Back of the house: writing this blog

BackofhouseLemmonSDkitchen30s

I have a saying that I recite to myself often while I’m doing historical research. “The more you know, the less you know.” By that I mean the more you research a subject, the more you realize how little you knew before your latest discovery.

By the same logic you begin to doubt that you’ll ever know enough to write a reasonably well founded piece.

To deal with these doubts (and because I enjoy it), I tend to overdo the research stage of production. And the same is true of image gathering, which is almost an obsession with me and is what led me to restaurant history to begin with.

I’m now working on several posts, about a dozen probably, but two actively, alternating between them. The one likely to make it to the finish line first is about airport restaurants. I thought it would be easier than the other one, on the 1840s. It’s funny how I’ll switch from a post that is “too hard” to a topic that suddenly comes to me, miraculously promising to be “quick and easy.” Which rarely turns out to be true. So, airport restaurants (the easy one) has now taken several days. So far I have generated 10 pages of single-spaced notes, and have 23 images to choose from, way more than usual. I have yet to write it, so I have not embarked on the following:

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

The photo edit stage. Actually, along with more research this is something I do between bouts of writing to entertain myself. I rarely let my images go without some polishing. I adjust the tone of photographs to give them depth. I sharpen the focus. I remove blotches from black and white newspaper advertisements. I fix broken type. Sometimes I adjust color on postcards and menus.

The draft revision stage. Ideally I like to wait a day before I publish my post. The perspective gained by even 12 hours of distance lets me see ways I can rephrase sentences or restructure the whole essay.

The editor’s eye stage. Finally, just before I post on WordPress, I ask my editor to look it over.

My editor says things like:

“Doesn’t Glenn (Miller) have two Ns?” Yep.

“That sentence is too long. Break it into two.” Yep.

“1945? Don’t you mean 1845?” Yep.

The final mini-tweak stage. Inevitably, before I hit the Publish button, I discover some little thing that I need to change. An unfortunate word, a missing comma, a confusing sentence, or an actual error (the editor is good but not infallible).

I write all this not to brag, but to say that writing for a blog is no different than writing for any other form of publication. I can think of a number of quality blogs whose authors, I’m sure, go through the same stages I do. You can tell when you read them. There may be some writers who are so good they don’t need to work relentlessly to produce a decent piece of writing – but that is not true of most of us.

BackofHouse820How weird to discover, after writing all the above, that I left out the writing stage. Let’s just say it’s often filled with false starts, bloated sentences, and lots of intermissions for weed-pulling, taking walks, and staring out the window.

The finished stage. My favorite. I’m the kind of writer who enjoys having done it more than doing it.

© Jan Whitaker, 2014

12 Comments

Filed under miscellaneous

12 responses to “Back of the house: writing this blog

  1. I think a lot of writers enjoy the finished stage the best. At least until that next idea comes and we get lost in the heady feeling of inspiration.

  2. MM Pack

    Jan, thanks for sharing your process. The care that you take in developing your posts is apparent and appreciated; I learn much from the writings and illustrations, and I love your attention to detail, accuracy, and assimilation skills. Over-research is underrated!

  3. You’ve summed it up quite accurately! Writing a blog, at least from where I sit, involves a lot of work, for it isn’t just throwing together a few sentences, then copying a lot of text from a source, and leaving it at that! Well done!

    • Too often blogging has been dismissed as cheap and lazy writing about trivia, but I note that all of the blog writers I’ve heard from, in WP comments and from Twitter, Facebook, and email, are authors of well crafted, substantive, and engaging blogs.

  4. Oh god yes. Just thinking of the Portland post I’ve just put up: apart from the 10 days visit, the pre-research, there was the two day picture editing process, the two day writing process, another day to check links. I wonder if people realise how much work goes into a blog post. I wish I had an editor however.
    Sometimes I don’t wait before publishing, I get all excited and hit publish. I’ll take a look the next day, and edit the published post. Amazing how many errors creep in.
    Airport restaurants! I too am slowly preparing a post on that…but modern day ones….collecting them from all over the world.

  5. You are not alone in being the kind of writer who likes having written, as opposed to actually writing. It’s just unfortunate that the relief of having written is so short-lived. The next bout of writing is never far away, is it?

  6. Your attention to detail plays an important role in why your posts are always interesting and informative.

  7. thanks Jan for your candid details. Just drafting my very first blog posts with great anxiety, so find this very refreshing. Have to remind myself all these deadlines are self-imposed and, thus, flexible.

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