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Karen Bertelsen: How to write a blog

If you've ever wondered how to install radiant floor heating or you're looking for something to do with your old light bulbs, then Karen Bertelsen's blog, The Art of Doing Stuff, is the place for you. 

But what does installing floors or reusing lightbulbs have to do with Canada Writes? The answer is simple: good writing. 

In the first of our series on entertaining, informational, and well-written Canadian blogs, we caught up with Karen to ask her a few questions.

You started this blog in March 2010. When did you start writing? 
In grade 11 my English teacher gave me an A+ on a poem I wrote, accompanied by the comment “Excellent work. If you really did write this.”  

I learned 2 things that day.
#1. I was a writer.  
#2. Even English teachers have a questionable grasp of punctuation.

My actual career in writing began when I got my first television hosting job at Omni television (formerly CFMT) in Ontario. I hosted 2 minute spots in between the television shows and the management there allowed me to write and talk about anything I wanted. That freedom of creativity is what really turned me into a writer.

I currently write daily for my website, The Art of Doing Stuff as well as magazines like Style at Home, Better Homes & Gardens, Canadian Gardening and a bunch of other ones too.  Pretty snappy writing in that last sentence, eh?

You manage to give technical information in a very engaging way. How did you learn to do that? 
Not a clue, LOL.  All of my writing has always been very conversational (except when I’m answering questions for an interview at which point I pride myself on sounding exceptionally formal and robotic).  Also I don’t really know the technical terms for anything, so dumbing things down literally comes naturally to me.  

What motivated you to start this blog?
For one thing, I can’t do math, so mathematician was scratched off the career goals pretty early on in life. Math is hard. Like, really hard. I practiced and everything.

For years I wrote blogs for different shows that I hosted and friends kept telling me to start a blog of my own. I would smile at them and say “That’s a stupid idea” and then squeeze their earlobe really hard to distract them from talking about it anymore.

What motivated me to actually do it was coming to terms with the fact that even the most open minded of television executives was never going to give me complete creative control.  
I wanted to be able to write a lot more than television would allow me to and I wanted to write about things that were important to me. Things with more weight and significance than the trivial nature of most television shows. You know. Important stuff. Like how to toilet train your cat. 

Which do you enjoy more, doing stuff or writing about doing stuff?
Doing stuff.  I could, and do, do stuff all day long. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do all the stuff I want to do. I rarely stop in the middle of building something and think … geez … I wish I could stop building this pizza oven so I could write a well-executed sentence.  
On the other hand, I regularly stop writing to run off and do stuff.  

You sound busy. How do you find the time to blog regularly?
My blog is my job and primary source of income so I find it’s best to do it regularly. So I can do other things regularly, like fix my roof and buy cheese and buy hydro.

How popular is the Coop Cam
People love the Coop Cam with such an alarming ferocity that I sometimes worry for them. They sit for hours and watch the chickens. Are they keeping up their personal hygiene? Do they get enough to eat? Do they worry about getting blood clots in their legs? Most people watch the Coop Cam while at work.

I tend to watch the actual chickens as opposed to the Coop Cam.  They’re strangely hypnotic and calming.

You invite people to ask you questions. What are the kinds of questions you get most often? 
Most people want to know things they can just Google. Other times they want more 
information on how I did a particular DIY or what’s the best product to use for any given task. One of the first Ask Karen questions I got was from a woman who was concerned her stove might be leaking copious amounts of gas. She was frightened the possible gas leak could be detrimental to her health. And she emailed me instead of calling the fire department, the gas company, or leaving the house. Most shocking of course was the fact that she could still smell gas after a partial lobotomy.
Your writing has a very personal tone, but it’s not overly confessional. How did you find that balance?
Like I said earlier, my writing has always been very conversational. Even when I was on television it was always just me being me as opposed to me being HOSTY KAREN! So being personal is nothing new to me. It’s just how I’m most comfortable communicating. As far as not being overly confessional, my mom reads my blog. I don’t care about everyone else, but she certainly doesn’t need to know that I ran around the streets naked and cried for 7 hours after watching the final episode of Sex and the City. At least that’s what I’m told. Apparently I barked like a dog too. It’s all kind of a blur really.

I try to share enough so the readers can get a real idea of what I’m like and what I’m up to without feeling like I’ve compromised all of my privacy.

You put up a personal post about your recent break-up—how hard was that for you to do? 
That was definitely the most difficult post I’ve ever had to put up. Mainly because I didn’t want all the attention I knew it was going to attract. I didn’t do it to be brave, I didn’t do it for sympathy and I didn’t do it for attention. My boyfriend was a huge part of my website and all of my regular readers knew him from it. I chose to make my blog personal, which meant I had no choice but to mention our breakup.

Are your parents really named Betty and Norm?
Yes indeed.

Do you have any advice for emerging writers? 
I do as a matter of fact. Write. And do it often. Unlike math, you do get better with practice.

Read profiles of other Canadian bloggers:

Obscure CanLit Mama by Carrie Anne Snyder
Le Blog du Rob by Rob Watson


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