Welcome to the Let’s be Inspired series, where we get to know our fellow bloggers on WordPress.com, and we learn their blogging journey, book writing journey, their passion for writing, photography and more. The purpose is to be ‘inspired’ by their journey and learn from them. To be encouraged by their dedication, motivations, routines and how they make it happen. I hope that this series, motivates us to be better writers, bloggers or take better photos etc.
Today, we speak to Ellen Hawley, the third blogger as part of this series. I hope you enjoy this two-part interview with Ellen.
Where does the writing inspiration come from? Featuring Ellen Hawley – Part 1
Ellen has been blogging since 2015. Her blog is called Notes From the U.K., and I love it. Well, I live in the U.K. Having said that, I haven’t toured around the U.K. enough to know everything other than the history lessons at school.
I came to know about Ellen’s blog maybe a year or so ago (I can’t exactly recall). What drew me to read her blog was the topic of Brexit. She writes well, her tone always has me chuckling, and she is a good source of information. Therefore, I started to follow her and grew to love her blog post. She writes about U.K. history, current affairs around the world, and current affairs in the U.K. from the perspective of an American living in the U.K.
I always thought Ellen must be a journalist she writes SO well. When I decided to the ‘Let’s be inspired’ series I thought it would be so much fun to have Ellen be part of it.
It was only then when I tried to find out more about Ellen (and I even directly asked her), I found out she is a ‘Retired EDITOR’, and by the way, retired does mean ‘retired’ (just incase anyone was wondering). I also discovered she has three books to her name – her author page is Ellen Hawley.
This interview with Ellen will be a two-part series and focus on her blog and her experience as an editor. Maybe at a later date, we may interview her about her books and book writing process.
Today we are going to focus on Ellen’s blogging journey. Her responses are brilliant and you will see why I love the way she writes. Also, her photo – well that will give you a feel for how fun Ellen is.
Blogging, how did you start?
I started blogging in 2015, not long before my third novel came out. (That was The Divorce Diet, she wrote without the faintest hint of self-promotion.) My plan was that the blog would help promote the book, but I knew zilch about blogs and had no idea what to do with one, so I looked at a few writers’ blogs and websites and they bored the hell out of me. Most were openly promotional and offered me, as an audience sample of one, nothing.
So that approach was out. I could blog about writing and aim the blog at newer writers. I’ve taught writing and for eighteen years I edited a writers magazine, so it’s a subject I know well. It also looked like a saturated market and I was tired of the topic. On top of which I didn’t want to talk only to other writers if I could help it.
Because the novel I wanted to promote has a protagonist who’s a passionate cook and the novel includes recipes—some serious and some seriously demented—I thought about writing a food blog. I’m not an expert in the field, but I’ve learned how to make not being an expert work for me, so I wrote up a few recipes and got a sense of how much time it would take. I was retired, but it was still more than I’d be able to keep up with it.
But I’m an American living in Britain. That struck me as interesting, and it became my topic. Within that broad area, my focus has shifted over the years and it’ll probably go on shifting.
What was my niche? I asked myself that a lot and never did answer it. I didn’t want to write an expat blog. I hate the word expat. It’s used by immigrants with enough privilege that they don’t have to call themselves immigrants. It wasn’t a travel blog. If there’s a niche for intercultural mayhem, I never found it. That hasn’t made the blog easy to promote.
With first Brexit and now the pandemic, I’ve started writing a lot about current affairs, but I keep one post a week, on Fridays, with my old focus, exploring this country I live in.
How often do you share blog posts?
At a minimum, I post on Fridays, sometimes about English (or occasionally British) history, sometimes about some other aspect of the country. But first with Brexit and now with the pandemic, I’ve been posting several times a week, depending on what’s happening in the news.
Do you write every day?
Sometimes. Which is to say no, although I miss it when I don’t. But consistency is not one of my obsessions.
Do you have a special writing spot, place?
