Improve Your Blog Writing with this post written by Rob Siders from 52 Novels.
One of the hallmarks of producing great content for your blog is writing it so it sounds natural, the way it would if we were chatting with each other over a coffee.
I know. I’m not the first person to say this, so the advice won’t sound all that fresh. But the fact is, writing this way enraptures your audience. You’ll have them begging to know what comes next.
And, after all, isn’t that the purpose of a sentence? To get people to read what comes next?
I’m a technical writer and editor at my day job. I’m writing my second novel in my free time. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and over the years I’ve learned some things that never fail to punch up my prose.
Junk unnecessary words
This staple of Strunk and White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE is, perhaps, the best piece of advice I have to share. I put it number one for a reason.
But how do you know which words are unnecessary?
A quick and dirty way is to look for all of the thats. You can jettison most of them.
Then take a look at the fluff. Strike any copy if it:
- Doesn’t add anything substantial.
- Won’t change the work’s meaning or tone.
Remember: You’re writing for others as much as — if not more than — you’re writing for yourself.
If you’d skip over something, you better believe someone else will, too.
Make it active
Thank ol’ Mrs. Anderson for this one.
Mrs. Anderson was my seventh grade English teacher who insisted the class adhere to every motherlovin’ grammar rule… no matter how archaic. Or stupid.
As as result, everyone learned to write dreadful passive prose. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seldom met a passive sentence I liked.
Chances are good you’ve got a Mrs. Anderson in your past, too. Exorcise that demon’s teaching immediately.
Examples of passive sentences:
The awards presentation this year will be emceed by Wink Martindale.
My daughter was given a turtle by my sister-in-law.
Notice how the subjects of the sentences are receiving the action? Blech.
Here’s how to fix them:
Wink Martindale will emcee this year’s awards presentation.
My sister-in-law gave a turtle to my daughter.
Here, the sentence subjects are performing the actions.
Subjects — not to mention your readers — yearn for action. Don’t disappoint them.
Forget your adverbs here
Adverbs suck the life out of magnificent nouns and adjectives. In fact, there’s nothing an adverb can do that the right noun or adjective can’t do better by themselves.
Bob admitted he liked women with slightly curvy figures.
Don’t softpedal this, Bob. Tell us you like voluptuous women. Tell us you like women with va-va-voom. “Slightly curvy” just doesn’t cut it.
Before you publish your copy, be sure to look for the words ending in –ly. It’s a safe bet they can go. You might even have to rewrite a few things.
Just be sure your meaning isn’t warped when you do remove your adverbs.
Read it out loud
My wife makes fun of me when she hears me reading my fiction. She claims it’s because I like to fawn over the sound of my own words.
She’s only half right. :-P
The other half is that my writing doesn’t always sound in my head the way it does when it’s spoken. What rings near perfect on the page sometimes doesn’t come across natural at all. “That just doesn’t sound real,” I say to myself.
Because blogging is about conversations, our posts have to sound real, too.
Take a few minutes to read what you’ve written aloud. You’ll find it’s a lot different when it passes through your ears first.
Bonus: You’ll also come across repeated words, incomplete thoughts, clumsy construction, misspellings, and host of other goofs you won’t wanna see in print. You’re welcome.
Vary, vary, vary
I hesitated giving this one up. It comes deep from within the fiction writer’s trunk full of magic.
So deep I could get blacklisted.
Have to turn in my keyboard.
I hope you see where this last one’s headed.
No matter what anyone tells you, there aren’t many rules when it comes to writing. The only one I know of that’s hard and fast is, “Never start a sentence with a comma.”
That said, changing the pace, gravity, and tone of your posts is often as simple as varying sentence and paragraph lengths. English composition teachers say, “Each paragraph should have a thesis, and each sentence in the paragraph should support the thesis. Each sentence needs a subject, verb, and blah blather blah.”
Each sentence should keep the reader, you know, reading. If that means you get creative with the rules, then by all means…
Rob Siders is a writer living in Denver, Colo. He blogs about reading, writing, technology, and books at 52 Novels.
There are some great tips here and I for one really need to remember them. I tend to write either too technical or too “loose”, which of course, leads to confusion on the part of the reader.
