What Mushroom Hunting Taught Me About Blogging

What Mushroom Hunting Taught Me About Blogging

I know, you guys. I know. I know there are a thousand posts out there with this kind of title. I’ve made fun of them. I have begged whatever internet gods may be to stop people posting topics like this (also, topics like “The X Guide to Such-and-Such” and damned if I didn’t write one of those too.)

The reason people write them, I’ve discovered, is that it’s very easy to get caught up in the online world. To think that everything in the world is contained somewhere between Google and your RSS feed. And when you do reconnect to the real world in a visceral, tangible, thoughtful way, it feels pretty profound.

You start to learn things. You start to apply what you’re learning to what you do the most: blogging.

This is more or less what happened with me and the mushroom hunting.

How’d You Wind Up Mushroom Hunting, Of All Things?

Well, I have a friend. This friend frequently makes me dinner. And those dinners frequently contain the kind of mushrooms that cost upward of $50/pound, so I started to wonder how he was bankrolling these dinners of ours, and if I might happen to owe him, say, a Porsche.

Turns out I don’t owe him a Porsche. I do, however, owe him several tanks of gas. Because what he does is drive three hours up the mountain, to where the elevation is just right for mushrooms to grow. He wanders around the woods for a couple hours at a stretch looking for the edible ones.

My asking him where the mushrooms came from must have been some kind of secret code, because I was immediately invited on an excursion. Which is how I spent about three hours in the woods in utter silence, looking for mushrooms with a distinctive pattern on their tops and discovering some things about blogging.

  1. Silence is Good
  2. I have never thought about how much silence I get in the world. It is fairly infrequent and often kind of painful (the silence of the line in the post office is a good example). When I walk, I walk with headphones. If I’m being social, I’m being talkatively social. I’m watching a movie. I’m chatting on the phone. I’m listening to music as I ride in the car. When I work, I’m listening to music, getting distracted by my next-door office neighbor’s voice through the wall, or watching a video trying to distract myself from the work I’m about to do.

    It is very, very rare that I am completely quiet.

    People. Quiet is amazing for thinking.

    Thinking is essential for blogging. It is not essential for work. When you work, you have a task at hand: a sales page to write, a product to create, a phone call to make. You can pretty much hold off thinking until you begin the task.

    With blogging, you not only have to do the task: write the post. You have to decide what the task is: the topic of the post.

    Almost every blogger I know tries to dive headlong into the post without thinking about it. They think of it like a job whose parameters are already determined. A blog post is almost pure thought. It has to be considered first. You have to find, and reject, a hundred possibilities before settling on a scant few you actually want to talk about.

    Being alone in the woods for three hours gives you plenty of time to do that. By the time I got out of there, I had a basket full of edible mushrooms and about a dozen new things I wanted to write about. And a blister, which I believe could have been avoided if I’d just sat in my chair for three hours thinking of new topics instead of trying to shlep up a mountain.

  3. Some of Those Things Are Poisonous
  4. Actually, lots of those things are poisonous. Official warning: should you ever get it into your head to go mushroom-hunting, take someone along who knows which ones are edible, because you would not believe how many of the incredibly tasty-looking ones will kill you.

    That’s mushrooms, though. Surely blog posts aren’t poisonous.

    Well, yeah. A lot of them are.

    There are blog posts that involve link-baiting your favorite famous bloggers. There are blog posts that will get you a lot of traffic, but all of it angry, controversial traffic, not good, loyal-fan traffic. There are blog posts that will absolutely alienate your entire audience, even if you really want to jump in on the latest controversy surrounding a politician. There are blog posts that will make you seem boring, inarticulate, misguided, ill-informed.

    There are a lot of poisonous blog posts out there. And if you’re in a hurry, you’re far more likely to accidentally wind up choosing one of them instead of a post that will sustain you and enrich your readers.

    Know what you’re looking for. Know what kinds of posts your readers enjoy and which ones are going to truly help them. Know which posts are nourishing your blog and helping it thrive.

