We talk blogging with writing tutor Shyama Perera.
A tutor on our Blogging and Creative Writing courses, Shyama is a former Guardian Journalist and published novelist. She regularly writes for national newspapers and magazines, is a regular voice on local radio, and can be seen reviewing newspapers on the BBC News Channel.
Shyama fills us in about running her two successful blogs, why she loves teaching, and gives us some blogging and creative writing tips.
What do you enjoy most about teaching?
You learn a surprising amount as a teacher, and working with motivated adults, the stories and the energy they bring into a room is inspiring and often exciting. In Creative Writing, people think there is no material in their lives. You set them a simple exercise and suddenly there’s everything from comedy to melodrama. With Blogging, conversely, people come in with a set idea in their heads and by the end of the day, having explored their comfort zones across the personal, the political, commentary, and campaigns, they often leave with a quite different set of goals and ideas.
Blogs are brands: you want people to buy into them, to trust them, to share them
Could you tell us about one of your favourite exercises in class?
At the end of the class I break people up into groups and ask them to imagine their blogs are campaigns that need to be plan and run. Initially there’s lots of humour and off-the-wall ideas, but then the groups realise that this is a serious ‘ask’. Blogs are brands: you want people to buy into them, to trust them, to share them. Even the name of your blog is important. What about content? We can all think of five or six things we really want to say or share, but often they’re different shades of the same idea. How do you grow an idea? Groups break this down and create a strategy to keep people coming back for more. They write the introductory posts and think about photographs and illustrations: where will they come from and who has copyright? It’s all done in fun, but a personal blog is your brand, just as a professional blog is your brand: do you really want a blog or do you just need to buy yourself a diary?
Could you tell about your own blogs?
I have had so many blogs I’ve lost count. Busybunkerbird was my first which was part louche single parent lifestyle (I wish) and part current affairs. I’ve had a couple of dating ones too, which will remain lost in the annals of time. So many blogs, so little to say!!
My first successful blogs is monkeymatterstheatre.com which is a theatre reviews blog – it was lucky to get a 100 hits a week in its first two years, but in the last two it has had a very healthy uptake. Health is relative, of course, because it’s very niche – mainly reviews of small productions in small London theatres – so the potential audience is very small, but when you track who shares it via social media and occasional letters of outrage from theatre press officers, it clearly has some influence. I try and blog one show a week at worst, and in the past two years I average 2000 hits a week and three times that when there’s a signature show under the microscope.
My second blog is only for the twenty people who attend a weekly literary criticism group I run, tricyclereaders.com, and as soon as the blog did what it was supposed to – bring in a bunch of dedicated regulars – I stopped updating it, but it has an attentive audience and still gets hits all the time, so I put something up every now and then just to provide light and shade!
What are you working on at the moment?
I keep my hand in across the year with comment pieces for newspapers and magazines and through blogging, so I am always writing. I’m currently acting as advisor to my daughter who is developing a brilliant blog brand that’s a mix of the British Museum’s The History of the World in a Hundred Objects and Drunk Histories. I’m making her do the same exercises that I get my students do to in the City Academy blogging workshop – think ahead and test the life of the idea. Is it a brilliant gimmick that will ultimately bore her, or is it potentially a huge career move?
Think of writing like running. We can run for a bus, but if we want to run like Usain Bolt we have to work at it
What are your 3 top tips for someone starting their first blog?
- Know what you want to say and why you want to say it.
- Know who you want to reach and have some idea of how you’ll do that.
- Test the practicality and the staying power of the idea by planning your first three months of content
You’re a published novelist. What advice would you have for a City Academy writing student looking to pursue writing professionally?
Everyone who can read and write thinks they have a book in them. They may well do, but until they stop treating writing as a hobby and approach it as a craft – a job – the book will remain a pipe-dream. Think of writing like running. We can all run for a bus, but if we want to run like Usain Bolt, we have to work at it. We have to change our diets, our exercise regimes, our attitudes… even our bodies and our lives. We have to run all day every day building stamina and speed before we can even imagine running behind Usain Bolt, let alone alongside.
The same is true of writing – the fact that you write great emails is an indicator of talent, not a confirmation of it. Treat writing seriously. Don’t worry about the words – you can always change those. What’s your story? It’s what you have to say that sells – great writing is just the icing on the cake! Force yourself to write when you don’t want to, write for one or two hours every day even if that means waking up at 4am. Write from your heart but be firm and edit from your head.
To find out more about Shyama, view her full profile here.