When I was 13 my life was fairly simple and largely revolved around one thing – Tennis.
I was fortunate enough to live next door to two tennis courts and so most evenings after school involved hitting balls with friends, family or even practising with myself hitting against the blue stone wall at the end of the court. I had coaching twice a week and practised a lot.
While I played tennis with quite a few friends there was one who was my nemesis – his name was John.
John played tennis (and most sports) really well. He was tall, athletic and had a good eye and reflexes. While he didn’t live next to a court, didn’t have coaching and only played once or twice a month the matches we had were always closely fought with him usually winning in tie breakers. John was a natural.
I on the other hand was also a good player but unlike John my ability wasn’t a natural one – it came from many many hours of practice. I can remember hitting balls against the wall until after the sun set on many evenings – working on my backhand and even getting up early in the morning to go jogging to work on my endurance.
In the end we ended up playing in the same team (in the highest grade in our competition) and had a very similar standard – but we got to the level we achieved through very different means – John just because he was a natural and me though a lot of work.
For some people the writing of a blog comes fairly naturally – they have a good grasp of language and how to us it to communicate effectively – they find their voice reasonably quickly – they find ideas for posts come easily and readers just seem to respond to them.
For others – blogging is more difficult. It takes longer – finding a rhythm of posting is a struggle – ideas to post about are allusive and translating those ideas that come into words is takes a lot of effort.
Practice makes Perfect
The old saying of ‘practice makes perfect’ is true for many aspects of life – including blogging.
In the same way that hitting balls against a wall for many hours improved my tennis I’ve found that my blogging has improved the longer that I’ve blogged. Some of this has come as a result of time and some of it has been the result of intentional ‘practice’.
So how can one practice their blogging? Here are 10 intentional ways to ‘practice’ your blogging:
I am a big believer that the best way to learn is through a combination of Action and Reflection. Do and then analyse what you did. So with blogging this means to post lots and then to set aside time to reflect upon what you learnt from those posts. Here’s a little exercise – look back on your last 10 posts and ask yourself some of these questions:
- Which posts worked best? Why?
- Which posts didn’t work? Why?
- What posts did people respond to most (comments/feedback/linking to you)?
- What could you learn from the writing of the posts?
- How could you improve the posts?
There are a lot more reflection questions that you could ask – but even just asking these ones once a week could lead you to all kinds of learning and improvements to you blogging.
2. Set Yourself Assignments
One of the reasons why I’ve been running the group writing projects here at ProBlogger over the last few months is because I personally find it really helpful to set myself tasks and assignments to help me move out of my comfort zone and experiment with writing in a different style. So every now and again choose a style of posting that you’re not used to or select a topic that is a little different to normal and see what you learn through the process (you may even choose not to publish your assignments and keep them purely as a learning experience).
3. Write for Different Mediums
While I focus fairly heavily upon blogging as my primary medium I do occasionally take on work for other mediums. I’ve written newspaper and magazine articles, have written for other types of websites and have even tried my hand at non written mediums like podcasting. Each time I’ve done this I find that it teaches me something new about communication. There’s something about writing for a new audience in a slightly unfamiliar medium that makes you pay a little more attention to what you’re doing.
4. Write as a Guest Blogger
Similarly, writing for a different audience on someone else’s blog can give you the motivation that you need to put a little more effort into your blogging and think more about how you’re writing. While I don’t do much guest posting these days on others blogs in my early days I did quite a bit of it and found it really beneficial.
5. Ask for Critique
Blogging is a medium where you are likely to get very immediate and at times quite blunt feedback from your readers. They’ll tell you what they like and dislike, what mistakes you made and how you should improve your blog. If people don’t give you this feedback – ask for it. Ask your readers, ask other bloggers and ask your non blog reading family and friends (they can be particularly insightful). Of course once you’ve asked for it – you need to be willing to take what you hear on board and learn from it.
