Category Archives: Blog writing

Only 3 Ways to Go When You Write…

Want to kick your writing up to a new level? Want to make it better? Maybe a lot  better?

Here’s a quick and easy way to do just that.

I’m talking mainly nonfiction writing here, although the points below can be adapted slightly and help with ficton writing too.

Here are a few, brief, key points that can put you head and shoulders above the other 85-95% out there laboring away on digital paper.

So, what do we do when we write? Point 1:

I have an idea in my head that I want to communicate. Maybe it’s a picture of a gorgeous sunset.  I can see it “in my head.” When I write I must use words, so I put down my words. Those words need to be accurate and well-written if they are going to communicate. That is, so that another person reading my words with get a picture of that sunset in her head that is pretty close to the one I’m seeing in my head. If she can, then I have written well, I’ve communicated.

How specific are my words? Point 2:

Everything we write, every word, phrase, sentence…is general or specific to one degree or another.  Here’s a simple example:

1.  Fruit

A. apples

B.  oranges

(1)  navel oranges

C.  grapes

D.  bananas

2.  Vegetables

Notice in the simple outline above that…

(1)  The word “fruit” is pretty general.

(2)  The words “apples… oranges…grapes…bananas” are more specific types of fruit.

(3)  But each of these types of fruit (apples…oranges…) are basically are equal when it comes to how specific they are.

(4)  On the other hand, when we get down to “1 veggie” we get less specific, more general.

These moves have names…

(1)  When we move from “1. Fruit” downward to “A. apples,” that’s subordinate  move, We’ve in a sense downshifted. We’ve gotten more specific.

(2)  But when we go from “A. apples” to “B. Oranges,” we’ve stayed on the same level. Apples are no more general and no more specific than oranges. That’s a coordinate move.

(3)  Now when we go from “D. bananas” to “2.  Veggies,” we’ve gotten less specific. In fact we’ve change the subject to a degree. I like to call that a superordinate move.

Still with me? Good! It’s going to get better.

Here’s the punch line, the key point:

Whenever you are writing, no matter where you are in your writing, you can only go 1 of 3 possible ways–in the known universe (leaving aside multiple dimensions, string theory, etc.)

From one point to the other, you can only get more specific, keep your next words at the same level of “specificness”, or get less specific (and change the subject more of less). That’s all there is, folks.

Now, how can this help me write better?

Good writing flows. It’s like one idea grows out of the one just before it and then leads to the next connected idea.  Good writing makes sense. It makes it easy for your reader to follow your thinking. It communicates,

In grammar, rhetoric, and composition, this is called cohesive. And it is a vital essential to excellent writing.

How can I do it?

At each point–at a bare minimum each major juncture–in your writing you ask key questions. At the same time keeping your reader in mind.

An illustration to make this clearer…

Say I’ve written the following 3 sentences (I’ll put them in outline form to diagram the content):

“1.  Intuition is important in writing–really you could say in day-to-day living too.

A.  In many ways it’s smarter than the logic we tend to value so much.

B.  It is holistic and often captures the big picture.”

Key Questions…

So as this point in my writing I ask questions like these:

(1) Have I written enough on this subject? (If I have, it’s time to quit or move to another major point or subject–a superordinate move.)

(2) Will my reader get it? Will she understand my point, believe me, see how important it is?

(3) Do I need to add a (subordinate) explanation, an illustration, some detail? and so on.

(4) Are there more points to be made? (Probable coordinate points.)

Now I’ll add more meat to my writing illustration above…

Let’s say I decide I haven’t written enough. So I look at it and ask what and where to add more words. And here’s what I come up with.

“1. Intuition is important in writing–really you could say in day-to-day living too.
A.  In many ways it’s smarter than the logic we tend to value so much. (1) Ever notice how detectives, the good ones, pay attention to hunches? We should too. B.  Intuition is holistic and often sees the big picture. (1) How often do we forget to step back and take a longer view? (2) A wiser range of considerations can be enlightening.”

Did you see an improvement in my little piece of writing above?

Granted, it’s not Shakespeare or even Hemingway. There’s more to do, but I like it more now.

By the way, I wrote this blog post with these principles in mind.

Try this key way of looking at writing. Be in outline mode when you write. Ask questions. Be aware of your level of specificness at each key point and which direction you need to go next–subordinate, coordinate, superordinate).  Keep your reader(s) in mind all during the process of putting words on paper. Better yet, practice this mode of thinking while writing.

