Become a Top Blogger By Mary Jaksch Do you want to drastically improve your blogging success? Are you looking for new ways to boost your writing career, retain more clients, stick to your writing schedule, or get more readers addicted to your blog’s content? We asked the winners of our Top 10 Blogs for Writers Contest for their best advice on how to achieve excellence in the business and art of writing. Here are their top tips. I think you’ll agree that there are some excellent ideas here. #1: Dream Big, Write Big Here’s what Larry Brooks of Storyfix, a blog on writing fiction, recommends: “Not so long ago there was an elephant in the writing room: the work was all about getting published. You did that by writing a great story. But today, with digital venues having no qualitative criteria, the elephant has a new mantra: you’ll still need a reallygreat story. That is, if you want to sell to anyone besides your family and your critique group. But not just any story. Until recently, publishers did all the vetting. Today that power exists in the digital marketplace. Which means you, the aspiring author, need to play the odds: a “small” story about your grandmother’s childhood in Des Moines is less likely to make a dent in the Amazon rankings than, say, a story that takes an astoundingly compelling concept and sends it sailing over the fence. So think big. Out of the box. Don’t try to compete with James Patterson or Nora Roberts – you can’t, they’re still out there. Rather, become the next James Patterson or Nora Roberts by swinging for that fence. Write the story you were born to write. Do it now… the door has never been open wider.” #2: Why Your Writing Doesn’t Really Matter Here’s what James Chartrand of Men with Pens, a blog that offers “world-class web design and web copy,” recommends: “Most writers jam up. In fact, very few writers actually write with complete peace of mind, firing off words and then hitting publish without a doubt in the world. They edit. And re-edit. And edit again. Stress levels go up. Self doubts rise. And hours of blood, sweat and tears go into the smallest pieces of writing. Here’s the thing: Your writing doesn’t really matter. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about making your writing the best it can be. You should edit and try to catch the typos, use proper punctuation and grammar and work out the kinks in awkward sentences, sure. But there comes a time when you need to stop twisting yourself up in knots. Let the writing go. Because it doesn’t really matter. What I truly mean by that is that the medium of your message isn’t as important as you think it is. People don’t get excited over “perfect” writing. They don’t leave comments that say, “Wow, that was some damned fine editing!” No. People get excited about the message you have to share. Not your “perfect” writing. And if you’re preventing yourself from letting people see your writing because you’re stressing over the perfection of it… well, your message never makes it out there to the people you want it to reach. So give yourself permission to write what you need to write in the way you want to write it. Stop stressing over what people will think of your work. That’s not important. Start getting excited about sharing your message instead – and making sure that the people who need to hear it actually do. Your writing doesn’t really matter. Your message does.” #3: The #1 Reason Your Blog Post Goes Unread Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing, a blog that offers “practical advice for hungry writers,” says: “Did that headline make you feel you simply had to read this section? You’ve just seen a demonstration of why strong headline writing skills are essential for writers who want to succeed in the Internet age. If you can write intriguing headlines with key words, it will help your audience find you. You can really stand out from the crowd, too — I reviewed more than 100 writer’s blogs recently, and weak headlines were the single biggest problem I saw. Where newspaper headlines have a subhead to help fill in the details for readers, online your headline stands alone. It must grab readers who see it on search engines and compel them to click through to your piece, or you won’t be read. Strive to make your headlines both meaningful and intriguing. In my view, improving your headlines is the single most powerful thing you can do to help your online writing career.” #4: To Get Inspired, Embrace the Mundane Judy Dunn, founder of Cat’s Eye Writer, a blog that helps bloggers “get their posts noticed more, read more and shared more,” recommends: “Whether you are writing a blog post, telling a story in a marketing piece or penning a novel, ideas and topics are right in front of your face— if you watch and listen. In everyday life—at the grocery store, at the bank—turn the camera on yourself. Carry a notebook and record what you see and hear. There is enough bizarre behavior out there to spark the creative juices indefinitely. Mine your family for rich material. I spun my experiences in raising my daughter into stories that are still educating, engaging and entertaining my blog readers. Writers should be avid readers. Reading across genres is a catalyst for new ideas. It improves your vocabulary. It helps you find your voice. It shows you how to touch the senses and emotions in writing. And it helps you tell your stories better. My reading ranges from children’s books, true crime and memoirs to 19th century classics. Finally, write, write, write. I am a big fan of free, stream-of-consciousness writing because it brings me some of my most unique ideas. Try journaling for 15 minutes every day and see what happens.” # 5: Blast Perfectionism and Thrive Linda Formichelli, author of The Renegade Writer, a blog about “living and loving the freelance life,” recommends: “I teach and mentor writers, and a huge sticking point I always hear from them is that they’re afraid to put their work out there if it’s not perfect. So they wait and wait, and get caught in analysis-paralysis — and of course, they have no success. I don’t know about you, but nothing I do is perfect. That includes the way I parent my toddler, my cooking skills, and — you got it — my writing. And yet, I’ve been published in more than 130 magazines, from Woman’s Day to Health to Redbook. Let me assure you: There is no such thing as perfect. Editors (and readers) are all individuals so what one loves, another will hate. You can’t predict it. All you can do is do your best and get your ideas and your queries and your letters of introduction out there. The mediocre idea you send out has an infinitely better chance of being accepted than the one that you never send to an editor because it’s not “perfect.” If it makes you feel any better, when I was first starting