What Makes Great Blogwriting?

Photo courtesy of Capitan Giona

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” - Oscar Wilde

A well written blog is a beautiful thing to read. When I hit upon a blog with great writing, I can spend hours digging into the archives, learning, laughing, getting to know a writer.

Because a great blogwriter, in the end, is someone you want to be friends with. It’s someone interesting, someone who can tell a story and hold a great conversation and be fantastic company.

Great blogwriting is hard to find, but it’s out there, and it can be done.

I can’t make any claim to being a great blogwriter, but I have been studying it pretty closely over the last couple of years, and I can report back things I’ve learned from my reading, from my experiments with my own writing, and from what has worked and what hasn’t.

Blogwriting: A new form
Remember, blogwriting isn’t the same as writing fiction, or journalism, or magazine writing. There are similarities, of course, but blogwriting is a literary form in itself.

The difference between blogwriting and other forms of writing lies in the audience, and the closeness of the blogger to his readers. Unlike other similar forms of writing, such as the op-ed column, magazine writing and the like, blogwriting is intensely close to the audience. You’re not broadcasting your writing to a remote audience who will read your article or column tomorrow morning (or in some cases, weeks or months later). You’re writing for an audience who will comment on the post mere minutes after you press “publish”. They will argue with you, praise you, become your friends. They will write their own posts, commenting on and analyzing your writing.

It’s because of this interaction and proximity to your readers that a blogger is exposed to the world, that it becomes immensely personal, that even if you don’t write anything personal at all, you’re vulnerable.

Blogwriting comes in many forms, of course. It varies in extremes from a personal journal to an op-ed column to a magazine how-to feature. And most blogs are some combination of those older forms, and more.

Your voice
Every blogwriter has his own voice. Writing comes from somewhere inside you, it’s a piece of you. That’s not as gross as it sounds.

If you try to write without personality, if you try to remove yourself from your writing, it will be dry and not a bit boring. I don’t advise it.

Put yourself into your writing. Let your voice speak through. Speak to the readers.

Read that last sentence again, because it’s key: speak to the readers. Write as if you’re talking to them. Sure, they’re not talking back, but only for the moment. Soon they will. So talk as if you’ve got their ear, and as if they’re listening but just chomping at the bit, waiting for their chance to respond.

Write conversationally. As we each have our own way of speaking, conversationally will be different for each person. If you have a problem with this, read it out loud. As yourself if that really sounds like you. And if not, rewrite it.

Don’t be afraid to use a little slang, if that’s the way you talk. Don’t overdo it, of course, but a little bit of non-standard English can add color. Don’t be afraid to use the phrases you normally use in conversation: be yourself.

Examples of great voices: Dooce, Seth Godin.

Insanely useful
This is what works for me — writing posts as useful as I can possibly make them. I don’t always succeed, of course, but it’s my goal.

I think about problems I’ve had, challenges I’ve faced and overcome, and if they’re things my readers might also be facing, I write about how to solve those problems. Step by step.

The more practical the tips, the better. Its fine to give general advice, but if the reader can’t actually put that advice to use, it’s useless.

Concise and scannable
These are two separate things, but they’re related. Blog readers don’t have a lot of time. They’re not sitting down to read a novel. They’re reading your posts at work, between meetings and tasks. Or they’re reading in the early morning, as they’re getting ready, or late at night, right before bedtime. They don’t have all day.

So write concisely: make your point, give the information, and be done. If you don’t normally write concisely, be sure to edit your post when you’re done, and see what words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs can be cut out or shortened.

“Scannable” is my term for how easily a reader can scan through a post for the main points. Is it possible to tell, in a few seconds, what the main ideas of a post are? Lists work well for that, as does making the key sentences bold or using sub-headlines for different sections of the post.

Keep the readers in mind, always
Great blogwriting isn’t just about the writer. Sure, there should be a lot of the writer in the writing … but if the writer is so selfish that he ignores the reader, he’s not writing well at all.

Again, great writing, in general, is a conversation. Conversation requires at least two people, and so to write you must have the reader in mind. Who is he, what is he interested in? Talk to him.

The reader should be at the center of everything: the topics you choose, the way you write, what you include and what you don’t. Forget that, and you’ve made a huge mistake.

Entertain them
Not every post will be entertaining, but many of the best will be. OK, maybe this one isn’t so entertaining. But you get my point.

Amuse your readers. Tell them stories. Add in a little humor, even if many of them won’t get it. Don’t be afraid to offend sometimes, although it’s not great to purposely anger people for no good reason.

Examples of entertaining writing: Pointless Waste of Time, Sara Brown.

Experiment, fail and learn
There is no one way to write a great blog post. The best blogwriters have all found their own voice, their own techniques. You’ll do that too, but you won’t succeed right away.

Read great blogwriters, and rip them off. Steal their ideas and techniques and make them your own. Writers have been doing that for centuries — I’d argue that it’s the only thing writers do.

Try new things you discover on other blogs. Try them and fail. It’s from failure that you learn.

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