Writing right for your blog
A few weeks ago, I found myself in Walla Walla, Washington, attending the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference. These meeting of minds brought together over 300 wine writers, blogers, and professionals to eat, drink, be merry, and learn from each other. Among some of the sessions, there was one that particularly stood out in my mind because it continues the discussions about writers vs. bloggers. Are writers bloggers? Are bloggers writers? Are we the same? Are we different? Should we play by the same rules? What’s going on here?
Bloggers and writers are often sparring about this subject, and even though some writers (i.e. Steve Heimoff, who delivered a dry but somewhat interesting keynote) claim to be bloggers, there are still some hotpoint differences while maintaining a core thought process that is the same. More Effective Writing in Your Blog with Meg Houston Maker, Andy Purdue and Hardy Wallace pitted bloggers against professional writers ,and sought to discuss how to best express yourself with the written word, while keeping your voice pure and true. Let’s just say that there is still a quiet war being waged between the two and while I see many writers who are trying to bridge the gap by being great bloggers, bloggers may be writers, but we are not PROFESSIONAL writers and therefore are not subject to the same rules.
According to Meg, writing is thinking is hard. – and thinking is hard. True enough. It might be easy to chuck up any blog post, but it does take thought to forumlate a thought provoking post that is more than a wine review. Even those blogs that are strictly wine reviews (Wannabe Wino) put thought and critical thinking in to play when writing posts. Meg also came up with some other interesting tidbits, 25 in all, and I’ve picked a few of the choice ones to chew on below.
Write for the reader and not for yourself. Really? This is my blog; I am not writing a novel, and I don’t need to sell 40,000 copies. I’m not sure this is a valid point for many bloggers, as we are not getting paid to put our pens to paper. While I certainly hope that you enjoy what I write, I am not editing my content to please my audience. What’s your take?
Assume limitless intelligence and no prior knowledge. This is good advice for anything that you do, particularly writing and professional work. I am constantly reminded of this in my work life, as my audience might be an uneducated user with no prior experience, but might also be a user with more experience than I have. Know your audience and play to them.
Tell a story nobody else can tell. Having a unique voice is important. Why do readers navigate to your blog? Being interesting and authentic will give you an edge. Who wants to read your blog if you are like 100 other blogs?
Position yourself in the narrative. Providing evidence that you know what you’re talking about is important for any subject you want people to listen to you about. While I don’t consider myself and expert on many things, I do occasionally know what I’m talking about and backing yourself up with facts and knowledge will encourage your audience to look to you as the authority. This is true for both professional writers and bloggers.
You may not know what you think at the start of a piece, but you’d better know by the end. You better know at the beginning – if you are writing a piece on something you are passionate about, which all of your posts should be, why wouldn’t you know your position from the get go?
Exclamation points should be reserved for exclamatory remarks. I struggle with this one, but in general it’s true. Just because you are writing a blog, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use good grammar.
If you don’t know something, you may need to find it out. Also, you may have an opinion about these facts; this is welcome to your readers. Absolutely true – if you learn something new at a tasting, or at an event, or just in passing, you should research the topic to make sure you are sharing the best information possible. There is nothing worse than spreading the gospel of wrong information.
Don’t assume your experience is the same as your reader’s. Don’t resort to clichés. Nobody’s interested in reading clichés. Is that why certain blogs who rely on porn, photos, and snarky roasts are so popular? I think not.
Be ruthlessly authentic about your own experience. Don’t over-rely on metaphor, especially sexual metaphor. Wine is an experiential product, so find, focus on, and talk about your own true experience in your most authentic voice. This is the story only you can tell. Here here!
Re-read your work the next day, then publish. If you proof instantly, you’ll still be in love with the person you were when you wrote it. I fundamentally disagree with this as I believe a blog is much more about instantaneous access and publishing. If you continue to read and reread your blog posts before you publish them, they will be a different entity. Yes, I believe that you need to proofread and review your posts before you publish them, but I don’t think you should stew on them for too long because your purity of voice will be lost in the tediousness of editing your work.
Learn to work with an editor. A good editor is on your side, trying to coax out your best story. This is great advice for professional writers, however, working with an editor for a blog is overkill. I choose to not have someone telling me what to write, that is why I blog and choose not to work for a magazine or other publication.
You need a good ending, but not a clever ending. Don’t trick your reader at the end; they will never forgive you. Agreed, however, a clever ending will catch the reader. Who wants to reader a boring story?
The end will change the beginning. This is why you cannot write a story in only one pass. This might be true, but as a post is a full story, if you sketch it out and put some key points down before writing the entire story, you will be able to write it in a fairly quick and concise manner. If your story changes and changes, I fear you might lose your voice, and the purity of the piece will be abandoned for the sake of editing. I do work on my posts a few times before publising, but I don’t believe in changing the beginning based on the ending – otherwise, you would be completely changing your novel when you write the last chapter, which doesn’t make sense to me when I am working my best to write a full and complete story.
If you succeed at this, and if you tell the truth—your own truth—you will have achieved one of the most intimate and beautiful of acts: you will have penetrated another mind. This is absolutely true and I couldn’t have said it better myself.
While I”m not sure I agree 100% with these themes, I do agree that writing with passion and thought is critical if you want to be taken seriously. The core difference, as I stated in the session, is that – as bloggers – we are not paid. At least I am not paid. I do this out of my love of wine and my passion for the subject, a well as my slightly maniacal need to have myself heard (even if I’m a forest of trees and no one is around to hear me). As in my IT career, when one is paid to do something, regardless of the love or passion they might feel, they are prevented from truly expressing their passion by the boundaries of the organization they work for. As someone pointed out in the session, there are certain baseline requirements that the law and common decency require – not that every blogger follows these ground rules – so I’m not talking about liebling a winery or inciting riots. That said, while I love my day job (at least in theory, i love what i do), I am not allowed to do whatever I want whenever I want it. I must play by the rules of those that sign my paychecks. Not so in my blog. I am not blogging for a winery, I am not blogging for the WSJ. I am blogging for me, and I hope that other people will be interested in reading it. When I started blogging it was purely for me, and because my friends got tired of my old school e-newsletters. Now, I blog because I want to share my knowledge with other people that want to learn. I hope I have accomplished this, and I look forward to incorporating some of these 24 theories with my own personal spin.