A New Blogging Policy

Earlier this year I completed 52 weeks of blogging At the Quill as part of a year-long blogging challenge (#Blogg52). It was a good exercise and a good discipline, and I have transferred the effort to my new blog about travel, Stops and Stories. However, although it is possible – just about – to blog once a week without much forward planning, there is always the stress of trying to find a topic and writing about it in time and the results are not always satisfactory. Clearly I need to be better organised.

Now, one of my fellow Blogg52-ers, Anna Hellqvist, is using her blog to present aspects of good practice for other bloggers. She has written some very good articles over the weeks. I don’t always agree with her as I feel her perspective on blogging is rather skewed towards the commercial, and for me that tends to devalue what she writes. Also, as someone who has been blogging on and off for about 14 years I have a residual feeling that I know it all – even though I patently do not.

I know that I don’t know it all not only because I get into such a sweat when I haven’t planned ahead, not only because I am disappointed more often than satisfied with the blog entries that I write, but also because a number of Anna’s tips have been valuable reminders of things I’d forgotten. And occasionally she has taught me things that were quite new to me.

So, I decided to swallow my pride and smother my resistance to being told what to do and try to follow some of her advice. My hope is that it will help me blog more frequently, both here and on Stops and Stories, and perhaps improve the consistency of my blog entries.

To begin with I have been looking at Anna’s blog entries for Blogg52 from June this year. As Anna’s blog is in Swedish (Blogg52 is a Swedish challenge and at present I’m the only person following it who’s writing in English), I thought I could give a summary of the steps I’ve taken so far to organise myself better. Below is my plan for Stops and Stories.

I can say that while most of the points in the plan come from Anna’s suggestions I have added one or two of my own.

Depending on how successfully I can follow the plan for the next couple of months I may post an adaptation of this on the Stops and Stories website. Just at the moment though, because Stops and Stories is about travel while At the Quill is about writing, it seems appropriate to discuss this here rather than there. If you’re interested, I’ll be revisiting this in future articles here At the Quill.

What is the purpose of Stops and Stories?

  • A record of my travels now I am based in Brussels.
  • An exploration and expansion of my ability to write about travel.
  • Foundations for (a) future travel book(s).
  • A cross-platform link with Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, (Freesound), (YouTube), TripAdvisor, (GoodReads), Ello…
  • Development of a network of readers (and listeners).
  • An archive that future readers will be able to explore.

Who is your target audience? Who are you writing for?

  • Myself and…
  • Literate adult readers interested in travel who either travel themselves or are armchair travellers.
  • Literate adult readers interested in travel writing – in (fictional/semi-fictional) stories about, and (“true”) accounts of, travels both contemporary and historical.

Who is your inspiration?
Patrick Leigh Fermor (http://patrickleighfermor.org/)
Jonathan Raban (http://jonathanraban.com/)

(I expect to be extending this list.)

What are your goals?

  • To write an illustrated text – if possible including a sound recording of the same – once a week for at least a year.
  • To attract readers and returning readers/listeners. The initial target is to build up from the handful each week who read my texts at present to 100+/week.
  • To enter into a conversation with readers/listeners either in the comments section of the blog or on social media.

What are you going to write about?

  • Places visited
  • Stories heard and overheard
  • writing (reviews)
  • The urban and rural landscapes
  • Seascapes
  • Soundscapes
  • Scents and smells
  • Photography
  • Modes of transport
  • Maps and guidebooks
  • Art and architecture
  • Food and drink
  • History and future visions
  • Museums and exhibitions
  • Events and celebrations
  • Action and adventure
  • Poetry and literature related to travel
  • Memory and memoires
  • Philosophy and meditation
  • Humour

How often and when will you publish?

  • I aim to publish at least one article a least once a week, hopefully including a sound recording published on Soundcloud.
  • The day of publication will be Wednesday.

