Happy New Year! Okay, I know it’s a bit late, but I missed last week due to illness and I didn’t want to miss spreading the cheer. Did you make resolutions? Have you broken them yet?
I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions. I prefer to consider establishing new habits. That way I’m looking at ways I can improve by adding things to my life rather than focusing on negatives that I want to remove. Sort of a “glass is half full” way of improving myself.
Anyway, last July I quit smoking so I figure my big resolution was already taken care of for 2008. That gives me the chance to incorporate a whole bunch of “baby steps” in my schedule for the new year. Which brings me to this big old list I have been putting together to help myself improve as a blogger. What better way to kick off the new year than that? I have discussed some of these tactics in the past, but they are timeless methods that bear repeating. Here are 27 ways to be a smarter writer in 2008.
- Try New Things. Sometimes breaking out of your routine is all it takes to get original ideas flowing. Spend a weekend with friends or family, go skiing, read a book about something about which you know nothing. Just pick anything you wouldn’t usually do and do it.
- Get Moving. If you are feeling restless and unable to concentrate, then stop trying. You will do more good spending 15 minutes puttering around the house and 45 minutes writing than you will spending 60 minutes staring at a blank document and stressing out. Sometimes you just need to get the blood flowing and your ideas will follow suit.
- Switch Mediums. If the paper and pen (or monitor and keyboard) aren’t doing it for you, try another creative activity like painting or playing a musical instrument. Believe me, I am no Van Gogh, but I love to sit down with my pastels or watercolors for an afternoon and work out the visually creative parts of my brain. This isn’t about the product, it is just about the process.
- Shut Down Your PC. The act of putting pen to paper can actually help get your creative juices flowing. So if that empty document seems to be giving you the stink-eye, turn off your monitor and pull out a pen or pencil. I’m a sucker for a cool writing utensil. My friends and family know this and I am often given unique (or more of my favorite) pens and pencils as gifts – they are always appreciated.
- Phone a Friend. It may be that your brain needs something before it will give up the goods. Social interaction is integral to emotional and mental health. If you work at home (and especially if you live alone), then you run the risk of ignoring your brain’s need to socialize. Chat with a friend on the phone or make a coffee date for idle chitchat.
- Shift Gears. You are sitting there, staring into space, telling yourself: “Write, write, write…” But, for some reason, you aren’t writing. While focus and follow-through are important, this might be a good time to move to another project for awhile. And I know that as a blogger you have more than one (or ten!) things to work on.
- Practice Every Day. As a writer, there really is no substitute for just jumping in and doing it. Make the committment to spend at least an hour each day writing. Nearly all types of writing will help you hone your craft, so you need not specify what you will be writing during this time.
- Go On Location. If you do all of your writing in one place, you could find yourself in a bit of a rut. Take your writing tools of choice, bag them up and go somewhere else. Coffee shops, parks (weather-permitting, of course) and beaches are all wonderful places to spark inspiration and find a new groove.
- Read, Read, Read. Besides writing, the best way to become a better writer is by reading. If you love writing, chances are you were one of those kids (like me) who read voraciously through anything you could get your hands on. Perhaps as an adult you’ve lost that curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Try to put yourself back in your smaller shoes and rekindle that joy you found when you learned something – anything – new.
- Start a Group. Maybe you don’t have any friends who want to listen to you talk about your newest post for your knitting blog. But that doesn’t mean there is no one out there who does. There are groups (online and offline) for everything imaginable and writing is no exception. One of the greatest type of groups (and highly underrated these days) is a book club. Use a service like Meet Up to find people in your area interested in reading or writing together.
- Don’t Be Lazy. Use your tools. Get a good thesaurus and dictionary, pick up a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and if you aren’t sure if something is correct, look it up. It only takes a few minutes and, not only will you learn from it, you won’t get caught making avoidable mistakes.
- Designate Space. Virginia Woolf famously wrote about having a room of one’s own. Most writers find it very useful to have a space of their own in which to work their craft. Don’t underestimate the power of a designated writing space. Even if it is just a particular corner in the living room, make it official that when you need to write that will be where you go. You don’t always have to write there, but it will always be available if you need it.
