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.
Look for good non-fiction books too—I particularly like the writing style of Richard Wiseman (Quirkology and 59 Seconds) and Chip and Dan Heath (Made to Stick and Switch).
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?
Ali Luke blogs about writing and the writing life at Aliventures, covering topics like Finding Your Writing Voice. You can grab the Aliventures RSS feed here.
I often write the first draft with a pen and paper. One of benefits is that I can write slower, and pay more attention to every word I write.
But there are other advantages as well and I won’t be able to cover it in a comment. Been thinking about guest posting here on topic.
Unfortunately, I tend to go blank when I have to write on paper as I can’t write as fast as I think. I’d rather open a blank word document and just write from my heart…after that, I go through it several times to cross-check facts etc
Nice tip – I’ve heard pen & paper recommended by other bloggers, too.
Good tip! If I have to write something very important I use pen and paper. It helps me concentrate more effectively. But when I blog I just write…
Thanks for the post. I definitely need to incorporate some of these tips in my blog.
@Michelle, a lot of bloggers need to incorporate this. Thanks for the post Ali
I think it’s very important (for blogging anyway) to write in your own voice. Let your character come out in your writing, unless you are a really boring, dull person. Writing as yourself brings out the best in you and your readers will engage better. I met some people last year that I had engaged with on a blog I had then, they told me I was exactly as they had thought I would be. The biggest complement they could have paid me, without them even knowing they had.
Using your comments for feedback is cool, you can really interact with people.
Great point, Pete! Writing in your own voice is hugely important — with all the great blogs out there, you really need to engage with your readers.
Huge thumbs up for anyone suggesting poetry can improve your blogging, an idea I support whole-heartedly. These are great recommendations, Ali.
I firmly believe the only way to prevent blogs from becoming a fad like Silly Bandz is to constantly demand better quality writing of ourselves. There are too many distractions to believe your readers will keep coming back to anything less than big ideas written well.
Thanks Jen! And I agree that “big ideas” are important, not just skill with words.
I definitely need to work on reading widely.
I know the benefits, but my passion for the social web and blogging tend to keep me from wandering into other interests. I guess stumbleupon might be a good remedy for that problem :)
Don’t forget books, too… ;-)
Like … ebooks?
Just kidding – Barnes and Noble is one of my favorite hangouts because unlike the library, lattes are allowed.
This is GREAT advice. Thank you for sharing.
Definitely need to work on my blogging calendar and writing creatively. Really want to branch out from the personal journal stuff to more value-added content around being a good dad and a great man.
Writing consciously is really good advice. Speaking for myself… I think there are times where on some level I’m going through the motions instead of constantly asking myself how I can better communicate the concept I’m writing on.
Writing should be an incredibly conscious endeavor. Everything should be optimized so that what you write has the greatest beneficial effect possible.
Thanks for the post.
If English is not your native language, then you must follow these tips even more.
I guess your are right, specially for for Asian where the national language is not English.
Well I might not be one of the greatest writers, but I recently got linked to in one of the NYTimes blogs… So I think its the content that matters… Not the style or creativeness
They say that every writer has about a million crappy words inside them. The sooner they write those million words, the sooner they can start writing some decent ones. So get writing 8)
On my About page I use quotes from my LinkedIn recommendations.
Killing 2 birds with one stone this way. (feedback and stories)
Great post as always!
Great tips. I love to write now that I am a father and have have something to write about but was terrible at it in High School so it’s been a bit of a struggle to re-learn things I wasn’t all that great at 15 years ago.
Hi I am also a starter and having difficulty to get people interested in my blog posts. Hope this post will help me in the future and encourage me blogging. Thank you
As a new blogger, I find writing it in my own voice helps me to concentrate on my thoughts process and most importantly I can proudly says to myself that “ This is me” It does help to engage your inner self where everyone tend to forget.
I do agree we have to constantly work towards improving our writing skills to bring out the voice. Your 5 tips is very useful reminder for new bloggers like me.
Thanks for such a great post. I’ve subscribe to your blog. Keep posting for the benefit of newbie like me
Thanks, glad you found it useful :-) I’m working on a couple of projects for my own blog, aimed at bloggers/writers who want to take their writing further … so stick around for those!
Yep, completely agree. Keeping on learning is such an important one. Many people rest on their laurels and feel they can continue to write the same as they always have.
Also love the comment about writing in your own voice…so so true! There’s no point pretending to be someone else…soon enough there’ll be inconsistencies in your style and people won’t know what it is they’re trying to read!
Keep up the posts, love em!
Thanks! And yep, pretending to be someone else is never going to be a good long-term strategy (having said that, you can learn a lot from studying someone else’s voice).
I think learning plays a big part in blogging and online business, there’s always something new to learn, from content writing, to sales pitch, and even the site management and marketing, & reading does help a lot, not just online, but offline reading. Like you have mentioned to have a Calendar for posting content, ive also added in my calendar a slot 2wice a week for about 30-45 mins each to read offline content. It helps a lot, as it gives a new angle to view things.
Thanks Wasim – great to hear you’re making time to read some offline content. It’s easy to get caught up in blogs and forget all the other great writing out there!
All are correct and I think bloggers need to read widely to supplement their writing and we need some senses of humor in our articles to make our readers not feel boring :-)
I’m spending the next two weeks just working on one post. It’s a good idea to do something a bit special every now and then.
