Another watershed moment

Regular followers will notice that there’s been little to read on this blog lately. Not having posted in over a month, I may even be close to violating my own blog network’s rules of engagement for syndication on the site (sorry Science Borealis!).

There are many excuses for why I’ve been so silent. Moving house. So much going on with Science Borealis. Fluctuating health. The list goes on – as it does for many of us who blog. Truth is, I’ve been struggling with the question of whether or not I want to continue blogging. What purpose does it serve in my life, and is there a space for it amongst everything else I delicately (and sometimes more clumsily) juggle?

A recent article by Dani Shapiro (and if you haven’t read her book, Still Writing, you really should), made me worry that my time on the web (blogging, Facebook, Twitter) was detracting from my writing. That social media had become a way to share without sharing, to pen a memoir that isn’t really a memoir. For *real* writing, we have to hold things back, keep them inside, let them fester, stew, and ferment into deeper thoughts than just changing our Facebook relationship status from married to divorced. Or tweeting that we’ve been diagnosed with a new illness. Or even blogging – briefly – about a near-death experience. Memoir – especially of the sort I aim to write – doesn’t lend itself to social media-fication (to coin a terrible word).

When I looked more closely, though, I realized that my social media use has become quite private. I rarely post on Facebook, and my Twitter stream is full of science, politics, and science/politics outbursts, but not much that’s overtly personal. I’ve written a few blog posts that have been very personal – but more recently have been sticking to other peoples’ stories rather than my own. So I don’t really have an excuse for quitting blogging altogether, because I’m not betraying that rich interior life. If anything, it’s somewhat bottled up, backlogged in the pen I’ve been having a hard time putting to paper lately.

The problem, more likely, is that I’m lacking blog structure. I, who have a hard time acquiescing to structure in any shape or form, need a blog framework on which to hang my posts. Even just a general idea that tells me what my blog is about, what I want to cover, and what I want readers to go away thinking about. This is something I’ve talked about with Paige Brown and Kirk Englehardt on Twitter quite a bit – initially about finding your blog voice, but more recently about structure, and how it can help put individual blog posts into perspective.

In pondering my blog voice and structure, I’ve been inspired by a host of Science Borealis colleagues, friends and other Tweeps. Starting with Kim Moynahan, a fellow nature writer and Science Borealis team member, who recently ruminated on the focus of her own blog. One of the things holding her back, she noted, was not wanting to blog about something that ‘everyone else’ was already blogging about. But then she realized that it was highly likely her readers didn’t read the ‘everyone else’ she was talking about, and that she could share some of the same topics with a bit of her own spin. Now this I understand from science – the feeling that everything has already been done and you have nothing new to contribute. But in reality we always have something to contribute, because of our independent perspectives and unique audiences.

Kim also decided to add a new feature to her blog – blogging about her current new home (in the city), as well as progress on her future (energy efficient) home (in the country). By focusing on place – city and country – and the nature she experiences in each, suddenly the list of blog topics increases exponentially.

Then there are my fellow editors at Science Borealis. Hannah Hoag, who was disappointed that many Canadian science bloggers aren’t covering current events in science. Pascal Lapointe and Karine Morin, who are dealing with blogs purporting to be on one subject (e.g., science policy) but that rarely blog on that topic (I would be one of those bloggers – sorry Karine & Pascal!). Tyler Irving, reminding me of the Science Media Centre of Canada’s weekly newsletters highlighting new and newsworthy Canadian science.

All of these people have helped me define a new blog framework.

Like Kim, I, too, have recently moved. The plan is to not move again, which is a bold statement given that we’ve moved on average every two years over the past 14 years. I want to get to know our new landscape, its secrets and wonders, and the issues of importance to people in the region. Blogging is a way to do that – so thanks to Kim I aim to blog about explorations of the natural world around me, and about environmental issues of relevance to my new region (for example, the super low river flows this summer that will once again require trucking spawning salmon upstream).

Thanks to Hannah and Tyler, I’ve decided to blog more about environmental news stories popping up in the media. More posts, for example, like my last one on the Mount Polley mine disaster (perhaps even a follow-up to that original post).

Thanks to Karine and Pascal, I don’t want to misrepresent my blog as something it’s not. As keen as I am on science policy, academic science, and women in science, I’ll keep those types of posts to a minimum because they’re not my area of expertise. And a little focus goes a long way in generating new blog post ideas. With not enough focus, there can be so many things to blog about that you don’t even know where to start.

The trick, however, is not to become a purely technical or news-regurgitating blog. I’m a writer. I love words, using them to conjure landscapes and vistas, to freeze moments into strings of prose like raindrops on a barbed wire fence. I read posts like Dezene Huber’s river post over at The Boreal Beetle, and it speaks to me more than any technical post I’ve ever read.

So where does that leave me?

1. Start with the regional. Explore my local environment and get in tune with the issues that define this community.

2. Add in a good dose of Canadian (environmental) science news – with my own personal spin.

3. Finally, mix it all together with a side serving of word play, rich imagery, and dense metaphor that brings the whole package to life.

As my friend Korice said (somewhat sternly, I think!):

“Your writing is like candy for readers. Few earn that compliment. You know the science + art of communicating. Own it.”

Welcome to Watershed Moments 3.0. Hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

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10 thoughts on “Another watershed moment

  1. Inspiring post and new focus,I look forward to reading. With number three you invite in a potentially wide audience, I find the subject that much more accessible and inviting when the prose provokes the readers imagination as much as the intellect. Well done and bonne continuation.

  2. This is so good. That’s interesting that Kim wrote about what she did – I was just thinking, did my interview with her prompt that? And then I see that she talked about our interview!! 🙂

  3. Firstly I hope the move went well, and that you’re in a good spot. Secondly, I don’t mind how often you blog – it’s quality not quantity that matters. As we’re all so busy, I just think ‘cool, a new blog from Sarah’ when one pops up (yes, you’ve drawn me into this blogging world). Actually please don’t write too much, I do have to do some work! Thirdly, the subject doesn’t really bother me – I find a variety is interesting, and it should be driven by what you want to write about and what you think is important at that moment. With your style there is always something for everyone, so Watershed Moments 3.0 – bring it on!

    • Hi Mel – thanks for taking the time to comment, and glad to hear I’ve drawn you into the blogging world! While the subject may not bother the reader (too much…), having a focus is more of a way to help myself. With less focus, I come across too many interesting things to blog about. And then I get blogger paralysis because I don’t know where to start! This way I can focus on a (relatively) small range of topics – already have a few ideas in the works. If something outside that range catches my attention I can blog about it, but overall I’ll hopefully be less overwhelmed by the diversity of topics I could be covering. 🙂

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