Behind the Scenes at Planet Bell

Jeff looking into the distance in Alaska
Jeff in Greece

Thinking about my next blog post.

Why do I blog? This is a question I often ask myself when I am annoyed that no one read my latest masterpiece or when a poorly written, hastily thrown together post gets lots of clicks. In this post. I am going to answer this question and a few others. 

You may have noticed a “blog hop” that is going around. Basically, there are four questions answered by the blogger, giving a behind the scenes look at what we do, and why we do it. James Louie, an extremely talented blogger who I met when I was in Hong Kong, kindly nominated me to participate. As I was reading his post, getting an insight into his writing process, I was thinking, “I’d like like to do this.” Then at the end of his post, he nominated me. Thank you James.

So without further ado, here is a look at what goes on in my brain before I hit publish.

What am I working on/writing?

17 Islands National Park

17 Islands National Park, Indonesia

I recently spent two months in Indonesia, with side trips to Bangkok and Hong Kong. I usually blog from the road, but due to a lack of wifi, I wan’t able to. As a result, I have lots of photos, tips and stories from that trip to share. Stay tuned for that.

This is now the 3rd year I’ve had this blog and I want to expand beyond my normal subject matter. Many places I’ve been – Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Mexico, Cuba, China, No-Go-Zones in Europe – are often in the news. I want to write about the things I’ve seen, share my experiences in a way that goes beyond travel.

How does my work and writing differ from others of its genre?

Rome Pickpockets

Petra F Bomb

Bear Spray Accident Park Ranger

In a word: cartoons. I don’t see many other travel bloggers that draw cartoons to illustrate their experiences. I draw cartoons to tell stories or show things that simply would have been too awkward to photograph. One of my favorite posts is about the time I accidentally dropped an f-bomb at Petra, during the moment of silence. If you Google “f-bomb heard around the world,” you will see my cartoons, plus articles on other famous f-bombs dropped by American Vice-President Joe Biden, the Pope and Tom Hanks. I am in good company.

Other than that, it is a challenge to do something different. There are thousands and thousands of excellent travel and photography blogs (and many more terrible ones!). My goal with every post is to entertain, inspire and inform. I hope that after a person reads my post, they will get an insight into the place, culture and people.

Why do I write what I do?

I started the blog mainly to share experiences with my friends and family while on the road. As it has grown, it has become more of a showcase of my photos and it has allowed me to connect with fellow travelers and writers. I do what I do because I love photography and I want to share my experiences.

secret lake Denali Sunset

Secret Lake, Alaska. I enjoy showing photos of the Great Land, a place I’ve lived the last 10 years.

 

How does my writing process work?

The inspiration for most of my travel stories comes from on-the-road experiences. For my photo essays, I usually realize that I have a collection of photos of something special or unique, like Alaskan rainbows of people in the rain in Indonesia. I then create a post around the photos.

  • I keep a running list of 20-30 story ideas and I usually work on anywhere from 3-5 posts at the same time, but I am never ahead with a stockpile of completed posts. I live post to post.
  • I work on posts early in the morning when my brain is uncluttered, or after exercise when there is increased blood flow to my brain
  • Sometimes I write posts in my head while going through a trauma, like riding on a 4th class bus or climbing a volcano. It distracts me from the suffering at the time and makes for a good story later. Tragedy + Time = Comedy
  • I try to post something at least once a week and I try to post every Monday.
  • As Monday approaches, I look at what I have been working on and panic. All of this is terrible!
  • I then enlist the help of my wife/editor, who gives me (sometimes brutally) honest feedback mixed with encouragement.
  • Then I do a few final edits, post it, and I’m surprised that anyone reads it! I’m especially grateful for comments. Comments are the lifeblood of any blog. The comments and feedback I get from fellow bloggers, travelers, friends and enemies motivate me. Thank you readers! I heart you all.
Airline Travel Cartoon

Art Therapy

_________________________

To keep this going, I’d say that anyone who reads this and wants to share should just do it. Don’t wait for the invite! I think this is an interesting thread as we get to see similar posts from like-minded people.


 

38 Comments on “Behind the Scenes at Planet Bell

  1. Great post. Like you, I try to post on Monday morning. I’ve been a bit stagnant lately, but winter blues will give way to spring fever soon enough. I, for one, find your posts entertaining and fun to read, love the cartoons and your photography is top notch! Keep ’em coming!

    • Thanks Laura, this time of year I have more time for blogging but in the spring and summer time will be tight. I’ll slow down then like you are now. I look forward to seeing more posts of New Hampshire soon.

  2. Cool, I’d love to take part in this “challenge”. I thought one needs to be nominated though?! (hint: nominate me) 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your working process. I’m not a morning person. I usually write my post before I go to bed

    • Suze – you are hereby nominated!

      I also write in the evening, but it is all rough draft stuff. I can’t focus on details at that time. It is in the morning or after exercise that my brain works in a more focused way. I look forward to seeing your take on this.

  3. Jeff I enjoyed this read very much, unless of course I am in the category of terrible travel blogs 🙂
    Like you I often have several posts on the go and ideas rambling around however I most always seem under the crunch. Dave is the editor here which is very helpful.
    I love your cartoons and of course your amazing photos.

