Blog Writing Tips 3 – Discipline

proofreading mark

So, is everyone feeling creatively inspired in their blog writing? We’ve embraced the power of story – and seen some lovely blog posts. I shared the joy of conversation – yay, for a good chat! But today I’m going to introduce the dreaded D word. Discipline.

The above is a proofreading mark. If a writer sees this in the margin of their text, it means ‘delete and close up’. Less is more, and this is particularly true for blog writing. Here are a few reasons why:

  • People are reading on screens and their eyes get tired.
  • People are reading on small screens – increasingly on their phones or other portable devices.
  • People are reading on small screens in weird places – on packed trains, in airports, during an ad break, sat on the loo (yes, they do, why do you think the waterproof phone has been invented?). Their attention span is being challenged all the time.
  • People have approximately one gazillion other blog posts they could be reading. If you don’t capture their attention quickly and make it easy for them to continue giving you attention, they’ll move on.

phone

So, that all sounds a bit intimidating, doesn’t it? But there are other good reasons to learn the art of discipline in your writing. It will make it easier and quicker to write blog posts. You’ll be flexing a muscle that makes you a stronger writer. Readers’ faith in you will grow, as will your faith in yourself. Hey, you might discover a real love of writing and enter a short story writing competition or something crazy! It’s all good, people.

Here are some tips for discipline:

Keep paragraphs short. A long, rambling paragraph is heavy on the eye.

Keep sentences short for the same reasons.

Really keep an eye on adverbs and adjectives. These can become clutter.

Here is one of my favourite self-editing techniques: before hitting ‘publish’ re-read your blog post and ask, What can I lose without losing the essence of my story? This is a brilliant way of cutting. I always do this. I’ll give you an example. As I wrote my opening paragraph to this blog post I said, ‘But today I’m going to turn all school ma’am and introduce the dreaded D word.’ I decided to lose the school ma’am analogy. Yeah, it was cute but it wasn’t really adding anything. Delete!

Here’s another tip I really like: imagine you are writing for an audience of 8-year-old children. If a child can understand, we can all understand. If not, you need to cut back and clarify. People often make the mistake of thinking that clarity can come if you just explain a bit more, add another sentence, really lay it on thick, underline what you’re saying… Hey, what was I saying?

Here is today’s PRACTICAL EXERCISE. Write a blog post that is between 300-1000 words long. No more. There shan’t be a paragraph that is longer than six lines and there shouldn’t be a sentence that carries over more than three lines. My recent blog post on thread came in at a paltry 264 words, yet it received nearly 40 comments. Learn that skill and you get great engagement without having to slave blood, sweat and tears composing a dissertation every time you write a blog post.

Less is more, people, less is…

tartt

You’re a Steinbeck, not a Tartt!

 

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36 Responses to Blog Writing Tips 3 – Discipline

  1. V. Kathryn Evans says:

    Oh dear, I may have to get that mark tatood on my hand!

  2. I try to do what you have said and I find I love blogs with photos and captions with little snippets. I love your last line, clever! Jo x

  3. Kerry says:

    A very good point. In my working life when I have to write text I am good at cutting out unnecessary words and paring down. It can be more difficult on your blog, when the material is entirely personal and self-generated. But as you say – so much competition and if you don’t grab attention in the first few lines, people stop reading.

  4. Rachel says:

    There is a real skill in being succinct. I review technical writing as part of my real world life (as opposed to day dream sewing life) and some folk can write simply about a very difficult topic. Staff that are less confident, experienced, skilled (or whatever other reason) write pages and pages without making sense. It definitely takes practice! Love this series for what it’s teaching me and for seeing how your mind works. Thank you! ☺

  5. thewallinna says:

    I absolutely love this series of posts!

  6. The cutting bit is so true: I always see what I can get rid of before I press ‘publish’. Despite it’s length, I adored reading The Goldfinch though. I guess when you’re Tartt you can get away with it 😉

  7. Nicole says:

    I went back and looked at my blog posts and did word counts, which out of the last three only one was over 1000 words, and just barely. I usually am around the 800 word mark, but with lots of pictures. Mainly it’s because I write later in the evening, and want to get back to sewing. 🙂

  8. Elena Knits says:

    I think you nailed it here! I think that readability and good quality pictures are key. And not only about blog posts, but also about emails. I always get a bit annoyed when I receive an email with no line breaks and infinite paragraphs. You’re right that reading blog posts is not our first priority (we all have to work, run errands, etc.) and the eye gets tired if you don’t make things easy. I sometimes struggle with some blogs just because of this, so I think we all would benefit from applying these rules.

  9. Heidi says:

    I’m such a concise writer that I have trouble writing longer pieces. This is not a good thing for me! I have stories I need to tell that are complicated.

  10. lovelucie1 says:

    So true. When I see a post over 900 words, unless it is of specific interest, I don’t generally read it.

  11. Jo says:

    Excellent writing tips, Karen! I try to be as concise as possible with my writing but also like to keep it relatively chatty. It’s that awkward balance of wanting to be informal but not so informal that I offend my inner grammar nazi. I’m forever rereading and editing my posts before pressing publish, like I did with all my essays at school and uni, but this is far more fun!

    (By the way I reread and edited this comment at least three times too. Haha!)

  12. rillafree says:

    Wow, this is so obvious and brilliant! Definitely need to edit more, thanks for the lesson!

  13. jackallcraft says:

    This series of posts has been really helpful, thank you!

  14. Jen (NY) says:

    Good tips for writing in general. I’m not writing a blog post today, but rather, a legal brief– a form that presents serious challenges to clarity and brevity! (Should I think of the judge as an 8-year old?) It must be whittled down and I will be doing much deleting today. The challenge, in any form, is that balance between clarity and brevity. (Frankly, I’d rather write about sewing!)

