Have you ever suffered from the dreaded “writer’s block”? I can honestly say it has never happened to me, which got me thinking why that might be. I began by googling and reading a few articles which all seemed to be saying the same thing …… basically, set a schedule of writing, be disciplined and stick to it, just “pound those keys” no matter how empty headed you feel! But therein lay the problem for me, I never personally feel empty headed but what about people who do? Maybe this is really the solution, fill your head with stuff just bursting to get out.
My blog has occasionally been described as “eclectic”, which is a polite way of saying “you write about all sorts of stuff”, which is precisely because I read about all sorts of stuff, visit all sorts of places, and have interests in all sorts of things. At times the blog has tried to have a single focus, travel, wine collecting, philosophy, mountaineering, our aid work in Nepal …….. but quite often the other topics would pop into my head along with the occasional political rant and I’d do a random post on it. But since I focused the blog on genealogy and family history, as a general subject this has taken me into other fields of activity such as reading more history articles and books, visiting “living museums”, travelling to and exploring places where my ancestors lived, and of course engaging with people who have a shared interest in family research.
So having reflected a bit on this, here’s my advice on how to avoid writer’s block and in fact always having plenty to blog about whether you are focused on a single blog category or not:
1. Books & Articles
I suppose this is simple enough advice about any kind of research, you need to “know your subject”! When I was blogging about my wine collecting many of my posts were inspired by my constant reading about wine regions, winemakers, grape types, wine tasting, the neuroscience of wine tasting, the history of wine, biodynamics, soil types …. it was endless. Likewise, my genealogy research into my ancestors 1730 to 1750 went beyond only births, marriages, deaths and grew through my reading about the Industrial Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, the Social History of England, the politics and economics of the era, poverty, injustice, working conditions, mining, iron making, farming. Thankfully my dear wife keeps me supplied with endless cups of tea, plenty of snacks and the occasional glass of wine as I slowly disappear behind an increasingly high pile of books.
2. Organisation and Notes
This has to follow on from all that book reading and web browsing, it’s sort of obvious again but too easy to ignore. Note taking and storage of articles for future reading or use is critical. I admit to using technology mostly for this, in two ways. Firstly when I find an article I want to read online, the VERY FIRST THING I do is download it to read offline! Let’s say I’m googling for articles on tin mining and google throws up a couple of pages of links, I click on each one to open them and as I find one that looks interesting I immediately download it to an app on my iPad/laptop/phone which is called Pocket. All I’m doing is being selective and hanging onto those I want to read later, offline, when I may not even be connected to the internet. It also means they are stored for reference purposes too. Secondly, when it comes to books I mostly use Kindle so read electronic versions. The big advantage as far as I’m concerned is that sections can be highlighted with any colour you like, organised by colour, and of course copied and pasted into summary documents. Of course these things have to be stored somewhere and afterwards, edited, annotated etc and for this I use two apps which are Notability and Microsoft’s OneNote. The latter is free. Both are great for storing, organising, adding images, writing posts, even for “handwriting” too. For me, the ultimate beauty of all these apps is that they synchronise automatically across tablet, phone, laptop, so download an article into Pocket on your phone when you’re browsing on a train journey, and when you get home it’s also stored on laptop and tablet without you having to do a thing!
3. Travel Mindfully and Observe
Easier said than done, but travel is a great source of inspiration for writing blog articles, especially if you post short blogs during the travel itself, and then later when you can write something maybe a little longer and deeper. For example a couple of years back Dr C and I went on a three weeks rail trip across America, West to East, beginning in SanFrancisco and ending in New York. It was exciting, educational, but also tiring, and ….. gave lots of inspiration for blogging and engaging with our followers and casual readers. Each day were posted a “Postcard from xxxx” with a short write up on where we had visited that day with a couple of photos included. So, there was Postcards from Hoover Dam, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley for example, followed by a deeper post on USA National Parks a couple of weeks later. Mindful Travel goes somewhat beyond this though and isn’t difficult if we apply some simple rules:
- Leave your materialistic thinking at home: Wealth tells you nothing about a person or place.
- Keep an open mind: Suspend your judgement of people’s behaviour and culture.
- Engage with everything: People, food, music, take nothing for granted.
- Embrace the culture: Learn something new each day about their history, traditions, lifestyle, art.
- Eat local: Don’t be afraid, try things out in places where locals eat, ask questions, learn.
- Make friends: The best way to learn the culture, open your mind, visit the same cafe or bar daily.
- Learn: Be positive, apply the above ….. your glass is half full!
Remember, it’s all about your focus, wander about a town or city or street SLOWLY, with a single purpose rather than a blank mind. Today your focus in the morning might be architecture, at lunchtime in the cafe your focus might be local people and what THEY are eating, in the afternoon it might be a church or a cathedral …. have you done any prior research such as when was it built, who by, how long did it take, key features internally and externally, associated people, timelines ….. all good preparation so that when you arrive you have some specific things to seek out. Doing this will give you a bucketful of inspiration for blog posts, even if the next day you go and sit on the beach all day! You’ve earned it!
4. Walkabout at home.
I’ve lost count of how many blog posts I’ve written without travelling more than 10 miles away from home visiting local museums, forests and nature trails, canals and rivers, ancient monuments and buildings, medieval villages, and churches. We had a period about two years ago and couldn’t travel much because of health issues and hit on the idea of visiting as many churches as we could within a 10 mile radius of our home. We identified all of them on a map, did a little googling to see what we could find out first then did a couple every week. Most date back to the medieval period in English history and what we discovered was enough for maybe 20 blog posts! A church in the middle of a field with no village because it had been abandoned due to The Black Death, a village with TWO small churches either side of a river for the self same reason, one with the most complete set of stained glass windows in England, another containing the oldest stone font in England from Saxon times, a church with latterly exposed wall paintings dating back to 1200 and useful because the congregation couldn’t speak the Latin of the priest, and finally a church with connections to the man who signed King Charles I death warrant. Varying size, architecture, spires, knaves, doorways, carvings, and loads more. Plenty of inspiration here!
5. Read lots of other blogs.
If you’re a WordPress user, getting a good supply of other blogs of interest to read is easy, and extremely useful. With your WordPress dashboard open, at the bottom of the page tap the tab marked Reader and you will open a page divided into two halves … Streams and Tags. It’s the Tags section that can lead you to any number of blogs of interest, just click the + button and type in a tag subject that interests you. In my case I have #industrial revolution, #industrial archaeology, #social history for example so that any blogs with these tags are fed to me as soon as they are posted. I sometimes find new content to consider, and often find interesting approaches or new ways to write about a subject. Sometimes I find posts worth reblogging on my own site with all due credit to the original author, but several times each week I also find some inspiration for my own posts.
In summary my real point is about how to find inspiration when all seems lost and my Five Keys will help you. But it needs to be a regular activity, because irregular reading, searching, travelling, engaging is sure to lead to irregular inspiration ….. and therefore lead to irregular posting.