out, I sent out some terrible ideas, including a query to Family Circle called “Quik Dri Cheez: Why Advertisers Can’t Spell.” No one blacklisted me for sending out imperfect ideas. I learned from my mistakes, kept pitching, and ended up writing a dozen articles for Family Circle after that. If I can do it, so can you. Now: Get pitching!” #6: Understand the Importance of Perseverance Therese Walsh of Writer Unboxed, a blog about “the craft and business of fiction,” recommends: “I’m not sure who said that the difference between an unpublished and published writer is perseverance, but I believe it. I worked on one fiction project from 2002-2008; my debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was published in 2009. Why does it take such a long time to perfect a story? Because even though we begin the writers’ journey believing we know enough to write a book, we usually don’t. As we write–if we’re able to cast a clear eye on what we’ve written–we’ll see weaknesses in our prose, our characters, the structure of our stories. We’ll pick up craft books and ask critique partners for guidance, and apply new ideas and knowledge to our works-in-progress. Until we hit the next snag, and then again we’ll try to understand what the problem is, and we’ll learn more, then make new changes. This may seem a crazy process–write, learn, rewrite. But in the beginning, it may be the best way to produce quality work. You must have something inside of you that says write, learn, rewrite, don’t quit, repeat. Listening to that voice truly can be the difference between the unpublished and published writer. Write on!” #7. Establish a Consistent Writing Routine K.M. Weiland of Wordplay, a blog that focuses on “helping writers become authors,” says: “The only way to succeed at the writing business is to treat it like business. That means showing up for work every day, rain, shine, or smog. Write every single day, if possible. If not, plan a workable writing schedule that will allow you to write on a regular basis—and then stick with it. You may be able to set aside several hours a day, or you may only be able to manage twenty minutes. Start small if you have to, and work your way up. Bestsellers have been written a paragraph a day. It isn’t quantity that’s important, so much as consistency. Once you’ve chosen a reasonable schedule for your writing, stick with it like a bulldog on a drumstick. Remember: The only person who can make your writing a priority is you. If you’re not willing to make sacrifices and enforce your writing time, no one else will do it for you. Explain the needs of your writing schedule to family and friends, asking them to respect your need for privacy during this time—and then guard your desk with a machete and a flamethrower if necessary.” #8: Write What You Love to Read Joanna Penn, author of The Creative Penn, a blog about “writing, publishing, and book marketing,” recommends: “For years I was held back in my writing because I thought I had to write Booker prize-winning literary fiction in order to be a ‘proper’ writer. I also thought that every sentence had to be perfect when it went onto the page. These two misconceptions blocked me for a long time. But it’s not true! Take a look at your bookshelf and chunk it down into what you’re passionate about reading. I realized that I had mostly thrillers and books on religion and psychology – these are the things that consume me and drive my interest. So I started to write a thriller that blended these topics and it was so much fun to write! If you’re writing what you’re passionate about – whether it’s your blog, ezine article, fiction or non-fiction book, then you won’t find it hard to enthuse about your writing. It’s also important to know your market and if you’re writing what you love to read, then you will naturally hit the right chord. Let that passion carry you through a first draft and then edit your way to a brilliant finished product.” #9: Love Blogging for Writers Victoria Mixon of A. Victoria Mixon, Editor, a blog that focuses on “the art and craft of fiction,” recommends: “Writing and blogging aren’t about what you get from others, they’re about what you get from yourself. So love it. Love blogging for writers. Love writing—the tools and techniques of written language, the humanity that comes through understanding readers, this art that gives words to everything in life that has no words. Love writers— your audience and inspiration. It doesn’t matter whether you have one reader or thousands or if the only person reading is you. Whoever they are, that reader is a writer. Appreciate their presence in your life. Love them for loving what you love too. Love your life—the source of all writing. You don’t have to blog about yourself. But if you pay attention to the world around you and write in telling, significant details, crafting each post along the classic structure of storytelling (hook, development, climax), taking your time to draft, revise, and polish your voice until each post is the best post it can possibly be, striving always to say something unique, something that truly needs to be said. . . Then, no matter what your numbers are, you’ll get the most out of yourself. And that’s the excellence in blogging for writers.” # 10. Learn How to Inspire Your Readers Ollin Morales, author of Courage 2 Create, a blog that offers “writing and life advice,” recommends: “For me, writing isn’t worth it unless it inspires. People seem to believe that if you show your reader a character who is at her most successful and does not have one speck of ugliness, inconsistency, or imperfection in her, that this character is inspiring in herself. That isn’t true. Whether your character is a character in your novel, or whether your character is YOU as a character on your own blog, the key to infusing your reader with knock-off-your-socks inspiration is by doing the complete opposite of what you think will inspire: Show your character as ugly, imperfect, needy, arrogant, confused, lost, struggling, in pain–show her at her absolute lowest. Be brutally honest. Why? Because your readers will relate. Why? Because they’ve been there, too. Once you got your readers relating, show how your character triumphed, even though all the odds were stacked up against her. Have her say to your readers: “Yeah, I know life’s tough. But you can make it through, in spite of it all.” The deepest of valleys are what make the highest of mountains. So make the valley of your story 10,000 feet deep, so that its peak is twice as high.” Now It’s Your Turn These tips are the beginning of a great foundation to achieve excellence in the art and business of writing. What do you think? How do you achieve writing excellence? What other tips do you have to share? Please leave them in the comment box below.