    • Sue you definitely have a great blog and you are one of my biggest supporters. Thank you for your advice and encouragement. It is nice having an editor, right? We have a luxury other bloggers don’t have! Kristi has saved a few really bad ideas and enhanced some of my better work.

      • Thank heavens for our editing partners. I tend to be a little ‘out there’, in case you hadn’t noticed. Dave has brought me back to reality on more than one occasion before I stuck my foot down my throat so to speak. 🙂 I give him credit for the Freshly Pressed post as I had it ready to go and he said it really needed more before posting. 🙂

        You are most welcome for the support. You really have such a great blog. Just as a heads up the next post I run I am giving you a shout out at the end. One because I think everyone would LOVE to read your posts and to see your amazing photos, not to mention hilarious cartoons, but because I copied your idea off of Facebook and am crediting you with it. “If you could travel anywhere…” Hope that’s all right.

      • By all means, you are welcome to use the idea. I was very interested to see the responses. From Antarctica to Easter Island to Svalbard, there were a variety of random places. It was a cool exercise and with the large following on your blog, you will get some interesting responses. You should make a map and plot out the places that people pick.

  4. I have read your Petra post multiple times to multiple people, each time barely able to make it through without crying from laughter. Your humor is unmatched. I still have some of your cartoons from our dispatching days together.

    • Cari,

      Those dispatching days were fun. That cartoon I drew of my dream with Tim B was the thing that got me started on MS paint. Thanks for commenting!

  5. You’re welcome, Jeff. That nomination was well deserved!

    This is fabulous by the way. I just HAD to read your post on Petragate – even though it was totally embarrassing you still had it in you to draw cartoons and blog about it! That takes real confidence and a big sense of humor. I think most of us bloggers could learn to take ourselves a little less seriously.

    PS I would find it hilarious if you blogged about the Hong Kong speed walking tour in cartoons. Although that might be hard since there was nothing tragic or embarrassing about it (at least I hope so!).

    • James, you know what, I am sure I can cartoon our day in HK. I was planning on doing a post about it eventually, but as a thank you for taking us, I’ll draw it.

      Thanks for the nomination and for the compliments.

      • No worries, Jeff – that was just a random idea that suddenly came to mind. It is a lot to draw and then you’d have to consider whether or not photos would show more to your audience. Of course you could always try a mix of both!

  6. I am so glad I just recently found you blog. The Petra post is my highlight for the day…besides today’s post of course 🙂

  7. Jeff, loved this post, I share many of the same sentiments. I was driving around this morning taking pictures for a post and was literally thinking, I wish I had Jeff to take pictures of this place, he would capture what I am trying to show so much better. That’s the truth, I love and drool over your photography. How can I persuade you to come and take pics of the oil boom?

    • I would love to ride around taking pics of the oil boom with you. You are a better writer and interviewer than I am. We’d make a great team. Kristi can get a real job, I’ll be a stay-at-home-dad/blogger and we can document North Dakota together.

      • Jeff, that may be the best idea you’ve ever had. Ever. Kristi, you into it?? Ive got an RV up here with your name on it!!

  8. Jeff, your sense of humor is one of the best things on this blog (apart from the great images, of course). For her brutally honest feedback it sounds like Kristi has been a really great editor! One that all bloggers need to have. 🙂

  9. Thanks for an interesting look behind the scenes Jeff. Your cartoons are wonderful. They make your blog very funny, entertaining and a one-of-a-kind. After reading about your writing process, I see that we share a few similarities. I too do my best writing early in the A.M., and since I’m an early morning jogger/cyclist, I frequently have the aid of some endorphins. I’m not sure that helps, but it can’t hurt. I also work on posts in bits and pieces. I’ll be thinking about a particular photo and mentally write a few sentences about it. Eventually these sentences get digitally pieced together. We also try to post 1-2 times a week. I know that if I go to a blog a few times and see a post a post that’s 3 weeks old, I’m unlikely to keep going back. I don’t want this to happen to our blog. Keep up the good work Dude – it’s workin’ great. ~James

    • Thanks James. I agree about trying to update. I get so busy in the spring and summer that it is difficult for me but my goal for this year is to not miss a week. It is a real challenge! I enjoyed the look into your writing style on your blog. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Thanks for the window into you. Your creativity and humour keeps me coming back. The effort you put into blogs is obvious to me though I know from experience the response is usually not proportionate. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Lyle. It is funny how we put all this effort in the posts that don’t get a proportionate feedback. There are so many great blogs and noise out there it is hard to get noticed. If I ever win the lottery I will buy a 30 second Super Bowl ad to promote my blog.

  11. This is one of the best ‘behind the scenes’ posts I have read so far Jeff. Your humour certainly sets your blog apart from the average travel blog. I owe thanks to James for leading me here. I might not drop in very often, but I know I will enjoy every minute of my visit when i do.

  12. Your blog provides me with a convenient window into the life of the Bells while I continue to give a figurative middle finger to Mark Zuckerberg. Additionally, it allows me to live vicariously through your adventures and, as you mentioned, inspires me to travel thoughtfully and become a better writer. I miss you guys!

    Jake

    • Jake, I think you should rejoin the digital world and be absorbed by the world of Facebook. Zuckerberg needs you. Thanks for reading and living vicariously.

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