Blog a Day Challenge: August Report

Once again, travel has intervened (which is a good thing) and affected my blogging (not such a good thing). Since this report falls right in the middle of a two-week cruise, I will once again have to publish posts after I arrive back home, where I have reliable internet access.

This travel also means that my personal blog, Retreading for Retirement, has the heaviest concentration of entries.

Here are my statistics for August:

Number of posts written: 31

Shortest post: 155

Longest post: 1,360

Total words written: 19,145

Average post length: 618

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

Last month’s featured posts:

“Go Set a Watchman”: A Lesson in Writing & Reading Fiction

I haven’t had enough time to write substantive book reviews lately, but the publication of Harper Lee’s much-touted second novel gave me a lot to say.

Life Stories: What They Are and How They Work

This post allowed me to pull together a lot of related ideas that I’ve discussed separately before.

Blog a Day Challenge: July Report

After the chaos of my June blogging, in July my main goal was simply to get back into the habit of writing and publishing a post every day. At that I succeeded.

However, I did not work on my word for the year, story.

And I anticipate a bit more chaos in the upcoming weeks because we are taking a two-week cruise along the West Coast between Seattle and Alaska during the last week of August and the first week of September. Once again, both my internet connectivity and my free time will be limited. I am therefore not setting any specific goals other than to end up with a post for each day until the second week of September.

Here are my statistics for last month:

Number of posts written: 31

Shortest post: 210

Longest post: 1,770

Total words written: 22,340

Average post length: 721

I was happy to get my word count back up after June’s scant month. In fact, July’s total word count was the second highest of my seven months of this blogging challenge. And my average post length was the third highest; although I had seven posts of 1,000 or more words in July, I also had several shorter (500 words or fewer) posts as well.

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

Because our two-week European vacation produced an inordinate number of posts to my personal blog, Retreading for Retirement, in June, in July I tried to even up the number of posts across the three blogs.

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

Last month’s featured post:

The Love-Hate Challenge

I’m featuring this post for several reasons:

  1. It was my longest post of the month.
  2. The topic is one I happened upon in a visit to someone else’s blog.
  3. The topic engaged me personally and therefore helped me concentrate on voice as I was writing.

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Overall, I consider July to have been a good blogging month for me.

I’d love to hear your comments.

Blog a Day Challenge: June Report

I anticipated that June would be a challenge for me because for the first two weeks of the month we were on vacation in Europe. I knew that both internet connectivity and time to write and post would be limited.

The reality turned out to be even worse than I had expected. Internet connectivity was very limited (see last month’s featured post, linked below). In addition, both my husband and I caught the cold that we shipmates so generously shared amongst ourselves. I spent a lot of my free time sleeping in an attempt to recover. These two factors combined meant that I didn’t publish any posts and wrote only outlines and bare-bones notes for each day’s entry.

I have therefore spent the last two weeks of June frantically trying to catch up on travel posts at the same time I was writing new daily posts. I just made it.

I knew that there would be nowhere near an equitable distribution of posts across my three blogs because all the travel posts belonged on my personal blog, Retreading for Retirement.

For all these reasons I’m not at all concerned with this month’s statistics, although I include them here for uniformity in reporting and for contributing to my end-of-year summary.

Here are my statistics for last month:

Number of posts written: 30

Shortest post: 110 words

Longest post: 800 words

Total words written: 13,840

Average post length: 461 words

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

Last month’s featured post:

4 Out of 5 Stars to Viking River Cruises

Blog a Day Challenge: May Report

What I Learned in May

In March and April I concentrated on trying to keep my total word count up by writing a number of long posts (1,000 words or more). However, I changed my focus in May: I tried to go short by focusing on topics that I could develop adequately in the 500–750 word range. I still consider that to be the sweet spot for me in blogging. As a result, my total word count was down almost 5,000 words from April, but my average post length was 573 words, which is in the range (albeit at the lower end) that I was aiming for.

Sometimes life interferes with writing a blog post every day. Last month I learned to keep a couple of short post ideas in the hopper to be completed on days when time is short. This means having research done and photos planned and uploaded ahead of time..

I’ve been getting better at incorporating some personal element into posts, usually how I came upon this topic or why it interests me. But I’m still short on storytelling, or building a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s something I’ll have to continue to work on.

May’s Research on Blogging

Want to Make Blog Posts More Engaging? Apply These 15 Tricks

Working from the premise that online readers scan content rather than carefully reading it, Pam Neely offers:

two primary approaches to improving reader engagement. The first is to make your content scannable. Ie, to work with readers’ existing online reading habits. Second, create content so good that at least some users will actually slow down and take the time to read it word for word.

Approach #1: Make your content scannable

  1. Use the inverted pyramid structure.
  2. Use short paragraphs.
  3. Use subheaders.
  4. Highlight keywords.
  5. Use scannable lists.
  6. Add images or video.
  7. Use short copy elements like photo captions, call outs, and tweetables.
  8. Write simply and clearly.

