An old writing teacher once told me it’s better to be wordy and get the point across than try to cater to short attention spans and leave everyone scratching their heads. I learned in high school that if you write an engaging story, people will read 20 page sci-fi action adventures, long for high school creative writing. If you make it appeal to their emotions, they will even enjoy it.
The same thing goes for blogs.
As a writer with a blog, I want to make sure every post I write is engaging and inspiring. Learning how to write in this medium has been a long and arduous process. I am still refining it, but in recent months, I’ve had a bit of success reaching new readers, so I wanted to share my current working template of my blog posts. Not all of them match this, of course (this one doesn’t), but it serves as a loose framework to aim for. It largely depends on how much time I have and how much energy I have after chasing
psychotic energetic Korean children around all day.
- Make the article about helping you, the reader. You don’t come here to read about me (well, maybe you do…hi Mom! ), you come here because you get something useful out of my stories. I can only talk about my own life, but my life is irrelevant to others if I don’t distill something I can share to help you overcome the same problems or avoid the same mistakes. Sometimes, I share what I’ve done to show that it can be done, to encourage and inspire. I take what I experience, and try to make it useful to others.
- Make it a story. People relate to stories. Stories appeal to our emotions and get us motivated. They inspire us. We can identify with the characters and the situations. Dry information, while perhaps convincing on a rational level, does none of those things and rarely motivates action (a theory confirmed by Start with Why).
- Use the word “we”, since WE are all in this together. I’m just sharing my experiences and learning as I go. This is a shared journey, not a soapbox; I just happen to be one of the more outspoken (out-written?) members of our crowd.
- Break things up. You’ll notice this post comes in bullet points. That’s so it’s easier to follow. The bold text in my blog posts highlights key points and takeaways. The italics are kind of like asides that you can skip over, or just me thinking out loud (so are these parentheses, which I’m told I use too often). I love headings to outline where the thoughts are going. If I do my job, you should be able to read just the headings and the bold text and get 80% of the article. Then you can figure out what’s most important to you and get the details.
- Be honest. I’m a recovering social outcast, so sometimes I still hide behind a wall of words instead of letting my true self shine through. Those posts where I can do that are always well-received and people seem to get the most out of them in terms of inspiration or motivation. I’ll do my best to stay true, but I’ve noticed it is tied directly to my overall sense of well-being (see how I worked in the importance of holistic health?).
- Take a stand or don’t try to please everyone. This was a hard lesson to learn, but it turns out people listen more when you actually put your foot down about certain things you believe in. Others may not agree, but they respect a strong position more than a wishy-washy one. In my case, I was afraid of offending anyone, so I qualified everything I said. The result was that I got nobody’s attention. Now that I know where I stand (Buddhism, writing, natural movement, compassionate self-care, respect for all living things, unflinching personal integrity, local food) and, perhaps more importantly, where I don’t (extreme fitness, techno-progress, following the status quo, accepting norms that don’t live up, accepting smallness from ourselves, consumption) I have limited my audience, but that audience actually cares about what I say.
My best posts take about 3 hours to write, all told, usually broken into a drafting segment and a refining segment. Refining takes much longer than drafting.
So when I sit down to write a blog post, ideally, it looks like this:
- Story, either real or imagined, that appeals to the readers emotions.
- Lesson from my life, adapted to be helpful to others.
- Experience that taught that lesson.
- Break it down (that’s where the bullet points come in)
- Making it personal. This is where we take the above ideas and see if they apply to our own lives. Perhaps there is something in our lives that could benefit from internalizing the lesson, or maybe we’re not living up to our best selves. Sometimes it’s just something to consider, but I try to make everything I write about immediately and directly applicable.
- Call to action. This is where we get psyched up to go out and make changes for the better, or simply pick up encouragement to keep holding strong.
Things don’t always work out as planned. Some ideas refuse to be constrained, and sometimes the flow of the language takes precedence over the clear presentation I’m aiming for. And sometimes my muse just passes out and I’m left dredging mind-numbing prose out of my leaden fingers. It all depends.
Just thought I’d share. I’d love to hear about other peoples’ processes and guidelines.
(Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, on Flickr)