The New Hampshire Writer’s Network Welcomes Tracy Hahn Burkett
Blogging takes up valuable writing time. You have to write and promote the posts, maintain the site and interact with your readers. But with so many tasks competing for your writing time, is blogging worth it?
For this writer, the answer is yes. Among other benefits, blogging has taught me valuable lessons on how to be a writer.
I’m a very different writer now than I was when I began Uncharted Parent more than five years ago. Back then, I was a beginning writer searching for direction. I was also mother to a four-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter, and I felt like I’d learned more about life in general over the previous year than I had in the past three decades. I also suspected that, like many parents, I had no clue what I was doing. I thought about parenting topics constantly, whether I wanted to or not, so it just made sense to me to write about them. My multiracial, interfaith, part-biological and part-adoptive family offered me a built-in niche, and Uncharted Parent was born.
Writing and running a blog has provided me with an ongoing education. Here are just 10 of the valuable lessons I’ve learned by blogging:
- Discipline: writing on a schedule – Sooner or later, writers have to meet deadlines. Blogging provides great practice because readers expect you to keep whatever schedule you establish. If for some reason I can’t meet my one-post-per-week schedule, I at least try to post a couple of sentences explaining why.
- Discipline: writing even when you don’t feel like writing – This may be the biggest lesson of all. It’s so easy to tell yourself that the muse isn’t with you today, or that you’re blocked, or that the cat’s ears need scratching. But if you’ve made a commitment to your readers, you’ll have to sit in the chair and pound something out.
- First drafts don’t have to be perfect – You’ve probably heard this one a lot. The truth, however, is that it’s hard to grow comfortable with writing ugly messes of shapeless word clumps until you’ve done it over and over and consistently been able to turn them into coherent, readable prose.
- In fact, it’s okay to write first drafts that are so bad they end up in the trash – I used to consider the time I spent on the occasional unsalvageable draft completely wasted, but now I’ve learned that these garbage posts are usually just a warm-up. Often I’ll come back to my laptop the next morning and write a new post on a seemingly unrelated topic at super-fast speed, and frequently, this new post will need little editing. Don’t ask me how the brain turns bad post on topic A into good post on topic B; I have no idea. But having experienced this phenomenon repeatedly, I now allow myself more freedom to experiment with silly or odd ideas and just see what happens when I sit down at the keyboard.
- I’ve learned to hone in on the details and connections in daily life so I can write about them – As much as I love my kids, I have to confess that not everything they do is worth writing about. Yet I’ve written hundreds of parenting blog posts and essays. While I reach beyond my own family for some of that material, I’ve also developed a sort of radar for detecting stories and meaningful connections in the stuff that makes up my day. It’s common for me to pause and proclaim in the middle of dinner, laughing with friends or even following a frustrated exchange with my kids, “Well, that’s a blog post.” This tendency–and my own blank stare that sometimes accompanies it–probably doesn’t make me a better social companion, but it’s improved my storytelling ability to an exponential degree.
- I know how crucial it is to let a piece rest – I never put something up on the internet without leaving it aside and then coming back to it. Ever. I always catch something, even if it’s only sat a few hours between writing and review.
- I’ve also learned that sometimes good enough has to be good enough – I could play with some of these posts for weeks. Fortunately, I’ve got a schedule to keep, so I have to let the posts go. Occasionally, I’ll reread a piece later and see a mistake. It makes me cringe, but the world goes on.
- A career in writing involves mandatory, non-writing activity – All right, I still complain about this one sometimes. For example, I am not a tech person. But I set up and maintain my own website. I have had temper-tantrums over this site that rival those of my kids’, but the site exists. In a related vein, I originally had no interest in social media whatsoever, but I was persuaded two years ago that Facebook and Twitter were mandatory for writers. Just try to pull me away from Twitter now. (You can find me there–often–at @THahnBurkett.)
- Sometimes a blog post launches into the internet … and nobody cares – It’s the blogger’s form of rejection, and like any other rejection, it hurts. You think you’ve written a sparkling post that deserves to go viral–and all you get is a single comment that’s actually pharmaceutical spam. Over time, you learn how to deal with it and you try to learn from it. See if you can write better next time.
- The best part: every one of the above lessons has carried over into other forms of writing – I’m certain I never would have had the courage to attempt more complex forms of writing requiring study and longterm commitment if I hadn’t practiced regularly for several years first. Now, after years of work, I’ve got a first draft of a novel in hand.
I’ll admit that with a novel in revision, a list of essay topics waiting to be written or revised and a children’s book manuscript languishing for want of market research, there are many times I’ve thought of giving up the blog so that I might have more time to work on these other projects.
But then I remember how much I’ve learned by blogging in the first place, and I know my education isn’t complete. Besides, I still enjoy writing Uncharted Parent, because the compelling thing about parenting is that as kids grow older, the issues change. I won’t ever really know what I’m doing, so I’ll get to keep asking questions.
And isn’t that what writing is all about?
Tracy Hahn-Burkett is a writer who often focuses on topics inspired by her transracial, multicultural and interfaith family. A former public-policy advocate, Tracy traded suits for blue jeans and fleece eight years ago when she moved to New Hampshire, where she lives with her husband and two children. She blogs at UnchartedParent.com, is a regular honorary contributor at the fiction-writing blog, WriterUnboxed.com, and she’s working on her first novel.