This guest post is by Anish Majumdar of DashAmerican.com.
The most valuable piece of writing advice I ever got was from an editor at a print magazine after I’d handed in the first draft of an article. I’d spent hours poring over old issues to “get the tone right” and had fought my natural style every step of the way. The end result? A returned draft shot through with corrections and a one-line response: “Write from the inside and trust that we’ll get it.”
As a ProBlogger reader, you probably already know how rare it is to come across a site devoted to blogging that actually offers something besides the same old “rules” recycled in various forms. You know them: keep pieces short. Use bullets. Link to other articles, etc.
While it’s comforting, especially when you’re starting out, to find something—anything—to model posts after, it’s critical to understand that a reader will forgive a strong voice almost anything and a weak voice almost nothing.
Are the rules you’re following helping or hindering your voice? Here are the three biggest blogging “rules” I’ve broken … and the unexpected results I’ve enjoyed.
1. Make posts scannable
There’s a line of thinking behind blogging advice posts that insist pieces must be kept short and stuffed full of typographical tricks like boldfacing and bullets that assumes a typical reader has Attention Deficit Disorder. If you don’t hustle to offer value and get your point across at a glance, they’ll simply move on.
There is another way.
I was recently in the midst of writing a deeply personal account of growing up with a family member suffering from schizophrenia and realized there was no way to make the post scannable. The paragraphs were long. Themes wove in and out of each other without clear sections. And inserting bullets would wreck the overall flow. Anticipating a post that would sink without a trace, I hit “Publish” … and got the strongest reader response of any piece I’d ever written—as well as a Facebook recommendation from an influential literary magazine editor.
I challenge you to, in the words of Jim Carroll, “hustle like a cheetah instead of a chimp.” Don’t worry about gaining a reader’s interest. Don’t waste time with tricks we’ve all seen a thousand times before. Instead, write in a way that gets your heart racing—and locks in a reader from the first sentence.
2. Stay on topic
A blog that’s stuck in a rut is like a relationship where you do nothing but the same routine day in and day out: eventually, things will fall apart. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying you shouldn’t hold true to the underlying theme of your blog. You should. But endlessly recycling the same types of posts under the rationale of “that’s what my readers want” is not only shortsighted, it’s just plain wrong.
Sure, you may be receiving a steady stream of visitors now. But are they sticking around? Are they engaging in a satisfying way? Or are they dropping in to quickly scan the latest post or two and flitting off? Experimentation, planned for and consistent, is the lifeblood of blogging success, and can open up new vistas of personal expression.
I use the following strategy to keep things fresh: every third post has to be new. Not an idea based on an existing post. Not something I’ve pulled out of the “evergreen idea bag” which I assume every blogger has for those days when inspiration doesn’t come.
I’m talking about trying something you’re not sure you can pull off.
For me, that’s meant writing posts on current events, conducting interviews with people I admire, and opening the door to guest posts. Some of these gambits have worked. Others haven’t. But here’s the amazing thing: regardless of how far I stretch, the true fans, those who get it always stick around.
Dare to tinker with your formula. Your readers will respect you for it.
3. Be an authority
In the 10+ years that I’ve been earning a living writing, I’ve spent more time feeling insecure than an authority. I’ve pitched stories that haven’t gotten published. I’ve started projects that have stalled. There have been days when I’ve hated every word I’d committed to paper, and others where I’ve expected to make a huge impact … and haven’t. This comes with the territory, and yet we often feel the need to hide it, as if readers will flee at the first sign of vulnerability.
When I first started expressing my perceived shortcomings and fears on my blog, I felt hideously exposed. There went any claims to being an out-of-the-gate success. But what I received in return were readers who responded to who I was as a human being. They felt invested in my journey because it mirrored their own: what more can you ask more?
Which blogging “rules” have you broken? Let me know in the comments!
Anish Majumdar is the creator of DashAmerican.com, a blog devoted to the cross-cultural experience. If you’re interested in real-life stories detailing epiphanies, embarrassments, and all stops in between, please stop by!