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First rule of successful blog style – get over yourself

Ever wonder why no-one is reading your blog? You’ve written about your pop culture obsession, revealed some personal insights, made sure you were original but then… nothing.

Not a retweet, not a comment, not a like.

Here’s a clue. Maybe you were writing the right thing – but you were writing it in the wrong way.

Ask yourself these three questions

  • Who was I trying to impress with my blog post?
  • Was I writing it in the way my audience wanted to read it?
  • Can I rework the blog post different ways for different audiences?

Yes, everyone’s telling you that you should develop your own voice and you shouldn’t compromise for fear of becoming like the herd. But here’s something they never tell you.

Voice is not about style. Voice is about content.

Think about Charles Dickens. He had a distinctive style. But when you think about Dickens and you think about his stories not his sentence construction (in fact, that might be the exact obstacle to you reading his novels cover to cover).

No, with Dickens, you think about his eccentric characters, his foggy London, his campaign for social justice, his version of Christmas.

His prose style was the most effective, populist means of delivering his message and his stories. If he was writing today, he’d be writing an HBO box-set. He wouldn’t be writing in any way we’d consider “Dickensian”.

Style follows content follows audience

So, if the answer to the first question is that you’re writing your blog post to impress people with your semantic gymnastics, get over yourself.

Yes, you can make a Spam, anchovy and blue cheese pizza because it’s original and notable and quirky and some millionaire chef might buy up the rights.

But make one with ham, cheese and pepperoni and you’ll get more people to your stall.

People want to read things the way they want to read things. Questions, bullet points, subheads, short sentences – these are the language of the web. People are not going to learn a new language just because you came along.

Why should they care? Chances are they can get a similar point of view from someone else who doesn’t require a translation.

(Spoiler alert. The lessons of this blogpost are not original. Nothing’s new. It’s just packaged differently.)

That doesn’t mean your Dickensian prose or high-falutin wit goes to waste. Your blog post has another function.

Think of your blogpost as branded breadcrumbs. You get an audience by delivering it their way – you get followers and a following – and then you can convert those followers into readers who, hopefully, become fans.

Follow the rules… then break them

Get some followers then share with them your Spam, anchovy and blue cheese pizza. They’ll gobble it up. Or, at least be receptive to the idea because it’s come from someone they know and trust.

Because, you’re sharing with people already on your side, already familiar with your way of thinking. You have critical mass of followers who’ll give you honest feedback.

Remember, in the first instance, it’s just about the numbers.

So don’t be precious – learn to adapt

If you can only write in one style – yours – and that style doesn’t work, you’re not the writer you thought you were.

You don’t write a film script like a novel. You don’t write a comic book like a haiku. A blog post is not a newspaper article or a diary entry. It is what it is.

Yes, refusing to compromising has merits. Sticking to your guns is laudable. You might be the one who can finally bust conventions and create a new paradigm.

If that’s your path then good luck. You’ll need patience, buckets of self-belief, endless talent and lots of luck.

But if all you want is lots of people to read and enjoy the posts you write, then make it their way.

Learn to adapt. Re-work a piece till it feels right (you, after all, are a digital consumer too).

Be prepared to lose the battle to win the war.

Bored, bored, bored – are you stuck in a rut?

Stuck in a rut? 5 ways to get you out

The world is in a state of flux. But you’re doing the same thing this week as you did last week and nothing seems to change. People are protesting Brexit and climate change and you’re snacking on popcorn and checking Instagram updates. You’re stuck in a rut.

You had a plan for New Year, New You 2017 but it never worked. You relaunched about springtime and that never worked. You thought you’d wait for summer to be over but nothing’s going to change. You’re stuck in a rut.

Drastic action is required. Try one of these five things. And for everything you do that isn’t what you’d normally do take a pat on the back because kicking the rut habit is h-a-r-d.

1. Do something helpful

It can start by helping someone who looks lost, or picking up a dropped can of beans in the supermarket. Baby steps. And if you’re not the kind of person who strikes out on their own, look for your Corporate Social Responsibility team at work – they’ll have programmes in which you can paint the walls of an old people’s home, or read to children or dig an allotment.

