I’ve never believed in writer’s block. Writers write, by definition. And, as a working journalist, “block” is not a luxury you have. No editor will take writer’s block as an acceptable excuse for blowing a deadline, and for very good reasons. There are pages to fill, traffic targets to meet. Get on with it.
Be a professional. Write.
Having said all that, I’ve spent most of the last week “blocked” on my blog. The problem (and delight) of personal blogging is that you never have to worry about deadlines as you write. You publish on your own schedule, and when you see fit.
Yet… that’s not as true for me as it once was. Since I went into consultancy three years ago, my blog has become a very important part of the way I get work, so I feel more of an obligation to keep it. Sure, it’s always more tempting to play with my two year old, but I also need to remember that seeing her starving in the gutter isn’t exactly what you’d call an ideal future. So, I need to blog. That’s an effective deadline, right?
Be a professional. Write.
So, what’s gone wrong? Why couldn’t I write? Well, I got it into my stupid head that I needed to do a particular sort of post.
It’s New Year. I should acknowledge that for my readers, and move on with the things I wanted to blog about. Except… I just couldn’t make the words come. Oh, I tried. Here was the first attempt:
I just had a haircut. This is not one of the great revelations of the year, even in the scant time it’s been around, but it’s true, so I thought I’d share it with you.
A haircut really doesn’t matter much in the way of things, but for me it marks a mental restart. I put away my shaggy aspect, and get back to work. One consistent trend since Hazel was born is that I massively over-estimate how much I’ll get done over the festive period. For the third year running I’ve made that mistake, and so I’m having to hit the ground running.
Regular readers will probably have guessed what this post is by now. Yes, it’s a post about nothing, a brain dump from my head that helps me get off the ground again, and get the posts flowing.
You can, I expect, see why I didn’t publish that. I’m not Seinfeld. Talking about nothing is not my thing. It just felt too self-indulgent, too pointless. Much as I like to write my blog for myself, I can’t write in the absence of a sense of audience, and I just couldn’t imagine any group of readers, let alone being interested in that post.
So, I tried again:
That was exactly as far as I got — a photo. You can see the meaning I was going for, the idea of Epiphany, and the decorations being stripped away. It was symbolic of the holidays finishing, and work returning. It was forced, mannered. That’s not who I am as a blogger.
The deadline-free writer
I’ve been guilty in the past, in the many, many blogging training sessions I’ve run, of using this phrase:
Blogging is just another publishing medium.
And that’s true, to an extent. But blogging is a medium that’s at its best when you have a clear and personal voice, when you’re invested in the words you are writing, and you care about getting them out there, however many people end up reading them.
The moment I start “structuring” my blog, trying to find points of pause in the rhythm, or time-markers in the flow, I lose my way. I don’t care about these “structural” posts. More to the point, they aren’t necessary.
Writing atomised content
Blogs aren’t structured in the sense that magazines or newspapers are — and that’s an inevitable consequence of the way the web works. The hyperlink atomises all content into its component parts. Medium itself is a perfect reflection of that, as a large collection of atomised content, some of it looselely arranged in collections. Traditional blogging has a loose arrangement around reverse chronology. But that arrangement only matters in the short term. Over time, that atomised content lives or dies by its own strength, not its place in time.
In the end, that’s what was stopping me writing. Those posts I was trying — and failing — to construct were trying to mark a moment in time that I knew wasn’t really worth marking in the flow of my blog. The posts weren’t creating any value to the reader, or to me, bar a vague sense of obligation.
I’m a professional. I write.