I propose that it will enhance our writing, perhaps beyond what you anticipate.

[Note: This little essay appeared first, in a different form, at the Write To Done blog quite a while back.]

Your turn…

What ways and means and methods help you write better?

Do You Think Things Through?

Do you ever in your haste to get things done, give in to a bit of mental laziness and not think things through enough? Or do you make a mental note to fix something and then later forget to do it?

Don’t be hasty.

We all want our writing and our stories to be good, the best we can make them. Powerful writing gets noticed even in a flooded marketplace. But I think, too, we can be tempted–or even succumb to the temptation at times–to conclude that what we have written is good enough and to ignore that quiet, nagging voice that says, “you need to check that” or “that’s not quite right” or “is my writing dull here?”

This is important for all writing.

I’m going to use examples below from fiction writing, but of course the need for careful thought applies to nonfiction writing too.

What about first drafts?

Now just in case you want to say to me at this point: “Yeah, but I like to write by my intuition, my heart, and make it up as I go.”  If you do want to say that, let me add, “I’m with you. When you’re writing that first draft or plowing through your word-count for the Nano contest, go for it. Burn through it. Absolutely. But, as we’ve all heard, good writing is re-written. So I absolutely also recommend careful and thorough thinking-through after that hot piece of writing has cooled down. Even invite your critical left-brain to go for it big-time.”

So what are my points on thinking things through?

1. Thinking-through is vital for depth in writing.

Careful thought can uncover meaning in your story you didn’t see before, themes, symbols, clever twists. Depth can add value and enjoyment for your reader. You might just come up with insights that take your work from good to great.

2.  Thinking-through is vital for plausibility.

Would your character really do that?

Yesterday, I was stuck. I realized that in a key chapter in my novel, I had my protagonist too easily let his 12-year-old daughter, his one and only remaining loved one, go on an obviously dangerous outing. Something no caring parent would do. Yet what happens on that outing is essential to my plot, so I was pushing my luck. I needed to get her on that outing. Then I thought it through and came up with a solution: miscommunication.

Plausibility is super-important whether you’re writing a realistic this-world story or a fantasy with a setting in a strange and alien world. Things still have to make sense to your reader.

3. Does it work all the way through?

Thinking things through is vital to assure that your story or copy works all the way through. Without that careful thought, it’s oh so easy to miss the need for a transition, the need for a brief explanation, or the realization that you have your character acting decidedly out of character–and many other possible problems you need to fix.

And the best thinking-through includes asking the question: how will my reader react to what I have written?

4.  Thinking things through also can open you up to the possibilities.

How about those lovely surprises that tie things together at the end? Surprises that readers love, that make your reader say, for example, “Oh, yeah, now I know why he didn’t propose!” Also, taking the time re-read your chapters and do some hard thinking can remind you to follow-up on those hints (plants) you crafted early-on and forgot about after several thousand more words.

Todd Henry in his excellent book The Accidental Creative writes: “Assumptions can be disastrous to our creative process because they limit how we look at problems” (page 72). We can, if we are not careful, let assumptions artificially limit our options (Page 75).. Don’t assume it all works until you have checked it and you’re sure.

Don’t miss choice opportunities that can make your work move vivid, more alive. Or as Jerry Cleaver wrote in his book Immediate Fiction, while emphasizing the need for constant conflict and suspense, “Can you make it worse?”

Dare I add…

Careful thought for important life-decisions can be a good idea too? Most of our decisions offer more than one option, and decisions can be powerful.

Back to writing.

My experience with getting seriously stuck made me realize that I need to go back and think through my novel–at least at every major point in the plot–and not just when I get stuck.

How about you?

Do you ask yourself hard and uncomfortable questions about your story or your copy? What do you do when you get stuck?

 

Do you write by the rules?

A review of the “Simple Writing, Straight Talk for Smart Writers” blog.  http://simplewriting.org/

Do you want good advice?

Do you feel you need good advice about writing? Would you welcome a skilled editor’s help now and then.  I know I would.

I appreciate the fact that there are available right now excellent books and blogs on writing well. When I started writing years back, there weren’t that many really good books on the subject to be had.

First, I forget most of the rules.

