This was my talk at the launch of the History Blogging Project – if you’d like to leave any comments please do so on the project’s website.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that actually, I don’t always find the time! I’ve been blogging in various guises for about 5 years now, so these are the best ways I’ve found to avoid a blog being just a flash-in-the-pan activity.
As a busy PhD student, you’re not going to be able to write a post a day, nor in most cases would you want to. Set yourself a target you think you can keep to, say a post a week – but then don’t feel guilty if you miss a week or two. A blog is supposed to be fun and useful, not a chore or something to beat yourself up over.
Collect ideas for future posts
If you sit down in front of the computer and think ‘I’ve got to write a blog post’, most of the time it’s not going to work. You’ll find that ideas come at the strangest times, so write them down, keep a list of things you want to write about so that you’re not starting from scratch every time.
Take time to think
Similarly, as with any piece of writing, a blog post won’t normally spring to your fingers fully formed. When you’ve decided on the topic for your next post, think about it when you’re on the bus or in the bath and you’ll find the right shape and tone will often come to you, so when you do start to write you’ll be more prepared.
Create a routine
What works for me is to write first thing in the morning, which is my most productive time. I check my emails and my Google Reader, then look at the blog stats and comments just in case a particular post seems to have sparked a great deal of interest – and then open a new post and start writing, based on the draft I already have in my head.
Write fast then edit
Again, you probably already work like this, but I find it’s best just to write and worry about the finer points later. Get the whole post down on screen, then go back through and check that it flows properly and for the obvious things like grammar and spelling. Reading it out loud will give you a different perspective on what you’ve written that can be helpful. Add images or tables at the end as well, otherwise that activity can get in the way of your writing.
Don’t get distracted or procrastinate
Avoid other sources of distraction as well – ignore emails, Twitter, Facebook messages and everything else until you’ve finished. If you don’t, your blog post will just take twice as long. If you find yourself procrastinating in other ways – making yet another cup of coffee, even doing the washing up – then either stop or accept that you’re not in the mood and leave the post for another time.
Don’t feel you have to write everything
It’s a blog post, not a journal article or a chapter from your PhD. You’re not writing ‘Everything I know about X’, more often than not you’re aiming for a taster on a particular topic, a provocative piece to get reaction or comments, or a hopefully amusing anecdote on something you’ve found in your research. Your readers are just as busy as you and they don’t want to read screeds of text – so keep it short and sweet and save the agonising for work that does require you to be comprehensive.
So a blog doesn’t have to take over your life, it’s perfectly possible to fit it in to the horrendous schedules we all have. It takes a bit of self-discipline and some prior planning, but after that it should become a pleasure – and hopefully the feedback you get will make it all worthwhile!
Do you have any strategies for making time to write your own blog? How about ways of avoiding distractions? I’d love to hear any of your suggestions, so do get in touch.