    And keep an eye out for those poisonous ones. Some of them look remarkably like the good ones.

  5. You Only Have Today
  6. When we’d picked a giant basket heaping full of mushrooms, I’d thought we were done. I was excited about all my succulent finds and ready to go get a burger and celebrate. But the picking was good that day. There were mushrooms everywhere and they were easy to hand. We put our basket in the back of the truck and went back out for more.

    This was unusual, he told me. It’s not often you get a day like this. You don’t want to waste it. They won’t be here tomorrow. They won’t be here, definitely, the week after that. You only have today.

    For bloggers, sometimes you’ll write a post that truly inspires you. Your mind will be on fire with ideas. You’ll be humming, practically vibrating with that urge to create. You’ll write out a full post and you’ll know you have so much more, that you could write a whole book, you could write a whole shelf of books.

    But you’ll stop. You’ll stop because you did what you needed to do that day. You wrote one post.

    You’ll stop thinking you pick it up again tomorrow.

    You can’t. You only have today.

    When you have a good day, a truly magical day, you have to ride it out. Write down everything you can. Write all night long if you have to. Write until your fingers hurt. Write and write and write and write and when you honestly can’t do anymore, then you can stop.

    Those days are rare and far between. You don’t have to post everything you create in that time. But you have to pick while the pickin’s good. There’s time to enjoy what you’ve harvested later. Right now, there’s today. Get everything you can out of it.

  7. There Are Bad Days
  8. There’s a corollary to the above, and it’s this: Sometimes today is not your day.

    The weekend I went up with my friend happened to be a good weekend. There were good mushrooms everywhere. We got two huge heaping baskets-ful. But the eight weekends before that, he hadn’t had such a good time. It was a strange year weather-wise and the factors that make for thriving mushroom colonies weren’t there. This was the first weekend that had been good.

    In that situation, it’s okay to pack it in because it’s not a good weekend. But here’s the trick: you still have to show up.

    Every weekend. You can’t skip one because the last one wasn’t good. You have to show up every single time hoping for one of the magic times, one of the ones where everything goes your way.

    If he’d given up six weekends before, we never would have had those two baskets of mushrooms to tide us over all the weekends to come with none.

    Same for you and your blogging. You show up every time. You show up every day. And you try like hell to reap enough good work to tide you over when it’s a lousy day, when you have no ideas, when there’s absolutely nothing left.

    If you don’t show up for the bad days, you will miss the good days entirely. You’ll never know they could have happened. Because you weren’t there.

    So yes. There are bad days. Not every day is a magic day. But it’s by showing up for the bad days that you get to those glorious days.

What I Learned

There’s a reason for all the many posts about what non-blogging activities have taught us about blogging. It’s because it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. It’s hard to get new insight into blogging simply by blogging more.

Sometimes you have to get offline. Sometimes you have to get out in the woods. Sometimes you have to try something new to get better at this thing you enjoy doing, this thing that sustains your business and your life.

Mushrooms aren’t any good by themselves. Mushrooms are amazing in butter, with herbs, as part of a larger dish. A plain, raw mushroom is no fun to eat.

Blogging is the same. Blogging by itself doesn’t sustain you. You have to mix it up with other things. You have to learn what it works with. You have to experiment. You have to find new ways to add to the base.

Try it. Try something new, and see if you can glean anything that helps you become a better blogger.

Then take half an hour to think. Choose a post that’s right for you. And have one of the good days.

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Post by Taylor Lindstrom

Taylor is a freelancer working out of Boulder, CO, and she blogs for people who are too good to fail over at... well, Too Good to Fail. Go check out her beautiful stories and words of encouragement - and remember that while you may not be good enough right now, being great is definitely part of your potential.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Hi Taylor,

    To feed our creative well, we need to venture into the world beyond the computer and office. I walk every day to get essay/article/blog post ideas.

