Fighting the Blog Monster

little man pushing giant pencilSo many people seem to be intimidated by writing. This was true when I was an undergrad, and a professor assigned us a 15-page research paper on the evolution of jazz and rock and roll. It was true when I was studying for my master’s degree, and we had to write up a statement of purpose to go with our teaching portfolios.  The same holds true now, when it comes to developing content, and writing blog posts.

Myths About Writing Blogs

A disclosure: I’ve been writing since I was able to grip a pencil in my hand. In kindergarten, I created a story about a cat and a dog that went on a cross-country adventure together. My teacher had me write out one page at a time with an illustration to go along with each scene. When it was finished, she had it laminated and bound, and then placed in the school library.  I don’t think too much about writing…so I find it somewhat confounding when I hear my peers lamenting over a blog post that they are struggling to finish.  I think a lot of what seems so intimidating about writing has to do with the myths that surround writing. For example:

blog

1. You must have a college education in order to write well.

I can’t tell you the number of teachers I studied with who could barely write a coherent sentence. At the same time, I can name a number of high school dropouts who could easily compete with the Bard himself.  Writing is more about having something to say. If you can have an interesting thought, you can write.  If you can hold a conversation, you can write.

2. You must write in a professional tone, which means writing the same way you were taught to write essays in high school.

NO. Here’s a secret: even your TEACHERS hated reading those long-winded essays which danced around the point in order to meet a particular length requirement. Good writing, INTERESTING writing, gets to the point. It has something to say, and it says it. Good writers talk TO you, not AT you.  It’s the difference between reading a history textbook and reading a memoir.

3. Blog posts are like essays (see #2), and must be at least 350 words long.

The truth: Blog posts are as long as you  make them. You  can write a blog post that spans  several pages, or you can make your point in a single sentence. Most of us will do something in between.  There are some guidelines (you don’t want to go too long, or you’ll lose your audience. You don’t want to go too short, or you might have a hard time making your point), but nothing is set in stone.

4. There is a specific topic that I have to write about, with no deviation whatsoever.

Once again, no. One of the first things I learned in my writing workshops at Oswego was to “write what you know”. What does Eminem have to do with writing and marketing? Very little, unless you ask Sean Platt over at Copyblogger. This might sound hokey, but if you believe what you’re writing, it will become true. That is to say, a good marketer can market just about anything. This becomes even more true when the writer is personally invested. It doesn’t matter what your job title or industry. If you like music, write about music. If art is your passion, write about your experience with figure drawing. Write about slinkys, or ancient Greek war tactics, or Neil Patrick Harris’ theatrical contributions.  Just WRITE.

Advice on Blog Writing

This may be one of few times anyone says this to you, but STOP THINKING SO MUCH.

Honestly, when it comes to writing, most people psych themselves out.  Seriously, what is the worst thing that will happen if your blog post is terrible? Public shame and humiliation? Maybe, but this is the internet. Pretty soon, there will be a new lolcatz image up, and you’re plight will be forgotten.

Decide what you want to write about, and then do it. Put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and write until you’re done.  You can always go back and edit later (or leave that up to your blog editor). As with most things, the more you do it, the better you’ll get, and the easier it will be.

Check out some of my favorite blogs for inspiration:

Copyblogger

Outspoken Media

Brains on Fire

Let’s Colour Project

The Internal Makeover (featuring our own, Kathryn)

What holds you back from writing? What inspires you? Let me know in the comments.

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11 comments on “Fighting the Blog Monster

Leon J Rice

I am held back by deadlines. Sometimes I create them for myself and other times that are created for me. It wasn’t this way in college as I wrote some of my best papers under intense pressure of deadlines. It just seems to have changed and taken a 180. Now it makes me want to let it all build up until it goes away, but so do my funds if I let that happen.


    Allison Gray Teetsel

    Leon, I definitely understand the feeling. In college, I usually left my papers go until a day or two before they were due…otherwise, I felt like I’d lose my flow while writing. Now, I can write just about anything, as long as I have some research done…I have a very difficult time writing creatively, though…and when it comes to fiction, forget about it. I don’t really know what it is about writing fiction or memoir that I get stuck on now, but I figure as long as I’m writing SOMETHING, I’m still honing the craft. What do you do when you have an impending deadline, yet feel “stuck”? What are your feelings on writing for blogs, specifically?


John L.

I hate writing. I failed many English classes through out college and high school. It isn’t necessarily true that if one can have a conversation that one can write. I consider myself a decent conversationalist, and intelligent person, but a deplorable writer.


    Allison Gray Teetsel

    John, I’ve read your writing, and it is by no means deplorable! I know a lot of people have a difficult time writing, and really get no enjoyment out of it whatsoever. I just think that there are a lot of preconceptions about what writing “is”, or is “supposed to be” that people get hung up on, and tbut writinhat make things even more difficult.
    One of the things I hadn’t considered is that there is a sort of art in arranging the thoughts that you have on the page…When most people complain about writing to me, it’s always that they don’t know how to start or finish…and for me, that’s as simple as taking a thought and writing it down. To sum up: You don’t have to be a writer in order to write…but writing well is a skill that must be developed.


kathryn

This post is fantastic, Allison!

At the risk of sounding superstitious, I think it’s important (John) that we never say words like “hate and deplorable”. It’s like announcing you’ve got writer’s block and then who’s really surprised when you get stuck?

My youngest son claims he hates to write as well. And yet, he’s got more insight than people twice his age. Yet, (to this writer’s very horror) he resists writing at every turn. Just break my heart, why don’t-cha.

I can only hope he grows out of it.


Laurie Boris

Thank you for this excellent material, Allison. I am an avid blogger bumped up against many of these problems. When I was just starting, I had to stick specifically with what my blog was “about.” But then I realized, like you mentioned about Eminem, that I could link other material to my topics. Then it became more fun for me and more useful for my readers. I look forward to reading more!


    Allison Gray Teetsel

    Thanks Laurie!I think I just naturally want to write about the things that interest me…I get jazzed up about it, and that shows through in my writing. I don’t think anyone wants to read something from someone who is only writing because they “have” to…it’s so much more interesting when the writer is engaged and passionate. Like you said, when you tie in other topics that you are passionate about, it becomes more fun for you and more useful for your readers. It makes me wonder why we don’t do more formally to empower writers. Most of what I learned in school was to be formulaic…and I think that is what has so many people intimidated when it comes to writing. (By the way, I just read your football haikus, and I think they just made my morning! Hilarious!)


anon

This isn’t always true. If you’re going to write a humor blog, you’d use vocabulary in which would be targeted to a specific audience, whether it be children, adults or both.


Lou Lynch

Good stuff Allison. The point you made about not having to write in a professional tone is spot on. I enjoy a fun conversational flow when reading blogs. It communicates better and puts your reader at ease.

Have you ever gone back to see if you book about the cat and dog is still in the library?


    Allison Gray Teetsel

    Thanks, Lou! I’m with you…I really enjoy a conversational tone when I’m reading a blog. Actually, it’s my preferred tone when it comes to reading just about anything.
    I haven’t gone back yet to see if the book is still there, though I’ve thought about it a few times. The school is actually right down the street, so it’s just a matter of taking the time to pop my head in.


Lita

TY for a great article! I do sometimes “Clam up” because I feel pressured, self imposed of course, but the pressure is still real enough! I want to say something brilliant every time I touch the keys, it just isn’t that way! I have been practicing the “you will get over it” attitude and been trying to loosen up for awhile now and have been enjoying it a LOT MORE!! Plus, I still love the good old ‘DELETE’!! :)