This guest post is by Ali Luke of Aliventures.
Does great writing matter in blogging?
It’s a debate that isn’t over—yet. But it’s one where more and more blogging experts are emphasizing that your writing does matter, and that readers are drawn in by a strong, engaging voice.
Great writing will:
- encourage people to share your content
- persuade readers to subscribe for more of the same
- get a powerful response—like comments or sales
- make you look like a big player in the blogosphere, even if you’re just starting out.
You might not think of yourself as a writer, but your writing skills will make or break your blogging career. Here are five ways to improve.
1. Blog regularly
If you talk to any writer, they’ll tell you that you need to write regularly. We bloggers, of course, have an advantage here; there are a bunch of good reasons to produce frequent posts (encouraging search engine traffic, and keeping readers engaged, for instance).
Blogging regularly doesn’t necessarily mean daily. In fact, you’ll almost certainly do better by writing slightly less often and putting more time and effort into your posts: after all, wouldn’t you rather your readers were eagerly looking forward to your next in-depth post, instead of skipping past yet another mediocre 300 word piece that you’ve churned out?
To get into a regular blogging habit, try setting up a blogging calendar. Once you’ve found a comfortable routine, it’s easy to keep going.
2. Learn actively
Just writing regularly won’t get you far. It’s also important to actively learn about writing—to look for areas where you want to improve.
You need to slow down when you write. You need to think about what you’re writing, and how it works to capture reader attention. You need to devote conscious attention to improving your work to make it more effective. More readable. More captivating and compelling.
—James Chartrand, Why You Shouldn’t Write Often, Men with Pens
So how do you give your writing that “conscious attention” which James is talking about?
- Read writing blogs. Ideally, subscribe to them so you get daily tips and inspiration. I’d recommend Daily Writing Tips, Copyblogger, and Men with Pens, for starters.
- Invest in great ebooks. The Copywriting Scorecard for Bloggers is a fantastic resource to have to hand. And if your grammar and spelling could use a bit of work, get 100 Writing Mistakes to Avoid (from Daily Writing Tips).
- Read brilliantly-written blogs, and learn from them. All the writing blogs are great examples, but it’s also a good idea to find blogs in your own niche. If you come across a particularly engaging or well-written post, print it out and go through line-by-line to see how it works.
- Go to a writing class or course. Try your local college, or look online—for instance, Darren and Chris run Creating Killer Content.
- Form a writing circle with blogger friends. You might not be experts, but you’ll probably be able to point out the potential flaws or trouble spots in one another’s work.
- Get one-to-one support from a writing coach. Although this isn’t cheap, it’s an incredibly effective way to get advice specific to you and your writing.
3. Read widely
How much reading do you do outside the blogosphere? When did you last read a book?
Although blogging is a particular form of writing, you can learn a lot from other mediums and styles. You might find a great technique in an advert in a newspaper, for instance, or you could use a brilliant headline that you took from a magazine.
Most books have been through a number of gatekeepers before being published—agents, editors, marketing boards, and so on. Not all books are well written, but many are, and they can give you a sense of what’s possible. Try out some novels (ask friends for recommendations)—novelists have the toughest job of all writers, because they have to convince us to care about imaginary people in made-up situations.
4. Write creatively
As well as reading outside the blogosphere, try writing outside it. Okay, you may not have any ambitions to be the next J.K. Rowling, but by trying out different writing styles, you’ll find yourself becoming more comfortable and fluent in your blogging.
A great place to start is with the Creative Copy Challenge, run on Mondays and Thursdays. You’re given ten words or phrases as prompts, and you have to work them into one short piece of writing on any topic you like.
You could also try these ideas:
- Write short pieces of fiction. These can work incredibly well on blogs, particularly when they offer a different way of looking at your usual topic. A couple of examples are How to Attract The Most Awesome People Into Your Life by Vlad Dolezal and What Hope Really Means by Alex Blackwell.
- Write poetry. I’m really not a good poet (I wrote such awful poetry as a teen that I swore off it for life!), but occasionally I’ll try out poetry because it encourages me to focus on the full value of each word.
- Write the same post or page in several different styles. This is a great exercise if you’re struggling with how best to write something. Your “About” page is a good one to try this with. How about:
- turning it into a story (not your whole life story, but the story which matters to you)
- using a question and answer format
- writing it from an unusual perspective, like Darren’s piece from his son’s point of view.
5. Use feedback
I’ve touched on feedback above, suggesting that great ways to learn are by working with friends or by hiring a coach. But you’re probably already getting plenty of feedback on your writing.
This feedback might come through:
- Tweets (either directly at you, about you, or retweets of what you’ve said): what gets a great response on Twitter? Look at the way you phrased things, and the content, and see if you can figure out why it engaged others.
- Comments on your blog: which posts get the most comments? What do readers seem to particularly like? If you’re experimenting with different styles—maybe writing a short story with a point, like Alex and Vlad did in the examples above—then pay attention to the comments and see what’s resonating with your readers.
- Emails that you receive: these may give you ideas of particular topics to write on (and choosing the right subject for your post is an important part of writing well). In some cases, they may also indicate when your writing has touched someone deeply.
Want to get more in-depth feedback on a particular post? You could ask on Twitter—making it clear that criticism is welcome—or ask on a forum. If I’m working on a high-impact piece of writing, like a sales page, I often ask in the Third Tribe for feedback and suggestions—and I’ve seen lots of other bloggers do the same.
How are you going to take your writing forwards, today?