In order to publish on Wednesday I need to organise myself as follows:

  • On Thursday or Friday brainstorm articles for Stops and Stories – choose one or two. (By choosing a couple of articles each week I hope to build up a bank of articles so that, as time goes by, the process I’m describing here will not be quite so hand to mouth.)
  • Over the weekend carry out research for the articles, take photos, record ambient sound and make notes.
  • On Monday choose one article for publication.
  • On Tuesday draft the article.
  • On Wednesday, edit the article, illustrate it, record it, publish it.
  • If it wasn’t possible on Wednesday, on Thursday publish the recording on Soundcloud.
  • Begin again

Pernilla’s questions

Last week, one of my fellow Blogg52ers, Pernilla who blogs at SVXRT40, was taking part in a chain response to a series of questions about books and reading. She concluded her entry for the week with a set of new questions that she passed on to any readers who felt challenged. I felt challenged.

(Let me just say I’ve made the executive decision to interpret “books” to exclude reference books or history books. Otherwise we might have a much longer text.)

The first question was Vart läser du helst? – Where do you read for preference?
I like to read in a quiet sitting room with good light and table nearby where I can stand a drink. What I like to read (changing the question) depends a great deal on how I’m feeling at the moment, but I think generally speaking and for entertainment I reach for either detective stories or science-fiction. Joy is finding a book that combines both successfully. I’ve just finished reading China Miéville’s The City and the City, which I picked up when I was in London at the end of March. A wonderful fusion of noir, detection, thriller and existential science-fiction.

Gillar du att prata om böckerna du läser? Do you like to talk about the books you’re reading?
Sometimes I do and sometimes don’t. I’m not a member of any book club, but it’s fun to talk with people I know, if they’ve also read the same book. Just the moment I’m reading The Broken Road, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s final, posthumous account of the walk he took as an eighteen-year-old from London to Constantinople in the early 1930s. In this volume he is crossing Bulgaria. Bulgaria is where my wife and I met. Though fifty years separate Leigh Fermor’s visit and ours, it’s still fun to read out loud his descriptions of places we both know. I hope she’ll want to read the book too and maybe we can talk more about it then.

Vad tycker du om riktigt tjocka böcker?
What I think about really thick books – I think thick paperbacks are a bloody nuisance! Heavy to hold, with spines that are easily broken. There was a time when I thought they were good value – so much packed into them, but then I read a few that weren’t very well written and I came around to the perspective that thickness is no guarantee of a good read. Most of the thick books that I now own are either survivors from my youth or hardback replacements for good, thick books that fell apart (The Lord of the Rings, for example). Or, of course, some of them are reference books or history books — but we’re not talking about them!

Hur vill du ha det runt omkring för att läsningen ska bli trevlig?
I like it to be quiet around me when I’m reading, at least to start with. Once I’m into whatever I’m reading, if it’s caught my attention, I can tolerate music and even conversation around me if it’s not too loud. The most disturbing noise is conversation in English if I’m reading English or conversation in Swedish if I’m reading Swedish. That really disrupts my concentration. I like to be sitting comfortably, but I can read on the tram and I enjoy reading on a train. I’m not very good on long distance buses though. It’s nice to have a cup of tea or coffee to hand (see my answer to the first question), but if I’m really deep into a book I’m likely to forget about the drink and discover it tepid or cold when I eventually emerge.

Hur mycket tid anser du att du behöver ha fri för att börja läsa?
It’s hard to say how much free time I think I need before I start reading. It used to be, I’m almost sure, that my answer would be “None.” Nowadays, though, I’m very conscious that I’m more likely to pick up a smart phone to check news headlines rather than a book to read, if, for example, I have a shorter journey into town or maybe 20 minutes before I have to start making food. Picking up a book to read is far less of a natural spontaneous thing to do than it used to be. I’m not sure when that happened, but I think it must have been in my 30s when work — work that involved a great deal of reading — came to occupy so much more of my attention. In other words, I think I had already lost the spontaneous reading habit even before I became intimately acquainted with the Black Dog. I miss it, which perhaps is a sign I might rediscover it in the future.

När läste du en hel natt senast?
It is a very, very long time since I was so excited by a book that I sat up all night to read it. I don’t think I’ve done that since my student days. Another experience is closer to hand: being unable to sleep and getting up in the middle of the night and sitting with a book, often a book of poetry, and reading for two or three hours or until the dawn comes up.