Often I do not write by the rules. That is in my first draft, when I dash it off rather intuitively, when I don’t want to be inhibited by worrying about getting it just right. Not at first. But when it comes to good writing advice, I always welcome it.

Revising is another story.

To me, I need those “rules”–call them guidelines–when I am editing my writing. I can’t go out every other month and hire a pro editor to read my writing and offer advice. So for the most part, I need to know what to look for in my writing that stands in need of careful revision or downright re-writing. Nevertheless, I am in favor of hiring a good editor to checkout any serious writing for publication.

Back to the blog: the Simple Writing blog offers sound and sensible tips and techniques that make for good writing. It is primarily focused on nonfiction writing, although much of the content certainly applies to fiction writing too. I find its balanced and knowledgeable approach practical and pleasing. We all need to know to write well, of course, in whatever niche we target, including nonfiction.

Why bother with another blog on writing?

I have been writing for a while, and if you are reading this blog, you probably have been too. So why bother with a blog that calls itself “Simple Writing”? I can‘t speak for you, but I find that when I am tempted to think I don’t need more writing advice, that’s when I seem to get into the most trouble. Like when I have reached the point with a writing project where I can’t figure out how to improve it more. Hence, I like to read sensible and reliable sources that reinforce essential points re good writing in my memory.

Need to improve your blog writing?

The Simple Writing blog is a fine one for improving your own blog writing too, which is essential to developing a platform, which in turn is essential  to getting published or self-publishing successfully these days.

Here are some of the recent post titles:

  • “25 editing tips for your writer’s toolbox”
  •  “41 Hot Blogs Every New Blogger Should Know”
  •  “Personification: good for writing not weather”
  •  “The only way to get over fear”
  •  “3 great ways to get those creative juices flowing”

About the blog’s author…

The author is Leah McClellan is  a writer and copyeditor who’s mission is to help other writers develop their craft. She offers a free 6-week mini writing course: “The Fast Track to Polished Prose.” I checked it out, and it looks good. In brief, she knows her stuff.

Her course  will be a good refresher for me and could be for several of you, my readers, too. Wink

Highly recommended.

What advice would you offer to a writer young in her craft?

Want your book to have more Depth?

Does your story seem a bit thin to you? Lacking  in the substance you were hoping for? Or just too simple or lifeless on the page?

You’ve slaved away and there it is on the computer monitor, but it seems to need something more, maybe a more intricate plot complete with twists and turns, and surprises, and even some humor? Maybe your how-to book could use some important subpoints so that your reader gets it more clearly.

A story—or any piece of writing–is like a tree.

A strong and healthy tree can withstand most storms. A sapling often cannot. It takes growth and some time for it to develop roots and dig down deep in the soil for nutrition to grow resilient.

Very likely, your story or essay can grow too. Perhaps it needs the nutrition of insights, new ideas, connections, surprises, twists, and at times to double back on itself. Does your piece need to branch out?

How can we cultivate such a story? How can we write such a book?

First, don’t be in a hurry.

Second, think it through.

Brainstorm it , ask yourself questions, look at your scene through your characters’ eyes. Program you subconscious mind with those questions and put them to work behind the scenes.

You can make yourself alert to any information you seek.

I do this by making a habit of looking for what I need. This tells my mind that I want that info, really want it. Here’s an art illustration: Let’s say I want to draw Victorian houses. Driving through neighborhoods, I look for them. Do this enough, and I am “programmed.” The result is that whenever I come across such houses–in magazines, on the residential block, in a movie–I take special notice.

(Anybody know the technical term for that? I tried Googling it but couldn’t find it.)

Third, carry a pad and pen with you wherever you go.

So that when those ideas come, and they can come quickly and unexpectedly, you can record them before you lose them.

Fourth, do the research you have been putting off.

It can lead to new ideas, new directions, new surprises. Maybe a whole new subplot.

Fifth, organize it!

Make it usable and readily-accessible. I summarize, write lists, and have them handy for my re-writing work. My lists and summaries contain things I want to be sure to remember as I write and re-write. Things I need to do or to include.

Now I’m a rather organized person by temperament. I love planning, sometimes more than the writing! So this all comes easily to me. I enjoy it. But it does take some work: but it’s work that pays off. I put clickable icons to my lists and summaries on my desktop. (I have quite a few of them now, and they are convenient).

Sixth, List important Points from good Books on Writing Craft.

