Wednesday 3 August 2022

Write without Fear, Edit without Mercy: Eight Questions for the Honest Blogger

When I compiled my list of 21 Image Prompts for the Mental Health Blogger, one image in particular caught my attention. Taken by hannah grace, its call to write without fear and edit without mercy inspired me to draw up a short Q&A for anyone wanting to explore their honesty as a writer.

  1. Do you tailor your writing for your audience?
  2. Are there topics you’d never write about?
  3. What are you afraid of?
  4. Describe something intensely personal that you’ve blogged about. How did it feel?
  5. Do you always tell the truth in your blogging?
  6. How important is editing and proofreading to you?
  7. Describe your blogging approach or process.
  8. What makes a good blogger?

Whether you publish your answers on your blog or not (if you do, a link back to this article would be appreciated) it can be a very useful exercise to keep your writing genuine and on track. Are you up for the challenge? My answers are below.

1. Do You Tailor Your Writing for Your Audience?

The focus of our blog is mental health and supportive friendships, and I try to keep posts balanced between those two themes. I also write articles targeted at other writers and bloggers, especially those working in the mental health arena. Perhaps surprisingly, the most read article on our blog describes how to write the best acknowledgment page for your book. It was written based on our experiences writing High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. Our book is a good example of tailoring my writing to a particular audience; specifically, people wanting to support friends who live with bipolar disorder or other mental health conditions.

2. Are There Topics You’d Never Write About?

In my list of 40 Mental Health Blog Topics From the Caring Friend’s Perspective, number three is Five things I will never blog about and why. It’s a subject that feels important, but I’ve never figured out how to address it properly. It’s hard to write about topics you’d never write about!

I’m wary of writing if I have little or no experience of the subject under discussion, unless I’m presenting the insights, opinions, and accounts of others who do. For example, I wrote about bipolar anger after asking several friends to share their experience of this particular symptom. I’ve also written about suicidal thinking, based on conversations with Fran and others who know first-hand what it’s like to be in such a place. I mostly discuss mental illness from the perspective of a supportive friend, although in the past couple of years I’ve begun sharing aspects of my mental health.

There are topics I’d like to write about but haven’t yet found a way to approach them as I’d wish to. These include my perspective as a caring friend when someone I know has taken an overdose or harmed themself. I can’t imagine ever writing about abuse, addiction, rape, or trauma. Those are too far beyond my lived experience for me to do them justice.

3. What Are You Afraid Of?

This is such a great question! Three quotations come to mind. The first is from John Powell’s book Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? Insights Into Personal Growth.

Why am I afraid to tell you who I am? I am afraid to tell you who I am, because, if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have.

I would like to be completely honest, open, and genuine in everything I do and write, but honesty means admitting I’m afraid people might not like what I’ve shared, and won’t like me as a result. Who I am — who I really am, with my insights, experience, and wisdom; but also my faults, failings, and hang-ups — is all I have to offer. There are things I’ve chosen not to write about because of that fear. That fear is natural. It can also be healthy, in that it guards us against sharing too much or inappropriately. Maintaining healthy boundaries is important. We can be honest and genuine without sharing everything with everyone.

The second quotation is something I’ve come across several times on social media. I haven’t been able to trace its author but the challenge of it stops me short every time.

What would your life be if you weren’t afraid to fail?

I don’t enjoy failing but fear of failure plays little part in my writing. I’m never going to make a fortune from my books and blogging and I’m unlikely to find myself a guest on Orah. I’m happy when one of my blog posts atttracts plenty of pageviews or comments, or we receive a positive book review, but I don’t write with that kind of success in mind. My writing has the potential to change a few lives. I don’t need to change the world. What does scare me is the possibility of unlimited success. I’m reminded of the well-known passage by Marianne Williamson that begins:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

A few years ago I took a leadership course at work. One exercise involved writing a personal vision statement: an aspirational what-if-anything-were-possible snapshot of my life at some point in the future. I found the exercise exhilarating, but looking back on it a year or so later I realised I’d not achieved any portion of my goals. As I’ve written elsewhere, “I began the journey but looking back I can see that I failed to follow through. I lost faith in the vision itself. Arguably, I lost faith in myself.” It was fear of success and the changes that might bring to my life which kept me stuck where I was.

4. Describe Something Intensely Personal That You’ve Blogged About. How Did It Feel?

Fran and I shared a great deal in our book, including many of our personal conversations. Some of those related to times when we were feeling unwell, upset, stressed, or otherwise vulnerable. I felt good about sharing those details, because we wanted to show what it’s like to be in a mutually supportive friendship when one friend lives with illness. We set a few boundaries about what we would share and what we’d keep private, but it was important to us that we were honest and didn’t just present the easy or palatable bits.

