Focussing on practice

I was reading Chris Bowler’s most recent email newsletter today. In the intro to it he makes the comment:

It has simply been a matter of waiting and looking for the right things to write about. And maybe to focus on practicing more than preaching (always a good thing).

I can identify with both searching for the right things to write about, and especially the focus on practicing rather than preaching. I did go through a period a few years back of literally preaching in church, and often my blogging has been somewhat preachy. My current phase of life one of trying to concentrate more on the practicing aspect.

I am reading the Bible more than I was a year ago, am absorbing what is taught at church rather than arguing with it, and am searching for what my role should be over the next five years or so.

As far as blogging or writing goes, I’m still finding my way. Obviously I’ve not written much over the last few months, instead I have been reading and slowly making a balsa wood toy boat for my son.

I’ve been learning a bit about science writing and creative nonfiction, a potential direction that makes sense of my background and training. However, deep down I would also really like to write fiction so I’m still not sure which direction to move in. I guess the sensible thing would be to do the best I can at one or the other in order to gain practice as the experience can be used whichever way I finally go in.

Book learning

As I’ve been reading and researching information about writing for the web, I realised that it will save me time to find a book on the topic by someone who already knows about it. After a bit of indecision and largely based on reviews on Amazon, I have chosen the book Writing for the Web by Crawford Kilian.

The author of this book spent 40 years teaching at community colleges and from what I’ve read so far appears to know what he is on about. In fact, just reading the introduction I learned a new concept for me, the difference between hypotaxis and parataxis, and the idea that hypertext relies more on parataxis in which ideas stand alone without being linked to the previous idea.

I’m wanting to learn without my existing biases getting in the way so it makes sense to carefully read through this book (and possibly others), putting what I learn into practise and also following through with further reading and research where I can.

More information about hypotaxis and parataxis:

Writing for the web

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned wanting to learn how to write better and the idea of a self-directed writing course. I hadn’t forgotten and have been piecing together ideas on what I would want in such a course. I have decided that a good starting place is the subject of ‘writing for the web’. This site could no doubt benefit from better writing and it provides a base to build upon. At the bottom of this post I’m also listing some things I will not be covering in my exploration of this subject.

Writing for the web

Goal: To understand what is unique about writing for readers of the internet and how to best communicate through written web content.

My approach to this ‘course of study’ will be to research each topic and produce a blog post with what I learn. I may try to tackle some sort of special project in order to apply what I learn also, but I don’t currently know the form this would take.

Topics:

This is a preliminary list of topics that I want to at least touch upon over the next fifteen weeks or so. As I write posts about topics I will link to them here. The list is sure to grow and change as I learn, and I may not tackle topics in the order listed.

How is web writing different?

The Writer

  • Credibility

The Audience

  • Engaging your audience
  • What do they want?

Writing

  • Content structure
    • the inverted pyramid
    • Frame
    • Plan
  • Creative nonfiction
  • Finding a story
  • Characters
  • Guiding the reader
  • Influencing readers
  • Keeping it brief
  • Metaphor
  • Point of view
  • Reconstruction of events
  • Reflection
  • Scenes
  • Subjectivity
  • Truth
  • Use of imagination
  • Headlines
  • Voice
  • Interviewing
  • Is there a ‘perfect’ blog post?
  • Editorial planning
  • Writing well is thinking well

Storytelling

  • What is story?
  • Why is storytelling important?
  • What can story do that facts can’t?
  • How to use storytelling

Research

  • What sort of research is necessary?
  • Pulling research together into a story
  • Where to start?

Ethics

  • Fact or fiction
  • Fact-checking
  • Avoiding plagiarism
  • Acknowledgment of sources
  • Defamation and libel
  • Compression

What I will not cover:

  • Content forms that are primarily audio or visual such as podcasts and videos. I will consider how visual elements affect written web content.
  • How to increase traffic
  • SEO
  • Making money
  • Website design

My current notebook

This is a bit of a geeky post. I thought I would start keeping tabs on the notebooks and writing sticks I use. I already have reasonably strong preferences in what I like to write on and with, but over time it could be interesting to see what I actually use most as opposed to what I think I like to use. My guess is that non-aesthetic factors such as price and availability could play a bigger role than I presently account for.

The notebook currently in my back pocket is from Story Supply Co. It is one from a pack of three that I ordered from the US in 2016 when I was placing an order for a few other items. I’ve already used one of them and found it a good notebook with nice paper for pencil (hence the pencil in the photo).

story-supply-notebook
Pocket Staple Notebook by Story Supply Co.

The pencil I’m using is a General’s Cedar Pointe HB (or #2 for Americans). It actually seems a bit soft for an HB but is an OK pencil. I like the natural wood finish and the eraser on the end is handy when carrying it around in my pocket. Because the point wears down reasonably quickly (and I prefer a sharp point), I often also have a small brass bullet sharpener in my pocket too. The plastic pencil cap is by Tombow and keeps the lead point from snapping off while doubling as a pencil extender by sticking it on the eraser end when I’m using the pencil. Another centimetre or so and I will retire this pencil to use in my bullet pencil.

ssc-pencil

Note: These notebook posts won’t be particularly frequent as I take a while to get through each notebook (from 3 months to almost a year in some cases).

Related Posts:

A self-guided writing course

I had been hopeful that this year I might be able to study a course in science communication at university, but due to an already stretched income and now added financial constraints (I need a root canal), I’m having to postpone that idea.

However, I still want to become a better writer so intend to use this blog as an outlet and accountability for this task. In reality the real learning from tertiary study comes from practise rather than attending lectures so my intention is to continue with my goal of writing something every day. I will also read around the topic and find ways to put that reading into practise and try forms of writing I’m less comfortable with. So much material is available online now that I am sure it won’t be difficult to cobble together a curriculum which will train me in what I need to learn.

An advantage of publishing my own website is my progress (or lack of) will become clear as the year ticks by, and it is a public record so I cannot fool myself into thinking I’m doing better than I really am by keeping my work hidden. To help me learn, comments and feedback will be much appreciated because it is difficult to spot my own mistakes, especially when something I’ve written is hard to follow or too technical. I already know that one of my weaknesses is understanding a topic in my head but not getting the full story into writing so that the text does not flow and skips crucial concepts for the reader to know.

Keep a notebook

Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.

From “Getting Into Print,” by Jack London

Current notebook

This is the notebook I have been carrying around for most of this year. It is by Clairefontaine, made in France. With high quality paper for fountain pen use it has been a really good notebook to use, the paper is smooth and takes ink well without smudging. Initially I was worried that it might take too long for ink to dry for quick notes, but I find that by the time I’ve written something and capped my pen the ink is dry so have had no issues. There are 48 sheets of paper in this book (i.e., 96 pages) so it lasts a long time – hence the beaten up appearance of this notebook. I bought this notebook from the University Bookshop in Dunedin for less than $5.

clairefontaine-preppy

The pen is a Platinum Preppy extra fine nib. For a cheap plastic fountain pen I think these are fantastic value and really nice to write with. You can buy these in NZ for just under $10 which makes them excellent for carrying around because even if it were to get dropped and broken or lost the loss is not catastrophic. I’ve had this particular pen for two years now and often carry it around in my pocket. There have been no leaks, it always starts well without skipping, and writes nicely. I’m cheap and refill the empty cartridges from a bottle of ink, so it’s economical writing.

clairefontaine-preppy-2

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