How to Be a Better Blogger

Taken from the bowels of my Formspring page, where you really can ask me anything. [tweetmeme source=”jolieodell” only_single=false]

Question: How can I be a better blogger?

Answer: I’ve been a professional writer for almost 15 years and a blogger for about nine. I’m not the best, I’m not the most popular, but I’m damn good. Here are my words of advice; take ’em with a grain of salt. I hope they help.

1. Take a writing class.

The vast majority of bloggers are terrible writers. And even if you’re a good writer, you could always be better. Do what you need to do (community college, iTunes U, online classes, free tutorials) to get your grammar, critical thinking, turn of phrase, essay composition, and general literary mindset in top form.

2. Read books and magazines.

We bloggers have disgusting reading habits. Day after day, most of us read nothing but other people’s blogs. Blog writing is uneven across the web, and a lot of it just sucks, even if the ideas expressed are valid. Nonfiction in the form of really great, high-end-magazine essays is your best friend. Even fiction will give you a leg up in terms of storytelling. Just put down the laptop and go to the library. It’ll change the way you write.

3. Don’t blog unless you have something important to say.

Some bloggers could stand to blog more. But a lot of us need to blog less. There’s a lot of chatter and noise out there; the web is hardly a vacuum waiting to be filled. So pick and choose your battles… uh, blog posts, that is. Think of each one as an eternal (for webpages never really die) expression of your personality, something you hold dear to your heart, and blog accordingly.

4. Take twice as much time to write as you do now.

Posts should take hours, even days.They should be well-researched (even if they’re just your personal opinion); they should reference other sources; they should be more than a few hundred words long; and they should be artfully crafted according to principles of literature (and/or journalism) and painstakingly proofread. Blogging is to email or Twitter as a slow-cooker is to a deep fryer. Things that nourish the soul take time to create.

5. Write with your adversaries in mind.

Imagine you’re a troll. Imagine you’re an outsider whose opinions are 180 degrees opposite from those expressed in your post. Then imagine you just hate the blog author for any irrational reason. Reread your post with this antagonism in the forefront of your mind. You’ll start to see errors in logic or the need for more background information as you go along. This type of reading will improve what you write, how you are perceived, and the level of vitrol in your comments section.

6. Pay attention to formatting.

As the sole proprietor of an online publishing house, you’re responsible for the quality of the writing and editing (and you DO need to edit yourself as though you were an angry and bitter third party), but you’re also responsible for the design and visual elements of your post. Learn some HTML, and make sure that your posts are well-organized in a way that divides information for clarity and directs the (often harried and hurried) readers’ eye to the most important parts of your post. It’s your job to be a bit of an information designer. Translate the Inverted Pyramid (most important text goes at the top) to a visual format (most important information gets flagged for reader attention by design), then combine both techniques.

7. Be truer to yourself.

Don’t dilute your personality for anyone. If you’re an asshole, be an asshole who writes well and publishes important posts — people will love you for it. If you’re an introvert who loves data, be an introvert who loves data, breaks it down carefully, explains it thoroughly, and publishes his conclusions for the world to see.

There’s so much homogeneity and imitation in the blogging world. Don’t squander your best asset — your entirely unique point of view — for any reason, including self-censorship or the fear of pissing people off or boring the less erudite in your audience.

This goes hand-in-hand with only blogging about what’s important to you. If you love tech, by all means, blog about tech. But if what you really love is marketing, don’t blog about tech. If you really love animal rights, don’t blog about marketing. If you really love gender politics… You get the idea. Your core beliefs are part of your personality, and you shine when you’re knowledgeable and passionate in blogging about them.

8. Listen to the critics, ignore the haters.

Finally, solicit your good friends (you know, the ones who are capable of telling you that yes, those jeans DO make your ass look fat) for honest feedback on specific posts. If they give you such feedback, treat it like gold and use it the next time you sit down to write. Any time someone gives you constructive criticism, it’s as good as money in the bank as long as you know what to do with it. Never assume an attitude of arrogance when you are handed a legitimate and valid criticism about your writing. Being unable to learn from your mistakes (and we all make mistakes) ain’t cute, nor will it do you any service in the long run.

Contrariwise, you must be able to distinguish between valid criticism (e.g., “I don’t understand the point you’re trying to make; you have to be more clear.”) and pure trollism (e.g., “This post is complete garbage. I wasted my time by reading it.”) The distinction is sometimes a very fine one, and both might give you a pang of anger or butt-hurtedness, but there are a few tell-tale signs.

  • Trollism might be or contain a personal attack; constructive criticism rarely does.
  • Constructive criticism might contain actionable advice (either implicit or explicit). Trollism will not (“kill yourself” doesn’t count as actionable advice).
  • Trollism is more likely to be anonymous than constructive criticism; however, this is not a guarantee by any means.
  • Trollism has the ability to make you feel bad for days. Constructive criticism only hurts until you fix the reason for the criticism — and you should always quickly address problems in your writing.

When you’ve determined that a piece of feedback is trollish, consider it invalid data. If it’s trollism, it is meaningless, and it should no more factor into your self-perception or how you write than a chicken nugget should figure into an algebraic equation.

Those are a few words of advice I can offer for now; they’re things I’ve learned over the years and points on which most bloggers (myself included) can always improve.

Go ahead. Ask me anything.

11 thoughts on “How to Be a Better Blogger

  1. I love #1 and #2. Imagine having to spend time practicing in order to get good at something.

    I want to blog because I want to be a good writer (I have a long way to go). I will worry about paying the bills later – when I can consistently produce something worth charging for.

  2. #3 and #4 can be hard (though, disclaimer: I don’t blog nearly as often as I should). A lot of times, I write something, sit on it for 24 hours, edit it, end up hating it and then never come back to it. I think editing your own work is a skill just as valuable/crucial as writing in the first place.

    I’ll try to track down a writing class that works for me — that’s good advice, too, and maybe that would help.

    Good post; thanks for the tips.

  3. Well I am encouraged. I am new to blogging (and writing in general) and practice 6 out of the 8 principles above. There is something about not wanting to look like an ass online that intuitively brought me down the path of your 8 principles :). I could, however, put more effort into formatting and I certainly could stand to read more non-fiction material. I took a writing class, but any writer knows that as a craft/career you’re never done learning or improving your skill-set.

    Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it.

    If you had the time, would you consider looking over my blog and providing feedback on it? (I’m sure you are busy, but I still thought I’d cast a net and see what I caught lol!)


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