So much of what I read these days is utter crap.
It’s not the topics, it’s not the viewpoint, and it’s not even that I truly couldn’t give a shit about the subject.
It’s that the writing is so eye-bleedingly awful that I can’t stand to read one more pixel.
Here’s the thing: if you’re blogging as part of your personal brand, you’re not doing yourself any favors if you’re not learning to write well. Not just at-least-he’s-not-talking-about-me well. I mean, well enough that someone jams their finger in a rush to share what you just wrote.
If you want to learn to write well, do these three things.
1. Pick three or four favorite authors and steal from them.
Read as much of their stuff as you can. Read commentary about their work. Learn what makes them such outstanding writers. Pick a few of those elements and incorporate them into your own writing. Practice them regularly and mesh the styles. Eventually that combination will become your voice.
My three favorites are Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, and Mike Royko, Chicago Daily News columnist from the 1980s. For example, one thing I learned from Thompson is that he doesn’t just open with a strong lede (yes, lede; it’s an old newspaper term), he writes several in a row, and delivers them like jabs. I try to do that in a lot of my posts; the ones where I succeed are the ones people share the most.
2. Read newspapers.
The best model for blogging is newspaper writing. You have a limited number of inches in a newspaper story, and your editor is going to chop it to make room for that piece on the flower show or the furniture store ad. You need to make your point in the smallest space possible.
So it goes with blogging. You have about 300 – 500 words to get your point across, because readers are fickle and impatient, especially those reading on mobile phones. Read the newspapers and learn to emulate their writing style.
3. Write every day and be intentional about it.
As you read newspapers and steal from your favorite authors (seriously, do it; that’s how they all got good), pick one technique, and practice it every chance you get. While professional writers write every day because it’s their job, you may not have that luxury. So practice on everything.
Don’t just clack away at emails on your laptop; that’s typing. You’re not actually writing because your brain is on autopilot. But you can turn it into writing if you actually focus on what you’re doing, and practice the techniques you’re trying to learn.
Several years ago, I wanted to get good at metaphors. I listened to a lot of Tom Waits (check out “Putnam County” from Nighthawks At The Diner), and started using metaphors in everything I wrote, including emails. Pretty soon, it became fairly automatic, and something I could do with ease.
The problem with writing in the 21st century is that blogging and e-publishing has made authors and publishers of us all. And while I’m all for the average person having a voice in the world, there are some voices that are never going to be heard because their writing is terrible.
If you want people to sit up and take notice of you, you have to do it with your writing.
Your brand depends on being able to not just stand apart from the eye-bleedingly awful, but to stand out from the barely acceptable, the mediocre, and the good enough. Practice these three techniques and make them a regular habit. As you work, your writing will improve and help you stand out from everyone else who’s fighting for the same things you are.
Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, a newspaper humor columnist, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing. His third book, The Owned Media Doctrine, will be available this summer.