  15. LinB says:

    I write weekly church announcements, and I curate a monthly church newsletter. I am a vicious editor. I cut “word babies” to shreds, to fit articles in limited space. Those who complain rarely notice that I also clean up their grammar and spelling.

  16. Susie says:

    But Tartt is so much fun to read!

  17. Dharma says:

    Thank you for this series. It has made me think and critique my posts.

  18. Jacana says:

    You are so right – Less is more. I don’t have a blog but it is good advice for any form of writing and was something the Open University taught me when doing one of their courses – they set writing exercises to explain something in a very limited number of words. It is surprising how many times one can say basically the same thing in different ways in the hope you have made the explanation clearer when once would do! Thanks for a really interesting blog.

  19. Chris says:

    I have to admit that I’m in two minds about conciseness. Yes, obviously no-one wants to read unrestricted waffle – but on the other hand I’m not an 8 year old child, so no need to write for me like for an 8-year old child. I for one would have loved your school ma’am metaphor.
    So yes, being to the point is a good thing, but in my view, sanitising ones writing can make it loose character and that seems a shame.

  20. I feel like I battle with this topic all the time…I’m wordy, LOL. But! I just copied my most recent post into a word document, and saw that I had just over 800 words. I admit…that surprised me! I was expecting something closer to eleventy hundred. I will go back and review the paragraph/sentence recommendations you have made. I’ve been posting less frequently than in past years, and I am finding it a bit of a juggling act…I appreciate that no one has the time nor inclination to read a novel, but I still want my post to be a personal reflection of me. The read over before publishing is very helpful thanks!

  21. Sandra says:

    Well I’ll stick my neck out and say that the wordier the blog the more I like it – so long as it is interesting. Short sentences are often not interesting. They are dull. They are uninspired. If some someone can’t be bothered to read you, then your blog is not for them. I hate it when nice long juicy posts are apologised for. I read a blog to have a read.

  22. Margo says:

    I agree that posts should be short and sweet. To the point. I also don’t like repetitive pictures… I’ve been guilty of this myself… Great tips thanks!

  23. Amen, sister. I hate reading long posts 90% of the time – my eyes glaze over and I start skimming. I will admit that I’m occasionally guilty of writing super long ones myself, but A) I realize that those are more for me than my readers, and B) I try to put lots of pretty pictures in there, too (see most recent post for an example: forwhoitsforblogspot.com).
    Where I *thought* you were going with the “discipline” angle was to write more frequently/on some kind of schedule – trying to get better about that, too! So far I’m at a post a week for this year, yippee!

  24. Sewniptuck says:

    Great info and thank you for confirming my suspicions. I’m aware people have little time and honoured some of them read my posts. Wouldn’t want to be wasting time with diatribe but how I loved that Tartt!

  25. As someone who is on the quiet side and not at all wordy, long posts are not a problem. I do wonder, however, if there is a point where more explanation leads to more interest.

  26. Kate says:

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter.

    I wanted to add another thing to your list, speaking from my position as web UX designer and developer: use bullet-pointed lists. So “Here are some tips for discipline:
    Keep paragraphs short. A long, rambling paragraph is heavy on the eye.
    Keep sentences short for the same reasons.
    Really keep an eye on adverbs and adjectives. These can become clutter.”

    would be better presented as “Here are some tips for discipline:
    * Keep paragraphs short. A long, rambling paragraph is heavy on the eye.
    * Keep sentences short for the same reasons.
    * Really keep an eye on adverbs and adjectives. These can become clutter.”

    Make sure that you use an actual unordered list ( with and all), not just some HTML bullet (•) characters pasted in.

    For anyone wanting to know more about HOW people use the internet, I highly recommend Steve Krug’s excellent book “Don’t Make Me Think” (3rd edition) and the work of Jakob Nielsen at N/N Group. This article is an excellent starting pojnt: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-users-read-on-the-web/

    It’s also important to keep in mind the (often-ignored) statistic that a lot of the blog-reading audience you’re speaking to (and I’m talking about everybody’s audience here, not specifically this blog) likely has a literacy level of not much higher than a 6th grader. Seriously, I’m not kidding with that one; in the US, it’s estimated that 43% of the population falls into the low-literacy category. No-one, not even experts, suffers when your content is precise and uses simple language. http://www.nngroup.com/articles/writing-for-lower-literacy-users/

    Just my two cents.

    • Kate says:

      D’oh! It ate some of my HTML examples. Grrr. Corrections below with spaces all over the place so it doesn’t bork it this time.

      “Make sure that you use an actual unordered list ( with and all), not just some HTML bullet (& bull 😉 characters pasted in.”

      • This is all so interesting and useful – thank you! One of the points I made (and then edited out!) is you should remember that some of your readers may be reading in a second language or have literacy challenges. Maybe I was too harsh in my self editing!

  27. As a blog reader and not a writer I totally agree! Long paragraphs/sentences/posts are not easy on the eye – I may skip those altogether if the title doesn’t indicate a content I’m really interested in. Also, a lot of your readers may be foreigners (like I am) so keeping it short makes it less overwhelming for them to read.

  28. Barbara says:

    Brilliant succinct conclusion.

  29. Kellie Rose says:

    Brilliant advice. I wish people would do this with emails too. I often “Mark as unread” anything which has long paragraphs to come back to later, and invariably it can fall off my radar if it’s not really important.

  30. embee says:

    I’ve read several blog posts about blogging and they were all SO similar and obvious and unhelpful! This series is full of original and great advice. Thank you!

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