38.5 hours and 51,426 words hath November

Eat my shorts – Bart Simpson

[Day 1, Day 10Day 20, Day 27, Day 30]

I did it!

On Thursday, Day 30 of my 30 days Bikram challenge #yogaeverydamnday, I put on my Wonder Woman pants and ran down to the studio and did 90 minutes of Bikram yoga.

My Bikram blogs have had so many hits after the Netflix documentary about Bikram Choudhury. I didn’t watch it and have no desire to think about it or him. He didn’t invent yoga or any of the asanas. They have been around for centuries. Passed down orally man to man, as women weren’t allowed into the yoga club.

His gift was to sequence a specific set of asanas and to crank up the heat. It works, it’s great, I love it, end of. My only wish is that the women (and men) he has abused, have their stories heard and validated, justice is done, and that they are held in a healing space so that they can feel better.

That said, I wish to add that even though we perform the same sequence of asanas everyday, everyday is different. My body, my mind, my spirit feels different and therein lies the yoga practice. It is not what happens on the mat which is the true measure of success. It is how we feel off the mat as we move forward through the world and how we respond to life and to everyone in it. That is the key.

Personally speaking, a month in the studio has helped me stop holding on so tight to people, places, labels, and so on. My greatest desire is that I continue to live in this more easy space so that I can hold it for others too. I have lived this realisation for most of November and it feels like magic. And that is exactly what I was hoping would happen during the 30 days.

Choudhury, in his best moments, says:

You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from the scratch [sic] once again.

Bikram Choudhury

Knowing that I can start again in any given moment is the greatest gift yoga has always given me since the first time I learnt what yoga was when I was eight years old.

So! After my 30th Bikram in a row, I stayed on for Yin yoga and then came home via Pret for some of their Red Thai Vegetable Soup, delish. I ate it outside so I could watch the trains go by.

I am a total trainspotter and even after doing it a zillion times, I still get a massive rush everytime I am on a train pulling in or out of King’s Cross Station.

Red Thai Vegetable Soup

Then I came back to Stalker HQ and hit the NaNoWriMo sweet spot 50k word target. I was so thrilled with myself that I had to lie down for a little Nana nap. Rock n roll!

On waking up, I spent time on my work project which really has improved in the way I was hoping it would with me being creative elsewhere. And, I am now really looking forward to giving it my full attention next week and making it sizzle and having fun doing it.

After that, it was time to run about to pick up my little footballers and make dinner – mushrooms on toast – then I put on some lippie and went off to Chinatown for cocktails and tarot. I had the best evening. My new favourite cocktail is Opium’s Ching Shih, named after a female Chinese Pirate.

Friday morning I woke up with the intention of going to Bikram and another 1,667 words but I looked at the bright blue sky and felt completely ecstatic at the idea that I didn’t have to, so I skipped Bikram, and wrote 500 words to remind me of bits of my NaNoWriMo plot I haven’t rationalised, which then freed up some time to go out to lunch at Barrafina with that nice husband of mine. After which, we had time for a walk in the winter sun round Covent Garden and a trip down memory lane.

In the evening we put up our Christmas decorations as we are all still super sad and missing our Pooh. But, fairylights, Tigger, and tinsel really helped. This time last year, Tigger was nil by mouth before a root canal and I caught him eating tinsel just before we had to leave, I guess he was hungry. I didn’t think it counted as food so I didn’t mention it.

Tinsel and Tigger

Today is the last day of November. I will write more words later, after the school Christmas Fayre. I’m on the mulled wine stall (one for you, one for me) and then I will call time on November.

I have loved having goals and directing all my energies into achieving them, armed only with industrial strength moisturiser and hair oil so that I didn’t dry out. Though I still feel so thirsty. It’s hard work keeping hydrated during Bikram and cocktails (ahem), though so exciting to experience both.

I love how I feel having achieved what I set out to do. Though now, I am very much looking forward to getting back to ‘normal’ blogging with me lurking in the background.

Thirty days hath November, all gone, like my Pooh, gone but not forgotten, leaving me richer, leaner, fuller, sadder, wiser, and a little bit different than before and for that I am so deeply grateful.

December, I am ready. In the meantime I will quote Iyengar, who spat on and beat his students in the yoga room, another yogi with feet of clay:

Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.

B K S Iyengar

Amen.

My Pooh, all love and gratitude. You made my life better.

Writing a blog series

the word blog typed on paper in typewriter

I have been blogging here for about eight years, but hadn’t ever written a blog series until recently. By this, I mean a series of blog posts, on one topic – in this case, five blog posts on web design, which I planned out in advance, and published weekly.