I’ll definitely start reading my posts out loud. Hopefully it will make my sites more informative, entertaining, and enjoyable.
Even when you think some writing you’ve done is perfect, there is always room for improvement, right? Thanks for the tips! I’m always trying to improve my writing, and blogging is sure making me focus on it. heh heh
@Wayne – you said it! I had an English professor that used to say “You never finish what your writing. Your deadline just expires.” Amen, sister, amen.
This post got me reading my work out loud before I hit the ‘Publish’ button.
Thanks for all the sweat that went into this- great job!
@Thrice and Wayne: So true. Another I like is: All writing is rewriting.
I wish I had read this post a long time ago before I had to figure this stuff out the hard way:)
It’s interesting because ‘trimming the fat’ from my blog posts is always my first mission when I go into my editing phase. I usually spend twice the amount of time editing my posts and end up with half the amount of words but still conveying the same stories.
Using the Active voice is also a great tip. When I first discovered this and implemented it into my story posts, I noticed an incredibly large increase in my returning readers. They basically couldn’t get enough!
Every writer/blogger should have a copy of elements of style next to their computer. I have mine and often find myself going back to it again and again.
Excellent post, Rob!!
I’ve always found that when someone tries overly hard to write a blog entry that it comes off sounding too “scripted”. I think it’s always best to go with the flow and simply write what your thoughts are, but of course try to be lucid and use proper grammar and spelling! Readers can read or watch the news if they want perfect editorials, I go to the blogs to read others opinions in a different manner.
I always hated English class in secondary school as I felt it took the fun out of writing. I was so excited to get my ideas out and then had to follow this or that rule to make it “proper”. I find that coherent writing comes easily to me and hence I love having a blog and the chance to express my thoughts freely, (while of course still being lucid and using proper grammar and spelling as InfoDoorway said)
Excellent post, Rob!
Killer tips! Haven’t read anything like this for ages! I’m going to bookmark this page on my browsers for sure…
Its always nice Finding writing tips expressed with such a fun style.. Well done
As a fellow Denver copywriter who’s just written a big guest post about becoming a better writer (mine’s on copyblogger), I say: nice post!
From the timing you’d think I copied the idea, but no, just an odd coincidence. Either that or Denver has become the latest hotbed of great writing advice.
@Sonia: We may be on the verge of something…
Thanks so much for the great ideas.
We all tend to butcher (is that akin to ‘killing’?…I hope not!) the English language more than we’d like to admit. I appreciate your help.
BTW: I edited this comment three (3) times before clicking the ‘submit’ button. Oy!
Poignant and timely advice.
I needed this. =)
I just took “that” out of one of my posts ELEVEN times. I also took out 2 words that end with -ly.
It reads much more fluid now. Who’d a thunk?
One tip I always found helpful was to step away the draft or written work for a while. This means finishing a rough draft ahead of time, meaning, all those last minute writers out there better not procrastinate.
NIce post by Rob Siders. After finishing a copy, i would slip to other work for a while and then read my finished one atleast twice to find for any errors. Then weekly once i read back all my written stuff to trace out my writing style. Later in my leisure time, give away a try for new style has been my pleasure these days.
I hate grammar books from my schooling until now. :)
Great article. There is some really useful advice in there.
In answer to your question (or statement) “And, after all, isn’t that the purpose of a sentence? To get people to read what comes next?”
No … I don’t think the purpose of a sentence is to get people to read what comes next. The purpose of a sentence is to communicate. If that communication is interesting, useful or humorous the reader will naturally want to read more.
I like the idea of reading it back aloud. I read back to my dog. If it is dull enough to put him to sleep – needs rewrite. If it is lively enough to sound like play – its a winner.
My problem, at least I believe it to be my problem. Is making sure I re-read over the text I’ve just typed. My brain seems to think ahead of my typing and when I look back I can see all the words i’ve skipped in the content :(
The reason teachers teach is because they often have no idea how to create!
Following the same old rules and guidelines leads to dull, boring, mundane and expecteddrivel
Now, how about, MCing this years awards presentation Wink Martindale, instead of the boring Wink Martindale will emcee this year’s awards presentation.
Other than that keep up the work. Nice one. The Baldchemist