Improve Your Blog Writing with this post written by Rob Siders from 52 Novels.
One of the hallmarks of producing great content for your blog is writing it so it sounds natural, the way it would if we were chatting with each other over a coffee.
I know. I’m not the first person to say this, so the advice won’t sound all that fresh. But the fact is, writing this way enraptures your audience. You’ll have them begging to know what comes next.
And, after all, isn’t that the purpose of a sentence? To get people to read what comes next?
I’m a technical writer and editor at my day job. I’m writing my second novel in my free time. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and over the years I’ve learned some things that never fail to punch up my prose.
Junk unnecessary words
This staple of Strunk and White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE is, perhaps, the best piece of advice I have to share. I put it number one for a reason.
But how do you know which words are unnecessary?
A quick and dirty way is to look for all of the thats. You can jettison most of them.
Then take a look at the fluff. Strike any copy if it:
- Doesn’t add anything substantial.
- Won’t change the work’s meaning or tone.
Remember: You’re writing for others as much as — if not more than — you’re writing for yourself.
If you’d skip over something, you better believe someone else will, too.
Make it active
Thank ol’ Mrs. Anderson for this one.
Mrs. Anderson was my seventh grade English teacher who insisted the class adhere to every motherlovin’ grammar rule… no matter how archaic. Or stupid.
As as result, everyone learned to write dreadful passive prose. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seldom met a passive sentence I liked.
Chances are good you’ve got a Mrs. Anderson in your past, too. Exorcise that demon’s teaching immediately.
Examples of passive sentences:
The awards presentation this year will be emceed by Wink Martindale.
My daughter was given a turtle by my sister-in-law.
Notice how the subjects of the sentences are receiving the action? Blech.
Here’s how to fix them:
Wink Martindale will emcee this year’s awards presentation.
My sister-in-law gave a turtle to my daughter.
Here, the sentence subjects are performing the actions.
Subjects — not to mention your readers — yearn for action. Don’t disappoint them.
Forget your adverbs here
Adverbs suck the life out of magnificent nouns and adjectives. In fact, there’s nothing an adverb can do that the right noun or adjective can’t do better by themselves.
Bob admitted he liked women with slightly curvy figures.
Don’t softpedal this, Bob. Tell us you like voluptuous women. Tell us you like women with va-va-voom. “Slightly curvy” just doesn’t cut it.
Before you publish your copy, be sure to look for the words ending in -ly. It’s a safe bet they can go. You might even have to rewrite a few things.
Just be sure your meaning isn’t warped when you do remove your adverbs.
Read it out loud
My wife makes fun of me when she hears me reading my fiction. She claims it’s because I like to fawn over the sound of my own words.
She’s only half right. :-P
The other half is that my writing doesn’t always sound in my head the way it does when it’s spoken. What rings near perfect on the page sometimes doesn’t come across natural at all. “That just doesn’t sound real,” I say to myself.
Because blogging is about conversations, our posts have to sound real, too.
Take a few minutes to read what you’ve written aloud. You’ll find it’s a lot different when it passes through your ears first.
Bonus: You’ll also come across repeated words, incomplete thoughts, clumsy construction, misspellings, and host of other goofs you won’t wanna see in print. You’re welcome.
Vary, vary, vary
I hesitated giving this one up. It comes deep from within the fiction writer’s trunk full of magic.
So deep I could get blacklisted.
Have to turn in my keyboard.
I hope you see where this last one’s headed.
No matter what anyone tells you, there aren’t many rules when it comes to writing. The only one I know of that’s hard and fast is, “Never start a sentence with a comma.”
That said, changing the pace, gravity, and tone of your posts is often as simple as varying sentence and paragraph lengths. English composition teachers say, “Each paragraph should have a thesis, and each sentence in the paragraph should support the thesis. Each sentence needs a subject, verb, and blah blather blah.”
Each sentence should keep the reader, you know, reading. If that means you get creative with the rules, then by all means…
Rob Siders is a writer living in Denver, Colo. He blogs about reading, writing, technology, and books at 52 Novels.