Vem skulle du vilja ge ett boktips? Vilken bok skulle du tipsa om då? To whom would you like to recommend a book? Which book would you recommend?
I don’t recommend books much, though it happens — usually on the spur of the moment. This week – tomorrow in fact – people in Britain are going to the polls to elect a new parliament. As ever, the new parliament will consist of a mixture of hacks elected for the umpteenth time, career politicians who have climbed the rungs of party politics and now get to play with the big boys and girls, and a small group of individuals who don’t fall into either of these categories but who’ve joined in and campaigned out of the burning conviction that they might be able to make a difference or to protest against the other candidates. I’ve been wondering what book or books I might recommend to this last group.
I’m feeling cynical, so I recommend The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. Not only is this an admirable guidebook to the practicalities of politics and power, you might also use it to help you spot when you are being manipulated and perhaps help yourself to avoid some of those pitfalls.

Vilken bok borde alla ha läst? Which book should everyone have read?
That’s a hard question to answer. In Britain a very long-running radio programme called Desert Island Discs asks guests which one book they would take with them to a desert island assuming they already have copies of The Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare. This is because most Brits of the sort likely to be invited as guests on Desert Island Discs, if not limited by this proviso, would almost certainly say either The Bible or Shakespeare — which would make for a very predictable list. They’re good choices though. If you’re familiar with The Bible you’re familiar with a significant foundation for Western literature, and if you’re familiar with the works of Shakespeare then you are familiar with a significant foundation for English literature. In both cases you get a huge number of stories as well. But let’s go right the way back, why not? I think everybody should have read The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the oldest piece of literature in the world, and a cracking good story!

Senaste bok du ångrar att du läste ut? The latest book you regret having read through to the end?
Hmmm, nowadays I rarely regret wasting my time reading to the end books that don’t work for me. If a book hasn’t revealed itself in the first fifty pages or so to be interesting, intriguing, exciting, funny or whatever, I might give it another fifty pages, but usually I give up. In this way I have saved myself from the pain of reading, for example, anything by Dan Brown but the first hundred pages of The Da Vinci Code.

Hur ser du på böcker du lånar ut?
I have a very sad affliction that means I find it hard to lend books. It’s not that I don’t want to encourage other people to read good books, it’s that if I lend a book I expect it to come back – preferably in the same condition I lent it. This just doesn’t happen. Nowadays I try not to lend books, but to give them away. A book given away is not a book one hopes to see again. Sadly this doesn’t always work and I am right now thinking about a copy of Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm — a hardback Folio edition in a slipcase with beautiful illustrations – that I lent more than two years ago. Is it ever going to come back to me? I begin to doubt.


Recent ReadingThanks Pernilla, answering those questions was fun. It’s inspired me to run a similar book lover’s questionnaire and I just spent this morning putting it together. There are seven questions. Rather than present them all here though, I shall publish a separate question each day for the next seven days, both here and on my Facebook page. I’m interested to see what answers I get — if any. I’ll summarise the response in my next Blogg52 entry. (Which consequently may be a day late.)


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

The Habits of Successful Authors

Thinking about writing
Thinking about writing.
I did not make a resolution, but I was rather hoping that this year I would be writing frequent blog entries At the Quill – and at least one a week for the #Blogg52 challenge — but I haven’t managed it. The ordinary, the everyday (which has not been either ordinary or everyday as we moved to Brussels on 5th January) has intruded and distracted and I’ve barely managed to keep up appearances on the social networks.

A few days ago, out of the blue, I received a mail offering me a ready-written blog article. For just a moment there I thought: Here’s someone who’s been reading me and is fed up of waiting for the next blog entry so they’ve written one for me! Not a bit of it, of course, but I was taken in for a moment. The blog article purported to be an info-graphic. The person offering it — let’s call him Steve — said he had just produced it and he thought it might suit my blog. Of course what he was really after was for me to accept his article without looking too carefully at it and not spotting that it was designed to take readers away from my blog to the article’s home website. I went and looked and found the home website was offering writing services (at a price) for bloggers and school students.

As a teacher (former teacher) I have no interest in promoting websites that help students cheat. And as a blogger — albeit an irregular and sometimes reluctant one — who writes about the process of writing, I really have little interest in publishing other people’s work. So, thank you for the offer Steve, but no thank you.

Of course, I read through Steve’s info-graphic — I’m nosey as well.

I wasn’t overly impressed. First of all because Steve hadn’t really managed very well. True there were six or seven images, but then several paragraphs of text. In my book an info-graphic ought to manage to compress all its information into graphical form, otherwise it’s just an illustration.

