Do something 77 times and you expect to gain some insights in the practice. It is true of practicing the scale of C# minor (contrary motion) on the piano; of hill starts in a car; of attaching photos to tweets; how to spell imeadiately immediately; and waking up on New Year’s Day (not that I’ve actually done that 77 times, but you get the idea). I hope I have learned something about how write blog posts. I plan to write a series of posts about the craft of writing for a blog. This is my 77th blogpost!
Writing to be read on-line
Understanding the medium is the place to start. The writer has to pay attention to being on-line, on pcs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and probably some other things I haven’t heard of yet. Writing on-line means you have to catch the readers’ attention, and keep it. As a writer you can take advantage of the connectivity. And while a post has a short life it can be archived and amended. This makes it different to writing for printed formats.
Catching the attention of readers is a matter of a hook and appearance. The hook can be an outlandish statement, provocative or questioning. For example: How to get readers to look at your blog in 5 steps. Or Preparing to meet our editor. It can also be very straightforward. As I write a blog about things literary, especially books, the title and author are often enough. The title/hook should give just enough information for a reader to know the topic of the post, but entice them to read further.
The appearance is important too. Your text will acquire an edge from being back-lit on the screen and enhanced by the addition of relevant images. I use frequently use book covers (which led to a post on book covers and how much I like them). Additionally the page will be scrolled so the screen must not be too crowded. I like clear uncluttered page format, which includes lots of white space. In fact the 30-30-30 principle works well: 30% text, 30% image, 30% white space. Luckily there are some great ready-to-go formats. I use Word Press.
While appearance will bring in readers and keep them there, the content has to be good. To keep readers returning it needs to be reliably good. It pays to work on content (see future blogposts). Some bloggers suggest that 600 words is the maximum length for keeping readers. I find it hard to say what I want to write in less than 1000 usually. I have no idea whether readers give up before they get to the end. You could tell me in the comments box.
Being on-line means you can connect your post to other websites. The roots of blogging were in making connections, the original blogs were simply reports of other sites visited by the blogger. Links to other sites relevant to the content have become an important feature of my posts. I link to other reviews and to relevant on-line material, such as speeches, newspaper articles. Here are a couple of blogs about blogging that have lots to say, set out to be helpful, by including tips, tutorials, or plain advice. ProBlogger has been going since 2004. Successful Blog focuses on building community through blogging. While both sites include stuff about earning money through the blog, they are nevertheless relevant to a not-for-profit blog like mine. And here’s Annie Daylon’s advice to novice bloggers.
Connecting works in the other direction too. You can also get readers from other sites, from their links and blogrolls, which list the blogs they favour. Search engines help with this, key words being the means to do this. One could go for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) if visitor numbers were the key thing (eg for a site selling stuff, or pushing a political message). I’ve done without so far. And then there is twitter, facebook and other social media to promote your blog.
Communication with your readers through the comments facility also sets this writing apart from conventional publishing. I used to write articles for publication in academic journals. The Director of the Institute where I worked said that only 5 people read articles in academic journals. (NB for people who work in HE in the UK: this was pre-RAE and REF.) I loved reading articles and wondered where the other four people were. I never knew what the three people thought who read my article about using photography in educational research. But I do get feedback on my blog posts. People make suggestions, take issue, tell me off, thank me for suggesting a good read, comment on what has been said … A term I have come across for inviting these comments is the call to arms. I think questions do the job very well. How about you?
They can also be edited after publication. You can correct errors, update information and add newly discovered links.
I have learned that blog posts have a short life. I have also learned that some posts have shorter lives than others. The two longest running and most popular posts of mine are the review of The Stone Angel by Marguerite Laurence and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. These two reviews don’t attract much comment, but they have been in the top ten most read posts since I set up the analytical programme (Google Analytics). Blogposts about writing (like this one) often attract a good readership in the first two weeks of posting but then fall away. They may have short lives, but a blog has its own archive and a search function.
Your blog will be made up of regular readers (often subscribers) and flitters. (Mine is about 30/70 and I have no idea whether this is healthy or not.)
But blogging is no different from other kinds of non-fiction writing – purpose is key. Every blogpost has to have a point, a reason to be written and posted. On this blog I share tips for writers, or survey of a writer’s work, indulge in quirky interest like how people organise their books, or make a political point about how writing and books help people.
A book that I highly recommend: Blogging for Creatives, by Robin Houghton (Ilex Press).
Here’s the call to arms bit: Bloggers – what have I left out? Tell me what I’ve got wrong! Anyone – please tell me what you think about how well I’m doing. Add a comment in the box below.
The second post in this series will consider selecting the appropriate format.
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