Oral tradition, medical school and various pictures

Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to blog about. This isn’t a particularly distressing occurrence if your blog is fairly new, because you can’t possibly have run out of things to talk about already. You just can’t think of any at the moment. A good way to overcome potential writer’s block (the horror!) is to figure out what people want to read and then write that. See how I said ‘good’ and not ‘easy’?

Lately my blog statistics have gotten pretty interesting. Not because five views on one blog entry is particularly astounding (okay let’s face it, that is pretty astounding, at least for me), but because they’re a good indicator of what my audience likes to hear.

Hello, audience? It's me, Robyn

Apparently my audience couldn’t care less about my heartfelt letter to a schoolboy and is only interested in boring topics like the number of students at UWI medical school campuses. (The answer is far too many for student comfort and not nearly enough for UWI’s budget plans). The preceding was an excellent example of shameless search engine optimization.

When there are too many med students...

So while my stats trend more on the modest side of attention, they’re telling me I’m on the right track here. I started this blog so that more informal yaadie opinions could reach the search engines, and it’s working, you guys.


Blogging advice from my swim coach

My swimming instructor likes to say that he’s not teaching us to swim from one point to another – that’s just being able to handle ourselves in the water. He is teaching us to swim for long distances, over lengthy periods – that’s real swimming.

Part of doing that is establishing a breathing pattern. It doesn’t do you any good to hold your breath until you absolutely need air right now because you starve your muscles that way and get tired faster. Also, air is kind of important to the whole staying afloat process. So you breathe regularly, every four strokes or so.

I figure the same tip holds true for a blog. If you can establish a regular pattern and stick with it, you’re less likely to flounder around so much. Posting once a day or once a week gives you a regularity that you can play around with: every third week is about the colour red, Mondays are about feminism and so on. It makes blogging seem less like work and more like something to look forward to.

(You could just wait until you had something ‘post-worthy’ but readers prefer blogs with some kind of regular schedule.)


They make blogging look hard

Pictured here: irony

We’ve all seen them, had to slog through them, maybe even written one or two (I know I have). The Long Blog Entry. Cue the shrieks of horror. But seriously, why do people write them? And do people even read them?

I used to think that long entries were a requirement for serious bloggers (and who knows, maybe they are). And I used to really go on about a topic, dredging the depths of my imagination and stretching a point of interest until it wore thin. I didn’t realize it, but this was one of the things that would discourage me from blogging. The mental effort needed to say one thing 50 different times was just exhausting.

As for reading them, sometimes those super long entries are really grabbing, witty pieces that just keep you glued to the screen. Most times they’re not. And the dreaded tl;dr is a staple for today’s denizens of the internet, to whom reading anything longer than a tagline is anathema. Unless you’re a fellow geek geeking out over something really geeky, the aim is to pretend you’re writing for first graders. Or goldfish.

The conclusion? Keep it short and simple (spicy, if you can). It’s more fun for you and your readers.


Rules of Blogging II: Do Your Homework

A few weeks ago I posted some advice on how to write a blog based on my own experiences. I’m toying with the idea of doing a series. Since there are already so many blogging how-to’s already available on the internet, I figure one more voice can only help the cacophony.

As it turns out, doing research before writing a blog post isn’t nearly as critical as I’d thought. How did I figure that out? Through research. Irony is one of life’s simpler pleasures. Having a blog that is thoughtful and well-written depends on a lot more than just getting the facts straight; it almost seems to be tacitly understood that research is key. So tacit, in fact, that not one of the three sites I visited last night stressed knowing what you’re talking about.

At the same time, though, I know I picked up tons of useful tips just from doing a simple Google search. It’s a small thing, but a well-researched blog – far from making you sound pedantic and stuffy – will actually make your posts sound more informed and therefore more reliable. Maybe even fun.

Instead of:

Cats used to be gods in ancient times.

You could get:

Cats used to be worshipped in Ancient Egypt and the cat-goddess, Bast, was a sort of precursor to the modern day sex kitten.

But make sure you don’t cross the line from interesting tidbit to tl;dr land, or you’ll remind your reader of that teacher from Ferris Bueller. It’s all about balance. And it comes with practice. Don’t just stick to background research on your topic either; be ready to do a quick check to see if you’re using ‘obsequious’ in the right context, or if Emancipation is celebrated on the same day everywhere (incidentally, this year it will be). A little homework makes a huge difference.

My advice? Go for the Google. At worst, you’ll come across as someone willing to learn; at best, your readers will be impressed enough to keep coming back for more.


For the fun of it:

{11} Rules of Blogging – A Blog is NOT a Journal

When I’m looking for something to write about for Project 52, I tend to pick topics that are of special interest to me, regardless of how uninteresting they might be to other people. They always tell you to write what you know, but sometimes you have to get out of that little box inside your head and write about the things people – not just you – want to read about.

Which leads me to: Rules of Blogging: Things I Figured Out Along the Way

Rule #1: A blog is not a journal.

Venting your ire about what happened with that crazy b** at work is perfectly fine (and even recommended) for your piece of mind, but it isn’t really necessary to splash your dirty laundry all over the internet. Similarly, it’s fabulous that your boyfriend is the sweetest, most amazing guy in the whole world, but contrary to what you feel, the world is pretty ambivalent to unasked-for declarations of affection.

The rule is simple. If you want people to read your blog, you have to blog about things people want to read. It’s a common sense truth, but it’s taken me a little while to figure it out. Hopefully I can spare someone else the mental meandearing.