A while back Marlous from Last Days of Spring asked her Twitter followers what was important for an aspiring blogger.
I said: “Learn to write. Learn about structure, grammar, spelling, and style. Be critical of your own writing. Adapt when necessary.”
That’s what I said. What I actually wanted to say, was “For fuck’s sake learn to write before you rent out a corner on the Internet and expose people to the piles of word garbage you call articles”
I know that’s not very nice. Nor helpful. But I love writing more than I love yoga, bacon, Tony Chocolonely and life itself. I find bad writing offensive. It makes me want to snap at you.
Below are my two cents on how you can become a better writer, and consequently a better blogger. Warning, I get mean.
(Click here to read Marlous’ resulting article that includes my tweet. I think Marlous is a great writer. So is Merel and so is Lin.)
This is a sentence. This is another sentence. This, as you can probably predict by now, is another sentence – just longer and with a dependent clause.
Yeah, I know: Mind blown, right?
This example above is the ultimate, most basic outline of a paragraph in text: Sentence 1, Sentence 2, Sentence 3. These sentences hopefully vary in length and word choice to make it interesting and they make your paragraph.*
Regardless of style, topic or language, paragraphs are the foundation of your texts.
And if you can’t write three sentences without grammatical errors or spelling mistakes, how about you go back to school or take up gardening.
*Good rule of thumb: New topic = new paragraph.
2. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.
In my unprofessional opinion, the best bloggers are the ones who can actually write.
These people usually wrote before they were blogging. They wrote before blogs were the hot thing. They wrote for fun, as kids, as teens, in diaries and stories. These people usually still write outside of their websites too, privately or publicly.
They’re the better writers, because they have more practice than those who only start now. With any skill you need to practice to get better. Writing is no different. You need to practice. Privately and publicly.
So do that. You can get real good too. But you need to start writing your ass off.
Write a lot. In and outside of your comfort zone. The articles you want to publish, and more. Challenge yourself with writing prompts. Use a different format. Make first drafts and then second and then third drafts. Until you love everything about your piece.
Practice practice practice. Write write write.
Writers who don’t read do not exist. If they do, they’re terrible.
For people to be really good writers they need to have a connection to the written word. If you don’t read, you have zero knowledge of what works in expressing yourself on paper.
I’m not going on some sort of elitist rant next, on how you NEED to book X and how you have to steer clear from Book Y, or tell you to only read ‘Real Literature’: That’s all bullshit. I’m saying that if you want to write well, there needs to be a love for words in you, and that love usually makes you read.
Whether you read Dickens, Harlequin novels, crime, short stories, chick lit, poetry, what the fuck ever**, doesn’t matter. As long as you read. It helps you understand writing.
**Preferably? Read everything. From New York times articles to comedy books to instruction manuals: all words help you grow as a writer.
You wanna be really good? Like, Neil Gaiman-, Jonathan Safran Foer-type good?
Study the written word like it’s your goddamn job.
When you read a book, make notes. Write down words and expressions you’re unfamiliar with. Jot down quotes, metaphors, passages that resonate with you, that you go “WOW” over. Then try to figure out why they are good.
Then try to think of your own. Invent based on your background knowledge. Figure out what in your own writing works and what doesn’t.
(And never use lines that aren’t your own, unless you quote and credit correctly.)
5. PETTING THE PARAGRAPH.
This is something I personally do. I ‘pet’ my own writing to see what needs to be changed.
The only way that I can really describe this process is that I read my own writing, and I let my mind go over the paragraphs, ‘petting’ the text.
…I mentally feel out if it is smooth or has edges.
If the paragraph feels fluid, with no change in style, word choices, topic or direction, the paragraph feels smooth to me. Like it’s one polished whole. Then I can move to the next part.
If there is anything in a paragraph that’s not right? It feels rough when I read it. Like it’s a sharp edge or like something sticks out.
Examples would be a word that can be substituted for a better one, a line that fits better in a different part of the text or a joke that is not good enough.
I keep editing until the paragraph feels smooth enough for me to accept to present to you, my readers.
Give that a try next time you revise your blog article. Go over your stuff per paragraph. Pet them. Feel if something is rough or smooth. Edit accordingly.
6. STRUCTURE PART II.
One, stick to your main topic and main point throughout the entire article. If you drift a lot throughout a written piece, your article is weak.
Two, you need an intro – preferably a good one.
Three, there is the actual body of the article, where you do your thing, write words and make your point.
Finally, there should be a clear outro. You can end with a summation, a conclusion or a good final sentence. Pay attention to this.
Otherwise (same as when you can’t construct a sentence and make tons of typos), your audience will feel like you’re sloppy and that you left unfinished business.
