Do you write? Would you like to write? Would you like to write more and better?
A few years ago I took an online writing workshop that taught me how to write more words in less time with no loss in quality. That was huge for this blog: my six-day-a-week schedule was taking far too much time. I couldn’t sustain it. But thanks to that workshop I was able to dramatically cut the time it takes to write this blog.
Johanna Rothman created and leads this workshop. She makes her living in large part through her writing, both non-fiction and fiction. Her non-fiction writing is how I came to encounter Johanna; she writes a great deal about software project management, a topic I care a lot about in my professional life. She’s bright, engaging, and funny. She made this workshop great fun.
This workshop also helps you build a strong writing habit, structure an article that draws readers in and keeps them engaged, edit your own writing effectively, and find ways to get your writing published beyond your own blog.
After the workshop, Johanna will invite you to join a private Internet forum for everyone who’s ever taken this workshop. It’s a place to continue the conversation from the workshop and to share your work and seek feedback.
There’s a fee for the workshop, of course, but I got far more value from it than it cost. If you’d like to write more, and write more engaging and interesting stuff, give Johanna’s workshop a look. She limits the workshop to 12 participants at a time, so if you’re interested, act fast! Check it out here.
Recently someone asked me how I manage to post every day. (It’s really six days a week.) I’ve built up a lot of blogging speed since I started in 2007, and I thought you might like to know how I did it.
Foremost, I’ve committed to it. This is something I do; it is not optional. At least that’s the attitude I take toward it. There are exceptions, such as the one-week break I took last October, and a few days missed due to extenuating life events. But I make those choices deliberately. Six-day-a-week blogging is my default.
I give my morning breakfast time to blogging. I’m either writing or processing photographs while I sip my coffee and eat my eggs. I give it 45 minutes to an hour every weekday and Sunday morning, and on Saturday I spend all morning at it except for doing laundry and other minor chores. Sometimes I work on the blog during my lunch hour, too, and I even do minor edits to posts on my phone when I have ten minutes to kill.
I work very hard to keep 2-3 weeks of posts queued and ready at all times. Sometimes life gets hard, as it did in June when I had so much awful insomnia, and I can’t manage my morning ritual. Queued posts help keep the blog going during those times.
I didn’t start at six days a week — that’d be like running a marathon at a 5K pace, never having trained. I built up to this frequency and have kept it for about five years now. Before this I posted three days a week, and before that 4-6 times a month.
Each time I increased my posting frequency, my pageviews and comments went way up. And all the writing practice keeps improving my skills. I like both; they reinforce my choice to do this.
Still, to post six days a week and still hold down a full-time job and raise my children meant I had to learn how to write faster. I’m pleased to say that I spend about as much time now posting six days a week as I used to spend posting three days a week.
To do this, I learned a great technique of freewriting on a topic for 15-30 minutes, without editing, and then stopping. I go back later, usually on another day, for 15-30 more minutes and edit it into shape.
In freewriting I just let the words come however they may. I sometimes surprise myself with the things I write! If during freewriting I find my ideas don’t flow naturally I let myself rearrange sentences and paragraphs a little until they do.
In editing I worry about which words to use, how to spell them, what order to use them in, and where to punctuate them. If I do this during freewriting I bog myself right down, and every post takes five times longer to create.
Using this technique means I often have many posts in progress at once: some in freewriting and some in editing. As my 15-30 minute block ends I wrap up loose ends as best I can and maybe leave myself some notes for what I still want to do with the post, but then leave the post for a later session.
Another key to my frequent posting is that I have some easy post types. My Saturday Recommended Reading post is easy: I just add to it all week as I find interesting articles to share. I barely edit those posts because they’re all about the links.
My “single frame” posts are also fast to write. I look for a photo that makes me want to tell a story or make a point. I freewrite two to six paragraphs about it in one session, and then edit the paragraphs in another.
Another fast post to write is “here are a bunch of photos about a subject.” My travel posts often fall into this category. I write a couple introductory paragraphs and then just write to the photos: here’s what you see, here’s some interesting stuff I can think of about it.
At the end of my recent bout of insomnia I found myself with almost no posts in the queue. I needed five easy posts to build a week’s cushion, so I shared the series of photos I took of the same subjects, e.g., the Wrecks Inc. sign and the sunsets through my back door. Those took 30 minutes each to put together. Because I post so often I find my creative muscle is strong, letting me generate ideas like this quickly.
My camera and film review posts have fallen into a format that makes them faster to write, but especially the camera reviews can take several hours to finish. They often need a lot of research about history and usage, which I try to do in 15-30 minute sessions just like freewriting and editing. I write my research into the post as rough notes, and build the opening paragraphs around it. Then I share a bunch of photographs I made with the camera, and write about my experience with the camera as I made those photos.
