A bit about writing
“It’s all a bit beige”, Mrs Weaver concluded as she surveyed my plate. “We eat with our eyes”, she said over her shoulder as she walked on to the next student having barely tasted a bite. It was our end-of-term exam and I had been practising each element of this dish for weeks. I had proudly served a crisp vol-au-vent (made from scratch) filled with chunky morsels of monkfish and prawn smothered in a creamy velouté sauce, gently spiced roasted cauliflower and duchess potatoes, impeccably piped and toasted to perfection. Every element looked and tasted as it should but, now that I reviewed it as a whole, I had to agree with Mrs Weaver that the colours were all a bit similar and, well, beige. We eat with our eyes and this dish looked distinctly unappetising, despite the expensive ingredients and the care that had gone into the making. Mrs Weaver had 18 plates to get through and if I wanted her to stop and pay attention to mine I needed to make it beautiful as well as delicious. Lesson learned.
The same is true of blogs, particularly blogs that deal with food or travel. It doesn’t matter how well you write, how keen your palate or how far-flung the destination – if your post is not beautiful people will not stop to read what you have painstakingly written. In order to compete with the thousands of other blog posts flooding inboxes and readers your post needs to stand out from the crowd. It needs, first and foremost, to be beautiful.
Of course beauty and personality are intrinsically linked. A beautiful man (or woman, depending on your inclination) becomes immediately uninteresting if they cannot construct a coherent sentence or if they are so closed and guarded as to show none of themselves as they speak. Part of the joy of reading blogs is getting to know the person who writes it through their stories and perspectives. I can find a hundred recipes for chocolate muffins online – that’s not why I’m reading yours. I’m reading to find out how you used the muffins to seduce that guy in the office you’ve fancied for ages or how much you enjoyed it when some prudish dinner host accidentally used gravy powder instead of cocoa powder in her muffins with hilarious consequences.
Way back in August fellow blogger Jolandi invited me to participate in a Writing Process Tour, a virtual tour aimed at uncovering how different bloggers approach their writing. I’m not usually a fan of these torch-passing initiatives but as I’m still quite new to blogging I’m very keen to know how others approach their work. I know a few bloggers who have taken part in the tour and their posts were very insightful. I wasn’t sure how much of a process I actually had but I agreed to participate hoping it might focus my thinking with regard to my writing.
A few months later and I’m none the wiser. I still don’t think I have a writing process per se, but I do have a few writing rules that drive the direction of my posts.
- It must be beautiful. For the most part, that means it must include high quality, clear, well-taken photos. The cover photo must capture the essence of the post so the reader has a good indication of what’s to follow without having read a word. Taking and editing photos eats up a considerable amount of my time. As I won’t post without photos my posts are restricted to whatever photos I have available. In some cases I might have the text written and need to wait until I have the photos before I can post. In other cases I am inspired by a photo I already have to hand.
- It must have a catchy intro. I have a strict rule about never starting a post with a place in time – “A few weeks ago”, “During the summer”, “Late last month” and so forth. Readers don’t really give a fiddler’s when something happened – they just want the juicy details. When I’m scrolling through my reader I almost invariably skip posts that begin this way. I find it mundane, and if the beginning is mundane I fear the rest will be, too. I try to make my first line as punchy and impactful as possible to entice the busy reader to continue reading.
- I try to talk like I do in real life. I dislike flowery, overly descriptive language and try not to inflict this on others. Instead I use clear, concise language and simple sentence structures. I consider myself quite articulate and do give some thought to my choice of words but if someone needs to reach for a dictionary more than once during a post then I feel I’m doing something wrong. If I’m using terms that may not be familiar to all readers (such as Irish colloquialisms or Lithuanian foods) I will always explain these within the text. Directing a reader off to Wiki in the middle of a post so they can follow your narrative is just not acceptable in my book.
- It should not be overly apparent that I’m responding to a prompt or challenge. How many times have you read “This post is in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge”? By all means link back to the challenge – part of their purpose is to extend your reach. But their main purpose is to prompt you to write something interesting. If you have nothing interesting to say, why write a blog?
- It should be personal. Glimpses of my personality, my life, my loves, my challenges – these are what make my blog different from the thousands of other food and travel blogs.
Why do I write? I write because I love to write, playing with words and ideas to create something clever and interesting. I write because I have things to say, things I want to share. I write to communicate. This communication is two-way – one of my favourite parts of blogging is interacting with other bloggers, both on my blog and on theirs. I’m so thankful to everyone who reads my blog – it makes all the effort worthwhile.
Thanks to Jolandi for inviting me to participate in this tour. Jolandi is a South African expat currently living in the United Arab Emirates. She writes wonderfully evocative posts about her travels both within the UAE and beyond. Her blog reminds me that there is so much of the world left for me to explore. Now that work on the house is complete it might be time to dust out the van for another trip.
For those who would like to participate in the tour, it works as follows:
- Acknowledge the blogger that invited you to the tour
- Answer the following questions:
a. What am I working on?
b. How does my work differ from others of its type/genre?
c. Why do I write what I do?
d. How does my writing process work?
- Choose three bloggers to plug (after asking if they want to participate), give a short bio, and link to their sites.
After several painful months of nominations for the ice bucket challenge I have decided not to choose three bloggers to continue the tour. I neither want to put anyone under pressure nor leave anyone out. Instead, I invite any bloggers who happen upon this post to participate – we’d all love to read how you approach your writing. If you’d like to participate, either now or in the future, just leave a comment below with a link to your blog or post so we can find it. I know a few of you have already taken part in the tour – feel free to leave links to your posts below.