Blogs, millions of blogs. Some have ten-thousand readers, and some have none. Why?
One reason is that some are well-written, and some are not.
If Sally’s writing is crisp and clear, and Mike’s is cluttered and pretentious, littered with words like “pretentious,” people will choose Sally.
Jericho is inspired and creative. Words magically flow from his pen. He knows that revising will take from the original beauty, so he posts his first, wondrous draft. Sally believes that good writing comes from hard work rather than inspiration, so she follows the rules, proof-reads, and ruthlessly edits.
Again, we choose Sally.
Here are six simple tips to help you write like Sally.
- Reread and revise.
Do I really need to include this? Yes, I do. Sally paid attention in third grade. Where were you?
You will not “lose your voice” by correcting spelling errors, cutting repetitive words or sentences, or revising awkward phrases. But if you don’t do those things, you may lose readers.
Once isn’t enough. Twice isn’t enough. Before I press “publish,” I’ll read this twenty times and find something to correct every time.
- Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs.
Readers are lazy and prefer clean, simple writing.
Government employees use big, fancy words and write long, awkward sentences. You don’t want your blog to sound like an EPA manual, do you?
“Never use a long word where a short one will do,” George Orwell.
For newspaper and blog writing, have no more than two or three sentences per paragraph, and then skip a line between paragraphs.
Again, think of your reader. Do you want her to enjoy your writing, or do you want her to be impressed by how smart you sound yet not know what you said?
- Be a clutter cutter.
In his classic book, On Writing Well, William Zinsser said, “Clutter is the disease of American writing.”
During revision, I usually cut at least one word from each sentence and one sentence from each paragraph. If it serves no purpose, then it is a weed, sucking life from your garden. Cut it.
- Use proper punctuation, grammar, and font.
For the love of humanity, if you write, do it right.
Sentences without punctuation or capitalization are not cool, cute, or revolutionary. They are dumb and lazy.
And call me an ass, but I refuse to read anything typed in all caps. It’s not that the writer is shouting at me as much as what she is shouting: “I DO NOT KNOW, NOR CARE TO LEARN, HOW TO WRITE PROPERLY.”
- Don’t summarize.
“In summary,” is where I stop reading. As Zinsser says, “When you’re ready to stop, stop.” Writing, that is.
- Read good writing.
The key word is “good.” You may read three-hundred books a year and not read good writing. I’m reading a great book on the Korean War, but the author is not a great writer. Local newspapers are filled with bad writing. Blog posts are rarely well-written. Best-selling books may not even be good examples.
What is good writing? Look no further than the authors you knew as a child. E.B. White. Mark Twain. C.S. Lewis. There’s a reason classics are classics.
Read good writing and imitate it. All writers, even the greats, imitate others. Don’t worry about your voice or style. Instead, focus on writing well.
On Writing Well, William Zinsser
The Elements of Style, Strunk and E.B. White
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
Seven Simple Blog Tips, Nowhere Tribune
Never use a long word where a short one will do, Beginners Guide to Writing
* Politics and the English Language, George Orwell