From that, you can make contacts in the charity sector and pick your own contribution. Helping others is one of the surefire ways of aiding your own well-being. It’s great for mood and general health. Saturday in front of the telly? Or running a stall raising money that will make a difference to real people’s lives? The NCVO has a string of volunteer centres that offer advice.

2. Do something creative

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When was the last time you had that sense of satisfaction of sitting back after a project and seeing the thing you’ve just made – touching it, displaying it, leaving it and coming back to it.

Read more: 5 ways to get back your creativity

Whether it’s a meal made from scratch, a lamp stand made from old bits of wood or a pencil sketch, it doesn’t matter about the quality it only matters that something exists in this world because you made it happen.

3. Do something uncomfortable

All your life you wanted to get your set-up just-so. Everything like you like it. And now you find you’re not growing as a person.

Evolution is about struggle, about adapting and thriving and learning. It’s built into our DNA. Without that drive we’d all be single cell organisms. Do something that will prompt you to grow. Talk to strangers at parties. Learn to speak French. Join a writer’s group and read out your short stories. You squirm, you succeed, you grow.

4. Do something daring

Something daring is “Do something uncomfortable” taken to the max. We’re talking new skills and experiences that put you on the edge and give you the thrill of being alive. Sky diving, skateboarding, joining a dating site. Take a skiing holiday, not a spa holiday.

Buy a F1 driving experience, not a new sofa. Live a little. Take pictures. Be like those other guys on Facebook who just don’t care what other people think. Liberate yourself from your fears with a bang, not a whimper. Ask yourself – “what would I do if I wasn’t scared?”

5. Do something

The only one that counts if you’re stuck in a rut. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what you do the key thing is having the courage to try. Are you bored with your life, not because it’s boring but because it’s unchallenging? Do something – anything – you wouldn’t normally do, even if it’s only cycling with a group rather than cycling alone. Once you get a sense of what’s out there, the hairs will rise on the back of your neck and you’ll feel the potential of what’s possible.

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The key moment is the first step. And remember, no-one’s keeping score. You’re not being ranked against Bear Grylls or JK Rowling. If trying a new breakfast cereal is daring in your world and you do it – congratulations!

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

The remarkable life of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

On September 28 in 1865, east London pioneer and political Elizabeth Garrett Anderson activist qualified to become Britain’s first practising woman doctor.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, one of 12 children born to a Whitechapel couple, went on to defy convention as the first Englishwoman to qualify as a doctor as well challenge society across the spectrum by championing the feminist movement.

Born in 1836, she was educated in Blackheath and fell into domestic service. Her medical ambition was thwarted when she was denied a place at a number of specialist schools. She responded by enrolling in nursing school, attending classes for male doctors and taking private evening classes.

The Society of Apothecaries did not specifically bar women from taking exams and, in 1862, she managed to pass their exams to gain a certificate which would allow her to become a doctor. The society immediately changed its rules to ban any further women qualifying.

Read more Chemical reaction to women’s place in science

Though she was now a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, as a woman, Garrett could not take up a medical post in any hospital. So in September 1865, Garrett opened her own practice at 20 Upper Berkeley Street, London.

She had few patients and the prejudice was great. But soon after she began her work, there was an outbreak of cholera and many men put aside their concerns about receiving treatment from a woman.

By then Elizabeth had already opened St Mary’s Dispensary for Women and Children, at 69 Seymour Place tending to 3,000 new patients and many times that as out-patients.

She was made one of the visiting physicians of the East London Hospital for Children, becoming the first woman in Britain to be appointed to a medical post and she gained membership of the British Medical Association and remained the only female member for 19 years after the Association voted against the admission of further women.

In 1871 she married James George Skelton Anderson and had three children, two girls and a boy. Her baby daughter Margaret died in 1875 of meningitis. By 1873 the demands of private practice and motherhood led her to resign her senior posts.

Elizabeth juggles career and family

She once remarked that “a doctor leads two lives, the professional and the private, and the boundaries between the two are never traversed”.

Her determination cleared a path for other women, and in 1876 a law was passed allowing women to enter the medical professions.