I get some of my best ideas when reading books, blogs, and essays on how to write fiction as well as nonfiction books.  The points in them often alert me to things I want to include.

Seventh, be open to fresh ideas from any source.

A couple days ago I was with friends at the movies. The latest James Bond spy-thriller.  It was quite good–and long! I had been searching for an enhanced ending to my novel. And while watching this movie, I got it. Big time. There I was scribbling away with my fountain pen and turquoise green ink (a lovely color by the way) on a small notepad in the near-dark. No one even looked at me.

If you try my suggestions above, I predict you’ll get some good ideas and find your work taking on additional depth.

Tell me, what do you do to add substance to your writing?

 

Don’t Miss Mary Jaksch’s Essential Post on Guest Post Pitching

Do you want to pitch other blogs to get your guest posts on them?  It’s one of the top ways to increase traffic.

Read the post (link below) by Mary Jaksch, Chief Editor at Write to Done.  Last time I heard from her, she was getting around 300 pitches a day.  Mary is one of the best bloggers around and co-created the A-list Blogger Club with Leo Battauta, another one of the best.

In other words, Mary knows what she is talking about.

This is the best description of a winning pitch I have found any where.  Previously, as far as I know, the only way to get this info was to be a member of A-List. (Although I did do a  post on it a while back. Hers is better!)

And while I’m at it, check out the A-List Blogger Club

If you’re serious about making your blog a success, that’s an  excellent idea.  The A-list Blogger Club has the best and the most info in existence. Now that’s a guess because I haven’t done extensive research–but it’s an educated guess, and a good one.

And yes, I’m a member.

And yes, if you click on the ad on the sidebar I might get a few cents. Don’t click on it to give me a few cents. Check A-List out as an opportunity to enhance your ongoing learning as a blogger. I highly recommend it.

Here’s the post: http://writetodone.com/2012/06/22/how-to-land-a-guest-post/#comment-69795

So, if you want to guest blog, don’t miss this.

Why Blog Posts Aren’t Like Magazine Articles – and How Your Writing Needs to Change

A guest post by Ali Luke .

If you’re used to writing for print media – like magazines or local newspapers – then you might think you’ve already got plenty of tricks up your sleeve when it comes to creating great blog posts or web copy.

But although the fundamentals of good writing will never change, it’s important to consider the context in which your online words are being read. Your readers aren’t sitting down with a mug of coffee and a magazine – they’re glancing at your blog post while waiting for a file to download, chatting on Twitter, and checking emails.

Even if a reader does give your post their full attention, the physical act of reading is harder on a screen than on the printed page. (This is why e-reader devices, designed for books, have special screens that are intended to mimic the sense of reading ink on paper.)

None of the tips that I’m about to share with you are new. Back in 1997, Jacob Nielson wrote the now-seminal How Users Read on the Web, and the advice he gives is still highly relevant. But – judging from some of the sites and blogs that I see – a lot of great writers still don’t know how to make sure their words are being read online.

Here are three very simple things you can do:

Write Clear Titles, Not Clever Ones

In a magazine or book, you might be able to get away with a clever or cutesy title that intrigues the reader, even if it doesn’t give much idea of the contents of the piece.

Online, it’s crucial that you put relevant words in your title – not just to help catch the attention of busy readers, but also so search engines can understand what your page or post is about.

That doesn’t mean your titles need to be boring. You can:

  • Include adjectives (easy, straight-forward, fun, clever, secret…)
  • Include numbers (“5 Easy Ways To…”)
  • Include the word “Why” and/or “How”

If you’re ever stuck for a title, head over to Copyblogger and look at their most popular posts, in the sidebar on the right. See whether one of their title structures sparks an idea.

Use Links, Rather than Quotes, to Support Your Material

In magazine and newspaper articles, you’ll see lots of quotes from experts incorporated into the text. This helps to lend credibility; the reader can see that the piece has been well-researched and that, often, different or opposing views have been included.

Online, you have an invaluable tool for giving readers more information or for backing up your claims: the hyperlink. Instead of quoting a long paragraph, you can simply link to the whole article that you’re referencing.

When you do use quotes, offset them from your main text using the <blockquote> command in HTML (or the equivalent button in your WYSIWYG editor).

Of course, sometimes, plenty of quotes are a good thing. They work very well on sales pages, where you’ll want to show that customers have used and enjoyed your product/service, and where you don’t want to direct potential new customers away from your site.