6. Read and Analyse others
One of the places that I learned the most about playing tennis was by my yearly trips to the Australian Open Tennis tournament (while I don’t play tennis these days I still go). In attending and watching experts do there thing I learned a lot about how to play the game in terms of tactics and technique. Studying other bloggers (and writers and communicators in other mediums) you can learn a lot about blogging. Ask yourself about what voice they write in, what works (and doesn’t work) for them, what style of posts people seem to respond to etc. You probably won’t want to imitate them completely – but in reading and observing others you’ll find some of it will rub off on you.
7. Speak Your Posts
My background in communication is one of public speaking/preaching and so when I started blogging I found it a little odd not speaking and hearing what I was writing. To this day when I’m working up a lot of my posts I’ll read them out loud and will listen to how they sound. In doing so you pick up all types of mistakes. I also find that as I read them that I also come up with other ideas.
8. Critique Your Own Old Work
Have you been blogging for a while? Take a wander back through your old posts to some of the first ones you wrote and read them as though you were reading someone else’s work. Critique it – correct it and ask yourself how you’ve changed since writing it.
9. Get an Editor
One of the most confronting things I’ve done was work with an editor on some of my blog posts. I am very aware that I can improve my blogging in many ways and so a year ago hired an editor to work with me for a week on my blogging. Before hitting publish on any post for that week I made myself run it past her. The results were enlightening, frustrating and confronting. Enlightening because it taught me a lot, frustrating because I realised how much I needed to improve and confronting because it forced me to think about my posts in ways I’d been too lazy to think about previously. One lesson that I learned that week was how many unnecessary words I used in my posts (I think that it could be time to hire that editor for another week).
10. Take a Course
I’ve been considering enrolling in a writing course for the past 6 months (it’s something I’m toying with doing in 2007). I suspect that doing so will teach me a lot.
Just do it
My tennis coach used to encourage me to visualise myself improving as a tennis player with each ball that I hit against the wall. I think the same can be true as a blogger. Each post you write has the potential to not only be a post that impacts others – but one that you can learn something from as a blogger.
Nice list. I especially like number 7, I think it´s important to write as you speak to avoid stiff and boring language and to keep a relaxed tone, and number 9. I would love to have the input from a editor for a week or two in a year or so when I´ve gotten a bit more used to blogging.
Personally, what I stuggle with the most is to tackle my subject. Between work and housework, I’m left with little time to read an learn about the topics I’m writing about. I could either become really proficient in one topic, but never blog about it, or simply surf the web for information and try to blog about it in an informed way. It’s a compromise I’m currently making, but it’s something I’m rather annoyed about. Not enough time in a day, there is.
Great post Darren. I have found a lot of those examples have worked for me in the past. I always speak my posts and make what I am writing more conversational. I believe the style of writing, especially for many blogs, should be conversational, and therefore I write how I would say it. :D
Another great tip here at problogger. I’m seriously considering getting some formal writing lessons this school break. A great opportunity to resharpen my writing skills and improve my blog.
Informative and helpful post, Darren. I too, have been toying with the idea of a writing course. I thoroughly enjoy publishing my work, especially to the web, and feel that I could potentially bring everything to the next level if I had some professional guidance in a semi-academic environment. Community colleges, as well as universities, are great for this.
Number 7 is the hardest one for me to remember to do.
Number 10 is a great idea. I sometimes use my wife Jill as an editor for my posts. When she edits them, they are MUCH better. Partly, because she has much better grammar than I do, and partly because she has excellent writing skills.
Thanks as always for the great advice.
[…] On Problogger.net there is a great post on improving your blogging through practice. Darren compares it to tennis, but I think it is just like anything in life, if you apply the right amount of time and effort the rewards speak for themselves. […]
Great post. I like your tennis analogy. It gives me hope that I can get better. I’m one of those writers having trouble finding my voice. I use #7, but my favorite is your conclusion. I can find many excuses, but need to “just do it.”