Elizabeth went on to co-found the first hospital staffed by women, and become the first dean of a British medical school, the first woman elected to a school board and the first female mayor and magistrate.

Throughout her career she was interested in the women’s suffrage movement and became more active after her husband’s death in 1907. Her daughter, Louisa, also a physician, spent time in prison in 1912 for her suffrage protests.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson died in December 1917, aged 81.

Writer and activist Naomi Klein (Image: Getty)

Between failure and collapse is the best time to act

Events are happening so fast and a US presidency unravelling so quickly that Naomi Klein’s new polemic – much like last night’s news – is in danger of appearing outdated before it has a chance to sink in.

Pity, because No Is Not Enough is more than an extended rant against President Donald Trump and the apotheosis of corporate America’s power-grab.

While the author and activist is excessively preoccupied with the consequences for American of a misogynistic, racist and climate change denier in the White House, she also believes a good crisis should not go to waste.

Her previous book – 2007’s Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism – exposed how politicians and corporations exploited, and even seeded, calamities.

Natalia Price, left, of San Jose, holds an anti-hate sign at a rally against white nationalism on August 19, 2017 in Mountain View, California (Image: Getty Images North America)

Natalia Price, left, of San Jose, holds an anti-hate sign at a rally against white nationalism on August 19, 2017 in Mountain View, California (Image: Getty Images North America)

The purpose was to claim more powers for the state (civil liberties eroded because of terrorism) or claim more money for shareholders (the free-for-all security bonanza in Iraq).

In her new book, she adapts this credo of the elite to shape a template for people power. The world’s troubles – terror, climate, poverty – do require a radical response, but not from them but from us .

The Leap initiative

Klein does more than argue the point. She helped make it real with the Leap initiative in Canada . This saw activist groups, communities, native peoples and the disenfranchised come together to draw up broad principles that would underpin a fair and sustainable society.

The movement deliberately avoided becoming a political party, preferring to inform all levels of Canadian society through grass-roots community action and debate. Among its policy demands were a universal basic income, respect for individual rights, a progressive carbon tax, “town hall” democracy and affordable public transport.

Read more: Don’t be fooled – these tech monopolies are predatory

Ironically, the fact that President Trump exceeded even his own toxic norm with his Charlottesville diatribe does Klein’s campaign no favours. If he is discredited, dismissed and forgotten, there’s a chance that a weary US will move on and rally round a “business as usual” alternative.

Klein argues that in these apocalyptic times “business as usual” is the last thing anyone needs and, in all likelihood, the last thing anyone will have.

Back to the drawing board

Studying how we got to this point of fragmentation, I went back to first principles to see how evolution would have us organise ourselves.

Edward O Wilson’s The Social Conquest Of Earth marvellously illustrates the mercurial power of adaptation. Our supremacy is an oxymoronic combination of improbable luck and inevitability.

Evolution, that great pragmatist, appears to possess an insatiable drive to shape something like us – even though the chances of doing so are infinitesimally small.

And just when we get there, we gain the power and will to destroy everything.

Evolution has much work to do.

The annoying habits that drive Tube passenger mad

BBC’s new comedy show The Mash Report ran a spoof news report – a man from the North is treated like a terrorist for greeting Londoners, eventually forced to issue an apology from outside a police station for his excessive cordiality.

What goes for London goes double for the Tube . Least in the streets, a garrulous A new YouGov poll has confirmed what any seasoned public transport passenger in the capital already knew. Some 55% prefer it when people do not talk to them with only 23% willing to start a chat (presumably unreconstructed emigres from Leeds, Newcastle and suchlike).

Women are less likely to want someone to strike up a conversation with them (20%) than men (26%), while passengers over 65 are more in favour of people talking to them on the Tube (26%) than any other age category.

Tube passengers queue to get on to the Jubilee line

Tube passengers queue to get on to the Jubilee line

And those moments on the Tube can crystallise other annoyances that draw inevitable parallels with an anti-social room-mate.

Top of the teeth-grinding list is people trying to enter a carriage without giving passengers the chance to get off first. More than 90% says this practice gets their goat.

Other complaints in the top 10 include playing music out loud without using headphones, being drunk and eating smelly food.

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