During April, I participated in the Blogging from A to Z challenge -- one alphabet-themed post per day, starting with A is for Aruba Aftermath and ending with Z is for ... I didn't know what Z was going to be for, until I got there, because part of the challenge for me was writing on the fly. I learned two interesting things about my own writing from the experience.
Wow. I've never blogged so intensely before, or quite so consistently, as I did during the April challenge. Quite the learning experience!
Especially when I was writing for the Capital (newspaper) I liked to spend quite a bit of time on each post before it was published. I'd make a rough draft, then let the thought percolate in the back of my mind for a few days while I tweaked the wording and considered other angles and aspects. I was permitted, even encouraged, to comment on local political issues relevant to the boating community, and controversial ones. I was given absolutely free rein, and I took the responsibility very very seriously. Between that newspaper experience, and my scientific career, where every word of everything I published was reviewed by no less than 6 fellow scientists, I'm very used to agonizing over individual words as well as concepts.
But a blog is not a scientific report or a newspaper article. In addition to being controversial, one of the other pieces of guidance I was given when I started blogging was that blog posts could be casual, informal, and fresh, in your personal voice ... the exact opposite of the many layers of review and sterile, formal language I was trained to write in as a scientist. Having the freedom to be casual with my writing was both inspiring and daunting.
For this crazy A to Z blog challenge, being casual was also necessary. I learned about the challenge after it started, from a post on a friend's blog. So I was always one day behind, writing on the fly. I thought that was the challenge; can you write a blog post every day? I had a total of 24 hours for each. No planning, except that the evening of April 1 I tried to make a list of nautical words, one for each letter of the alphabet, that could serve as the inspiration for my posts. That list guided me all the way to the letter "B," when I abandoned my planned topic (big boats? barnacles? I don't remember) in favor of eulogizing a liveaboard friend who died that day. Even if I had had preplanned posts, that planning would have been thrown out the window early. I later learned that some of the bloggers had been planning their posts since January. Leave it to me to make things even harder than they are supposed to be.
So that's the first thing I learned from the challenge -- that I can write faster than I had believed. And I don't know that these quick posts are better, on the whole, or worse, than my carefully massaged ones, just different. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
The second thing I learned related to a different piece of blogging guidance: People don't want to read what happened as much as they want to read about how you felt about what happened. "Don't let your blog become a chronicle of 'what we did,'" I was advised. Next thing you know, you will be blogging that today I went to the mall, and walked the dog -- bor-ing! It's all too easy, especially with sailing/travel blogs, to fall into the trap about writing about the chronology of the trip, but what is really interesting is the stories, the people, along the way. Going A to Z gave me a very obvious way to step out of telling stories in chronological order, and reflecting on the bigger aspects of life on a boat that are unrelated to things in time, and that was the biggest benefit of all.
Will this experience permanently change the way I write? I don't know. Will I try it again next year? Most likely. Will I slow down a bit for May? Yes!