Skip to main content

How I Write and Learn

A Blog about Blogging 

By Elaine, a Writing Center Coach

I started blogging in my twenties when I moved across the globe, was desperately lonely and terrified, stressed and elated and thriving and stagnating all at once. I wrote to remember what was happening to me. I wrote to imbue my little life with meaning. 

One time, I peed on my own skirt when I was traveling in Spain. And as I sat in the stall trying to figure out how that was physically possible while sober, the only balm for how stupid I felt was that this was going to be a hilarious story if I could figure out how to write it. How, I wondered as I frantically washed the skirt in the sink, can I write this story in a way that is funny-horrifying instead of sad-horrifying?

But I didn’t blog about peeing on my skirt just to air my dirty laundry (lol). I blogged about peeing on my skirt so that when people look at their own laundry, it doesn’t seem so dirty anymore. Blogs use the particularities of your life to connect to the needs many of us share.

[No, that’s not quite right. “Use” is a boring verb. “Particularities” and “The needs many of us share” is banal]

Blogs use the details of our lives to shed light on a shared hunger.

[Two metaphors in one sentence. And I’m still using “use.” This isn’t working. Go back a sentence.]

I blogged about peeing on my skirt so that when people look at their own laundry, it doesn’t seem so dirty anymore. Fundamentally, that’s what blogs are: your life minutiae transformed into something meaningful.

[Boom. Nailed it.]

The mechanics of blogging are tricky, though, and they require an absurd amount of a very particular kind of editing. So this is a blog about blogs I’ve written, a meandering walk through the minutiae of my life and the ways I’ve shaped it into text for consumption. [dry] to say something that matters.

I once wrote a blog called “Titty Sprinkles,” which was the name of an intramural soccer team I loved (because I love soccer) and hated (because it was blatantly misogynist). I figured the title would help blog traffic, and I was right. I did not figure that everyone on my soccer team would read my denunciation of their misogyny and come at me the next time I saw them on the pitch. But they did–because I stole their reality and changed it with my version of reality [awk, repetitive, vague]–because in 400 words, I stole their version of reality and upended it [precise, tight, kept the strong verb]. A blog can take one version of the world and retell it, shaping how people see themselves and their own actions.

Unfortunately, most blogs don’t. They get bogged down by internal monologues or suffocate their reader with generalities, platitudes, and words that mean nothing. [same suffocating generality three times in a row!] I learned how to write blogs by paying attention to the moments when I stopped reading other people’s blogs. You know how you’re sitting in class sometimes and you realize you’ve been in a stupor for the last 15 minutes. You shake yourself, and pick up a pen, intending to write some notes down. But the professor is still talking about that one time in the Appalachian mountains they saw a piece of bark shaped like a snail, and you have no idea why you’re supposed to care about the bark, and you remember, “Oh yeah, that’s why I fell into a stupor 15 minutes ago.” [too many words; pick a quicker example]

When was the last time you actually read an annoyingly long email ? Maybe you opened it, and maybe you even skimmed a few sentences before switching to TikTok. When writing a blog, that’s your audience. No one is required to read your writing; you have to earn it. They could be in class, or asking Google about that weird-shaped mole on their arm, or any one of a hundred other things in life. I wrote a blog titled “Titty Sprinkles” because it grabbed people’s attention, and then I kept their attention by quoting my teammates’ remarks to me and reporting on my own struggles to respect myself showing them the interior life of a woman fighting to respect herself in a world made for men.

I hold attention with three types of sentences: doing sentences; thinking sentences; and gut-punchers. 

  • Doing sentences should be evocative with punchy verbs and absurdly precise details. Why say “the internet” when you could say “asking Google about that weirdly-shaped mole on their arm”?
  • Thinking sentences should never start with the phrase “I think,” but they can link actions to take-aways. They can also let people into your interior world in a way that no other medium can. Your interior world is likely many things, but if you’re honest and you can find the words, it is not boring.
  • Gut-puncher sentences are the take-aways. They’re short. They’re often quiet. And they should say something that matters to you and to other people. And when you write them, they should pull something out of you and push something new into your reader.

And finally, I have never written a blog about the best moments in my life. Blogs feed on the detritus of existence, the quiet moments of shame when we pee on ourselves, the struggles with feeling like an imposter, and the fight to maintain our mental health. I can’t say for sure if it’s necessary to write from weakness or a religiously-imbued pathology of my own, but our moments of weakness have great capacity for saying something worth saying.

Blogs aren’t the same as a TikTok video, an Instagram post, or a Facebook rant. Blogs are personal pieces of writing, deprioritized by algorithms but with the potential to be a gift to whoever accidentally stumbles across it. And hopefully, at their best, blogs are also a chance to turn the peeing-on-your-own-clothing moments in life into something meaningful.

This blog showcases the perspectives of UNC Chapel Hill community members learning and writing online. If you want to talk to a Writing and Learning Center coach about implementing strategies described in the blog, make an appointment with a writing coach, a peer tutor, or an academic coach today. Have an idea for a blog post about how you are learning and writing remotely? Contact us here.

Comments are closed.