Write Like a Pro: Tips for Better Writing by Donna FreedmanPresentation Transcript
Good writing matters. (Really.)
“ Why write stories? To join the conversation.” -- Dorothy Allison, author
Blog writers are uniquely positioned to join the conversation.
Unlike print media, we can weigh in on what happens as it happens.
But it ’ s a crowded field. How to find and keep readers?
Note: One of my editors at MSN Money told me we have just 2.1 seconds to grab a reader ’ s attention.
2. 1 seconds?
That ’ s about as long as it takes to say “ 2.1 seconds. ”
Want readers to stick around? You need good writing.
Not shooting from the lip.
Not “ gotta throw this on the blog right now ” writing.
Not “ credit card debt sucks LOL! ” writing.
And don ’ t get me started on SEO.
I really, really resent the necessity of search engine optimization.
Bloggers on autopilot?
Too many seem to go back to 9 th -grade English class. They slip into 500-word-esay mode, writing what they think the teacher wants to read:
“ Webster ’ s defines ‘ arbitrage ’ as ‘ the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities or foreign exchange in different markets to profit from unequal prices ’ . ”
Tip: Don ’ t ever start a blog post with a definition from the dictionary. Please. Not ever.
Autopilot kills good writing.
Write the post, don ’ t build it.
Words are not poles to hold up the 500-word essay tent.
Our words should inform, persuade, teach, entrance, share .
A flash of inspiration!
Mark Twain said that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning…
… and a lightning bug.
Did you know there ’s a word for….
… being thrown out of a window?
( “The First Defenestration of Prague”)
This famous painting…
… .has been updated for our time.
(For folks way in the back of the room: This is a Lego defenestration.)
There ’s also a word that means…
“ having all the blood drained from one’s body.”
The right word?
It lights up the page.
The almost-right word?
Don ’t type directly from your word-a-day calendar. But do get interested in language.
Just the facts, ma ’am?
I have a real beef with the 5 Ws. They ’re all right for news coverage, but blogs should be more interesting.
I spent 17 years in features.
We were allowed to tell stories.
Editors and copy editors kept us honest. But most Internet writers don ’ t have editors.
Heck, a whole bunch of us have no formal training.
(I don ’ t. Any other autodidacts here?)
Even seasoned writers must…
Work to improve the craft, daily
I read a lot of online writing, and notice the same few problems over and over.
Problem #1: Wordiness
Would you spend more than 2.1 seconds reading a piece that starts like this:
“ Many Americans are very concerned about the possibility of the United States defaulting on its debt obligations and wondering what the impact would be on our national economy. Through my reading I have found out that a default wouldn ’ t necessarily mean blah blah blahdy-blah blah …”
I double-dog-dare you not to keep reading this version:
“ A default is not Armageddon. We in the media need to make that clear. We ’ ve been excoriating Congressional bungling and inaction so loudly that many ordinary people are getting the impression the world is about to end. It ’ s not. ”
(Fun fact: Years ago I sat next to Liz at the Anchorage Daily News. She was a feature writer, too.)
Problem #2: Lack of focus
Before you do your research, write the nut graf.
If you can ’ t, you ’ re not completely clear on your topic -- which means you ’ re not ready to write.
Tip: The nut graf is probably the thing that excites/intrigues/terrifies you the most.
Tip: Still not sure? Call a friend and tell him/her all about this piece you ’ re writing. The nut graf will likely float to the surface.
Problem #3: Poor organization
You could have the best info in the world but it won ’ t be read if it ’ s confusing.
A blog post should flow like a well-told tale -- but I should not hear you telling it.
Tip: Outline your topic to hone your focus.
Tip: Be ruthless about trimming off tangents.
Tip: Good news! Those slaughtered tangents may become new posts.
Ready to write. Now what?
Provide context. Tell the reader why s/he should care. Say so at the beginning or at least by the second graf.
Provide solutions. Suggest some tactics and/or source links.
Talk to your readers, not at them.
Encourage dialogue. Comments keep a blog lively. Be sure to read the comments, and even answer some of them.
More writing basics
Source if necessary. Don ’ t source the year of U.S. independence. Do source last-quarter jobless rates.
Support your writing with details. Did tears run down Steve Jobs ’ face during his iQuit speech? Say so.
But show, don ’ t tell. Don ’ t let details derail.
Tell us more, with less.
Example: Here ’ s how I described a group of women at a shotgun tournament.
“ Their occupations varied, including photographer, commercial pilot, hospital administrator, veterinary technician, computer specialist and the mayor of Wasilla. But they shared one trait: the desire to blast White Flyer Sporting Clay Specials to kingdom come. ”
And yes, the mayor of Wasilla was, in fact … .
She didn ’t win that time, either.
Engage your senses
What was happening when you had your frugal epiphany?
Tip: Pretend you ’ re talking with a friend about what happened – but write it down as you go. Again, be careful about how many details you include. That ’ s because …
Shorter is usually better
(Except when it comes to vacations and massage.)
Make every word work, and work HARD.
Verbs should be active, not passive. (Hint: Nothing should “ serve to ” do anything. It does it or it doesn ’ t.)
Adjectives should be surprising, but always justifiable.
This is general advice. YMMV.
Complex topics might need 1,200 words. (Or not.)
Need to react quickly? Do it. Add a longer, more thoughtful piece later if you think it ’ s warranted.
Overall, though, life is too astounding to be described with ordinary words, in ordinary ways. Take some chances. You ’ ll be surprised by what you ’ re capable of writing.