Saturday, November 27, 2010

How I Write a Blog

Photo: Blogger at work

A young friend who is a graduate student has asked me about the process of writing and posting a blog.
First: I need an idea. Sometimes ideas are handed to me, like “how I write a blog.” Thank you, Amelia.
Sometimes I am interested in something, and I do some research and write about that subject. Case in point: the recent series of columns on the pioneers who developed treatments for renal failure.
Those columns also tapped my personal experience. Personal experience is a rich source of material, and I've now lived long enough and done enough that I can tell stories until everyone in the room is asleep with their mouths open and drool running out.
Occasionally something will happen that catches my attention so vividly I write about it. Latest example: a few months ago President Obama was in town, and some poor guy in a private plane didn't know that the air space over Seattle was restricted during the President's visit. Two military jets scrambled from Portland and flew up here so fast that they caused a couple of sonic booms which (a) shook our whole house, and (b) scared the bewhatsis out of a lot of people in the Puget Sound, thereby causing the 911 system in Tacoma and other areas to crash from the call overload.
So, I get the idea and I start writing. My most used reference is my dictionary. That tells me if I'm using the exact word that conveys my meaning, and how it is spelled. Spell check can be helpful, but it will make suggestions like “collisions” when I really mean Colossians, a book of the Bible. Funny, but not helpful.
Online is my second go-to after the dictionary. I go to several different sites about any given subject because I've found they will say slightly different things and I'm looking for a consensus of information that will be as factual as I can make it.
The writing process is a combination of writing, tweaking what I've written, staring out the window without seeing anything, and looking things up.
I write a first draft that includes everything. Anne Lamott says, “Write a shitty first draft.” (Asterisks were supplied here in the printed version of this column in The Loop, in consideration of Loop readers' tender sensibilities) Anyway, Anne Lamott is right. I write a first draft, then I let that draft sit for an unspecified length of time, anywhere from long enough to eat breakfast to a couple of days. When I come back to it, the serious tweaking and cutting begin.
William F. Buckley said, “Be grateful for every word you cut.” I doubt if Bill and I agreed on much, but that is my number one rule as a writer.
So, I come back to the first draft with refreshed eyes, and cut, re-write, edit and proofread until I'm satisfied. That can take hours, or days.
Sometimes I'll write a whole piece, think about it, and throw it out. Oh well.
It is good to have a photo or illustration with a blog. I prefer to use a photo I have taken, or, if I'm lucky, a drawing my husband has done. Rick's cartoons always have humor, which can range from whimsical to perverse, and I have learned to trust his instincts for what a 'toon should be, even if I'm slightly horrified when he tells me what he's going to draw.
Now I'm going to go eat breakfast.
Okay, I'm back. When I think the piece is as succinct and clear as it is going to get, I post it. I go to my blog page, paste the copy in, upload images, and hit “Publish.” Then I read it and find the typos I couldn't see before. When I'm satisfied with the post, I send out a blog alert to an email list of people who might want to read it. Then I'm free for a while, until the need to write reasserts itself.
That's my process. The blog address is right here, if you're reading this. Thanks for asking.
Post Script: when this was published in The Loop, the caption of the photo said, "Bloger at work." I went back and checked my email from when I sent my column in, and I had typed "Blogger at work." So between my email and publication, the editor had dropped a "g" from the word "blogger." Now, if I had made the typo after writing about how I tried to catch all my typos, that would be ironic. If the editor of the paper, who is supposed to catch and correct mistakes, actually puts a mistake in, that's another kind of ironic, and completely out of my control. So it goes. Sigh.

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