Outlining the blog series

I had written the outline of the blog series back in December 2013 because I was thinking about teaching a course on web design. However, the opportunity came and went as opportunities do sometimes, so, I left the outline up, as it works perfectly well by itself, with the intention to come back and revisit it some day.

In September of this year, I was invited to give a presentation with the title: A good website is not necessarily a pretty one. This got me thinking anew about my outline on web design. So, I wrote up the presentation as a blog post (and changed the clunky title to What’s the story?) which became the first in my web design series and I gave it to my audience as a handout.

I had originally conceived this first blog post as one about infographics and visualisation, which would build on a visualisation blog post I wrote a while ago called Visualisation: Information is power – just avoid drowning in data, but as my presentation preparation and blogging went on, and inspired by Berner’s-Lee’s first website, I realised that it doesn’t matter how many beautiful pictures or infographics you have, it is not enough unless you have a clear underlying message for your website. If you have a clear message, it can be described in words, perhaps even in two minutes like the Hollywood elevator pitch, which can be accessed by a screen-reader as well as illustrated visually and served easily to your various users because your site is built according to web standards.

However, storytelling, narratives and infographics are big subjects which I decided as I was writing that I will come back to, because I find them endlessly fascinating. So, I concentrated on the subject of having a clear message, leaving out the lovely visuals, in the first blog post and then once it was published, I wrote four more blogs on other aspects of web design.

Linking the blog posts

Thanks to the original outline, I had a specific topic to cover in each blog post:

On publishing the new blog post each week, I would link to it from the outline blog post and then at the top of the new blog post I would link to the introduction blog post (the same outline post as it really is an introduction) and the previous week’s blog post (e.g., in part 2, at the top I put links to the intro and part 1), and at the bottom, I put a link to the next week’s post (e.g., in part 2, at the bottom I put a link to part 3).

One at a time or all at once

At problogger.net, Darren Rowse recommends planning out the series by creating a draft of each blog post and then writing one a day. For him, this reflects his way of working, which contrasts with his colleague Eric’s approach of writing them all together before scheduling them for publishing, e.g,. one a day for a week.

Eric’s approach chimes with mine better, because in part one of my web design series called What’s the story? I had a section entitled No Lorum Ipsum about using a core information design approach described in a great article on AListApart.com by Ida Aalen. However, when I got to part three about content: Being content with your content, I realised that this section would fit better in this part so I cut it out and put it there instead, which would confuse anyone who was searching for it in part 1.

I would like to write a whole series and then publish it, but I know realistically that I would take months over it, and my site would not have any new content appearing until I had finished. At the moment I have a goal, which I rather like, of publishing something once a week, so even if I do have to go back and cut bits out because they fit better in another post, I still enjoy that sense of achievement of weekly publishing.

When is a series not a series

I have some other blog posts which I think of as a series, but I haven’t linked them because they were not written as such. Usually, when I write a blog post I do so because I want to think about a particular topic. For example, a while ago, I wanted to think about emerging technologies and so I wrote a blog post on the topic.  Once I had posted it, I realised that I wasn’t quite finished and wanted to think some more about emerging technologies and so I ended up writing two more blog posts. I have done the same with storytelling (three blogs) and also with social media (at least five posts and counting). Flicking back through these blogs, with a bit of shaping they could be linked together, but I like them as they are.

I tend to write super long blog posts like these: Digital Culture and Feeding the machine: the embodied user in a social media world because blogging is the best way for me to research a topic, think about it, and then, write it up. It is only once I have written a blog post that I feel I know what I am talking about. I guess at that point, before pressing publish, I should look at the text, turn it into a series, and schedule a series of posts like Eric, which would be good for me, as my site would then consist of smaller, easier to read blog posts. I definitely clarify my thinking while I type. Look out for my future smaller blog post series.

Writing a planned blog series was a bit of a different experience and a great one, which I enjoyed. I will definitely be doing it again and recommend it to all you bloggers out there.

How do you plan and write your blogs? Leave a comment below.

Writing fast and slow

writing

I love writing and yoga, but for many years I just couldn’t seem to get it together to establish a daily practice for either, until I discovered yin yoga. Overnight, my yoga practice was transformed. Later, I watched long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad on Ted talk about achieving her lifetime goal aged 64 years, after she adopted her mantra: Find a way. It was then that I decided that I could find a way to a daily writing practice too.