Not deliberately, but now that I don’t work longhand anymore (yes, I’m that old), I work where the computer lives.
Do you ever get fed up, bored with writing? How do you get past that? For example, all the doom of Brexit, covid, etc doesn’t it tire you?
For me, this is two different questions. If my writing bores me, I’m writing the wrong thing. Odds are it’ll bore other people too, so it’s time to either throw that out or find a different way into it. But I have gone through several stretches of writer’s block, which are horrible. I’ve hurled myself against that particular wall in all sorts of ways, and I have no idea what works. The passage of time, probably.
Does the state of the world get to me? Yes and no. I care passionately about what happens in the world, and I’ve been a lefty political activist since I was old enough to ride the subway by myself. (I grew up in New York.) I also know that getting emotional about the news can disable a person, and I to the extent that I can I cultivate an emotional distance from it. Weeping over the news or throwing things at the T.V. changes nothing. Standing back a few inches or appreciating the absurdity of the people who run the world, though? At a minimum, that keeps me functional, and lately it gives me a way to keep the news amusing enough that people just might read it.
How long do you research a blog post?
It depends on the post, and I’ve never really kept track. I suspect it would horrify me if I did. Some posts, much longer than others.
How many drafts and revisions do you do before publishing?
Again, it depends. I rewrite a lot. It’s easier and more satisfying than writing the first draft. If the piece is any good, I can ride on the energy I’ve created and I can see it get better as I tinker. For fiction, I rewrite a lot. A serious lot.
The posts, though—with some, I don’t have (or take) the time to rewrite as much as I should, and it shows. In early drafts, the language is sloppy and I leave gaps in the logic. But even there, knowing that I’ll go back over a post allows me not to obsess about the shape of a first draft. I often throw information on the page any old which way, knowing that I’ll come back and find the post’s shape later. I suspect it lets me work more quickly.
When writing your blog posts, do you take a break before final proofreading and publishing?
Ideally, I come back to them several times over a period of days or weeks before I publish, but with some of the news compilations I don’t have time to do that. I write, I reread and edit several times—for content, to clean up the surface, for coherence—then I publish. I’d count that as not going over a piece often enough, and the writing often isn’t as clean as I’d like it to be. On the other hand I’ve learned to work more quickly than I used to and there’s value in that.
Blogging advice; to those wanting to start blogging; or who are bloggers what advice you have for them, how to blog, when to blog, how to engage, how to enjoy it, and make it work?
That will vary so much from person to person, from topic to topic, and from purpose to purpose that I’m not sure I can say anything useful. So I’m going to smile vaguely and duck the question. See it whizz over my shoulder? Wasn’t that nifty?
I will say one thing, though, about engagement: The prefab blogging advice I saw when I started was to get your audience to engage with you by asking questions. In standard English, getting your audience to engage is known as getting them to leave a comment. And getting them to leave a comment is presented as a measure of success. And maybe it is. I don’t know. Like so many things, it probably depends on what your goal is.
I love the comments people leave me. They range from funny to informative to moving to thought provoking to (very occasionally) annoying as hell. I love getting a response to my writing and I love the conversations that happen in the comment section. But I can’t see that gathering comments should be a universal measure of success.
Still, I see a lot of bloggers asking questions in the hope of provoking a response. The problem is that not many of them are questions I want to answer or could say anything interesting about, and asking questions becomes a kind of tic bloggers develop.
My advice, for whatever it’s worth, is to write about something you care about and that other people care about, or write in a way that provokes discussion, then get out of the way and see what happens.
And if people do respond, respond back. Say something substantive, or funny, or real. Something with more substance than, “Thanks for stopping by.”
The interview continues…
In part two, we learn about Ellen the Editor, her advice for wannabe editors and what we should consider when working with an editor. We will also discuss her book writing (a little). Please do visit Ellen’s Blog – Notes from the U.K., and experience for yourself her wonderful writing.
Do visit again to read the stories of other bloggers interviews I have lined up for 2021.
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