- Practice Headlines. Bloggers must be great headline writers. If you can’t write a killer headline, it will be very difficult to pull readers in. Brian Clark has a great article about why you should always write your headline first. If you can’t seem to come up with content, try a list of headlines to get the ball rolling.
- Write Out Loud. Never hit the publish button until you read your article out loud. Even if it’s just to your cats, reading out loud can help you learn and establish your rhythm, clean up awkward phrasing and get a feel for how smooth (or rough) an article sounds. And if you find yourself zoning out while you are reading your article aloud, then you know it’s most likely time for a serious rewrite.
- Get your Writer and Editor a Divorce. If you can keep your writer side and your editor side separate during the writing process, your writing can improve exponentially. The reason for this is twofold.
First, the writer in you is creative and the editor is logical. If you allow them to fight over every sentence, your creative flow is broken and at least some of the magic that comes when you allow your brain to wander is lost.
Secondly, if you bring your editor in after your writer has done the work, then it can often be like bringing in a second pair of eyes. It isn’t exactly the same, but the distance can really give you fresh look at your work. If you do not work with an outside editor this is the best way to ensure that you catch any weird sentences or errors.
- Exercise. Writing exercises can be a huge help in honing your craft. Even if you are used to writing non-fiction articles for your blog, fictional writing exercises provide a way to take a break and improve your skills at the same time. There are many sites with free exercises available including Snapfiction, Wake up Writing and Meredith Sue Willis’ site.
- Take it with You. You have heard this a million times, but in 2008 you will start doing it: carry a notebook with you. When something strikes you as useful or interesting, write it down. I’m serious, you guys! Just try it. I rarely carry a purse so I know it can be a pain to carry a notebook in your pocket, but if you can turn it into a habit it’s really no big deal.
For years I tried to do this and it never quite stuck until about six months ago when I found a lovely little notepad from Wellspring’s Flip Notes line. It is small, light and sticks with me. There is something about the design that appeals to me. Almost every writer I have ever met is attracted to paper and pens, so you’ll be much more likely to actually use the notebook if it is aesthetically pleasing. At least I was.
- Keep a Journal. I hate this one. There is nothing more annoying to me than finding some lame journal I wrote in the 10th grade about some stupid fight I had with Amanda and Stephanie who are now married and I haven’t spoken to in years. But journals don’t have to be some useless outpouring of emotional vomit (no offense intended if that’s the kind of journal you write!). If you are stuck on the stereotype of a teenager girl burying her deepest secrets in the pages of a notebook, you need to get over it.
Journaling is a useful tool for all writers. Set a timer each day for 10-15 minutes and just write. Describe something you saw during the day or transcribe a conversation with your mom. You can literally write about anything. You never know what sort of ideas will come from just letting your brain (and your hand) go.
- Change your Subscriptions. Visit a store that carries magazines on many different subjects. Pick a few based on subjects about which you normally wouldn’t read. Try to find some with style and content that appeal to you and purchase them. Read them all carefully from cover to cover. Even if you could find the same information online, your relationship with the physical magazine can influence ideas and thoughts you have regarding the material. Never underestimate the power of a glossy magazine photo.
- Track Your Progress. Are you so busy churning out articles and networking that you don’t have time to review your accomplishments? Seeing the progress that you make is very important to productivity. Are you more motivated by a daily to-do list or a broad range of long-term goals. If you aren’t sure what works for you, try a few different methods until you find a way to benchmark that fits in with your working style. Having concrete tasks to check off a list can really help you stay on track, especially on those days when it seems you can’t accomplish anything.
- Don’t Get too Attached. That sentence reads like pure gold. It is the most beautiful grouping of words you have ever ever written. I am so happy to hear that. But what does it do for your article? If it doesn’t add necessary information or elements, then it has to be removed. As painful as this can be, it must be done. Most people reading blogs do not have time for pointless sentences, no matter how pretty they (the sentences, not the people) are. Chop off the fat. I promise the bleeding will stop shortly.