Following the advice of Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K a day and Monica Loelle’s Write Better, Faster, I set up a spreadsheet and then, for six weeks, I tracked everything I wrote whilst noting down my location, my mood, what I was writing, how I was writing, and this is what I found worked for me:

Have an audience

The minute I started the spreadsheet, I had begun to watch myself, so I had created an audience. And with that came the need to add numbers to my spreadsheet. It was the same when I experimented with going to the library or a coffee shop. I had made such an effort to get my things together, get there, and then set it up, that I was that person working. Even if where I was got really loud and I was distracted, I would force myself to finish what I had set out to do.

Some writers on Twitter use the hashtag #amwriting. I haven’t tried it yet but it is quite nice to say out loud: I am writing, I want to finish this. NaNoWriMo, every November, encourages Twitter writing sprints, which can be both motivational and provide writing company, to encourage everyone to finish their 50,000 words.

Have a plan

If I was to keep another spreadsheet I would not allow myself to count the words I put in my journal. This is because I found that I would write away merrily, first thing on a morning, coffee to hand, and could rattle off 3k in under an hour, which was amazing, but then I would down tools once it had gone in the spreadsheet, as it felt like I had done my work for the day. I was producing words, but not finished writing.

When I kept a blog about my daughter being born with kidney failure, we had a lot to do each day with all the medical stuff. Often, people would ask me how I managed to be so prolific, but I found that writing it all down at the end of each day, didn’t take too long. It was cathartic and easy to do because I lived it and knew exactly what I was going to write. And, rather like the blogging I do now, it helped me make sense of things. That blog also had a specific audience of people who were expecting a new post, so that helped me get on, focus, and finish.

Knowing what to write when starting something new is a great way to avoid the blank page. Now, before I begin anything, especially a blog, I plan it out for at least 20 minutes. I then have something to type in and a structure to follow, and so I don’t waste time wondering where to start.

The other thing that helps me is having an external deadline. This ensures I have planned what I am going to say, how long I need to say it, and when I have to say it by.

Have a timer

I installed a timer on the bottom of my screen and set it to 20 minutes. This stopped a lot of the daydreaming and also ensured I was motivated to get writing as I had a break to look forward to at the end of each session. This approach gives me lots of words at the end of a day of sessions. A 20 minutes stint gives me around 1,000 words, which all make more sense than I thought possible and helps me get down a first blog draft quickly.

I can’t yet fit editing into the 20 minute-sprints. I have tried longer sessions but ended up noodling about. Editing and writing are very different skills. Perhaps, next time I will do an editing spreadsheet, as each time I edited work to make it better, I would fret about the lack of words in the spreadsheet, which is interesting, as I had nothing to proof to anyone except myself, but then taming your inner lizard is a life’s work.

Have a break

Writing this blog today has been very quick but that is because I have followed the three Haves above. I have had:

  1. An audience: Mainly myself because I found it fascinating to track myself and my inner lizard can take note and criticise me later with this new found knowledge.
  2. A plan: Partly because I took notes when I was tracking and journalled about it, so I didn’t need to research or think about it.
  3. A timer: I put the timer on because I wanted to make sure I finished this today. Sometimes, if I have been thinking about something for too long I have to fight the urge to feel that because I know what I think about it, I don’t need to write it up.

There have been days, however, even with the above three things, I have been unable to finish a blog or another piece of writing in the time I have set. And now thanks to the spreadsheet, I can see where I have banged my head against a piece of work to get it finished when I would have been better off just leaving it and giving myself a holiday, even a busman’s holiday, and writing something else.

Taking time to reflect on what I want to say seems to be part of my process, especially when writing a blog. My blogs on Sherry Turkle’s theory that social media is changing us and Maslow’s hierarchy of social media took a couple of weeks of thought. No timers, deadlines, or audiences could have changed that. First of all because I had a different opinion from anything else I had read anywhere else on these topics. And secondly, I didn’t even know what my opinion was until I gave myself permission to ruminate. So, I spent some time drinking coffee whilst thinking about these topics and reading around, and taking notes, before I was able to plan them out. And even then they didn’t go the way I had planned, because for me, writing is the surest way of getting clear about what I think.

Have a good time

Sometimes when I have spent a couple of weeks wondering what I am trying say, followed by saying it. I post it online and wonder why I put so much effort in. I blog because I like to and that is enough.

Today, I installed the Organize Series plugin for WordPress**. I have found that, once I begin a blog and post it, later I go back and want to add more, and so a series is quite a nice thing to do. Next on my list – after another blog on embodiment – are my old HCI lectures, which are a less old and more relevant today than I believed. Aside from what I believe though, they will be fun to write up.

And this is the most important rule I am now living by when writing fast and slow: Have a good time whether you are getting results or not, because having fun is what it is all about.

** I had to disactivate this plugin as it ate all my resources and gave me a 508 error! More investigation needed as having links to my series was very nice.