It took some time for me to share my experiences, thoughts, and feelings outside of my role as a supportive friend. The first really personal article I wrote was an open letter to my father, which was published in 2016 by The Good Men Project. I later wrote an open letter to my mother in response to a call for submissions by Stigma Fighters. It’s significant that each letter expressed things I would never have told my parents when they were alive, and that I’d told to very few people, if any at all. I felt very vulnerable putting myself out there like that, but it felt important and I’m glad I did so. It made it easier to share other aspects of my life, including my mental health in such posts as BOYS GET SAD TOO, and Return to Down.

5. Do You Always Tell the Truth in Your Blogging?

I mentioned above that Fran and I agreed what we would share in our book and what we’d keep private. It was important to us that we were truthful about what we did share, and we outlined our sources and methodology in the book’s introduction. We selected conversations that best illustrated whatever point was being discussed, but aside from minor edits for clarity we published our exchanges as they happened. Anything less would have felt dishonest, and misleading to our audience. I work to the same principles when I’m blogging. I choose what I want to blog about, and what I want to share or say on that topic. There may be — and indeed are — things I choose not to write about or include, but if I write it, it’s true.

6. How Important Is Editing and Proofreading to You?

Editing and proofreading are very important aspects of my writing process. No matter the topic, forum, or audience, I want to present my work to as high a standard as possible. I tend to edit as I go along, which means that writing anything takes a lot longer than if I simply wrote and then went back to edit afterwards. I’ve tried that approach but it doesn’t work for me. Reading the words I’ve just typed, moving them around a bit, replacing this word with another (and often back again later) helps me feel my way forward as I discover what shape the piece is going to take.

Once the article is written, I’ll edit it several times from top to bottom. My first drafts are usually too wordy so I’m looking to cut redundant or repetitive sections, as well as improving how the piece flows overall. I’m also checking for consistency, spelling, typos or missing words, and punctuation. I’m a stickler for smart quotes and proper em or en dashes, so I check for those too. I do a final proofing pass just before I schedule the post for publication. Typos and other errors still get through occationally, of course. If I find one I’ll correct the post, no matter how long it’s been since it was originally published.

7. Describe Your Blogging Approach or Process.

I’ve described my blogging workflow elsewhere so I’ll keep this brief. Almost all my blog posts are drafted in Google Keep on my phone (Samsung S9) or tablet (Samsung A8). This works well as I can write pretty much anywhere at any time: at home, at work, when traveling, or in one of my favourite coffee shops. I have a Bluetooth keyboard which works with either device. I rarely use my PC at all these days. Once I have the article complete in draft, I do a couple of passes of editing in Keep and then move the text into MS Word. I find it easier there to do a final pass of editing / proofreading, also to ensure all dumb quotes are converted to smart quotes, double spaces are removed, etc. If I’ve not done so already, I search for suitable images to accompany the article. I move the completed text into Blogger and add links, images, and HTML/CSS formating (headings, lists, blockquotes etc), previewing as I go. The final step is to add keywords, and schedule the article to post.

8. What Makes a Good Blogger?

I’m in danger of embarrassing my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson here, but for me she exemplifies the qualities that make for a good blogger.

  • Passionate about expressing herself creatively.
  • Keen to help other people by sharing her ideas, thoughts, and lived experiece.
  • Has the courage to write with honesty no matter the subject matter.
  • Generous with encouragement and support for other bloggers.
  • Open to suggestions and advice but clear about her creative vision.
  • Keen to explore new techniques and ideas.
  • Eager to pursue opportunities for collaboration with other bloggers, individuals, and organisations.
  • Writes what she wants to write, but keeps an eye on her audience’s interests and needs.

Our blogging styles are very different, but Aimee is a great inspiration to me and I’ve learned a lot from her. I can only dream of achieving the pageviews she gets on her blog, but I’m content with the connections and feedback Fran and I receive here at Gum on My Shoe. I know we’re making a difference. Does that make me a good blogger? I’ll leave that assessment for others to make, but Aimee and other great bloggers I know keep me honest in what I’m attempting to do.

Over to You

I’ve enjoyed the challenge of answering these questions, and hope you find my answers of interest. Perhaps they will inspire you to address your own writing approach and process. If you have any questions please get in touch, either in the comments below or through our contact page.

I’ll close with one of my favourite quotations about writing, by Rachel Thompson. In just a few words, it captures a lot of what I’ve explored in this article.

My only writing advice:
1) give yourself permission to write on ANY topic (even if it ruffles feathers)
2) write what scares you.


Photo by hannah grace at Unsplash.


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