Your audience does not want you to treat them like their attention does not matter to you. Be thorough.
– Avoid (over)use of emoticons and ‘haha’ and all its obnoxious cousins. If you can’t convey a certain tone with just words, practice some more.
– Avoid falling back too much on the same sentences or words, especially in the same paragraph. I realize the preference for certain words is a style thing, but variety people. Makes for good eatin’ and good readin’.
– Writing is rewriting. Edit your shit. As many times as necessary.
– Cut any sentence that serves no purpose in the article. Even if you’re really proud of it.
I realize I don’t have all the answers. And sometimes I ignore my own advice, sure. That’s part of learning and writing. Just use whatever is useful to you.
And if this article makes you worry that in my eyes you are a shitty writer, I advise you don’t give a fuck about my opinion. Just focus on the people who do love your writing.
…I mean, they’re idiots, but I guess they’re your demographic.
Don’t take me too seriously.
(gif by my darling Mariet Mons, obviously)
Verder: helemaal mee eens. (Ik doe maar even of ik het stukje over ha ha en emoticons niet gelezen heb hi hi. 😉 )
That gif! So awesome. And so are your tips by the way. A couple of weeks ago I re-read some of my old posts (thank heavens not findable anywhere) and I was amazingly happy to see that my writing has changed. A lot. And still is. Makes me think that things have a future and I’m not a complete failure in blogging, good to know!
Dat gif-je is awesome! 🙂
Verder ben ik het helemaal met je eens. Veel mensen denken dat schrijven iets is wat iedereen kan, maar dat is niet helemaal waar. Het is wel iets wat je kan leren, hoop ik. Aangezien ik heel hard mijn best doe om er goed in te worden!
Dat gifje is de kers op de taart. Helemaal eens* met je tips. *Disclaimer: Ik maak sporadisch nog schrijf-, grammatica en stijlfouten op mijn blog (voor de zure medemensch die direct met een loep over mijn geschreven erfgoed besluit te gaan).
Die outro. Geweldig.
Cool artikel! Het is helemaal terecht, overigens, want er zijn zoveel blogs die overlopen van de spel- en taalfouten.
Dat gifje is awesome! Die knipoog op het einde had ik ook wel even nodig, want je artikel drukt me vet met mijn neus op de feiten. Ik ben pas dit jaar ‘echt’ gestart met bloggen omdat ik steeds vastliep door perfectionisme (wat een bitch). Dat heb ik nu volledig losgelaten, maar misschien dat dat ook wel weer tekort doet aan de kwaliteit van de dingen die ik schrijf. Ik ga je punten in ieder geval zeker meenemen. Die shit van mij moet geupgrade worden van hersenspinsels naar… beter uitgedachte hersenspinsels. Goede heads up, thanks girl!
Helemaal mee eens. Maar wel lastig als je zoveel mogelijk meteen in het begin goed wilt doen…!
Good tips. My style of writing has changed over the years. And I think it’s really nice to see the growth when I browse through my blog. Not to brag in anyway… what I want to say is, just write. Make mistakes. It makes you understand what works (and what doesn’t).
People who blog for the sake of sharing instead of writing, please just go and make yourself nonexistent or something.
Haha ah dat gifje. Ik vind het een groot compliment, dat je me een goed schrijver noemt. Ik vind het zelf namelijk ook erg belangrijk om goed te schrijven. Qua spellingfouten lukt het me inmiddels wel, maar stijlfouten is toch wat lastiger. Ik lees ook veel boeken hierover, en dit stukje van jou helpt me ook weer. Ik zal ‘m delen op mijn facebookpagina, hopelijk leert iedereen zo beter schrijven. Want al zijn je foto’s nog zo mooi, met domme fouten in je tekst klik ik gelijk weg..
Ohhh, Amen Sister.
Too many people did not pay attention in school and don’t seem to care at all. And let’s face it, correct use of grammar and/or correct spelling is not that hard! (But maybe I’m not one to judge, since I studied both Dutch literature and Law, which makes me the ultimate grammarnazi in town, but even though I sometimes stumble upon an error in my own texts…)
Love the article. I cheer on every single soul out there who’s putting effort towards better writing (of themselves or others).
…I mean, they’re idiots, but I guess they’re your demographic.
Hihi. Love this
I totally agree, actually.
And this article actually makes me want to start writing again. I read a lot but don’t write enough.
Damn woman. How do you get to be so pretty and smart and funny? You’ve found yourself a stalker from another part of the world. Congrats!
And also: read your texts aloud, so you can hear if there is a flow in your sentences.