivid impression at a time. Much as I admire skilled here-and-now writers, I've found that my strength is here-and-way-back-there prose. The older I get, the more connections I see between what's top-of-mind this morning and what's been tugging at me for years. What attracts me is the big picture. The question on my mind as I write (or gear up to start writing) is not "How does it feel?" but "What does it mean?"
Some other writer could have turned Christmas shopping at Baby Gap into a budget-blowing comic misadventure. But for me the attraction was what the clothes said about gender roles---a subject I've been pondering for years as mother, freelance journalist and editor-in-chief of a women's magazine. I'd never seen that theme addressed before. My most satisfying posts are always called into being by an urge to tell my readers something that nobody else would say quite as I'm about to say it.
If I can't add something new to the online conversation, I'll bide my time. And if I haven't wrapped it up in 800 words or thereabouts, I'll start trimming. I don't stick with other bloggers who pile on extraneous detail, so why should anyone else plough through my own verbiage?
At any given moment, I'm mulling a few ideas at various stages of readiness. "My foreign language problem" marinated for months until my virtual friend Dominik, a multilingual German in his 20s, provided the finishing touch in an e-mail exchange. Some potentially delicious ideas never see the light of day because their moment passes. For instance, it's now too late to write about turning my husband's golf clubs---which he'd left in our foyer to my unconcealed annoyance (otherwise known as nagging)---into one of the creative Christmas trees lately noted as a trend by none other than the Wall Street Journal. By the time he got around to removing the golf clubs, I was warming to the notion of a golf club tree. Such fun I could have had with that one! But by the time you got around to reading it, Christmas would be over. Oh, well. Maybe next year.
Posted by Rona December 23, 2009 @ 2:00 AM. File in The writing life