Include More Text Formatting

Long blocks of text aren’t easy or inviting to read. One of the best ways to make a page or post more attractive is to include visual elements that help readers to stay focused and (if they want to scan) help them pick out key points.

Online, it’s easy to include:

  • Short paragraphs with a blank line between each
  • Subheadings to sign-post the way through your piece
  • Bullet-points to help readers take information in easily
  • Bold text to draw attention to key points
  • Images to draw the eye (especially at the start of a post)

Of course, you can go too far with formatting. If every other paragraph becomes a list of bullet-points, or every other sentence is in bold type, your post will be choppy and hard to read.

Aim for a good balance – and if you’re not sure how best to do that, take a careful look at posts and web pages that easily grab your own attention. See what they’re doing, and how you might apply it to your own writing.

If you’re getting into online writing, pop a comment below and let us know what reader-friendly techniques you’ve been trying out – or what you’re planning on doing in the future.

Bio: Ali Luke is a writer and writing coach. You can download her free ebooks and goodies for writers/bloggers at www.aliventures.com/newsletter, including “How to Find Time for Your Writing” and “Ten Powerful Ways to Make Your Blog Posts Stronger” … plus much more.

Is your blog writing working for you?

Do you wonder when you’ve edited your post if it’s good enough?  Are there proven formats and blog writing guidelines that can make your posts meaningful every time?

Yes, there are.

A good blog post is like a good story: both meet human psychological needs.  Ignore those needs and you can wind up with boring writing.

We all enjoy a bit of suspense, a puzzle to solve, having our curiosity stirred up. We also appreciate a piece of writing that promises to help with a problem we are having, calm our fears, or, on a more positive note, help us improve a skill.

So what are the ingredients of an effective blog post?

1.  A catchy title.

    • A title that isn’t too long.  Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics advocates using the breath test. If you can say the title of your post without needing a second breath, it’s length is probably okay.
    • A title that asks a question zeroing in on a need or worry or interest you figure your reader has. Or, wording that stirs your reader’s curiosity.
    • A title that also hints at the topic of the post.
    • And, remember, the job of a title is to motivate your reader to keep reading, to move to that next sentence.

2.  Content focused on your reader, not you all the time–a suggested outline.

    • A potential reader has stopped by your blog. She has read past the title because she senses there’s something potentially helpful to be gained.  She has come with a problem that calls for relief, a desire for improvement, a hunger for knowledge.  In your first paragraph let her know you are aware of her need.
    • Next give some evidence you are going to provide that help. In other words, announce the content.
    • Now provide the help.  Here is your core content, your points,  your message, your advice—the value you are providing. Spell it out briefly but enough so that it is clear and useful.
    • If you have authoritative indicators that what you are advising works, add those in too.
    • Then end with a call to action.  What’s the biggest problem with a lot of business letters?  Too many letter writers end without asking the reader to do something.  So the reader is left with a question? “What does he want me to do?” This can be a weakness in a blog post too. So, what can your reader do to take your advice and take action?

3.  A reader-friendly format.

    • Keep those words, and sentences and paragraphs short for the most part.  But include some variety too. Don’t have a lot of one-sentence  paragraphs, for example.  Put white space between your paragraphs. Make it easily scannable.
    • Keep your content focused on you main idea. Don’t meander. Stay on target.
    • Suspense is a great idea throughout your post, not just in the title.  Constantly ask yourself what will keep your reader intrigued enough to want to keep reading. “What question can I ask at this point?” Make it suspenseful—a key aspect that works well with nonfiction and not just fiction. “Am I keeping my reader wondering?”
    • Use bullets and numbering for your points.
    • Keep it informal, conversational, and make sure you are saying what you mean to say, that it’s clear.
    • Make it personal. Include some of your experience with the content. If you have a brief anecdote or illustration fit it in.

Your turn: Do you have any points to add for effective blog posts?

Resources:

http://www.psychotactics.com/blog/three_elements-storytelling/

http://writetodone.com/2012/04/01/slip-sliding-how-to-get-customers-to-read-every-word-of-your-copy/

http://writetodone.com/2012/04/13/one-tip-that-makes-writing-blog-posts-easy/

http://www.problogger.net/how-to-write-great-blog-content/

http://www.typepad.com/tips/writing-blog-posts-tips.html

http://www.smartpassiveincome.com/blog-writing-tips/