Learning WordPress-One of the best decisions I’ve made

I don’t know exactrly when I learned to use WordPress as a publishing/blogging platform, but it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Firstly, it has allowed me to publish my own content on my own websites which I control entirely. The freedom, and control, that this has given me over the years has been of enormaous benefit in buildig my business.

Because it has allowed me to publish content, ideas, legal decisions, legal news, legislation, commentary which will be of benefit to the people I seek to serve (and do business with).

Looking back at some of the earliest blog posts I published on my main solicitor’s website-BusinessAndLegal.ie-I see the first posts were published on 24th September 2009. That’s over 10 years ago now!

I have published plenty of blog posts on other websites I created, too-sites like EmploymentRightsIreland.com, SmallBusinessLawIreland.com, FamilyLawIrelandHq.com and others-and have learnt a huge amount about communicating, dragging readers in, focusing on the concerns of the people I wish to serve, and more.

Learning WordPress has always meant that I have never had to rely on a ‘tech guy’ to publish content or make changes on my websites. I could never be held to ransom and could chop, change and experiment to my heart’s content to see what worked best for me and my business.

This independence has been priceless.

When you recognise the power of being able to publish useful content regularly, and combine it with the opportunity to make useful videos with the smartphone in my pocket, you can become a one person marketing and business building machine.

Thankfully, a relatively small number of competitors have recognised this, although if they did I believe we would find there is plenty of business for everybody and it is not a zero sum game.

Personal writing

There is also the personal benefits I get from writing about anything and everything from time to time on a blog like this one. Because I find writing therapeutic, a great way to get my thinking straight and to tease out issues, and a place I can go to empty my mind of stresses that build up from time to time.

Why Should You Write Often?

Why should you write often? Perhaps as much as every day?

Let’s take a look at the reasons why I write frequently-although I feel a sense of guilt about not writing even more often-and why I believe I should be writing every day. Perhaps thinking this through for myself will give you some food for thought.

Benefits of writing

Firstly, stress reduction.

Writing allows you to put on paper, or virtual paper if you are writing online, your thoughts, fears, worries, issues, problems which in turn allows you to confront them and think them through. The act of emptying your mind and dumping the contents by writing is a stress reducer and therapeutic.

Secondly, clear thinking.

Writing allows me to think through a problem or issue that I face and the very act of writing out the factors in whatever I am struggling with helps think with greater clarity and perspective.

Thirdly, better communication.

If you communicate every day in writing your words you will improve your communication skills which is a huge benefit to acquire and grow; and regardless of whether the communication you engage in on a regular basis is oral or written the ability to communicate effectively is priceless.

These three reasons are probably, for me as a solicitor, the most important reasons. But for you there may be other benefits which will flow from writing every day and on which you will place a greater value.

And I have no doubt there are many other good reasons for developing a regular writing habit.

For both of us the benefit of acquiring a great habit by showing up more often-even every day-to improve our skill in this one area of our lives can set us up to make other small changes to acquire positive new habits, or ditch bad ones.

(Day #2)

Does writing every day help you improve your writing?

The predictable advice to anyone seeking to improve their writing is to read and write with regularity. Reading is easy to do but writing every day, which is the recommendation to hone your craft, is much more difficult.

There are two problems with this approach, I believe:

  • having subject matter to write about each day
  • even if you do write every day is there not a possibility of repeating the same mistakes and simply further developing and building bad habits?

Often, too, you will come across a piece of writing which is so good, so tight, so precise and crisp, and so damn good that you lose confidence and are tempted to think, ‘I can’t write like that, I can never write like that..’

But maybe writing like that is not a good goal. Maybe writing in my own voice to communicate with my readers is the goal.

However, to widen my vocabulary and try different things in my writing it is obviously worth trying to write more often-even every day, if possible.

Let’s face it, it is eminently possible to write every day. What’s needed is committment and focus and a determination to show up every single day without exception and write something. Anything.

No matter how long or short or unstructured or inarticulate or poorly written, there must be value in showing up every day and putting words down on paper, whether the ‘paper’ is electronic or physical.

So that’s what I intend to do for the next 30 days: show up and write something here on this blog for 30 consecutive days. This is my committment to myself, my ’30 day challenge’.

Now I am going to do a little research about finding things to write about.

(Today is day 1 of the 30 day challenge).

How Do You Reconcile the Writing Style of Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway?

I discovered Ernest Hemingway a few years ago. That was mainly thanks to my study of ‘copywriting’ and trying to write well for web visitors to my various websites/blogs. The advice was straightforward, and easy to follow provided you followed some simple rules.

