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Beginning again

I've been writing and editing professionally since I was 19, copyediting the Daily Utah Chronicle student newspaper in college. I went on from that to write and edit for weekly newspapers, newsletters, a quarterly magazine, and then onto scientific and medical writing and software guides.

Most of my published writing came before the advent of social media. I've written very little online. Except for the occasional comment on FaceBook or answer on Quora, you won't find my words on social media platforms. I want to change that.

But I'm finding there are differences in writing for online platforms rather than print. There are new things to learn. It feels like starting over as a writer. I'm a beginner again.

I've been a beginner over and over in my life. It happened when I started to learn tae kwon do. And again when I started meditating.

When I was training for tae kwon do belt tests and tournaments, the master told us the most important thing we could was to be really good beginners.

Beginner's mind

Similarly, when I began meditating, I read about something called "beginner's mind," where you have no preconceived notions. You haven't narrowed or specialized yet. You are at the very beginning of your journey, open to accepting whatever learning comes your way. Indeed, in meditation, beginner's mind is something to cultivate even after you have experience. It is a way of being in the world.

So here I am, beginning again. Seeking my beginner's mind for writing in this new world of social media.

When I wrote for weekly newspapers and a quarterly magazine, I got my ideas from my editor, reader tips, or my beat (a weekly round of checking in with sources, attending meetings, responding to events on the police scanner).

I wrote based on the writing process I'd learned in college. As a technical and medical writer, I get my ideas and source material from subject matter experts ... software developers, clinicians, scientists, engineers who have deep knowledge but not necessarily the audience viewpoint.

That's how I've used writing to earn a living for decades, and how I'll keep earning my living while I experiment with writing on these new platforms.

A place to publish

Luckily there are many, many other writers who share their knowledge.  And there's so much to learn. Writing online is not just about writing, it's also about publishing. To publish online, you have to know a bit about the technical side of things. You have to have a place to publish, like a social media platform or a blog.

I decided to start with a blog and propagate. Why?

Because I read a book about content marketing that said a blog is critical. It becomes the base of all your content marketing efforts.

A blog seemed doable. I know html and css. I have set up web sites before. I thought, I can set up a blog! I started working on it.  I decided to use WordPress to save time. I read a couple articles online, purchased a domain name, purchased hosting, installed WordPress, fiddled with the default theme and then decided to purchase and install a professional theme. None of it was as easy as I thought.

I got frustrated repeatedly. And then I took a break, looked for my beginner's mind, and opened up to what there was to learn.

That wasn't the end of the frustrations, of course. Before I got anything published on my blog site, hackers got into it and installed phishing software targeting Microsoft. I got a takedown notice. I decided to nuke the site and abandon Wordpress in favor of Ghost, which is my current platform.

Building the site took weeks of half hours or hours of time and then rebuilding it took more weeks. I had to remind myself of the path I was on and what next thing I had to do.

What to write

The next thing ... get writing.  But about what?

I started keeping an experience journal. I write 15 minutes at the end of the day about the mundane, interesting, weird, normal, whatever happened during the day and what I thought, how I felt, what I decided.

Then I set up a content calendar using Notion. I mined my experience journal and added article ideas in my content calendar.

Then I set up a writing process in Process Street.

Just before I start writing, I select an article topic. Then I follow the process in Process Street.

I often have only an hour a day to write, so it's important that I don't use any of that time for anything but writing. I need to know my topic beforehand. I can't waste time trying to decide or remember what to do next.

The results are not perfect. I want them to be better. But I am just a beginner and I am learning to be patient with that. And to keep doing the next thing while staying open to the learning that comes my way.