Nine years ago Mark Richards persuaded the editor of his local paper to let him write a weekly column. This meant six hundred words every week about the humorous side of family life from a Dad’s point of view. Here Mark, who has recently published a book, Best Dad I Can Be, talks about how he’s kept it up for so long and offers some tips on how other bloggers can keep going…
BY MARK RICHARDS
It was 2003. The word ‘blog’ had barely been coined but in effect that’s what I’d started – a weekly blog about my family. More 450 weeks and 300,000 words later the column is still going strong – and now it’s a blog as well, at www.bestdadicanbe.com
During the nine years my children have moved from nativity plays and party bags to teenage angst, slamming doors and boyfriends that I’m fortunately not told about. This week the curly haired little boy who was nine when I started writing goes to university.
During that time I’ve written my column every single week. Number of deadlines missed: nil. So with an ever-increasing number of people wanting to blog about their families, how have I done that? How have I made sure that there has always been something to write about?
Here are half a dozen tips based on the techniques I’ve developed over the years to make sure that I’ve never missed my deadline.
1. Make a commitment. Whether it’s to an editor, your readers or simply to yourself, make a commitment to write your blog consistently. Producing something every week is hard. Inevitably you’ll have a crisis when you can’t think of anything to say – but force yourself to write through it, and you’ll soon find that the idea of missing a week becomes unthinkable.
2. Find the time of day that suits you. Sorry to sound like an article from ‘Motivation Today’ or ‘Business Week’ but after commitment comes discipline. Part of this is finding the time of day that suits you and using it to write. Early morning seems to suit me and at the weekend I follow a simple routine: get up, feed animals, make tea, start writing.
3. Never, ever, let an idea escape. Trust me, over time you will become better and better at recognising ideas and incidents that could turn into a blog post, but when you have an idea or a flash of inspiration don’t let it escape. I know of no worse feeling than sitting at my laptop thinking ‘what the hell was that brilliant idea I had this morning?’ Dictate it into your phone, run to your computer and write a few words, even (and how retro is this?) make a note in a notebook. But never, ever let a good idea escape you.
4. Work on more than one blog at once. I’ve just checked and I currently have about ten ‘Best Dad’ columns/blogs at various stages from a few lines to 500 words. Some of these will never make it to publication – the idea simply won’t be strong enough to sustain 600 words. Others will be merged to make one column. I don’t have a specific ‘editorial calendar’ but having several columns on the go at once suits the way I work.
5. Don’t expect perfection the first time. When Rory McIlroy steps on to the tee he’s not expecting to get the ball in the hole. He’s simply aiming to hit it down the middle of the fairway and get it a lot closer to the hole. I take the same approach to writing. I don’t sit at my laptop expecting to finish a column at the first attempt. If I can write 200 words, that’s fine. 300 is better and 500 is brilliant, but more often than not I’m happy just to move the ball nearer the hole. So don’t say, ‘there’s no point writing because I don’t have an hour to finish my blog.’ We’re talking families here – sometimes ten minutes is all you’ve got. Get your idea down. Get the first 200 words written. Starting a blog is 50% of the way to finishing it.
6. Finally, learn to listen. Your children are wiser and funnier than you think. Really listen to what they’re saying and you’ll have more ideas than you can cope with. Teenage sarcasm is a particularly rich seam to mine. “What do you think if this?” I asked my daughter in Next, holding up what I considered to be a rather stylish striped shirt.
“I’m sorry, Dad,” she said, “There are dead people with more fashion sense than you.”
Writing about my family is just about the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. If you want to do the same, make a start now. You’ll leave your children an absolutely unique record of their childhood: one they could never get from any number of photos or videos – and one they’ll be able to turn to when they’re struggling with their own children…
You can read Mark Richards’ blog about his family at www.bestdadicanbe.com The first book in the ‘Best Dad’ series is now available on the Kindle. When he’s not writing Mark is talking about writing or helping companies tell their story, and showing them how to speak to their clients in simple English. He also coaches people who want to have a successful blog and ghost-writes blogs for businesses and individuals. He can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org