I write ideas for more substantive posts, such as my essays and personal stories, on sticky notes and leave them around my desk. As I think of things I want to say in those posts, I create the draft post if I haven’t already and record my notes there. These posts take real time to write, so I tend to work on them only when I have 2-3 weeks of posts queued. I work on them bit by bit over weeks and, sometimes, months.
I write about whatever I want — it’s a personal blog after all. Anything is subject fodder. I write about photography and cameras a lot because it’s a lifelong interest and I’ve found my largest, most engaged audience there. Yes, I pander shamelessly to you film photographers!
If you blog, what tips do you have for keeping it going?
The kind of work you do for yourself is very different from the kind of work that pays.
I hadn’t dreamed of being a writer when I landed my first writing job. I wanted to be a software developer. But the country was in a recession then and jobs were scarce. I was willing to do any job I could get in the software field. I wound up writing manuals, and it turned out that I really enjoyed the work. I did it for more than a decade. I even contributed to a few published books on popular software products. It’s a rush to see your name on a book’s spine!
In that field I met a lot of talented people who had dreamed of being writers. They came with degrees in English and poetry and journalism, and extensive portfolios filled with great work. Yet they wound up writing and editing books about software — not remotely their dream. For the kinds of writing they wanted to do, the supply of talent far outstripped demand. And then they found that the software industry paid well. Few of them loved the work, but they were grateful to be writing something, anything for good pay.
It’s much the same in photography. Many of us who shoot probably dream of creating great art and making a living through sales, or maybe patronage if that’s even a thing anymore. But most working photographers shoot things like weddings or consumer products. My first wife is a talented photographer, but when I met her she made her living in the United States Air Force shooting portraits of officers seeking promotions.
Photographers can find this kind of work rewarding, just as I truly enjoyed writing software instructions. But who dreams as children of being technical writers or wedding photographers? We back into these jobs because they leverage our skills and pay our bills.
Those jobs pay because they create clear value. This blog creates value, too — you wouldn’t keep coming back if you didn’t find my words and images to be valuable in some way. But the amount of value that captures your attention is much lower than the amount of value that opens your wallet.
There was a golden time when personal blogging could be lucrative: approximately 2004. Several talented early bloggers found large followings and made good money with online ads.
But in about 2011 online ad revenue dropped off a cliff. The bloggers that didn’t have to find day jobs again created other revenue sources: writing sponsored posts (where the blogger writes an ad and tries to make it sound like it’s about them or their interests), creating product lines, and offering services such as personal coaching and workshops in an area of skill or expertise they have.
These are great, legitimate ways to make money. But notice how these things aren’t personal blogging. They’re not the passion that made the blogger start blogging.
If your passion is something like managing hedge funds or starting tech companies, and there are really people with passions like that, well heck yes those passions can pay, and handsomely. But for most of us, we just want to make something that represents us or showcases our talents, and put it out into the world and hope people come to see.
Is that you? That’s me. And so I persist. I’m very happy that my work creates enough value to keep capturing your attention. I’ve dabbled in ways to generate a little passive income and hope to pay this blog’s costs and maybe some of my photography. But I have no delusions that this will ever let me quit my day job. The same almost certainly goes for you.
This isn’t a post about being a Christian, but I’m going to start with a story related to my Christian faith. Bear with me, it sets up my point.
Early after I started following Jesus a preacher talked to me about prayer, which is a foundation of the relationship we Christians build with Christ. He said, “People come to me all the time and say, ‘I’ve been praying, but I’ve lost the feeling. I feel like I’m just going through the motions. What do I do?’ I tell them to just keep on praying. If you keep praying, sooner or later you’ll find that connection with God again.”
It’s been good advice. But the underlying principle has also been good advice in my two main hobbies, writing and photography.
Sometimes the words don’t flow easily. Sometimes I just don’t feel like making photographs. The best thing to do at those times is, paradoxically, to write or to make photographs.
Doing these things primes the well’s pump. The well of creativity is never truly dry. When you keep trying, the good words and photographs eventually come back.
As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, my family is living through some difficult challenges. I haven’t usually felt like writing or making photographs.
But I’ve been making myself do it. I just finished a roll in my Nikomat FTn and I have film in my Olympus XA now. I have pushed myself through a few photo walks of my usual subjects, things and places easily reached. I feel sure that there will be no portfolio-worthy shots on those rolls, one of Kodak Portra 400 and one of Ilford FP4 Plus. What matters is that I’m shooting.
And I’ve been making myself write. That’s where the recent post about my grandmother (read it here) came from. It was hard to write, not because of any emotional impact of the content, but because I strain to find the words.