Secondly, I’m afraid Steve did not quite come up to my standards of literacy. (Modest cough.) Not to say he was illiterate, no, but there were misused prepositions, odd combinations of pronouns, some dodgy punctuation and I wasn’t terribly impressed by the logic of some of his sentences. Now, these are all the sort of slips I might make myself (hopefully not all of them in the same article) but then they’re my slips. I would either catch them before publishing, or publish and then spot them — or get called out by a reader — and hang my head in shame before correcting them and hoping no one (else) had seen them. Why would I be interested in publishing Steve’s uncorrected drafts?

As for the subject: The Habits of Successful Authors. Hrmmph.

Steve had gutted a book and a couple of Internet articles for authors’ writing habits, collected a bunch of author photographs and then composed a dubious analysis. Some of his authors started writing early in the morning, others late in the afternoon. Some wrote stone cold sober, others wrote under the influence of various forms of narcotics from the mild — tea, coffee and cigarettes — to the less so — alcohol, hash, opium and so forth. Some had to write in the presence of certain smells (Schiller), others (Victor Hugo) wrote naked. There wasn’t anything particularly new to me in the list (except for that about Schiller and his rotten apples) and after reading I wasn’t anywhere closer to an understanding of what Steve meant by “success”.

Is success as an author defined by the ability to produce texts? Or is it defined by the ability to get published? Or the ability to attract and hold an audience? I would say all three, but an author’s writing habits are only able to ensure success in the first of these.

Beyond this, the paragraphs of text that followed the pictures basically backtracked on every recommendation they made and ended up saying nothing much at all: Getting up early worked for A, B and C, but starting late worked for X, Y and Z. Writing drunk worked for D and E, but V and W only wrote sober.

The truth is, “the habits of successful authors” are the writing habits that the authors themselves found worked for them personally. That doesn’t mean they’re going to work for anyone else. Of course you can try out different strategies in the search for what works for you, but setting out to copy other people’s strategies because you believe that therein lies the secret of success could also be a distraction from finding how to write yourself.

(Another way to avoid actually learning how to write yourself, Steve, is to borrow — or buy — someone else’s work to present as your own. Just saying.)

What habits work for me? I know from experience that what I need is a regular schedule. I have to get into the habit of sitting down in front of the computer at a fixed time daily and writing – either producing a minimum number of words or staying at the keyboard for a specific period. Once I’ve established my rhythm and can carry on doing it, day in, day out, the occasional short interruption is not a problem. Longer breaks are. Getting started in the first place (and getting started again after a longer interruption) is really difficult.

All my plans for writing success once we moved to Belgium were predicated on being quickly able to get into a regular writing rhythm. I just haven’t been able to do that yet. The mundane, the quotidian, keeps intruding.

I keep trying though.


The medieval woodcut that illustrates this article comes from the collection at ClipArt Etc. I am happy to thank and acknowledge them.

This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

One third

It struck me the other day that I’ve now posted seventeen blog entries At the Quill tagged Blogg52 and that means I am one third of the way through the 52 week challenge. Perhaps a moment to pause and review.

As ever when I start a new project that requires a regular participation I wasn’t sure at the outset that I would manage to see it through. I’m still not, but I am a great deal more hopeful now.
#blogg52
As I’m the only blogger taking part in this challenge writing in a language other than Swedish, I’m fortunate that English is generally accessible to Swedes. Although I write in a foreign language, I still have readers from among my Blogg52 colleagues. I’m grateful for that. In a way, it would have been a better idea to have found a blog challenge in English – and I did look – but I couldn’t find anything small enough. WordPress, for example runs a weekly challenge, but so many people participate that it seems like each individual is drowned out by all the rest.

Besides, here I am in Sweden and although I don’t write in Swedish a lot of my references are to a Swedish or a Scandinavian context.

Well, some of the above is generated by hindsight. The truth is that Blogg52 came up as an option for me at the right time and I jumped on the bandwagon. I only went looking seriously for English-language blog challenges after I’d started, and by then I was already getting comfortable with Blogg52.

