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.