Have you ever been “in the zone” with anything you do? Where you act with easy fluidity? Where good results materialize easily from your efforts?
I know that if I keep at it, soon enough I’ll be in the zone again.
This blog’s author at his desk, replying to your comments. Damion Grey photo.
Today, a rare update on some things going on with this blog.
Changes to tags
I’ve reworked this blog’s tag scheme and I think you’ll find it to be useful. Tags are a way of categorizing posts, and they appear on every post. They’re under the title on the right, below the date and my name. This post has two tags: blogging and writing. Click either tag to see everything I’ve ever written about that topic. (The categories that appear above each post title work the same way.)
That has always existed. What used to also exist was a bunch of related tags I created to help searches find my posts. But I see no evidence after more than a decade of doing it that it worked in any significant way. So I’ve deleted all of those tags — about a thousand in all.
I am also adding tags for common topics and tags for cameras and films I use a lot. That way, when you’re on a post where I shot Kodak Tri-X film, clicking the Tri-X tag will show you everything else I’ve shared from that film. I’ll complete this in my idle time over the next several months. But one tag is fully in: the one for my delightful Pentax ME camera. Try it: click here to go to that tag.
I have just two posts in the queue right now. I normally have two or three weeks’ worth written and ready to go. I feel behind.
I just haven’t had as much time lately for the blog. And the considerable stress I’ve been under has left me with little to say. Fortunately, I know some techniques for priming the pump, if you will, when the well runs dry. I hope I can make enough time to usethose techniques soon.
The question for you
Being behind makes me ask you something I’ve been wondering about: do I post too often? Do you find it too hard to keep up?
I’ve kept up this six-posts-a-week schedule since late 2014, and it correlates exactly with a giant jump in readership that has grown slowly but steadily since. That enabled me to make a little money off advertising, enough to pay for this site and for some of my film and processing costs. And I love the process of making the photographs and writing the words that I share here. All of this has been wonderful for me.
I’m thinking about the experience I have reading other blogs. When I’m very busy I skim and skip posts in my feed reader — especially from blogs that post frequently.
Yet I never skip or skim some blogs, even if I have to bookmark a post to read much later. One characteristic most of them share: they post only when they have something really good to say. Their posts feel like morsels to savor.
I want to publish a blog that you savor. I know that, given this blog’s eclectic nature, you don’t connect with every topic. But I try hard to make every post be interesting in some way so you don’t skim or skip them.
Please share your thoughts in the comments. No need to couch your thoughts; just tell me straight. I’ll weigh everything you say as I consider this blog’s ongoing posting schedule. I plan to find that right balance that keeps readership growing, fits the reduced time I can give to blogging right now, and consistently delivers photos and stories that you find to be interesting.
My book, Exceptional Ordinary, has been on sale for a couple months now. And it’s just not selling.
I’ve managed to sell nine paper copies and two PDFs. Which isn’t bad, considering that I’ve barely marketed the book.
I’ve pitched it here four or five times. I mentioned it a couple times on Twitter. I shared images from it, plus a link to buy it, on Instagram a handful of times.
That was my entire marketing push. Holy wow, does this stuff ever take time. And that’s the lesson learned: marketing takes creativity, effort, and persistence.
It probably also hurts that I chose such a niche topic with no obvious market beyond people who already know and like my work, and perhaps other film photographers and Pentaxians.
It certainly also hurt that I gave away the PDF for two days after announcing the book. But I knew that would hurt. About 50 of you took me up on it. And I figured this book wouldn’t sell well as a result of it.
It doesn’t matter to me. I actually achieved my goals with this book: to experience the self-publishing process. Win!
I have ideas for a future books. I’d like to re-survey the Michigan Road in 2018, which will be ten years after I did it last time, and publish a book of interesting photos from the tour. The market there is people interested in Indiana history, and people who live or have lived on or near the road. I’d also like to do a book about the many farms that lie inside the city of Indianapolis. It’s surprising to many just how many farms have an Indianapolis address! That market could include people who live in Indiana, and people who have an affinity to farms, and people who enjoy landscape photography. And maybe there’s a book in photographs of the repurposed stores of the defunct Roselyn Bakeries of Indianapolis. Their buildings and signs were distinctive; the dozens of them that remain are easy to recognize. Some of them went on to good, noble uses; others not so much. It’s a study in urban architectural reuse, and people interested in that might buy such a book.
So my refinement for my next book is to have an addressable market in mind, and a plan for addressing it, before I publish.
Thanks to on-demand printing, it’s never too late to buy my book. It’s reasonably priced at $15.99 for the paper copy or $8.49 for the PDF. I’d love for you to hold a copy of my work in your hands. You can do that by clicking the cover below.