- Stop Being Passive. The passive voice is dull and boring. It often uses uneccesary words and nearly always digs potholes in your articles. My choices are:
The gift was delivered by my best friend.
My best friend delivered the gift.
I’m certainly choosing the second one. Why? It’s active. The second sentence describes a person doing something. The first one is nearly lifeless. It barely has a live subject at all, merely mentioning my best friend at the end. While it is good to vary your sentences, try to avoid passive voice whenever possible.
- Save the Best for Last. You are tired. You spent four hours on research, two hours writing and another hour with edits. Now all you need to do is write a quick conclusion and you can publish. Hold up. Make sure you leave energy to write a killer conclusion. The last few sentences you write will be the sentences your readers take with them. If you can skillfully summarize your article and give your readers something to think about, then your article is much more likely to become “sticky.”
- Don’t Lose the Plot. You might be writing an article about branding and come up with some brilliant points about search engine marketing. That’s great. But, if they are not directly related, please don’t add them to your current article. I know they are genius and they sort of relate, but I promise you they will not be appreciated in the confines of your current article. The moment you go tangental is the moment your readers go elsewhere. Make some notes about your brilliant idea and save it for tomorrow.
- Do the Legwork. Nothing will kill your credibility faster than talking out of your a$$. Seriously. If you aren’t sure about a fact or figure, look it up. For some blogs, this means you will spend a great deal of time researching. If you don’t like researching, then choose a niche that you know a lot about or write an opinion-based blog. If you guess or make up information someone will call you out eventually and then you are done.
- Remember Your Audience. If you have a loyal following of readers, do not suddenly change your style. If you are trying to establish a following, read popular blogs in the niche you have chosen and try to figure out why they succeed. When planning articles for your particular audience, you should consider not only the content itself, but also tone, word usage (should you avoid profanity?) and the length of the article. The more you write for that particular blog, the better you will be at stepping into the readers’ shoes.
- Use an Outline. I know, I mention this one a lot. But that is because I consider it one of the most important and useful tools at a writer’s disposal. Many bloggers find outlines boring or confining, but it is a proven way to keep your article on topic. It can also help you write faster because you have distilled all the points you’d like to make. Whether you use a basic list of topics you want to cover or a detailed breakdown (I, A, a, ii, etc.), you will be much less likely to lose your reader if you write using a map.
Though there is something to be said for talent, I firmly believe that anyone who is willing to put in the time can become a good writer. Not all tactics work for everyone, but the ones I’ve described above are almost universally helpful. What methods do you use to improve your skills? Do you think bloggers need to be good writers or just deliver interesting topics? What are you writing goals for 2008?
The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Your Very First Blog Post
Your very first blog post is a very big deal.
For businesses, it’s their way of attracting more clients by creating content that resonates with your target audience.
For hobbyists, it’s their chance to of sharing to the world your thoughts and ideas about their topics of choice.
Either way, nothing validates your online identity more than a well-written blog post.
Therefore, you need to make the most of this opportunity by writing the best possible blog post. Assuming that you don’t have much experience in writing, you can always keep things simple by following the basic do’s and don’ts of writing a blog post for the very first time.
Do: Come up with a topic that your audience would like
The success of bloggers stems from the ability to determine what their audience wants to read. To reach their primary goals, bloggers must appeal to the need of their target readers for useful and relevant information. Doing so allows them to attract lots of visitors with the content they publish, resulting in increased conversion rates.
Therefore, you need to approach blogging deliberately. You can’t just pull a topic out of thin air and expect your audience to come in droves. You must find out what makes your readers ticks and what their wants and needs are.
That means research, research, and more research!
First, you need to come up with a reader persona that you will target for your post and the succeeding ones. The persona you will develop will embody your demographic such as age, gender, hobbies, and others. Researching these factors will help you refine how you will write your post and what you will write about. From here, unearthing blog post ideas to write about will become much more convenient for you.
Don’t: Veer away from your branding and persona
Your brand is what defines you online. Your audience will associate all your online activity with the brand you’ve developed. Part of your brand is the persona you project from the blog posts you will write.
