Another day, another weird but possibly catchy abbreviation. Earlier this week I wrote about NaNoWriMo, today it’s time to talk about the blogger response: NaBloPoMo!
So what’s special about NaBloPoMo?
Like NaNoWriMo, it’s a fairly simple concept: In the month of November, write thirty blog posts, one for each day. However, unlike NaNoWriMo, there’s no word count. It’s post volume that matters.
The basic goal is meant to be the same: Getting people writing, and preferably switching off their inner critic at the same time.
Why doesn’t it suit me?
In principle, this should suit me much better than NaNoWriMo. There, I was concerned about finding the right idea. This just isn’t a problem I have with blogging. I have literally hundreds of drafts sitting round: Some are just loose ideas or rough scraps, some are 1,000+ words and feel like they should only take an hour to complete and publish (though I know in reality it will be much longer), and some are extensive notes on particular topics that need boiling down into one or more blog posts.
However, in practice I think it lacks most of the advantages of NaNoWriMo. In particular, NaNoWriMo is much more flexible. I’ve known people who have started strong then slowed down, people who have had difficulty starting and caught up later, and people who have taken breaks in the middle. I even know someone last year who was on 44,000 words at the start of day thirty last year and still made the magic 50,000 words.
NaBloPoMo is far more rigid. You can’t miss a single day. There’s no falling behind and catching up later. I’m sure people do have ways of working around this, but the official program doesn’t have any flexibility.
It gets worse, though: Each day’s blog post must be not just written, but published. NaNoWriMo encourages people to write first, then edit and publish later (if at all). Though I’m not sure that would work for me, it does make sense that it might help with switching off the inner critic.
NaBloPoMo seems to be trying to encourage bloggers to switch off their inner critic - then publish anyway. I’m not happy with working that way.
Making posts that matter
When I have an idea burning in my mind, I can often write rough drafts fairly quickly. There may be lots of stubs, jumbled half sentences, and things still to research, but in the heat of the moment it feels compelling. Over the next few days I may add more ideas, thoughts, and sudden insights, and I often get really excited.
However, when I come to try and get the draft publication ready, it always takes much longer than expected. Sentences and paragraphs are re-written. New ideas are added. Sometimes the entire post grows out of control and is broken into a couple of logically separate posts, maybe even a series.
Maybe my inner critic is a little too thorough and too paranoid, but I genuinely believe that I learn a lot about my topic during this process, and that the end result is much better than if I posted my first half-baked draft.
It’s certainly possible that I’d learn new and different things about writing trying to do daily blog posts. And given how many unpublished drafts I have, I would like to do a little more to get some of them published. But I still feel like I’d prefer one blog post that’s carefully thought out and really means something to me to twenty blog posts that feel like low information filler posts.
This post is my fifteenth post for 2019. October is the first month in 2019 where I’ve published three posts. Given that track record, thirty posts in November seems like a pipe dream (honestly, I’d be pretty pleased if I made it to five).
However, the message isn’t all gloom, because those fifteen posts contain a few that I’m really proud of. I don’t care whether November adds thirty posts, but I do want it to add a few more posts that I’m proud of.
Case Study: Tattoos, dragons, and rebellion
Sometimes I like to go to the meta level, and describe not just whatever I’m writing about, but how I get there. My recent post about the dragon wrapped sword provides a good example, because I actually remember the process of writing it.
I first visited the tattoo exhibition in mid-July. Talking about it with a friend led to a first draft early August, which probably only took a couple of hours to write, but felt like it was nearly done. However, I realised I didn’t have a good photo of the tattoo in question, so it had to wait for mid-August when I was once again in the area and took a bunch of pictures. It didn’t then get to the front of my list until the start of October. I tinkered with the draft, but it wasn’t till mid-October that I found a block of time for sustained writing. After one evening of writing the blog post felt just about done - but it still took most of the following evening to rewrite sections, run it through all my various checks, and publish it.
That’s three months in all. And yes, that timeline could probably have been compressed if I’d actually focused on that particular post, but I really can’t see myself publishing it in a single day. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing: Even though the initial draft felt almost ready to publish, I believe the final post is much better. I learned things from the completion process, and I think the final message flows much more clearly.
This isn’t an isolated case. My favourite post so far this year, writing about planting a flag on the moon, started in January and was finally published in July. And I know that most of what I like about it wouldn’t have been present if I’d pushed ahead with publishing in January.
In the first year of my blog I was writing much more frequently and had a number of anniversary posts with deadlines, so there may have been posts I wrote in a single evening. For example, I do remember one crazy evening in 2017 where I went for a moonlit hike, then came back and wrote about it. I’m sure I had the idea in mind before that evening, but I still don’t really know how I managed it.
Are you sure you’ve got enough ideas?
A few weeks ago, I put together a list of posts that I wanted to have done by the end of 2019. Some are related to things that I have done in 2019, others are related to books I’ve read, posts I’ve written that needed follow up, and other significant anniversaries (read: Apollo). I came up with thirteen that I really wanted, and another four that might be nice to have. Some in that list might actually need splitting over multiple posts.
This was more than a little concerning, given at the time I’d had nine months and published twelve posts. And in the few weeks since, I’ve published exactly one of the thirteen planned, plus these two NaNoWriMo posts that I wasn’t planning on.