[…] 3. Serialize and Cliffhangerize: In the vein of 24 and Lost, Battlestar Galactica is a serial; each episode is really built upon each episode before it, and is often punctuated by some sort of punchline or cliffhanger. Unlike Startrek for example, there are very few stand-alone episodes, and few, if any, are “reset” to the status quo at the end of every episode. In your every day posting, what’s your own approach? Does every post stand on its own? Or do your writings live within an ecosystem of your blog? Some of the very best blogs, I find, have recurring themes that the author(s) visit and revisit; at other times, there’s a concerted effort to create a series of coherent posts that tackle a topic difficult to break down in a single post. In terms of the actual copy, you may find that some success with adopting “cliff hangers” of your own to introduce up coming posts to built suspense and interest as well. Ultimately, blogging in a way that creates intoxicating readability should be one of your goals. What are you building into your own blog that takes this into account? […]
That was a useful piece of work. I just started blogging and am facing some problems in writing.
[…] All these methods – and more – are employed by successful writers and bloggers. Darren Rowse has a list of 10 Ways to Improve Your Blogging through Practice on his ProBlogger site. […]
Well I agree that practice makes you perfect … Your tips are awesome, learning from an expert is also a method to become better :)
very inspirational. it comes only with years of work. hopefully, I will reach there soon.
[…] ProBlogger Darren Rowse has written “10 Ways to Improve Your Blogging through Practice”, an excellent analysis and guide to making the most of your blogging experience. For some people the writing of a blog comes fairly naturally – they have a good grasp of language and how to us it to communicate effectively – they find their voice reasonably quickly – they find ideas for posts come easily and readers just seem to respond to them. […]
[…] Según va pasando el tiempo uno se se encuentra más cómodo escribiendo artículos en su blog. Hay muchos blogueros que tienen un talento natural para escribir y una gran facilidad de comunicación. Pero no todo el mundo goza de esa habilidad y ésto, aunque podría resultar en una dificultad para elaborar un blog, puede mejorarse, como dicen en Problogger, a través de la práctica. […]
Good point. I am taking notes. I believe you. Practice really makes perfect.
Yup, I think I am like the one who keep practising to have result. I am not born naturally to anything. What I get is through hardwork. Thanks for a good article. Really a good one.
[…] Im Augenblick lese ich gerade 10 Ways to Improve Your Blogging through Practice und da heißt es z.B.: […]
[…] Break down the elements of blogging and focus on improving each and every one of them. Hire coaches [I read that Darren Rowse – ProBlogger – hired an editor and for a week, before he published any story he had the editor review, correct and critique it – that’s a pro attitude!], get site reviews, study the most successful sites in your niche, make friends with a pro in your niche [a hint for this – start by asking yourself and them, “what can I do for them?”] and work on creating an attitude and system of small incremental improvements. […]
This is the entry of yours that I do return to over and over again to ‘see and hear’ what you are ‘writing & saying’! Still think that it is one of the best articles out of your keyboard so far, anyway. Keep so well and safe. Rii :)
Is it possible to link into this entry when I am going to write about blogging in my Yahoo site where I want to mention where I go to read edifying and educating how-to blogs?
[…] Practice, Practice and Practice some more. […]
Very nice information here. I need to improve my writing style on my blog. I keep reading other blogs just to see how they write, hopefully this will help me out.
Completely agree with the premise here – the first 150 posts or so on my primary blog are terrible – almost to the point that I want to delete them all – but that would kill some traffic from Google and also leave some dead links – not such a good idea.
This is all good advice, especially 7, 9 & 10 – speaking your posts is very helpful, as is having an editor (if you can afford one). And going back to school for writing/journalism might be in the cards someday – it might be a necessary step to make my dreams become reality.
Good ideas. It was good to know that those among us who are accomplished, didn’t start out that way but rather grew into it. There’s hope for those of us starting out and stumbling around wondering if we’re doing the right thing.