It is time, finally, to write stuff. Are you excited?
Number one in our Ten Things to Learn guide is, I’m afraid, NOT how to write gud. That I can try and help you with but, to be honest, you are mostly on your own. If you’ve reached this stage anyway the desire to write already very much exists (which remains half the battle on any given day) but developing a strong, individual style takes both time and effort to perfect. If, like me, you write for other people, their style will vary greatly from your own. That’s why learning to be your own Editor is great practice for when you end up having to deal with somebody else critiquing your work. There are however, certain things you really shouldn’t do, and it seems only fair to provide a list of those:
- Take the first person out of your work. I did this and I did that is perfectly acceptable, in certain circumstances. The first person pronoun makes for a deeply personal insight, but often not for great writing. I’m going to use myself as an example of this: I think this post would be far better re-written without the excessive use of ‘I’ within it. The content’s sound, but the execution needs work. Using ‘we’ is a better idea for a lot of reasons, and it will make your whole blog resonate better with people you do not know.
- Use a spell checker. Most blog interfaces provide one as standard anyway. Try to avoid abbreviations or excessive use of jargon/abbreviated speech. Imagine you’re talking to whoever you know personally who doesn’t have a clue about all this stuff and make it so they’d understand what’s going on. If you want people to notice your work, it isn’t just about what you write, but as much about how it is presented.
- Don’t make it personal. There’s going to be a whole week on this, because there’s been some notable legal events in the last couple of months that prove if you are libellous or slanderous to people, there are consequences. I’ve notably used a blog post to stop someone stalking me, but I can attest this is not to be recommended, especially not in the current climate. If you can’t keep it civil and pleasant, don’t write it. Go shout at people on Twitter instead… no, don’t do that either. Just be nice.
- Explain yourself properly. The point of good blogging, at least for me, is making one point per post. After that you’ll find the retention rate of your audience tends to drop dramatically. Sure, you can make long complex arguments in blog posts, but the best work is when you set yourself a question to answer in X words, or you show your reasoning for something in Y words. Don’t waffle. Learn to work out what is useful in a sentence, and what’s just repeating the same point again.
- Formatting is everything. If I had a business WordPress, which may well happen by the end of the year, SEO is a thing. If you have no idea what that means, here’s a guide Google made explaining how Search Engine Optimisation works. That, coupled with using formatting for improved readability (which the business version of WordPress will also offer as an option) gives you a better chance that people stay with your article and read until the end. For now? Don’t write massive blocks of dense text. Split it up, and stick pictures in between.
Having said all of that, I told you that ideas matter a great deal, and they do. A combination of information, entertainment and inspiration seems to be why people keep coming back to what I do. There’s stuff on daily events, things that matter to those playing the same games as me, and who maintain a comparable set of interests. I use the GIF as art, whenever possible, as a cheap laugh or to reinforce a bigger point. The fact I’m attempting self improvement via exercise, and that I suffer with mental health issues that I’m happy to discuss and dissect all form part of a complex landscape, that has become an online extension of my real-life self. I’m not expecting you to do all this when all you want is to help people play a game better or share your art. However, there should be a distinct part of you in every word you write. The passion is what matters most.
The enthusiasm and passion is what keeps the desire to write moving forward, even on the days when you seemingly have nothing to offer. For me, I’ve found a way to counter my lack of enthusiasm by creating a series of weekly ‘topics’: a banner headline under which I can write about an aspect of the general subject matter. That means, that once a week (unless a more important topic supplants it) I’m writing about my time in Warcraft, chronologically, from beginning to the present day. I have the headline, under which I’ve planned several months worth of potential subjects. What this gives me is a chance to both think ahead and know I have work to do even if the game is not particularly active and I don’t have a lot to say. This is a great way to keep your enthusiasm for work moving forward, by planning a larger subject to break down in parts. In fact, this Guide itself is being written on the exact same principle: weekly parts that will form an overall whole.
The other way that blogging is incredibly effective is if you have something in your life that you can react to/talk about. That trip to the end of the Earth, your battle with cancer, the problems starting a business, becoming a successful writer… all these things are subject matters someone will want to read about. It might be something that happened to you in childhood, or perhaps your attempts to find meaning in an increasingly complex world. If you have the time to talk to someone, you could write it down. If you find yourself spending more than three tweets in a day ranting about anything on line? That’s blog material, right there.
Blogs can do many things, the only limit being your imagination. If you have ideas, the best thing you will ever do is not just jump in without giving them form and focus. In fact, planning may sound utterly pointless but it is more likely to keep you from just giving up and not bothering. It is, for me, the very foundation of effective blogging. You have the passion to write, and all the ideas required to do so and now it is time to give yourself a framework on which to hang them. In that notepad that you’ve been using for recalling inspiration, you now need a planner on which they can be placed
Feel free to copy this and print it out on a sheet of A5/A4 or whatever size your notebook is. This is your first month of blogging. The launch date for your blog isn’t top left either: next week, using April 1st as our start point, I’ll show you how to prepare and plan a Blog launch in advance: from scheduling posts to engaging an audience before a word is even written. I hope, by suggesting this as a way forward, I’ll be able to keep enthusiasm going well past that first four weeks, and help you create and form good habits for years to come.