#14 of the Challenge Interview Series
Hi, I’m Marsha Ingrao and my blog is Always Write. Welcome to the Challenge Interview Series.
In addition to meeting the hosts of writing and photo challenges, this series also includes some of the wonderful participants who make the challenges successful.
Today I want to introduce my friend Sarah Wilkie, who writes inspiring and informative travel posts from all over the world. She is now an avid photo challenge blogger as well as a travel blogger. She often combines her love of travel and photo challenges into one post linking to many of the same friends you’ve already met through your journeys in photo challenges.
I am linking different favorite posts to her name if you’d like to check out her blog.
Please welcome Sarah Wilkie.
When, how, and why did you start blogging?
I only started this WordPress blog in August 2020, but I’ve been sharing my travels online since July 2005 when I joined the now-defunct Virtual Tourist website community. The emphasis there was on writing reviews of places visited (restaurants, tourist sights etc.) rather than blogging. I became a very frequent contributor and also got involved in attending the member-organised ‘in real life’ meetings, as well as organising some myself. I acquired a great network of friends around the world.
When VT (Virtual Tourist) was shut down by Trip Advisor in early 2017, many members gave up sharing travel info online. Others turned to other review sites or blogging. I joined TravellersPoint, partly because a VT friend was already active there and partly because the owner kindly developed a programme to move all our VT content across to stop it being lost (although I had nearly all mine saved as Word documents in any case). I really got into blogging, using TP (TravelersPoint) as a platform to journal my travels from that point onwards and write up some previous trips from old VT notes. But the transfer of VT material wasn’t as immediately successful as hoped, as the platform wasn’t set up to host reviews, and in any case I found I preferred the blogging format.Sarah
How did you decide to move to WordPress?
Some other VT friends had started WP blogs and from time to time tried to persuade me to do the same, because they thought I would enjoy the flexibility of having my own site and full control over the content. I didn’t think I had the time to devote to two blogs and I was enjoying the community aspect of TP (although it wasn’t a patch on VT’s) so I resisted. But in 2020 two things happened to change my mind. I retired, so had more time, and the pandemic struck, which meant no new travels for a while. I decided to take the plunge and haven’t looked back!
Whereas on TP I wrote day by day journals of a trip (and will probably continue to do so once I can travel again), I decided my WP blog would have mostly shorter posts focused on specific sights, experiences etc. Plus I saw it as an opportunity to be more reflective about my travels, pulling together different experiences at times to reflect an overarching observation about a place, or draw parallels or simply group some photos from different locations around a common theme. My sub-title ‘travel snapshots’ reflects this concept and also an increased emphasis on photography.Sarah
How do you organize your posts and photos?
Did you take a class?
No, I worked all this out for myself. It’s probably over-complicated for some people but I think it was the librarian indexing training coming out in me, plus I tend to lean towards having a system / being organised.
From the start I knew my posts would all be about a specific place or places. I considered listing them all by country but choosing ‘Destinations’ as a heading gave me the option to list by city, state or whatever going forwards. I came up with the grouping by continent later, as my content grew and the list of places became unwieldy. But I thought it would also be interesting to group posts by theme as I saw them reflecting the various subjects I like to photograph – people, landscape, wildlife etc. I couldn’t decide between destinations or themes but realised I could do both!
I also saw early on that some of my posts would be quite lengthy while others would have few words and have more emphasis on visual content – hence designating some of them as galleries to make that obvious. I originally had that as a heading on my menu but changed it to ‘My photography’ when I started to do the challenges so that I could group things there. It’s not ideal as not all my challenge posts are photo-heavy but it works for me for now. No doubt I will tweak it again one day!Sarah
How do you decide a title for your post?
Some of us (like me) include the Photo Challenge title in the post like “Sunday Stills: Emerging Blossoms in Prescott, AZ.”
I approach titling challenge posts the same way I do all my posts. I start with a title that simply appeals to me and reflects the content of the post. I have the MonsterInsights plugin that includes a Headline Analyser. It allocates a numeric score based on several factors such as length, use of certain trigger words etc. I can preview what it would look like in a Google search. I don’t always take notice of all of that but if it shows a very low score I will have a look at why and maybe consider tweaking the title. But usually I just stick with what feels right to me!Sarah
which challenges Work Best for you?
As Yvette Prior pointed out in her interview, and we have all experienced it, none of us can do all of the challenges available to us. We all have to pick and choose. What about you?
I’ve dipped into quite a few as I started to explore that side of blogging. But now that I’ve got more into my stride I intend to focus mainly on those challenges that provide an opportunity to highlight stories from my travels like Cady’s Just One Person from Around the World, which is such an inspired, and inspiring, idea for a challenge! I enjoy challenges that have a strong photographic element like the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge and Sunday Stills. I also like Friendly Friday, while Jo’s Monday Walk fits well with ideas I already have for future posts (I keep a list). Lisa’s Bird Weekly is a chance to share one of the subjects I enjoy photographing, but I wouldn’t aim to do those every week.
Before I started on WP I didn’t even know about these challenges. None of my ex-VT blogging friends are involved in any of them. A few months after I started my blog I came across a challenge for the first time, Friendly Friday, purely by chance, through a blog I’d started following. It looked interesting and I saw it as a way to build my network of followers while trying out a different approach to blogging. It achieved both those things and I found that the people who did that challenge also did others, which led to me discovering those too.
