Karen Andrews is a professional writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. She began blogging in 2006 and now has one of the most established and well-respected parenting blogs in the country. Here she shares her best tips for writing and maintaining a successful blog.
1. WHAT YOU GET IS PROPORTIONATE TO WHAT YOU GIVE.
Yes, I’m talking in a selfless way here. Many successful bloggers will tell you that their mantra is always to ‘give, give, give’ – or, in other words, be as informative and helpful as possible, packing each post with jaw-dropping content. And I’m the first to admit that those kind of posts are lengthier, more time-consuming to write. They are worth it, though, and generally get the best amount of traction on social media and have staying power.
I’m also talking about smaller-scale matters. As you begin blogging and start moving around in those circles, there is an element of ‘If you do this for me I’ll do that for you’. That kind of network-building can be important when building your reputation, and is an opportunity to demonstrate reliability, ideas and a proactive attitude. Think about your strengths before making any offers. Back-tracking isn’t the best thing to do if you decide you’re not ready or certain about a course of action. Luckily, people are friendly and are usually happy to help out if you have any questions!
2. THAT MOMENT YOU QUESTION IF WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS WORTHWHILE. SIT WITH IT. IT’S IMPORTANT.
Those of us who choose to divulge personal, sometimes difficult, details about parts of our lives will be familiar with that feeling of trepidation right around that moment you’re about the hit the ‘publish’ button. Do you get it? I still do. And if I ever get tempted to hit the ‘save draft’ button instead because I get afraid I think of the words of Brené Brown: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
A guest post by Andy Jackson
Being a writer involves intense and maddening dichotomies. The work of writing requires isolation and withdrawal from the world, a retreat into obsession, both in the act of writing and in the months and years of deep imaginative work while the book takes mental shape. It is a job for an introvert. The process of publishing requires a schizoid opposite, as the work that has been nurtured in the safe, protected space of the computer (or the notebook or the typewritten page) is turned into a commodity… The sensation of handling stacks of printed galleys of my book was at once deeply satisfying and strangely terrifying. To see the book become more than one – to see it become multiple, reproduced – that was very weird… And then, with the reviews, comes a different experience: what was produced in seclusion had become subject to public scrutiny… What surprised me most was how excruciating it was to be reviewed at all. It was an extension of the weirdness and ambivalence that came with seeing my book in print, for sale….
– Kirsten Tranter, “Go, Little Book“, Overland, Summer 2014.
I read this fascinating essay by Tranter in the wake of reading a few short reviews of my book the thin bridge, and it seemed to make some sense of the swirl of enigmatic and contrary feelings I’d experienced. Reading reviews, I found myself scanning the page for negative words and impressions. I read implied criticism into ambiguity, a nonplussed tone into what was actually mere description. I swelled at the unambiguous praise and felt the reviewer must be insightful; they really “got it”. I read these reviews a second time, carefully, expecting both condemnation and celebration. Somewhere in my nerves, I was a genius and a fraud, and I just knew the review would uncover either or both of these truths.
It’s analagous to standing naked in front of a doctor, or a mirror. Awkward, heightened, nowhere to hide. But the thing is, is there any “truth” to be found there? Doesn’t it depend on what we’re looking for?
“There are no distractions; in the end all that stands between me and writing the book I wish to write is my own mediocrity and complete lack of talent.”
Bruny Island is located off the south-east coast of Tasmania, which itself is an island off the south-east coast of mainland Australia. It’s home to around 600 people, an iconic lighthouse, an oyster farm, an endangered species of Pardalote birds and, for at least part of the year, one internationally bestselling author.
In this video produced by Joel Tozer, Richard Flanagan, winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North, shares the role the isolation of this location plays in his writing process.
Paddy O’Reilly is an Australian writer of fiction, non-fiction and screenplay. Her latest novel, The Wonders, is published in the United States this week by Washington Square Press. Here she shares an insight into her writing process.
Allow me to introduce you to one of the ways I spend my writing time – observing chickens. My two chooks are called Toni and Guy. I named them after a hairdressing firm in honour of their excellent plumage.
When I’m writing, I often find it necessary to spend time with Toni and Guy. I feed them from my hand and listen to their snuffly nose breathing as they peck at the seeds. I watch as they travel the morning yard, inspecting the grass for bugs that have landed in the night and not yet made their escape. The girls accompany me as I pass through the garden pulling weeds; or tickling a male flower’s stamen with a feather from Toni and Guy’s coop then transferring the collected pollen to the pistil of a female flower; or nipping the laterals off a plant; or harvesting tomatoes and zucchini and peppers into the basin I carry around each morning in summer.
As I pick my way through my garden tasks, they meander in my wake, tilting their heads to see better because their vision is alien to mine. Chickens can see ultraviolet light. They have better motion-sensing ability than me – they know a crow is in the sky well before I have any idea. When I want to see something close up, I lower my head and look with both eyes. When the girls want the same thing, they often tilt their head sideways to focus the fovea of a single eye, which we humans cannot do. But at night their vision falters. I have to make sure they are protected from predators who can clearly see their sleeping bodies in the dark.
Hannah Kent’s debut novel Burial Rites has been translated into twenty languages. It won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award and was shortlisted for Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
In May 2014, Hannah was a guest of the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne and appeared as part of a panel called ‘The 5 x 5 Rules of Writing’, where she and four other EWF ambassadors (Benjamin Law, Krissy Kneen, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Felix Nobis) shared the writing advice they wish we had known when they started out. We are delighted that Hannah has allowed us to reproduce this advice here.
Hannah introduced these rules by saying “These are five things I continually need to be reminded of, and they never fail to help me remember how and why I write.”
Photograph by Nicholas Purcell
Rule 1. Read
This is perhaps the simplest, most worthwhile piece of advice I can give any of you today, and this is why it’s the first of my five.
To be a good writer you must, first and foremost, be a good reader. How else will you learn what to do? Read as much as possible, as often as possible, and if you read something you like, or something that makes you laugh, or something that moves you in a strange, ineffable way, ask why. Re-read it. Read it aloud. Pay attention to the use of words, and the narrative voice, and the comic timing. If you don’t understand words, splurge on a really great dictionary and look those words up. The more words you know, the greater your control over language.
Read everything. How else will you work out what is good and what is bad? Give your time to Thomas Hardy, Dostoevsky, Doris Lessing and Dickens, but also read debut novels, genre fiction, contemporary fiction, history books, plays, TV scripts, poetry and memoirs. If you can’t afford new books, buy second-hand books. If you can’t afford second-hand books, get a library card. Get a library card anyway.
I’ve always loved reading, but I don’t think I ever understood how crucial it is to bettering writing practice until now. If I’m writing and I find myself in need of inspiration, or renewed focus, I will always go and read. Nine times out of ten I return to my work refreshed and exhilarated.