August 28, 2012

Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire): The Contextual Life of Arts & Culture Blogger Gabrielle Gantz

The Twitter hashtag #Books led me to Gabrielle Gantz, “a book publicist by day and raging fangirl by night (and early morning).” She has written for The Faster Times, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Rumpus. In her free time, she writes about arts and culture at The Contextual Life and co-runs the literary event calendar Book Boroughing. She can be found on Twitter: @contextual_life.

Why did you create a Website of regular entries?
I used to have a zine when I was younger. It was the typical cut and paste. I took a hiatus from it for a few years and when I got back into writing—and creating—websites had taken off. It seemed silly to go back to print so I started a website. I first started my blog to work on my grammar but the reasons to keep it going have multiplied.

What Web-based solution did you select and why?
I use WordPress for my blog. I don’t know why I chose it instead of Blogger, both were equally big when I started. I think I liked the look of WordPress better. It’s a cleaner platform and while there are some odd glitches with code inexplicably showing up, I’m happy with it. Note to WordPress people, learn simple code so you can fix the wonky formatting.

What is your definition of a good blog and
what are three good blogs that you frequently visit?
A good blog has quality content: good writing, interesting features. I can’t stand sites that feel like the person is just going through the motions or attempting to maximize hits through popular search words. Blogs don’t need to be updated everyday but there should be a consistency to the postings. Three blogs that I recommend: Vol1Brooklyn, Tin House’s blog, and Laughing Squid.

How do you create content for your blog?
I read, I think, I write. A lot of what I do is reviewing. I consider myself an “arts and culture” blogger but really, it’s a lot of book reviews. So it’s about reading a lot and coming up with interesting ways to discuss books.

How do you stay organized and motivated
to contribute to your blog?
I use Google Docs for my writing. I have a document for each post and then when I’m done writing and editing I just cut and paste into WordPress. I could never compose straight onto my blog. That would make me nervous.

I keep lists and notes in multiple places—on my phone in the notepad, in a main Google Doc called “blog docket,” and in notebooks. It’s my way of remembering what I’ve read and what I still need to write. I like to create series. I find them to be a good way of coming up with ideas for posts. I have “quick takes,” which are shorter reviews (as opposed to more thought out essays). I also have a monthly “new in paperback” roundup, which is an easier post to give me a break once a month, and every so often I do a podcast roundup.

Staying motivated comes from having an emotional attachment to my blog. It’s my creation and I have a strong desire to keep it going. I post once a week on Tuesday mornings. At this point, it would feel weird to skip a day without a good reason. I also think it’s my personality. I’m structured.

For those aspiring to make a Website composed
of regular thoughts and/or images, what is your advice?
I always tell people to just start. Don’t think, just do. Your blog will change over time, you’ll get better at it, you’ll come up with new ideas, but none of that will happen if it all stays in your head as something you’d like to do one day. Keep it simple, have fun, don’t wait but also keep expectations reasonable. Know your time limits. If you can’t post more than once a week, don’t put that stress on yourself. You’re not a major newspaper with a full staff and backbreaking deadlines.

What is your quest in blogging?
That’s a great question. If I were to put it in terms of a quest, I guess it’s self-expression and personal fulfillment. At this point I couldn’t imagine reading and not forming thoughts about it on a screen and for public viewing. It’s really about enjoying myself and taking everyday activities and turning them into something creative.

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Portrait courtesy of Gabrielle Gantz.

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Read more of the Design Feast series Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire).

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