The best blogs exhibit unique voices that set them apart from the rest. The Onion is popular for its tongue-in-cheek humor veiled in satire. Lifehacker is famous for producing informative blog content geared towards readers who want to find ways to simplify their lives.
The brand and persona these sites exude help bloggers develop consistency in their writing. By observing their persona on all the posts they write at all times, they allow readers to create a level of expectation every time you publish a post. By meeting their expectations with every post you write, you can develop a sustainable stream of blog traffic over a period.
Therefore, it is crucial that you develop a writing voice that resonates with your readers and then sticking with it. You need to play your brand and persona across all your blog posts, starting with the very first post you’ll be writing.
Do: Edit before publishing
Before hitting the “Publish” button, you need to make sure that there are no grammar mistakes and errors in your writing. Your command of the language is crucial if you want to send the right message to your readers.
A post that’s filled with errors will cause readers to leave your blog and possibly not read another post from you. If you can’t write correctly, then why should your audience read your posts?
Double-checking your post and reading it again can do wonders for your edits. It’s best to take time between finishing the post and reading it for review. The time allows you to get your mind off from writing so you will have a fresh perspective on the post, which lets you spot errors easier.
If you’re not comfortable with your editing skills, then you could use tools like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor. Both will make recommendations on how to tighten your sentences and improve your blog post. Keep in mind, however, that these tools are meant to complement your editing process and not replace it entirely.
Don’t: Worry about word count
If you’re counting words when writing your post, then you’re blogging for the wrong reasons.
When writing, your focus should be communicating ideas as clearly as possible.
For SEO reasons, you want your post to be as long as possible. According to the latest studies, your post should be at least 1,890 words if you want to rank on top of Google Search.
However, if you can’t reach that many numbers of words, you don’t have to beat yourself up about it. Having lots of words doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a great post.
What’s more important is that you can share everything that your readers need to know about the topic. By focusing on the quality of the post and not the number of words, you can engage your audience and keep them longing for more.
Do: Promote your post
Promoting your post is not part of the writing process. However, part of your job as a full-fledged blogger is to be a marketer as well.
Sharing your first blog post is your step towards reaching out to your online audience. After all, your post won’t promote itself. You need to proactive share your blog post to the right channels, so you show it to as many people interested in your topic as possible.
One of the best ways to promote your post online is to hop on Facebook and Twitter.
“If you have created high-quality content on your blog then social media is a great way to your blog to go viral.” said Scott Chow of The Blog Starter.
You can also submit your post on platforms that allow you to reach out to your audience more effectively. I have detailed the best sites where you can send your post for promotion in this article.
Don’t: Set unrealistic goals
Starting at the bottom and working your way up to where thousands of blogs are also vying for the attention of your readers will be a tumultuous journey. Therefore, you have to curb your expectations as a blogger. It is ideal to set the bar with attainable goals in mind instead of aiming for the moon.
Don’t get me wrong – reaching thousands of visitors for your blog post in a day is not impossible. However, like catching lightning in a jar, it’s more improbable than anything else. In fact, this problem is what plagues most bloggers. They set high goals that are difficult to achieve. As a result, they get discouraged once they realize that they can’t fulfill them and stop blogging altogether.
Therefore, it’s always better to follow a tried-and-true template that you can sustain for a long period. You don’t want to be one of those flash-in-the-pan bloggers who fizzle out as fast as they started.
Did I miss any other tips for first-time bloggers in preparation for their very first post? Chime in with your advice by commenting below!
4 Tips for Effectively Training New Hires and Freelance Writers
You’ve been interviewing prospective job candidates for weeks. Whether this has been for adding talent to your existing company, or if you’ve been looking for some qualified blog writers, the process is quite overwhelming, yet one that needs to take place. You’ve narrowed down the field, compared resumes and extended an offer. Soon, you’ll have a bright-eyed new employee walking through your door, eager to get started. Are you prepared for the onboarding process?
Handing each new employee, a packet to read at their desk doesn’t cut it these days. In order to help new hires hit the ground running with their duties and acclimate to your work environment, you’ll need to utilize more dynamic methods for effectively training new hires. Here are four tips to help you get started.
