Thoughts on writing…

Over the past few years I’ve spent a great deal of my time writing. Not just writing at work, but on the internet as well.

The subject may change periodically, but the skill is the same. The more you do it, the more adept you become.

The backstory

For the past few years my efforts have been centred around Cardiff By Bike. I had re-discovered cycling having spent much of my adult life to that point believing that cars were normal and that all should make way for the mighty automobile. However, the mighty automobile was making me poor and ultimately, fat. So, I bought a bike and started riding it to work instead.

It was a life-changer. The weight dropped off, I felt younger than I had done for years. Like writing, moving about is something that gets easier and more rewarding with time and effort. I bought a cyclocross bike to replace my really heavy mountain bike and suddenly the world opened up for me.

Somehow I started getting involved in a local campaign group and quickly discovered that nobody was really talking about the fun you could have, instead focussing on how dangerous an activity cycling was perceived to be and how angry people were that elected officials were in no hurry to change that.

So, I started writing. I had made a friend at one of these meetings –Dave, who quickly reminded me of how unfit I was by taking me under his wing and dragging me around the South Wales valleys. If you are not from around here, the valleys sit just to the north of us in Cardiff and are steep sided valleys filled with coal. Extracting this coal spawned an industry that was promptly killed off by Margaret Thatcher. Anyway, I digress. These steep sided valleys have roads going up and down them and Dave and I would spend many a weekend attempting to scale them. Apparently it was all good training for my first Audax that would have me riding from Cardiff to Gloucester via Berkeley and back via Symonds Yat. All 220Km of it.

These experiences had to be written down. My enthusiasm needed to be tapped somehow, in the hopes that it would inspire others. The domain was acquired, WordPress was installed (on Nginx, should you be interested) and the writing began in earnest.

Three years later and the website is earning a reputation for the quality of the writing, which scares me a little. The imposter syndrome is strong with this one. Anyway, I thought it would be helpful to share what I do in the hope that it also helps or inspires someone.

Learning by doing

Looking back over three years of writing over 300 posts has taught me a couple of things.

  • It is often best to avoid setting a place and time for your articles or blog posts. If you say it is December and your no-doubt worthwhile advice is read by someone in July, it can be a little jarring. Think carefully about whether it matters when the post was written. If it doesn’t, trim it out. The message is important, the where or when probably isn’t.
  • Long articles take a tremendous amount of concentration and conviction to write from beginning to end in one go. These days I use Evernote to collect snippets, articles, paragraphs and photographs that may work in future posts because…
  • The article you start writing may not be the one you finish with. As you start to explore a subject you may find yourself stumbling down a rabbit hole that is far more interesting than the subject you started with. My Evernote is full of half-finished articles that have been salvaged for parts, re-used to make a point elsewhere.
  • Have a point. It is best to know where you are taking the reader, even if you don’t quite know how to get there yet. You can always edit out some of the wrong turns you may make later. It could be a statistic, an event or anything that is important to you.
  • Read. I have never been much of a bookworm, but I can be persuaded every so often when my slightly tunnel-visioned mind latches onto something. Other writers have ways of getting a point across that you may not have considered. A good writer can cut through your language of choice like a knife through butter. Learn from them.

It is very rare that words are wasted if you are organised. Build up a collection of paragraphs about a subject that you can call upon when the need arises. My go-to application is Evernote, mainly for its versatility. I put everything in one notebook and use tags to organise them. Evernote allows you to put tags in a hierarchy. For example, I have a top-level tag called “World” which has a tag for each continent underneath, followed by countries, then cities. It’s all part of the process of researching whatever it is you are writing about. In the cycling world it is often pieces of legislation, or good or bad practice in terms of infrastructure. It could also be data related to health matters.

The benefit of working with tags rather than notebooks is that some notes are relevant to more than one subject. Something about cycling in Cardiff is relevant to both cycling AND Cardiff. I started out the other way –with dozens of notebooks and the inevitable duplicate notes where they would cut across subjects.

With that said, the tool is less important than the process of researching and writing. Find a way to collect material, keep researching until you know everything there is to know and then just write, write, write.

If you do want to give Evernote a go, I’d appreciate you using this link for a free month of Premium or join me in the Evernote Community.

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