Writing blog posts is an art. Almost everyone can write a blog post, and given the number of posts published each day, it can look like almost everyone does. To rise above the deluge, just-good-enough posts won’t cut it. They have to be outstanding. Most people can write an essay, a letter, or even a book; but we value those who are masters of their chosen form.
Blogging is no exception:
writers who have spent months and years honing their craft are lauded and those who sit down and dash off a few paragraphs without deliberate practice are admired by no-one but their friends. I’m far from being a master blogger, but in the years that I’ve been writing blog posts professionally, I’ve learned a thing or two from the masters and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you.
Understand Your Intended Audience
This one seems like a no-brainer, but regularly generating interesting and engaging blog topics is far from straightforward. It takes planning and a well-developed understanding of the target audience, particularly if you intend to make a living from blogging or are blogging to support a business. The reader is everything: find out what interests them, entertains them, and challenges them. There’s no easy trick for getting into the head of your reader — some writers will suggest you don’t even try — but unless you create content that engages readers’ attention, you’re writing a personal journal, not a blog as it has come to be defined.
Some people can sit down and write a perfectly proportioned post with minimal preparation. Most writers can’t, even professional writers (and they quietly curse those who can). It might seem as if outlining is a waste of time, but in the end it will save time and result in a more coherent post.
Here’s the secret of good writing: it’s all in the editing. Many newbie bloggers look at the perfectly crafted posts of professional writers and commiserate with themselves because they can’t emulate the apparently effortless prose and wit. They think: this guy sits down, cracks his knuckles, and painlessly reels off reams of pellucid prose while everything I write looks like the ramblings of a grade-schooler. Understand this: a good writer agonizes over the placement and meaning of every word, sentence, and paragraph, polishing relentlessly until the result appears effortless.
Writing is not typing. I can type a mediocre 600-word blog article in 15 minutes, but then I’ll spend an hour or more editing until I’m happy to publish.
William Faulkner once said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry expressed a similar thought, “It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.”
Both are getting at the idea that to edit well, you must be prepared to remorselessly cut everything that doesn’t add to the message and aesthetics of a piece. That doesn’t mean you should adopt the “writing for three-year-olds” style favored by some writing “experts”, but you should ensure that every word you publish works hard to earn its place.
If you agonize over editing and “kill your darlings”, your writing will take on the effortless grace of a skilled craftsman.
It might seem that we already have this covered with editing, but proofreading and editing are not the same thing, and I want to make the distinction clear. Editing focuses on meaning, expression, and concision. Once you’ve got that licked you still need to carefully go over your prose to look for typos, grammatical errors, and spelling mistakes. It’s better to proofread last because the editing process will introduce errors. On many occasions, I’ve altered part of a sentence while editing and neglected to change the rest of the sentence to ensure that pronouns agree with its subjects.
If you proofread but don’t edit, your posts will be correct but uninspiring, insipid, and irritating to read. If you edit but don’t proofread, you’re likely to produce something worth reading, but attention will be constantly called to errors in the text rather than the ideas you want to communicate — you will look sloppy and careless. A quick skim to make sure that apostrophes are in the right place and that you haven’t muddled up “there” and “their” is not enough.
Add Rich Media
Images, data visualizations, and video will increase reader engagement and attract more attention to posts on social media. Some information is simply better suited to visual representation than to text. That doesn’t mean you should try to change all your blog posts into what passes for “infographics” these days, but it does mean you should take care to present information in the most suitable format and include attention-grabbing images.
Craft The Perfect Headline
Acres of text have been written about the art of crafting the perfect title or headline, so I’m not going to go into much detail about it here, but without a great headline, no-one will ever even click-through to see the body of your post.
There are as many ways to write powerful blog posts as there are great bloggers, and each will develop a workflow that best suits them, but these six tips will help any budding writer create posts that compete with the best.