Approach #2: Create content so good that readers will slow down and engage with it

  1. Write a killer headline that draws people in from the start.
  2. Write for a specific audience.
  3. Show a contrary point of view.
  4. Show an unusual point of view: “Try borrowing ideas, frameworks or approaches from other industries.”
  5. Offer new information
  6. Use quizzes, polls, or other interactive tools.
  7. Ask for comments.

Neely’s first set of suggestions is straightforward. In addition to just plain writing well (suggestions 1 and 8), using structural elements such as subheads and lists is easy with WordPress. I even installed a plugin on my two self-hosted blogs that allows me to highlight tweetable content, and I’ll experiment with that next month.

But where I most need to concentrate is on her second area, creating content that readers will slow down and actually read. By the end of each month I usually have a bunch of open browser tabs featuring articles that I meant to engage with myself. Here, for example, are a couple that have been open for at least two weeks:

Both of these articles deal with topics with which I have personal experience and on which I have strong opinions, and I kept meaning to write a blog post about my reactions to each one. In the future I will undertake such posts when I come across the opportunity instead of waiting until some later time (that never seems to arrive).

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but notice that Neely posted this article on the Scoop.it blog on May 18, 2015, and as of May 30 there were no comments. Maybe other people were, like me, too busy thinking about their own content to engage with hers.

My Statistics for May

Number of posts written: 31

Shortest post: 250

Longest post: 1,300

Total words written: 17,775 (down about 5,000 from April)

Average post length: 573 (down about 150 from April)

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

Last month’s featured post:

What a Single Sea Gull Taught Me About Life

What I’ve Learned from Writing 100+ Posts

WordPress informed me that yesterday’s post Retirement Lifestyle is my 100th post here on Retreading for Retirement.

I’ve been working on my two other blogs longer. I started Notes in the Margin, my literature blog, in November 2007, and it currently has 789 posts. Change of Perspective began in August 2007 and currently has 454 posts. So what I’ve learned about blogging over the years takes into account those two blogs as well, but here I’d like to focus on Retirement because it’s the blog that has most recently and directly resulted from my 2015 blog challenge.

There is some overlap of items here, but these are the biggest lessons I’ve learned.

  1. I learned how to use WordPress to create and maintain a blog.
  2. I learned how to combine text and photos to create illustrative graphics for my blog.
  3. I developed the discipline of writing every day.
  4. I became more aware of the world around me as I looked for topics to write about.
  5. I experimented with WordPress themes to find a design layout that I like because it appropriately features what I have to say.
  6. I am becoming more comfortable with using my own experiences as source material for posts.
  7. I learned to write poetry.
  8. I found that reading other blogs makes me a better, more informed writer on my own blog.
  9. Commenting on other blogs has introduced me to some interesting people and ideas.
  10. I took a couple of instructive classes through WordPress’s Blogging U. and learned even more when I attended the conference Press Publish in Portland, OR.
  11. Writing over a wide range of topics is helping me figure out what’s most important to me as a person and as a blogger.
  12. I’m reading a lot more web content (though many fewer books) than before.
  13. I’m beginning to experiment with different formats and approaches to writing.
  14. It IS possible to find something to write about every single day since I’ve started paying attention.
  15. I’ll continue to learn new lessons as I pursue post #200.

Thanks for reading.

I’d love to receive your comments.

My Late-Life Journey: Part 1

Today’s Daily Post from WordPress asks us to describe a journey, “whether a physical trip you took, or an emotional one.”

Here, then, is Part 1 of the late-life journey that lead me to where I am today.

Quite a few years ago I went through a difficult time when my two closest friends died of cancer just 10 months apart. I was shocked and numbed. These deaths coincided with my own entry into midlife—-a time when women characteristically begin to redefine themselves and their purpose in life. Many people say, at a time like this, that they’re looking for answers, but I wasn’t at that point yet: I began by looking for the questions I needed to ask. In my search I turned to the two activities that have always informed my life: reading and writing.

I’ve always read on a wide range of subjects, but in my emotional and spiritual disarray I cast my reading net even more widely than usual. I consumed books on philosophy, spirituality, psychology, and feminism. Each book lead to many others; synchronicity kicked it, as Jung promises it will, once I began to pay attention. Of all the books I read during this period, two were pivotal:

1. Carolyn Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life. Heilbrun asserts that throughout history anyone who wrote about women’s lives shaped the stories to conform to societal expectations of how women should be. She calls for new ways of writing women’s autobiography and biography: “For women who have awakened to new possibilities in middle age, or who were born into the current women’s movement and have escaped the usual rhythms of the once traditional female existence, the last third of life is likely to require new attitudes and new courage” (p. 124). As older women, Heilbrun says, “we should make use of our security, our seniority, to take risks, to make noise, to be courageous, to become unpopular” (p. 131).

2. Daniel Taylor’s Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories. Taylor stresses that we shape the stories we tell about ourselves, but those stories in turn shape who we are. Taylor’s most compelling point is that, if the story we’re living is broken, we can fix it by retelling it: “When we envision our lives differently, we are capable of being different” (p. 127). This ability applies not only to individuals but to whole societies as well.