The rules focused on using short words, short sentences, short paragraphs and making it as easy as possible for the greatest number of people to read my blog posts. That’s where Hemingway came in because he was held up as the leading proponent of such vigorous, muscular, frills free writing. If you were in any doubt you only had to read his novella, ‘The Old Man and the Sea’.

Then I discovered Charles Dickens. It took a while to wade through the first Dickens book I read, ‘Bleak House’, but I soon appreciated Dickens’s genius. This genius was, in my view, founded on his stories, his storytelling, and the unforgettable, vivid characters he created in his books.

When I think then about the difference between Hemingway and Dickens, I struggle to reconcile the chasms of difference between the two styles. Sometimes I resent having to ‘dumb down’ and write in a way that makes what I write easy to read, understand, and scan. Sometimes I would like to write a blog post in the Dickens style of writing.

I doubt, however, that the piece would be read. The attention span of web surfers is short and getting shorter and you had better make your stuff easy to consume or you will not be read.

And the main purpose of writing is to get read, at least by the people for whom you are writing and catering.

One thing I can say with confidence: writing in the ‘Hemingway’ style has the most profound effect on readers. I have had people come to see me from all over the country and many of them have referred to my writing and even go so far as to quote some of my own stuff back to me.

Meanwhile, I want to improve my craft and continue learning and communicating with the greatest number of people who may have concerns with which I can help.

Writing As Art

I have been labouring under the misapprehension all my life that a sentence must have a verb. Master McDyer told us this in the national school in Enfield when I was in 5th class. ‘Hogs grunt’, he would say, ‘that’s a sentence’.

I have just finished a book called ‘The Elements of Eloquence: How To Turn the Perfect English Phrase’ and the author, Mark Forsyth, points out that this is not the case. And some of the examples he gives come straight from the first chapter of the first book I ever read from the author who would later become my favourite.

The author was Charles Dickens, the book was ‘Bleak House’, and the first sentence in that book goes as follows: ‘London’.

And then the book proceeds for a further 384 words, or thereabouts, without a verb. It describes the fog in London at that time, the fog being a metaphor for the law. The fog was everywhere, all pervasive, enveloping the city, stifling London during Michaelmas term, if memory serves me well.

The fundamental hypothesis of Forsyth’s book is that words and writing are not only for communicating but also for the creation of art. He argues that the popularity of the ‘plain English’ writing championed by, amongst others, Ernest Hemingway is not the only way to write and even if you have nothing to say you can say it well with beautiful writing.

He makes the valid comparison between writing and clothing and the acceptance (by most of us anyway) that clothing serves other purposes in addition to the purely functional task of covering the human anatomy and keeping us warm.

So it is with writing and language and words.

The book is not a white knuckle ride or a page turner by any stretch of the imagination. But if you like words, if you place a value on words and how they are laid out and used, if you have an interest in rhetoric the ‘The Elements of Eloquence: How To Turn the Perfect English Phrase’ is worth the few bob I paid on Kindle.

And like virtually every book I have read, no matter how apparently boring or useless or didactic or lecturing or smart alecky, there is always one or two gems you can pick up. Like diamonds in a pigsty. And that is certainly the case with this one.

Fantasising About Words

Fyodor Dostoevsky

From time to time I fantasise about writing blog posts in the style of Dickens or Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.

I write a good deal of content for consumption by people on the internet who have limited, and narrowing, attention spans.

To counter this I have employed a technique which writers for the internet, bloggers, and content marketers are advised to use. This involves short words, short sentences, short paragraphs, and lots of white space.

One of the objectives of this technique is to make the content as snackable and accessible as possible. And I know it works because people frequently tell me they love reading my stuff, that I make it easy to read and understand, and so forth.

This is not an accident for this is precisely what I set out to do.

But sometimes I dream about writing a blog post in one or two long sentences-in the style of Charles Dickens, for example.

And I imagine throwing in words that are not short and simple and have only one syllable. But words that are difficult, obscure, rarely used but appropriate for the situation. Words and phrases like ‘dissipation’, ‘urbanity’, ‘agreeable’, ‘disagreeable’, ‘displeasure’, ‘much engaged’, ‘prodigiously’, ‘melancholy’, ‘admonition’, ‘withering scorn’, ‘much occupied by his sagacity’, ‘unreserved intimacy’, ‘unquiet spirit’, and so forth.

Maybe one day, for the sheer hell of it, I will ‘fall to prodigiously’ and break loose.

P.S. All the words and phrases in the paragraph above are from ‘Dombey & Son’ by Charles Dickens, a novel I would recommend enthusiastically.

Especially if you love words.