This is Part 2 in a 3-part series called How To Write a Blog Worth Caring About.
- Part 1: Features of a blog worth caring about
- Part 2: Writing a blog worth caring about
- Part 3: Promoting a blog worth caring about (forthcoming)
A while back, I started this series inspired by the revelation that I was approaching blogging in a shallow and ultimately ineffective way, having adopted supposed “best practices” that actually amounted to internet marketing dickishness.
Today, I’m following up with Part 2: Writing a blog worth caring about. This is the meat of the series, but my advice is the least tactical for reasons you’ll understand in a minute.
As a refresher, the 6 features of a blog worth caring about are:
- A strategy with clear goals
- Content that doesn’t suck
- A layout that maximizes your strategy
- An optimized squeeze page
- A feedback loop
- A rabbit hole
Can’t remember what these features are? Go back and read part 1. What follows are the 6 rules for making sure you write “content that doesn’t suck”. The rules are:
- Have a voice
- Be original
- Be useful
- Be consistent
- Be fucking classy
- Break all the rules
Before we get to the rules, let’s talk about the big picture.
What I talk about when I talk about writing
There is a lot of information out there on how to blog, but it focuses on the tactical business of setting up and promoting the blog. That’s the easy part. Very few people discuss the finer points of writing in a non-sucky way.
Here is the bad news: writing a blog means being a writer.
Wait, what? Unbelievable!
This gets glazed over when social media gurus and new age marketers riff about the attention economy and viral knickerbockers (yes, I know those are 20th century knee-length trousers and have nothing to do with anything, which is also sort of the point).
To blog, you have to write. A lot. You have to write for your blog, and then you have to write for other blogs, and then you have to write on Twitter, and then you have to write in your comment section, and then you have to write responses to emails you get, and… you get the point.
So, to paraphrase Haruki Murakami (author of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running): “You need to be, like, totally indoorsy.”
Okay, so I butchered Murakami there. The point is: you need to be willing to sit there and pump out words.
See how big and important this caveat is going to be? I only use the red when I’m excited.
Pumping out content is not the be-all end-all of blogging.
Yes, it is true, volume of content is an important way to create a large footprint in the Holy Google Index and attract search engine visitors. But, what happens when they get to your blog?
I’m drawn again to the advice of one Merlin Mann (the original inspiration for my idea of websites worth caring about). Merlin has such gems as, “writing a blog to make money is like learning ventriloquism to meet women”.
Let’s break that down:
Find your obsession – You need to care deeply about the things you’re talking about, because we can all tell if you don’t. More importantly, you will find writing unsustainable during those inevitable periods of ennui if you are not obsessive about the subject matter.
Every day – You can’t be good at anything you don’t do every day. Free life lesson here.
Explain it – Remember that you’re writing to an audience that does not know all the things that are in your head. Learn to convey ideas in a way other people can digest.
To one person you respect – Instead of writing to the amorphous “reader”, think of a single person (preferably real) that represents the ideal reader. If this person is smarter and more successful than you, you made the right choice.
Edit everything – Twitter is for stream of consciousness. Blogging is curation.
Skip shortcuts and try not to be a dick – Everyone can tell when you take the easy route. Don’t.
Get better - You don’t need to (and can’t) be an expert when you start. Just get going, then learn along the way.
I think this is all good advice, which boils down to one foregone conclusion:
It matters what your readers think of you.
That is, after all, the purpose of writing: to influence the reader.
It shocks me that so many meta-bloggers (that is, bloggers who blog about blogging) glaze over the part where you have to write something that another human has to spend time reading and caring about.
I consider myself a busy person. I enjoy filling my brain with new stuff, but I have no tolerance for being bored.
When your target is limited to “people who actually read” (a shockingly low percentage of people), you’re competing for a finite group’s finite attention with near infinite competition.
So how do you do it?
1. Have a voice
If there were only one rule of writing, this would be it.
According to Wikipedia:
“Writer’s voice is a literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice is a combination of a writer’s use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can also be referred to as the specific fingerprint of an author, as every author has a different writing style.”
We tell our best stories in private, intimate settings. Since all good writing is the telling of stories, do your best to hit that tone. Blog posts aren’t high school term papers.
“The thing I would just like to say to you with all my heart is that: most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short.”
Developing a voice requires constant vigilance. Work at it.
2. Be original
In some ways, I made a huge strategic blunder in picking the industry I blog in. I write about topics that are being covered by a massive group of authors. There are established players in the niche, with a multiyear head start and vast readerships. Worse, I have to contend with the reputation ascribed to self-described gurus. You know, “thought leaders.”
But it also lets me be the “not like them” guy. I decided there were too many websites out there that just suck. I mean they really, really suck, and not too many people are talking about that.
I write about internet marketing and doing business online, but not at the industry standard 6th-grade level. Dare I say; I write for a college-educated audience.
3. Be useful
You should blog about what you have passion for, but if you’re approaching your blog as a business rather than a hobby, you need to have one specific reader in mind who will think your content is useful.
Useful can mean different things; I’m not suggesting you only write lengthy reference posts. But if you can’t think of that one hypothetical reader saying “I’m so glad I found this right now,” you are missing the mark. Solve specific problems.
As an example, this post aims to solve the problem of the reader who follow the tactical advice of blogging gurus but can’t figure out why his blog isn’t taking off. Hint: write stuff worth caring about!
4. Be consistent
Be consistent in what you say.
You can be fairly certain my next post isn’t going to suggest you buy banner ads on the front of The New York Times website or spam Digg.com for traffic. I have a definite opinion on the way the Internet works.
Draw your line in the sand. Nothing builds friendships (thus readers) like a mutual enemy.
5. Be fucking classy
Write like an adult. That doesn’t mean you can’t let your hair down (or say “fuck” a lot).
It does mean not cutting corners or doing things behind the scenes you would be ashamed of if people found out. It also means keeping your blog free of the kind of mindless venom some corners of the Internet are famous for.
You should have enemies, but they should be intellectual enemies.
6. Break all the rules
Isn’t it neat how the final rule is to not follow any rules? Sorry to have wasted all your time.
It’s important that you study the well known faces of blogging in the same way that an artist needs to study the great works of historic painters.
But if it worked for them, it doesn’t mean it will work for you. The blogging world changes so rapidly that the truisms of yesterday quickly become the old wives’ tales of today.
Experiment to find out what really works, and avoid blindly following anyone’s advice, particularly mine.
What about video blogs?
Putting yourself on video is a good way to circumvent most of this writing bullshit, but I don’t have the answers for you on this subject. Yet.