In the NaNoWriMo world, there can be lots of discussion about prepping: Do you plan your novel’s plot, structure, characters, etc. weeks in advance, or do you just start writing November 1 and see what happens? This is also true of NaBloPoMo - the aspiring blogger could either have a rough schedule planned and some rough drafts, or wing it from day to day.
Personally, I don’t have to look that hard to build a list of 30 posts I’d love to write, some of which I already have extensive drafts for. In fact, the hard thing is limiting it to 30!
Presenting - the perfect NaBloPoMo schedule!
- God’s Bridge (here - published 28/Nov/2019)
- My first overnight hike (here - published 20/Nov/2019)
- Apollo 11: When men stood on the moon (here - published 31/Dec/2019 [just in time for the 50th anniversary year!])
- Eve’s Tale
- Thoughts on Eve’s Tale
- The wilderness wanderings: How Yahweh treated his chosen people
- In search of Sherlock Holmes
- Marvellous Melbourne: The mystery of a hansom cab
- The price of gold
- Every knee shall bow? Really?
- What would make you believe again?
- Replacement theology and the Christadelphian
- Animal sacrifice in the kingdom
- Are software developers scared of the sun?
- Leaf by Niggle (became two posts: Never getting anything done - published 19/Nov/2020, and Discovering the mountains - published 30/Nov/2020)
- The cemeteries declare the story of man
- Some prison art
- The rest of the Apollo missions
- The Apollo project and religion
- Should we go to Mars?
- More Australian animal encounters
- The BPBible story: Initial promise
- The BPBible story: Technical and personnel difficulties
- The BPBible story: An uncertain future
- This blog takes a personality test
- Without a (kingdom) vision, the people perish
- A symphonic kingdom vision
- If Christianity were lost, would it be restored?
- Chiveis: The good
- Chiveis: The bad
I would love to be able to publish all these posts in November. Each of them is close to my heart, and many of them have extensive drafts which have languished untouched for months or even years. They contain a variety of ideas, from general thoughts to further episodes of my personal life, and from religion to more secular subjects.
Last year, when it came up to November I was stuck in what felt like a never-ending series, and a couple of these posts were on a list of posts intended to make blogging feel fun again. A year on those posts are still unpublished. Another couple of posts on this list are actually the conclusion of that particular series, put on hold in January and never quite got back to.
However, in spite of all those drafts crying out for attention, I know that this isn’t really an achievable schedule. I just thought this was a good opportunity to showcase some (though not all!) of my favourite unpublished ideas.
If I can do Eve’s Tale (the short story from March I mentioned in my last post), its related explanatory posts, and a couple of other posts I’ll probably be doing pretty well.
If any readers think particular posts in this list sound interesting, let me know and I might work on them (though of course I don’t guarantee it).
It’s a matter of priorities
As I said with NaNoWriMo, writing is not my number one priority. The main reason I go weeks without a post is that preparing the next post for publication can sit near the top of the list without actually reaching the top and being worked on. Sometimes this takes long enough that I put the post I was currently working on on hold (as I did, for example, in mid-August, replacing Apollo 11 with the Pennine Way). If I didn’t have a goal of at least one post a month it might take even longer for writing to reach the top (so far, four of my posts in 2019 have been on the last day of a month - and it’s possible they were actually published in the not-so-early hours of the following morning).
Hiking and the great outdoors are an important part of my blogging process. There is time to relax and time for reflection, particularly at places like this one on Sunday:
However, they don’t help with the focused work of getting blog posts done. And even when I am focused on a particular post I rarely complete it within a single day.
What’s the use of unpublished drafts?
Sometimes it frustrates me the number of unpublished drafts that I have on hand, and how few of them actually make it out into the real world. I would like to get better at actually publishing.
However, those drafts aren’t useless, because they change my thinking and they change my actions. They can affect what I talk about with friends, what I comment about in some of the online communities I’m involved with, and what I do in my spare time.
Part of the problem is that it’s much easier sharing thoughts with a known audience. When I first have an idea, I can write whatever I like, because it is only seen by me. If I share it with a friend or a trusted online community, there’s a shared context that means less to explain, and less chance of being misinterpreted. Publishing it online is much scarier, because it’s sharing with a pretty much unknown audience.
The act of publishing it can make me analyse and explain the idea more carefully, and that can be very helpful. But it’s also a lot more work. And, even if the draft remains unpublished, each of the steps before publication are valuable.
Conclusion: Back to business as usual
For me, these last two posts were pretty fast: I worked out the idea on Saturday while out walking and refined it on Sunday. Due to other commitments I wasn’t able to actually start writing until Monday, when I published the first post. This post I’ve been chipping away at since Tuesday, and it’s now Thursday and it’s published. Pretty good, right? But clearly not up to NaBloPoMo standards - at one post a day I should have had another four posts by now…
In the same way that I might wish to write a novel if I only had the right idea, I might wish I could publish more blog posts if I only had the right focused time. But I have no more desire to publish daily blog posts just to prove I can than I have to write a novel just to prove I can.
So yes, I did just spend most of a week writing four thousand words about why I can’t write 50,000 words or thirty daily blog posts in November. However, I do think five blog posts for the month should be achievable, even though I haven’t done it since December 2017. So let’s make that the target and see how it goes.
I reached my goal for November! (mostly, anyway). Then in December, I wrote a post reflecting on how it had gone.