The October Platform Challenge at Robert Brewer’s ‘There Are No Rules’ blog at Writer’s Digest has been nearly overwhelming for this particular ‘old dog’. When first I chanced on Mr. Brewer’s blog announcing the challenge, I said to myself, “Self, you could possibly learn something new here today.” That stray thought will go down as the understatement of the year for me!
In my very first post to this blog introducing myself to the world, I mentioned it was my nearly lifelong goal to learn at least one new thing each day. The flood of new things, ‘new tricks’, that was unleashed over the past several weeks of following the Challenge has provided me a ‘one new thing’ to last for a great many days to come.
Somewhere along the line in learning about blogging, I saw one piece of advice that suggested that numbered lists are effective blogging devices. Herewith, I present my list of seven things I have learned from the Platform Challenge. Certainly, there are a great many more lessons I have learned, but I think these seven will serve the purpose of illustration I want for today.
1. It is very humbling to discover how much you DON’T know.
When Mr. Brewer said “Start a writing blog” on day three of the Challenge, my response was “I can do that”. After all, how hard could it be? I had been following several blogs for some time and I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t write a few hundred words for my own blog. Foolish, foolish boy! I am now on my third book on how to use WordPress and all of that research is just to format the blog page. It doesn’t begin to address content, editorial calendar, etc. Why three books? The first was way too technical for this technologically challenged old dog, the second concentrated on using WordPress software on a self-hosted site, and the third, gratefully, is addressing my many, many questions and uses lots of images to illustrate the text. I’m really just getting into that one now, so stand by to see some changes in the physical layout as I learn more.
2. I’m not nearly as organized as I once thought I was.
As this learning process continues, I am being inundated with articles I have printed out, scraps of paper on which I have scribbled little notes with ideas for future blogs (and stories I want to write!), and other bits of errata holding precious user names/passwords/etc. for the many new websites that are rapidly becoming my new BFFs. My to-do list now includes setting aside a couple of hours to go into my browser bookmarks and organize all the new sites. My bookmark list has grown by at least 20% in the past several weeks and I have been using the same bookmark organizer for over 15 years!
3. Planning is easy, execution is much more difficult.
This is actually a corollary for the item above. I am fortunate in having a relatively spacious office, lots of bookcases and shelves (never enough!), a four-drawer and two-drawer filing cabinet, and I buy 3-ring binders by the dozen. But the stack of material waiting to be filed in those binders and file drawers is approaching 18 inches high. I console myself with the thought that organizing and filing all that material will give me something to do during the cold winter months. Yes, we really do have ‘winter’ here in Arizona. The daytime temperatures drop down into the 60’s and even into the (gasp!) 50’s. Shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops give way to jeans, long-sleeve shirts, and sneakers.
4. This ‘old dog’ absorbs new tricks more slowly, but seems to retain more and recall information better.
For as far back as I can remember, I have always been a ‘quick study’. Whether it was memorizing lines of a script or cramming for an exam, I have been able to digest and absorb new material easily and quickly. A couple of hours with a text before a test would more than compensate for dozing through classes or missing them altogether. These days it seems that callow youth has vanished into the mists of time. I absorb new material much more slowly, and often only with repetition. Visual aids are invaluable — see my comment on the illustrated book on using WordPress in item one above. The good news in this is that I seem to have better access to new material once I have digested it. It is much easier for me today to recall not only a bit of information from an article I read six months or a year ago, but where I found that datum and to be able to return the original source — invaluable in properly attributing something I want to
steal borrow from someone else. This, by the way, makes the lack of organizational execution discussed above particularly frustrating when I have to sort through an 18-inch stack of unfiled articles.
5. I cherish the printed word on paper.
This new bit of knowledge is a corollary to item four. I have discovered that printed words on paper are much easier for me to absorb than words on a computer screen. I acknowledge this indeed makes me a dinosaur in this age of tablets, digital readers, and smartphones, but holding words on paper in my hands, whether an article printed out from the internet, or a book from my shelves, is far superior to reading the same material on a screen. I grasp the material easier and quicker, and I retain and recall it better. I read quite a bit of non-fiction, often footnoted, and nothing is as frustrating as trying to follow footnotes on my Kindle.
6. Mother was right — I choke when I take too big of a bite.
Mr. Brewer’s October Platform Challenge was a bigger bite than I can comfortably chew and digest in a single month. I will still be masticating what I have learned thus far — and there is still more than a week to go — for quite some time to come. Among the items of advice in the challenge to develop a writer platform was to engage the various social media — Facebook, Google +, and Twitter, among others. Learning to develop these sites and use them to enhance my online footprint will be nearly as daunting a task as learning to use WordPress and develop this blog. On day six of the Platform Challenge, Mr. Brewer suggested a time management plan and offered the following excellent advice. ” A writing platform is a life-long investment in your writing career. It’s not a sprint, so you have to pace yourself. Also, it’s not something that happens overnight (as much as we wish it were), so you can’t wait until you need a platform to start building one. Begin today and build over time–so that it’s there when you need it.” That part about building a platform is NOT a sprint is particularly applicable to me.
7. LEARNING NEW THINGS IS FUN!
I have always enjoyed learning. In many ways, it is my raison d’etre, my joie de vivre. Long ago, I set a goal for myself of learning everything there was to know. “That’s ridiculous!”, you say. “An impossible task and simply not feasible.” True enough, I grant you. However, I learned way back when that you can never hit higher than you aim. Thus, if you want to achieve high, you must aim high. I may not learn everything there is to know, but it will not be for lack of aiming high enough — or dreaming big enough.