Prioritize Need-to-Know Material
Training includes a veritable avalanche of information—like a general company overview, employer-specific policies, human resources information and specific job duties. It’s your job to equip your team members with everything they need to thrive. So, where do you start? This is also usually simple enough when looking to hire freelance writers or new blog team members, as there are many online job boards that allow you to fill in the needs and requirements you are looking for, while also having the ability to weed out any leads that don’t fit.
Create an outline that breaks down different training sessions into manageable chunks. This way, you’ll provide some foresight to the new hires and keep them from getting overwhelmed. For example, on their first day, you could start with job-specific information: frequently used programs and files, chain of command within their team and department and the location of hotspots like bathrooms, break rooms, conference rooms, HR, etc. The next day, the new hire can easily see that they’ll be learning about a broad company and departmental overview, project management and communication best practices within the office. After that, they’ll tackle short- and long-term goals and KPIs that show they’re doing well in their new job.
Take it one day at a time, based on order of importance.
Make It Interactive and Engaging
Passive presentations make it all too easy for new hires to forget material almost as soon as they learn it. Remember, they’re encountering new information left and right. To make it stick, you’ll have to make it extra engaging. Delivering an interactive presentation with crowdsourcing tools like Poll Everywhere will wake them up, collect their honest thoughts and make them feel like part of the team right off the bat. Instead of listening to a one-way stream of information, new hires can grab their mobile devices and get involved.
Create a Longer-Term Plan
Whew, you survived the first day of training. Your newest batch of hires are basically onboard, right? Not so fast. You need a long-term plan to ensure a smooth process over time. One HR manager uses an onboarding checklist complete with agendas for the first week and first month—including future training sessions, group lunches and manager check-ins. This way, the employee knows that they’re not suddenly on their own after the first round of introductions; they have resources, a plan and scheduled times to ask questions and provide feedback.
Assign a Concrete Task
Training often feels theoretical for new hires; they’re left wondering “but how does this connect to my job?” One way to drive the points made in training home is to assign a relevant task after a learning session. It should relate to their daily duties and allow them to learn (and make mistakes) as they go. They will be able to put the principles they learned in general training into actual use on an actual assignment! At the end, a manager can go over the results with them in a helpful way, pointing out things they did well and how they can improve in the future.
These four tips for effectively training new hires should help you with the onboarding process, but be sure to experiment and come up with a system that works for your company. After all, onboarding is the first impression new employees get and it factors heavily into company culture. If you want to build a success blog, brand or business on the internet today, you need to make sure you are building a quality and talented team around you.
How to Give Personality and Life to Your Blog
In the sea of content, competing for the attention of your audience, your blog needs to sizzle with personality in order to stand out and make a lasting impression.
Remember even if you offer the best suggestions and advice when delivered badly, is not going to make the slightest of an impression.
When a reader first visits your blog, they evaluate your content to see if you are worth their time. If you lack a blog theme, you will not be able to build a strong personality that can pass through reader’s screening tests resulting in your content being ignored and eventually forgotten.
So how do you add personality to your blog and how do you give it a voice? Here are some tips:
1. Don’t be Switzerland – take a stand
Well, the hate comments and reviews you receive when you take a stand can be demoralizing and so, often, it’s easy to take a neutral position and write content that is devoid of opinions. But what you are really doing is diluting your content’s potential and by extension, your blog’s personality.
In fact, strong and powerful influencers or brands always have negative judgments following them around. Taking neutral positions just to dodge them isn’t going to help you build a blog with a personality.
Your experiences, your perspective, and your learnings are your own. Present them to your crowd unadulterated and undiluted.
Additionally, the way you express your opinion matters too. When saying something that goes against the popular belief, instead of throwing a rude short statement at your readers, explain why you think the way you do.
One of the best exercises to get an understanding of the kinds of opinions your blog might generate – start from your own team.
Share your blog content with your team, collect and interpret the different shades of opinions that your team members might form after reading your blog. It helps to prepare arguments in advance to tackle potential criticisms. This gives a distinct personality to your blog of not only giving hard hitting opinions but also proudly standing beside them.