I did take the precaution of asking Susan Casserfelt, one of the curators and a fellow member of the Swedish Association of Independent and Self Publishing Authors, how she felt about an Englishman muscling in on the challenge, and she was very welcoming. Susan’s attitude has been echoed by several of the other bloggers, I’m pleased to say, so I don’t feel too much like a cuckoo in this nest.

Of course, there’s a question about what I bring to the feast. Beyond one’s weekly blog contribution, the idea behind tagging one’s entries and using the hash tag (#Blogg52) to advertise each of one’s newly minted efforts on Twitter and Facebook is of course to spread the word. To attract readers from outside the circle. I’ve been doing this of course, but I wonder how many of my social network have been looking at the other bloggers. Hopefully some at least – I do count a number of Swedes among my contacts after all.

The other thing one commits oneself to, joining a challenge like this, is to visiting other Blogg52 blogs, reading the entries and commenting – either on the blog itself or on Facebook. The Blogg52 rules (here, on the site of the other curator Anna Hellqvist) suggest that you comment “some” (något) posts weekly. For me this is a challenge also for my Swedish. I have sometimes commented in English (especially when I attempt poetry), but I feel as a matter of courtesy I should try to use Swedish. I’m not sure what quality my written Swedish has as it comes with what I know is the poor help of Google translator, or the Swedish language suggestions my mobile phone provides. I hope, if nothing else, my mistakes raise a smile. (And maybe my written Swedish will improve.)

Publication day is Wednesday. When I manage to get a blog entry written earlier, I schedule it to publish in time, otherwise I find myself (as now) scrambling to complete the entry on Wednesday morning. Once published, I advertise it on my own Twitter and Facebook streams and share it on the #Blogg52 Facebook page, and then – onlly then – I let myself start looking at what other people have published.
#blogg52
Obviously, over the last eighteen weeks, I’ve discovered bloggers who I particularly enjoy reading. Some people write about subjects that interest me more than others, just as some people write in a way I find more engaging, and I am more likely to read and comment on these blogs. However I make a point of visiting and reading blogs from people who are new to the challenge and I keep a list of blogs that I miss reading one week in order to make sure that I put them at the top of my list to read the following week. It has to be said that I am more generous about visiting and commenting people who have once commented on my efforts.

Because I’m working again now, I very often find myself reading Blogg52 contributions on my mobile phone on my way to or from work. Jolting along on the tram does add a further level of complexity to writing comments! I usually manage to read a few entries on Wednesday and a few more on Thursday. Then I try to find time to read the remaining blogs on my computer when I’m at home on Friday. Sadly though, if I haven’t managed to read a blog entry by Saturday, I probably won’t manage it all. I usually try to let people know I’ve read their entry – even if I haven’t commented – by “liking” their promotional post on Facebook.

Apart from the content of the blog entries, accessing and looking at so many different blogs with different equipment (I mean sometimes a computer sometimes a smartphone) is interesting from a technical point of view. It is fascinating to see what different people favour in terms of blog design and layout, and educative to try to read and navigate different blogs. On my Android phone at least it’s possible to use the little green R symbol in the address field to open a reader which makes it easier to read text on the phone. I realised how much I use this when I stumbled across a “mobile” website that blocked it as an option. I made a mental note to stop worrying about whether I should set up mobile sites to run in parallel with my websites.

This has also sent me back more than once to look at my own websites on different equipment to see how they function. Let us just say: I see room for improvement.

I started out this entry by congratulating myself on having managed to produce an entry every week. That’s not quite true. I missed one week when I was stressed out by work. Let me conclude this by acknowledging the blogs that have fallen by the wayside. I’m not sure how many of the blogs listed on Anna’s site are no longer participating, but I’ve weeded out a number from my own list (here in the column to the right) because they haven’t updated with a #Blogg52 tag for several weeks. It’s not an easy task, this challenge. You need to have the motivation to keep it up. Commenting one another’s blogs, offering encouragement and giving “Likes” on Facebook are all ways to help one another keep motivated, but to succeed I think you also need to know why you’re doing it and what you hope to get out of it.
#blogg52
My original objective was simply to get back into the swing of writing a blog article on a regular basis. In June though I discovered a new motivator: learning about crowd funding and reporting – maybe – on my own crowd funding project to publish a photo book. Expect more of that in future entries.

Cheerio for now!


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.