Even though I enjoy the challenges I don’t want them to dictate the overall ethos of my blog. I set it up to share two things, my travels and my photography, so I won’t do any challenges that would force me to deviate too far from that, e.g. a purely writing challenge or one on a theme that doesn’t relate to travel in its broadest sense – by which I mean, including places close to home as well as those far away, but usually remaining location-centric. And I’m generally not interested in single photo challenges – I prefer to tell a story through my posts. Although I did do the ‘Around the world in ten photos’ challenge when several blogging friends nominated me, partly because I didn’t want to let them down, partly because it was so strongly travel related and partly because it was in the run-up to Christmas when I had a bit less time to write longer posts!
I tend not to take photos especially for a challenge although I have been known to take one or two to supplement what I have. Rather, I look at the challenges as a way of focusing my ideas around material I already have, ideally photos and anecdotes from my travels or perhaps a subject matter I like to photograph closer to home. If a challenge theme doesn’t fit that principle I will skip it, like the recent ‘volunteering’ theme. I could have written about the charity my husband co-founded, for which I now volunteer, but it would have been out of place on my blog.Sarah
Tell us about the cameras you’ve used – some of your earlier pictures are just as clear as your newer ones
I think that’s an illusion caused by the resizing and down-grade in quality that happens when I upload to WP. I can see a significant difference in quality between my oldest photos and most recent ones when I view my originals. My photos from the Galapagos in 2012 were the last major travel ones taken with my previous Fuji camera; it was after that trip that I realised I wasn’t happy with the quality and switched to a Panasonic Lumix bridge camera. I really like it. The lens is first rate (Leica) and it has the right balance of ease of use (relatively light to carry, auto settings when I don’t need anything more) with full manual mode if I do want to play around with aperture, speed etc. In pre-digital times I used an SLR so I know what I’m doing around a camera but these days I don’t want to be encumbered with several lenses to hump around!Sarah
Do you have published stories or photos?
Other than online on the various platforms I’ve already mentioned, no. I do upload some of my better images to Dreamstime, a stock photo library, and I’ve had some sales. It doesn’t pay at all well (sometimes only a few cents per image) but it’s quite fun to think my photos are being used somewhere. However many of the pictures I take aren’t suitable because they include people and I’m not keen enough to go out and take lots of the images needed for stock photography.
It would be fun if anyone did want to publish something I wrote or some of my photos, but I don’t write with that in mind.Sarah
How much time does it take to research, write and fact check a post?
Much of what I post is adapted from my TravellersPoint blog or old VT material. A lot of the research was done when I wrote those original reviews or blog entries. If it’s quite an old piece I do double-check some things, especially web links, and I sometimes add to it if I have a fresh perspective with the benefit of time.
The main work comes in repurposing the text to fit the style of this blog – I may make it into more of a narrative or pull several separate pieces into a single post. As an example, the post I wrote quite recently, Spending Time with the Children of Chongjin, used bits of two separate TP blog posts because we visited the two schools I describe on two separate days. And my very first post, Meeting Leo, was based on just a short section of an old TP post.
I probably put more work into the photos. I enjoy editing my images in any case, and I quite often do further tweaking to those I’m going to use in a post, especially if they’re more than a couple of years old as I’ve acquired more editing software since then.Sarah
Which bloggers influence your blogging?
I won’t mention everyone – many will be known to you as they’re active in the same circles I think – people like Tina Schell, Anne Sadler, and Lisa on the Beach. Among my favourite photographer bloggers are Jane Lurie – I really love her work. Also Mike Ross, and Susy Blue for nature photography. And Maria Vincent Robinson is a great street photographer I’ve discovered recently.
For travellers’ tales I like The Hungry Travellers among others. And I especially enjoy Sandy’s take on the Just One Person Challenge – she features such interesting characters and I like the page design she’s developed to use for that challenge. I always enjoy the way Amy at The World is a Book uses quotations and the visual style of her blog.
Finally I have to give a plug to the friends who got me blogging in the first place and helped me with the set-up of my site when I was still learning how WP worked, Malcolm, Don and Albert. The latter also inspired our visit to North Korea which was an absolute travel highlight for me.Sarah
Anything to add? Maybe a message to fellow photo challenge participants and to the hosts and hostesses of the challenges?
Quite simply, it’s been great to ‘meet’ you all and to be inspired by your various themes and by everyone’s posts. When I started blogging on WordPress I had no idea I would find such a great community here, it’s been a revelation and has added to my blogging fun enormously!Sarah
Sarah Wilkie was born in north London and grew up in a west London suburb, Ruislip. She studied English Literature and Librarianship at university in Aberystwyth, Wales, which is where she met her husband Chris.
Sarah worked in public libraries for many years, starting as a children’s librarian and working her way up into management, finishing with a short spell managing the library service in the City of Westminster. From there she went on to spend five years in a government agency managing a national public library service improvement programme.
She took redundancy when the agency moved out of London and set up her own consultancy service. For the last eleven years of her career she worked in that field both independently and with a small start-up consultancy firm, leading the development of their offer to local and national cultural services – strategy development, customer consultation, change management etc. She wound down from that gradually over the last few years (one of the bonuses of self-employment!) and declared herself officially retired last spring as the pandemic started to bite. When not blogging (and waiting for the chance to travel again!) she volunteers with a food surplus charity, Plan Zheroes, run by her husband.
Thank you so much for visiting me, Sarah. It’s been so much fun getting to know you better and learning about parts of the world I will probably never have a chance to visit in person.
now it’s your turn
Be sure and click on one or two of the links, leave likes and comments, and get to know Sarah and her community better.
Do you or someone you know host a photo or writing challenge? Do you have certain challenge communities that you participate in that you want to share? I’d love to interview you and get better acquainted. Contact me.