    Yet, we’re trending toward making children afraid of the woods. Big mistake … What if future generations become so afraid of the woods they don’t want to save them? Hmm. Maybe a nature cafe might work for them. An outdoor Internet cafe with nature trails. Enjoyed it! G.

  2. This is really timely as I am actually going for a day foraging for mushrooms in the New Forest, England in a few weeks. If you’ve seen The River Cottage, you will know John the forager and we booked this months ago! It is SO important to get off the internet and into the real world. I also try to bring my real life into my blog and I must confess to thinking I wouldn’t be blogging about mushrooms – but perhaps I can think of a twist like this one!
    Thanks.

  3. Really awesome post. I certainly cherish the quiet times in my life, or more often than note, the times where I listen to soothing music to simulate a quiet and peaceful time when i can let my brain wander and be creative.

    I agree that it is crucial to blogging and creating inspiration ideas.

  4. I love this post and agree wholeheartedly with every point. I tend to err on the side of the “getting out” and “other things”, and must pay closer attention to the “showing up” part of point #4, and all of point #3.

    This post reminded me of a quote by Benjamin Franklin which graces the backs of many of my business cards– despite which, I need reminders like yours–

    “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.”

  5. The part about silence is good. I’d go as far as saying that noise can be draining mentally and creatively. When you’re being distracted by so many things, it’s hard to listen to your creative impulse.

  6. It is true that when writing a blog post, you should be writing about something that you are interested in. Being in a forest looking for mushrooms is like having a quiet time and contemplating on what to blog.

  7. I’ve never foraged for mushrooms, but I am guilty of using headlines like this one. I agree that they are contrived and desperate to some degree – but now that you’ve succumbed, wouldn’t you say that they work? They satisfy a curiosity (hmmm….what could mushroom hunting POSSIBLY teach me about blogging) and are relatable (hey, I wanna learn more about blogging) all at once. Your post does this very well, so I’m drawing the conclusion (and I suspect that it may even be intended) that it’s okay to use this strategy every once in a while. Do I have your permission?

  8. I feel like I need to do a find-replace with this post so it’s about something I’m not allergic to! :P But I wholeheartedly agree with the parallels to blogging that you gleaned from your expedition. I’m going to save this post for later, when I can focus on not focusing on the subject that so irritates my tummy!

  9. Amazing what the mind can come up with when you remove electronic distractions. Mushrooms are good for thinking . . . among other things.

  10. Hi Taylor

    Thanks for an interesting and informative post. I was so pleased to read your ‘disclaimer’ at the top, as I too usually groan when I see this sort of title (Which probably means I’ll be writing my own one day soon).

    I particularly resonated with point 3 – you only have today. One of the greatest things I’ve learned through blogging is that it’s a bit like surfing (There I go – “What Surfing Taught Me About Blogging”). The waves of creativity come crashing to the shore and when you’re out on the waters of writing you have a choice: You either get washed under, gasp for air and come up where you started or you stand up and ride the wave triumphant.

    The most important thing I’ve learned is to trust in the creative process. I’ll have times, around one or two days a month, when I’ll write all day and long into the night. My husband knows by now there is little point in telling me it’s time to rest or that my bed is calling. That wave is perfect for surfing and I need to stay out there until it’s gone. Then I’ll have a dry few days when I can barely put pen to paper.

    I used to worry about the dry days a lot. I would force myself to write in the hope I’d get the creativity flowing but this didn’t work for me. What works for me is to sprint rather than be a marathon runner. I know this goes against a lot of writing advice, and possibly against the tips you shared in idea 4, but in all honesty I can be far more productive this way. I can write and stack up a fortnight’s worth of posts in one day and spend the rest of the time in left brained mundane stuff like tweaking widgets, doing the washing up and gathering mushrooms ;)

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  1. […] In other food-based marketing thoughts, Taylor Lindstrom of “Men with Pens” writes about mushroom hunting, blogging, and how doing the one led to thoughts on the other. […]

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