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How It's Made


Let’s get meta.

There are other people in my life who, while good writers themselves, are at a loss for how to do what I do here–that is, write essays and articles and so forth on a daily basis. I figured it might be useful to describe that process in a bit more detail, and to use one of my Sunday posts for that purpose rather than one of the usual weekday slots. This describes my process and not anyone else’s; it may be useful to you, but there’s no guarantee. Take it for what it’s worth.

As I have noted before, I have a list of topic ideas for this blog. I use the Simple Tasks & Todos plugin. It currently stands at 44 items, though it’ll be 43 after this post. While I could have things separated by category, I currently don’t. It’s all kept in the same list.

On any given day, I may already have a topic in mind. A lot of the time, I will encounter a topic multiple times over the course of days or weeks, and begin to form some thoughts about it. Once I feel those thoughts are developed enough to shape into a blog post, I decide whether I will do it that day or another day soon. What topic I choose is affected by relative levels of urgency in each topic. If something is a breaking news story, I am likely to prioritize writing about that over a topic that I could write about any other time. Sometimes I spend a lot of time deciding whether I should or want to write about a particular current topic. I prefer to have a mix–articles that people could read at any time, that would remain relevant, and some that are sensitive to the news cycle, and are perhaps less relevant over time. I don’t want to be too disconnected from current events, but I don’t want to always be down a rabbit hole, either.

In any case, either a topic has percolated to the surface that attracts my interest enough to write about, or a current event sparks me. If neither of those happens, I turn to my topic list and decide which of those I’d like to tackle. Believe it or not, almost all posts are written on the day they are posted. I don’t have a long-term schedule or anything like that, telling me what to write from day to day.

Once I’ve picked a topic, I must have some idea what I want to say about it. As most pieces here are expressing opinions or political views, there is usually some element of persuasion involved. I need an angle. Given a particular problem I want to talk about, how do I introduce it, discuss it, and offer some thoughts on ways to address it? I don’t find introductions that difficult. I often use rhetorical questions. In most pieces, I either summarize the issue broadly in a couple sentences, or point out a recent, related event. From there, I go more into depth. Depending on the topic, I may link to other sites–other blogs, news sites, academic publications, and so forth. I try to be careful about sources, but that doesn’t mean I am trying to eliminate bias. Most of what I talk about requires a degree of bias. I write about social justice topics fairly often, and there isn’t an honest way to talk about those that isn’t pushing an agenda, and I won’t pretend otherwise. To that end, I don’t confine myself strictly to academic publications, though I will cite them as appropriate. I also consider individual experiences valid when it comes to social or political issues. This does not mean that individual experiences trump data, sometimes there just isn’t data, as some of these issues are quite difficult to study scientifically. All that said, the point is that, if my attempts to dig into an issue lead me to sites I’ve never heard of or which have very questionable content, I will either offer a caveat or omit such links entirely.

After I have spent some time discussing whatever the issue is, it comes down to the next steps. What’s the call to action? What’s the solution? I will be the first to say that I don’t have solutions for everything (or even a lot of things). I will generally defer to experts and thought leaders in a given area, although it’s my custom to think through the solutions offered myself to determine whether they make sense to me. I think we all need to make such judgments about information we process, rather than blindly repeating it. I don’t intend to post things I don’t actually think and believe myself, but on the other hand, I am willing to consider and even endorse solutions that make me uncomfortable. Sometimes, I am inclined to think something is the right solution because it’s uncomfortable. Progress is rarely easy, after all.

Conclusions can be difficult. I like to end on a conclusive note, but that is often difficult or impossible when an issue is very complex and offers no clear answers. In such a case, I at least try to be hopeful. I’ll offer a few sentences summarizing where the discussion has gone and try to communicate to readers where our own actions might fit into the larger puzzle. I do think it’s important to try to make connections to people’s everyday lives and experiences, no matter what I’m discussing.

Once I have a piece essentially written, I give it a once-over and try to catch any mistakes or typos, make sure I like how it’s formatted, touch up here and there. I can’t say I am happy with everything I write, but then I probably never would be. If I waited until I felt every piece was perfect, there just wouldn’t be a blog at all. So I just try to let go and put it out there and hope for the best.

The last touch is finding an appropriate featured image. I usually just try to find something appropriate to the topic. I have a habit of going with images that may be tongue-in-cheek about the topic I’m discussing, because that’s the sort of person I am. The featured image for this post is a good example. With the image in hand (so to speak), I’m ready to post. Up it goes, crossposted to the Facebook page, and then I watch the hits roll in. Just kidding, there aren’t a lot of those! But I find it’s important to do this every day, so that I can get better at it and am forced to stay committed. In fact, that is probably the most important part–just sticking with it and doing it. It’s not always easy to find an hour or two every day to put these together, but either I commit to doing it, or it doesn’t get done. There’s no one to hold me accountable but me.

I’m not sure if this is nearly as insightful as anyone might have expected, but there it is. Now, get to writing!

Photo by Jenn Durfey