“I want to blog, but I don’t know what to write about.” I get that. Having taught for several years, I found that one of the biggest problems with beginning writers (including bloggers) is topical focus. It can be daunting and difficult. I saw this first hand last fall. I gave my students an assignment to produce a blog. About a third of the class couldn’t pick a topic that was interesting to them and, for a matter of fact (and more importantly), one that was interesting to others. You need both, and you need to start with yourself. If there is anything you should take away from this post, it’s these three beginning blogging tips:
Beginning Blogging Tip 1:
Write What You Know
Several years ago, I took a film scriptwriting class and the final project was to write part of a film’s introduction. About that same time, my brother and his friend were being harassed by an unknown gang – to this day, they don’t know the identity or agenda of this group, but they have their suspicions. Because this story was fresh in my mind, I devised an intricate plot with these episodes as the basis for my script. I was going write a thriller. (cue music)
Consequently, when the graded assignment was returned, my instructor advised that I should have written about my current field, and not a topic that was a stretch for my imagination – one where I only had second hand knowledge – and no real experience. I understood his concern loud and clear. Therefore, our first of our three beginning blogging tips is to “write what yobou know.” That’s sound advice; not only was it for me, but it can be for you as well.
What’s Your Passion?
Write about your passion – what subject really interests you that could and would generate and engage visitors? When I decided to try blogging in 2009, I picked the topic of recorded music, as I had some experience in field (having been awarded 14 gold and platinum records and owning a personal collection of over 15,000 recordings).
I kept the blog active for seven years and generated over 1700 posts. It garnered me nearly 240 thousand unique visitors from 197 countries and territories. Someone besides me must have also found this topic interesting. By the way, I did minimal promotion of the blog – people found it generally through Google searches. When others tweeted about it, I saw my numbers spike. While it was getting traffic indirectly, this was a terrible strategy; but the subject matter was strong enough to take care of my lack of promotion. Don’t do what I did in this regard.
By engaging with your passion in life, you’ll quickly overcome writer’s block and each post will be easier to write. To keep the flow, make sure that every post relates to your blog’s theme. This is an especially relevant and one of the more important beginning blogging propositions.
Beginning Blogging Tip 2:
Find Your Voice
For students, sometimes the difficult task in writing a blog post (especially as an assignment) is to treat it like a research paper. Scholarly articles have their place and purpose, but that’s not generally a purpose of a blog. Remember, A person doesn’t usually curl up with a good statistical analysis. They want a good story.
That’s not to say, “don’t use data.” You can and should use data and discuss scholarly ideas when needed, but don’t make the post boring. Create meaningful visuals and use descriptive language to hammer the point home.
It’s also OK to use first person. I know, Mrs. Johnson, your 10th grade English teacher, told you to write in third person; in other words, “the researcher found” or “this student agreed.” Shades of Bob Dole! Use first person, please.
When finding your voice – be yourself, not someone else. Jeni Elliot recommends, “Pretend you’re writing an email instead of a post. And you’re not writing to the world at large – you’re writing to just your one ideal reader. Don’t try to sound like the person you want to be – sound like who you are, right now.”
In the same vein, John McPhee suggested that you start off by writing “Dear Mother” and tell your story like you’re writing a letter. Of course, any name could replace “Mom” in this context, but when you tell someone what you have to say, you are being personal, friendly, likeable, and approachable. As a result, you’re on your way to fulfilling the second beginning blogging tip: “find your voice.”
Ignore the Grammar Police
Throw formality out the window. Be yourself – sound like you. At the risk of making Mrs. Johnson apoplectic and Strunk and White spin in their graves, you might just have to ignore some tried and true grammar commandments.
In Everybody Writes, Ann Handley provides a list of what can be relaxed when blogging. I’ve taken the liberty to paraphrase her suggestions as examples:
And remember, It’s OK to start a sentence with a conjunction (and, but, or, however, etc.).
Use sentence fragments. Got that?
Split infinitives are fine to adequately tell a story.
We have permission to end a sentence with a preposition; so, write on.
Finally, one sentence paragraphs like these examples are acceptable.
Beginning Blogging Tip 3:
Edit and Edit Again
I cannot stress the fact that your first draft, which is usually the most painful to write, is not the one you should publish. There should be several revisions before you share your masterpiece with the world.
To be on the safe side, compose in Microsoft Word and have the grammar and spell check engaged. Nothing is more embarrassing than having readers heckle you about bad spelling or poor writing. Awful brush strokes will detract from the most beautiful landscape.
While there are rules that you can relax, other suggestions should be followed. Again, Ann Handley provides specific beginning blogging recommendations regarding editing.
Use Active Voice
First of all, write in active voice and not passive voice. While passive voice is not grammatically incorrect, active voice is succinct and direct. Consider these two examples:
“Stairway to Heaven” is my favorite song by Led Zeppelin. (passive voice)
My favorite Led Zeppelin song is “Stairway to Heaven.” (active voice)
Which of the two sounds better? Which one is succinct and direct? I think you know already.
Use Strong Verbs (sparingly)
This tip will make your writing more descriptive, but don’t overdo it. Use strong verbs sparingly and only where they will make a difference.
My boss asked me to reconsider my resignation. (weak verb)
My boss implored me to reconsider my resignation. (strong verb)
Adverbs are modifiers, but they are often overused. Therefore, only use adverbs when it makes the sentence clearer. Sometimes a stronger verb (see above) will remove the need to use an adverb.
Mr. Granger shouted loudly, “Get back to work!” (adverb present)
Mr. Granger yelled, “Get back to work!” (adverb absent)
These are just a few of Handley’s tips from Everybody Writes. She has several others, and if you’re interested in improving your writing, get her book.
Therefore, concentrate on revising your writing, not once, not twice, but until you post is acceptable. As a result, you’ve now mastered all three of our beginning blogging tips.
The Final Word
In conclusion, the best way to begin to blog is to start to blog. Therefore, by writing often, you’ll focus on what you know, find your voice, and edit until your content is stellar. Consequently, you’ll go from beginning blogging to being a seasoned content creator. Get writing, now.
Furthermore, make sure you visit The Social Observer often for other important social media advice.
FOR FURTHER READING
Elliott, J. (n.d.). Finding your blogging voice [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.theblogmaven.com/blogging-voice/
Handley, A. (2014). Everybody writes: Your go-to guide to creating ridiculously good content. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
McPhee, J. (2013, April 29). Draft no. 4. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/04/29/draft-no-4
Photos by the author; Ciera Nestor, model.
Police car image, which was assaulted by the author, provided for free usage by clipartlord.com.
Category: Blogging, Social Media Marketing 101