I was asked earlier this week how I got started with blogging, if I had any tips for NHS staff, and what inspires me to write my blog. My first reaction to the question was, ‘well, I don’t know, I just do it when the urge takes me. I’m not sure they are that good anyway, I use them to practice writing more than anything’. But the question got me thinking nevertheless, so here is a reply.
I started blogging when I started my thesis. We were encouraged to in a number of research training seminars as a way to practice writing, and by doing so, creating and building habits for writing (and thinking). PhD students are told over and over again, that the trick to writing your thesis and later being published is to ‘write well’ and that ‘writing well’ only comes with practice and it helps if you can get feedback and critique on your writing from different people. So, this was my primary reason for starting my blog. I kept it up after my thesis as a way to keep on writing and to help fill the thesis sized hole in my days.
There are quite a number of blogging platforms. I had a bit of a search around and read a few other blogs about blogging and settled on WordPress for mine. It was described as easy to use, had lots of users and most importantly, it is free.
I needed to think what I wanted my blog to be about. I had been learning to ‘microblog’ on Twitter* a little just before I started my thesis, mostly about my work as an improvement leader in healthcare. I thought maybe a blog in the same topic area would work for me and I felt that a longer blog was feasible in the quality improvement space too. I also needed to think about my readers, who was I writing for? Again I decided, that perhaps other improvement leaders in health would be a good potential audience. I suppose in a way, it is a bit self indulgent, I am writing for myself. What are the things and ideas I am finding interesting at the moment and want to explore, and what are my reflections of those interesting things? I am also trying to only blog about my thinking and feelings in the moment rather than use lots of external references and texts. (I have tried using references etc., but I have noticed that my blog entries with lots of facts tend to be less read).
I also needed some topics, what would my first blog entry be? What would the entries after that one be? I don’t really have a plan. Sometimes I just have an idea or a tweet inspires me, and I feel I have to have a go. Other times, I have been at an event, workshop, seminar or training event and I want to note down my reflections of what I have learnt, as soon as I can so I don’t forget them, kind of like using my blog as a learning journal. Sometimes, I am inspired because I notice lots of people at work asking me a similar question, or even asking a question which stumps me or I feel like I gave a unsatisfactory answer to. In those cases, I use my blog as a way of working through and exploring the question and trying to work out a better answer. I have used one blog as a way of preparing for a job interview. Sometimes, like this particular blog entry, I write it, because I was asked a direct question and I’m using the blog to respond.
What if people think my blog is rubbish? What if I say something that employers don’t like? I wasn’t very confident about publicly putting a blog out there at the beginning. I published my first few blog entries anonymously. Then I sat there terrified to see if anyone would criticise it and laugh at them. No one did, because I hadn’t thought about how my desired audience would actually know there was a blog there waiting to be read to begin with. After a few first passes at writing them, I finally decided there wasn’t much point of blogging if I didn’t want any readers or feedback, so I went more public and linked the blog to my Twitter account. This seemed to work and I got a some positive tweets and few negative ones, giving me a sense of relief and a sense of, ah, ok, I’m getting the hang of this a little.
I have kept learning and experimenting with each new blog. I have tried out different topics, I have started to add more pictures, using tags and playing with layout. I have tried linking the blog to other social media platforms. I have tried publishing them at different times and on different days. I find this hard though, because I normally write them on the weekend, yet I have found that this isn’t a good day to publish. I suppose few improvement readers are on line on a Saturday. I have immense impatience whilst waiting for a better publishing time. I have found some of the WordPress functionality to delay publication through scheduling helpful here. I have also somewhat experimented with entry length (all my blogs are still too long, sorry readers).
I have also tried writing them in no more than an afternoon, to prevent me spending too much time on them. I have found that this can mean they are a little rough, sometimes with spelling issues, back-to-front sentences or very long, stream of consciousness sentences (which I edit after publishing, sometimes). Nevertheless, by forcing the timeframe, in a way, it helps me to practice writing more effectively. I feel It is helping me to notice recurring writing habits (good and bad) that I have. This helps me in other work as well as my blog, to try to write ‘right first time’. Writing each entry in a short timeframe has forced me to think about how to be clear quickly, what the points are that I want to make and to check that there is a succinct beginning, middle and end. Sometimes on reflection I have noticed that I don’t always manage that (sorry).
This year, I made myself a Toyota Kata Challenge to try to blog more frequently and regularly to see what I learnt about blogging, my writing and about myself. Through this Challenge I have experimented more with what my readers seem to like or otherwise, and I have tried to write about potentially contentious issues, rather than playing it too safe. I set myself a target condition pattern of work of 1 blog/month, with a Challenge goal for readership of at least 500 on one blog after 12 months. Setting the Challenge helped me get going and I have found I blogged more frequently and have enjoyed it more. I have been less anxious and bothered about what people think about it too. My blog is just what I’m thinking now, it is just an offer for others to engage with, or not, I don’t mind which. I’m learning by writing it.
I achieved my blogging Toyota Kata Challenge much earlier than I expected, after less than 6 months with this blog entry about ‘My Kata Anniversary’ that has been read almost 1400 times (I am still finding that a little unbelievable for a personal blog). Thanks to the readers who helped amplify and share that blog, you helped me achieve my Challenge. I love the symmetry created from the Toyota Kata community sharing a blog about a Toyota Kata that helped me to achieve my personal Toyota Kata Challenge. You have all helped me grow in confidence for blogging (and get past a few obstacles whilst I learnt). Thank you, I appreciate that so much. I will keep learning by writing my blog.
*My Twitter experiment was a leadership Trojan mouse experiment I started whilst on the Generation Q leadership development programme.
[…] That’s where the Challenge came in. Specifically, I set myself a pattern of work of 1 blog/month, with a Challenge goal for readership of at least 500 on one blog after 12 months. Setting the Challenge helped me get going and I have found I blogged more frequently and have enjoyed it more. I even blogged about blogging! […]