In the end, users might not agree with you but they will respect you and your opinions – that’s just damn good PR.
2. Build a niche audience
Many bloggers want to cater to a large ‘general audience’, instead of figuring what is it that they can best offer and what type of audience would resonate with their messages.
So the first thing to do is to understand what type of people you can and want to cater to. Figuring that out will help you discover your niche.
Instead of supplying vague generic content for everyone’s appeasement, provide super high-quality content that might interest relatively fewer people. This is your target audience and they are worth your time. Because these audiences are the ones that will get you real results be it through shares or profits.
To find your niche audience, carry out regular customer feedback surveys. They help you understand your target audience’ tastes and preferences better. Using the insights, you can come up with blog topics which are relevant to their taste.
Creating a blog personality or brand that resonates with both you and your audience is important; it allows genuine engagement among a niche audience, providing quality over quantity.
3. Write in the first person and offer narratives and anecdotes
Sentences like ‘One must never eat after 6 PM’, ‘One must sleep for 8 hours’ etc. sound very distant and preachy. Using objective language like that can put a barrier between you and the reader.
Alternatively, using ‘I’ and ‘You’ completely changes the tone of the content and is so much more engaging.
Also, writing in a narrative, conversational style is much lighter than a bookish style of writing. If your audience wanted to read white papers and newspaper pieces, they wouldn’t have come to a blog, would they?
Anecdotes are another powerful way to offer advice and connect with your audience. It can help you communicate who you are as a person and what your blog stands for. Plus, a good anecdote gives validity to whatever advice/tips/suggestions you are giving on the blog.
The only way to have a lasting impression is to get creative with your content and stories/anecdotes are the best way to do that.
4. Be shockingly authentic
If you take facts into your hands and add a pinch of your imagination to over-inflate them so that they will make for a good read, then not only will your blog have no personality but it will be considered a fake and will be filtered out as nonsense.
Spicing up your content so that the readers find it enjoyable is fine, but if you are blending facts and fiction to give advice and opinions, then your blog will become an inauthentic source of information or judgments.
Also, in another sense of authenticity, staying true to your original voice can help a lot too.
If being sarcastic and sassy is your thing, go for it, if you like writing formally then that is okay too. Just staying true to your style of articulation will most certainly lend your blog personality.
5. Incorporate emotions to give your content character
Exposing your vulnerabilities through your writing always lends character to your content.
For example, say you want to talk about a social cause that you deeply care about on your blog, telling your story and adding emotion to your writing will inspire your readers and motivate them to action, as opposed to bland articles with facts and figures.
When you can use your writing to trigger emotions in your readers, that’s when you are truly doing a great job at building your blog’s brand perception.
Instead of being wishy-washy, express emotions and opinions on a given topic. Clearly, demonstrate your attitude and complement them with personal stories if possible.
6. Practice writing hygiene
Amateur writing never gives a good impression. I don’t mean for you to use the most impressive sophisticated vocabulary when writing, but practicing well-learned writing is a good start.
Reckless writing implies you are not as invested as you should be in your blog. Without practicing a hygienic writing etiquette, neither will you be considered a professional blogger nor a trustworthy source.
Often times bloggers get blinded by emotions and cannot access the tidiness of their writing. One of the ways bloggers can solve this problem is through getting a fresh point of view.
More fresh eyes, more new perspectives. But, make sure the number of people is ‘Just enough’ to give a great feedback and not ‘more’ which might change the entire essence of the blog because, in the end, it is still ‘your’ blog.
Once you have drafted your blog(s) share it with your entire team using collaborative tools – encourage other team members to fine tune the writing so it looks crisp and clean.
This helps give you new perspectives every time you write a blog which in turn reflects on your blogs as well, giving your blog a dynamic and engaging personality.
Your blog’s personality cannot be built in a day; it is a slow brick-by-brick process and to succeed at it, you must incorporate your efforts to establish a personality in your daily blogging routine. for example, every time you write a piece, check to see if it resonates with your blog’s voice and if you stay consistent at it then before you know it your blog will become a brand of its own.
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