Definitely going to use some of your tips and look into setting up a blog calender now.
Except first one, the remaining all points are very easy to follow..
Thanks for the post..
Great! I got some really good information from this post.. I signed up for two of the sites you suggested! Thanks for the info!
You always need to be learning!
I like the pen and paper approach. I encourage our creative team to use it for advertising creative too. Never underestimate the power of drawing a simple picture too.
Thank you so much for the very helpful tips that you are always sharing with us. Being a neophyte, we are always depending on the lessons/tips we are getting from gurus like you. Expecting more from you. Thank you again.
I agree that reading well-written books, newspapers, and/or magazines is a huge help. Also writing speeches. When I started blogging after being in Toastmasters for years, I was struck by the similarities of writing a speech and writing a blog post. Both are more conversational than much other writing–with simple words, shorter sentences, and clear organization. One other similarity is that a little humor goes a long way in speeches and in post. One of my best-received blog post was a humorous take on Turning into a Little Old Lady.
Wow great tips Darren. You make blogging seem to simple.
You answered my question! I was wondering what would be some great writing blogs to subscribe to and learn from. I’ve just subscribed to your blog, and will also add the other ones you mentioned. I also like the suggestion of reading outside of the blogosphere, and of writing different types of posts/content. Thanks!
Awesome – glad to help! If you take a look at Write to Done, they’ve just announced the 2010-2011 winners of the “Top Ten Blogs for Writers” — all worth checking out. :-)
Developing a blog (writing) calendar is going to be my 2011 resolution. It is so easy for days to pass while chewing on the the perfect piece. It will be so helpful to have brainstormed ideas at the ready for the periods when the big story is stuck in writer’s block! Great advice, thanks!
Read widely for sure. I believe my writing improves more from reading fiction than anything else.
Hi, Ali. Loved your post and your ebook. Helped me out a lot. I think quality of writing is becoming more important, even when trying to make money online. It only makes sense.
If Google wants to maintain its status as the best search engine around, it would bode well for writers of all sorts to write quality content.
Thanks Gina! Good point about Google — I agree, they’ll keep on finding ways to reward truly quality content. Trickery is never going to be a good long-term strategy.
Can I add listen attentively? :) But if you think about it it’s like we should know how to listen to other’s advice and know how tor receive it. Keep an open mind for suggestions. Nice Darren!
Nice addition, thanks Anne!
Simple but effective!
The most important one in my opinion is blog regularly!!
This is a very insightful post that I will read and re-read! You’ve offered some great tips that I need to implement in my writing. I’ve often struggled with finding my own voice as a blogger: how to provide useful information in an objective way, while also incorporating my personality.
Also, slowing down when I write posts, is another one to take to heart. I often struggle with this as a wife and mom of 2 small children with a full-time job who’s also very active in the community. When I have some time to blog, I often feel pressed to “get it out there.” However, I have actually gone back to some “rushed” posts, rewritten them, reposted, and got better results, e.g., feedback and views, so I know this is something that I need to work on.
Thanks Elena! I absolutely understand the pressure to rush things out (and huge congrats to you for managing to blog along with such a full life!) Maybe slowing down your posting rate a bit — e.g. posting once a week instead of twice, or once every two weeks instead of every week — would help. I know we’re often advised to post frequently, but I think it’s much better to have readers eagerly anticipating your next post!
Great Post. I’ve already taken your advice and subscribed to the blogs you recommended so I can receive more tips on how to become a better blogger. I’ve also decided to focus on quality versus quantity in my blogging. I believe it will produce better results. Thanks for your advice about broadening my reading and blogging horizons.
Thanks John – good luck with your blogging!
We must find keywords that people are looking for and have a catchy headline. Then we must have a first sentence that readers will want to continue reading. If any of the first three are missing forget the rest of the story. However, if the first three elements are there then continue writing about the topic and with every single line that you write ask yourself the question “so what?” If that sentence does not make sense. DELETE it. Because people are people no matter if you meet them online or in person. If they can’t stand it in person they will not like it on the internet either.
Great points, Lawrence – though I might suggest writing the piece first, then tweaking the headline and first sentence at the end. It can be almost impossible to get the beginning right if you keep agonising over it.
There is so many places online, that try to give great advices about how to write blogs to make them successful and popular, but they usually stop, when it gets to details. I mean- everything is very general and only gives some not specifically described directions.
Thank you for making it much more insightful. And inspiring! And filled with great helpful tools!
Thanks Joanna, glad this was the right amount of depth for you! :-) Have a great Christmas!
Nice post Ali :) Am going to focus a bit more on writing more frequently as I had a long break the past few weeks.
These tips are really useful for all bloggers!I have used some of them and I can say that the results are good enough.Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading new posts about blogging.Keep up the good work!
Great tips for all bloggers! We have recently started a new blog for our dental practice, and plan on adding one to our main website soon. Thanks for all of your advice, especially the part about using feedback from readers. That piece of advice is golden!
It’s hard to be everywhere, I liked the way you pulled your information from some of the best blogs. Thanks.
Thanks for those tips. I’m an amateur in this thing of blogging and i’m trying to figure it out al this stuff. Good luck with your blogs and i hope to keep writing in mine and getting better on it xD.
Greetings from Venezuela!