My reading lead me to explore narrative psychology, narrative therapy, and the narrative study of lives movement.

writingAnd through all this exploration, I wrote: pages and pages of journal entries, unsent letters to my dead friends, real letters gratefully acknowledging my living friends, fist-shaking diatribes hurled at The Universe, contemplative musings, questions—-and, finally, some tentative answers—-addressed to myself. For me, writing has always been a crucial part of the learning process. Ideas arrive in large format; writing—-the process of putting those ideas into words and making the words fit together—-is the way I refine ideas, and clarify and discover meaning. Along with reading, writing is a necessary component of thinking.

In a prime example of synchronicity, during this period I discovered Story Circle Network, an organization headquartered in Austin, Texas, that focuses on encouraging and enabling women to write the stories of their lives. Shortly thereafter I attended a Story Circle Network weekend retreat with about 30 other women. As we all read, wrote, and talked together, many women experienced emotional breakthroughs and were able to write and talk about aspects of their lives that they had never revealed to anyone before. That retreat was an epiphany for me, and during my two-day drive home I came to realize that everything I had been reading fit together and that I had finally discovered the purpose I’d been searching for.

That five-year journey was an intellectually and spiritually rejuvenating time for me. It caused me to apply to the doctoral program in humanistic psychology offered by Saybrook University, which back then was known as Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. I planned my instructional program to learn how to work with people, particularly women, in using writing as a means of telling their life stories, either as a record for posterity or as a means of self-discovery and personal growth.

And the journey continues…

Blog a Day Challenge: April Report

In April I continued to look for information about blogging. I found this article: 16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners. I’m not interested in ways to increase branding, marketing, building an email list, or SEO (search engine optimization). My focus is on writing for personal discovery, so I chose only a few of these tips to work on:

3. Write for yourself first.

8. Be consistent (that is, publish more than once a week).

10. Be true to your voice. “People don’t care to follow sites so much as they care to follow people.”

11. Give it time. “Plan to invest in blogging for a long time before you see a return.”

14. Be yourself. “Emotion and storytelling have been part of how we communicate with each other and inspire action for thousands of years.”

15. Keep it short. “You generally need about 300 words minimum to get indexed by search engines.” But the expert quoted here suggests presenting a single idea in a post and keeping the required reading time to a couple of minutes.

16. Make it worth referencing. “When writing a post, I get into a mindset to answer just this 1 question with a Yes: ‘Would anyone email this article to a friend?’”

I’m certainly hitting #8, since I publish every day. I’m also acing #11, since I’m putting in a whole year of blogging every day.

I also took #15 to heart. At the end of February I decided not to worry about post length in March, and I continued that approach throughout April. I didn’t aim for long posts but wrote as many words as I needed to cover the day’s topic. But I did concentrate on focusing my topics to keep each post to a single idea. I appreciated the permission #15 gave me to choose well-defined topics that didn’t require long development.

However, I also started writing longer posts that I often couldn’t finish for posting in a single day . I know one general way to handle this problem is to break the topic into two posts and publish Part 1 on one day and Part 2 on the next. But when I started using writing as a method of discovery, I needed to finish the entire piece, then edit and polish it before publishing. I couldn’t just write, then stop and publish what I’d written so far that day, and pick up again the next day where I’d left off.

Many days I found myself part way through a longer think piece and realized that I wasn’t going to finish. Then I’d have to scramble to find something short and sweet that I could whip up and publish to fulfill my challenge of writing a blog post a day. The challenge had made me trip over my own writing feet. The result was more lists and link round-ups than I’d like, but they fulfilled the challenge and allowed me to work the next day on finishing a longer, more complex post.

In April I also tried to take #3, #10, and #14 to heart by incorporating more personal storytelling into posts. (In fact, the use of personal stories is what produced those longer posts that I kept tripping over.) I continue to search for the elusive characteristic of voice. Breaking out of academia-speak is hard, and I’m glad I have eight more months to work at it.

Here are my statistics for last month:

Number of posts written: 30

Shortest post: 135

Longest post: 1,600

Total words written: 22,090

Average post length: 736

My total word count was down from March, but only by about 450 words, which I attribute to April having one less day (therefore one less post) than March. The average post length in April was about 20 fewer words than in March. The number of long posts (1,000 words or more) decreased by one. I find it informative that I ended up with such similar statistics in two months (March and April) when I stopped stressing out over word count.

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

When I undertook this challenge, I thought I would publish the bulk of my work on Change of Perspective and Notes in the Margin, with fewer on Retreading for Retirement. However, that focus has changed radically as Retirement became the repository for my more personal writing. And since I’ve tried to include personal storytelling, I’ve ended up with many more personal posts than I had expected. This trend will probably continue.

Last month’s featured posts:

The 2 Lessons I’ve Learned So Far from My Blog Challenge

This post is the result of trying to write deeper.

Writing in Flow

Here I’ve told the story of my experience to explain and illustrate a psychological topic.

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I’d love to see your comments.