The most valuable writing advice I ever received was from an editor at a print magazine. I had to write an article, and spent hours poring over old magazine issues to “get the tone right.” I fought my natural style every step of the way.
The end result? A returned draft with several corrections and a one-line response: “Write from the inside and trust that we’ll get it.”
It’s rare to find an article about blogging that offers something other than the same old rules. You know them: Keep pieces short, use bullets, link to other articles, etc.
While it’s comforting—especially when you first start blogging—to find something to model your posts after, it’s critical to understand that a reader will forgive a strong voice for almost anything, and a weak voice for almost nothing.
Do the rules you follow help or hinder your voice? Here are the three biggest blogging rules I’ve broken and the unexpected results I’ve enjoyed:
Rule No. 1: Make posts easy to scan.
Some people insist blog posts must be short and stuffed with typographical tricks like boldfacing and bullets. They assume a typical reader has Attention Deficit Disorder. These people think if you don’t hurry up and get your point across, readers will simply move on.
There is another way.
I recently wrote a deeply personal account of growing up with a family member who suffered from schizophrenia. There was no way to make the post easy to scan. The paragraphs were long, and themes wove in and out of each other without clear sections. It would wreck the flow of the post to insert bullets.
I hit “publish” and expected the post to sink without a trace. Instead, I got the strongest reader response of any piece I’d ever written—as well as a Facebook recommendation from an influential literary magazine editor.
I challenge you to, in the words of Jim Carroll, “Hustle like a cheetah instead of a chimp.” Don’t worry about gaining a reader’s interest, and don’t waste time on tricks readers have seen a thousand times before. Instead, write in a way that gets your heart racing, and grabs the reader from the first sentence.
Rule No. 2: Stay on topic.
A blog that’s stuck in a rut is like a relationship where you do the same routine every day. Eventually, things fall apart. I’m not saying you shouldn’t hold true to the underlying theme of your blog—you should. But when you constantly recycle the same types of posts because “that’s what your readers want,” you’re shortsighted and just plain wrong.
You may have a steady stream of visitors, but do they stick around? Do they engage in a satisfying way, or do they drop in to scan the latest post and then flit off? Experimentation, when planned for and consistent, is the lifeblood of blogging success and can open new vistas of personal expression.
I use the following strategy to keep things fresh: every third post has to be new. It can’t be an idea based on an existing post, or something I pulled out of the “evergreen idea bag.” I have to try something I’m not sure I can pull off.
This means I write posts on current events, conduct interviews with people I admire, and allow guest posts. Sometimes these attempts work, and other times they don’t. The amazing thing is regardless of how far I stretch, true fans always stick around.
Dare to tinker with your formula. Your readers will respect you for it.
Rule No. 3: Be an authority.
In the 10-plus years I’ve earned a living through writing, I’ve spent more time feeling insecure than like an authority. I’ve pitched stories no one published and started projects that stalled. There have been days when I’ve hated every word I committed to paper, and others where I expected to make a huge impact and didn’t.
This comes with the territory, yet bloggers often feel the need to hide it. They’re afraid readers will flee at the first sign of vulnerability.
When I first started expressing my perceived shortcomings and fears on my blog, I felt hideously exposed. But what I received in return were readers who responded to who I was as a human being. They felt invested in my journey because it mirrored their own. What more can you ask more?
Which blogging “rules” do you break?