I’ve been thinking about how to capture my memories of the 2015 TGO Challenge, which I finished last week, walking from Lochailort to Stonehaven. I’m still not sure how to do this but as part of the process, I’ve been reflecting on outdoor blogs and what makes an outdoor blog readable for me.
Blogging is (or should be) a personal thing. I think that it is fabulous that individuals who love the outdoors can now publish their writing without the filter of professional publishers and that they can share their personal experience of the outdoors with others. The best blogs are amateur blogs, especially when they are written by people, such as Alan Sloman, with strong opinions. Whether or not you agree with their opinions, their blogs are enlivened by their passion whereas I find ‘professional’ outdoor blogs to be mostly anodyne and dull. I rarely read them. Professional bloggers are driven by their advertisers or by maintaining their ‘image’ and, for some at least, I wonder if these advertisers have too much influence on blog content and style.
Because blogging is personal, there is no right or wrong way to write an outdoor blog. Probably the majority of these blogs are chronological trip reports, illustrated with photos of places where people have been. These can be entertaining if they are written in a self-deprecating way but I must admit that I mostly skip through them. Blogging does not encourage brevity and with modern digital photography, we all have lots of photographs. It’s easy to over-illustrate articles but pictures of boggy moorland look much the same wherever they are and, I think, are an exception to the maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words. But, while I’m not really a fan of daily trip reports, you should write about your trip in the way that you want to remember it. The joy of blogging is that you don’t have to pay the slightest bit of attention to what anyone else thinks.
Blogging is personal but a blog is not a diary. It is written to be shared and, particularly when I first started on the Challenge in 2013, I found it incredibly useful to look at other Challengers’ experiences and to learn from them. So, when we are writing our outdoor blogs, it is important to bear this in mind and at least try and make sure that readers can find useful, transferable information whether this is about the performance of gear, places to pitch their shelter or the availability of real ale. Pictures are important and inspiring although, as I have said, I think you lose impact with too many pictures. Something that I learned many years ago is that pictures should be captioned – too many bloggers leave readers to try and work out from the surrounding text what’s in a picture. It only takes a minute to add a caption and it adds immeasurably to the reading experience. I prefer shortish rather than long posts but too many short posts don’t make for a joined up reading experience, so there’s a balance to be reached here.
And, of course, it’s more entertaining to remember and to read about the things that went wrong, rather than what went right. Some outdoor bloggers take themselves rather too seriously and prefer not to admit to doing daft things, falling over and failing to navigate in a competent way. But things go wrong for all of us and, in truth, these are the the experiences we look back on fondly rather than the uneventful days. So, these are the moments to capture both from a personal and from a sharing perspective – they reassure readers that they are not alone in their lapses of competence.
Finally, the issue of political opinion can be controversial. Passionate bloggers will have their own political opinions and inevitably these will be reflected in their blog. But I have stopped reading bloggers who have partisan political opinions and who find it impossible as a consequence to criticise their favourite political party’s policies (if any) on the outdoors. A little politics enlivens a blog – too much and too partisan (whatever the party) repels rather than attracts most readers.