Do you have to be a great writer to be a great blogger?

Ernest Hemingway StampIf you’re not confident in your writing skills, can you still be a great blogger?

Let’s be honest.  Good writing matters. But there are a few simple ideas any one can learn to dramatically improve the quality of their blog posts. Let’s take a look at a few tricks of the trade that are explored in detail in a new book I’ve co-authored with Stanford Smith called Born to Blog:

Read it out loud

“I feel like you’re talking to me.”

That’s common feedback I receive about my books and blog posts.  If you can’t write, you can still talk, right? I suggest that you literally read your blog posts aloud before publishing. If something does not roll off the tongue in a natural and conversational way, change it.

Cut, cut, cut

The biggest problem I see in the guest posts I receive is that they are far too wordy. Eliminate every word and sentence that does not move the story along. If your post is more than 1,000 words that is a sure danger sign.

Write upside down

In school and at work, we are taught to write linearly — a beginning, a middle and an end. That usually does not work in the blogging world because people don’t have the patience to wait for your conclusion. Start with the conclusion and then explain it. I see too many posts that do not get to the guts of the issue until you are one-third down the page.

The beginning matters

Spend time creating an accurate, interesting headline. If your headline does not compel people to “click,” they will never even get to the blog post.  Create an opening sentence that grabs people by the throat and makes them read what you have to say.

Get another view

Do you have a close friend or family member who can write?  Why not at least run posts by them for a few weeks to help you improve?

rewrite

Don’t just write, re-write

Here’s a simple but magical trick I’ve learned to be a better writer. Let it sit a few days.

I don’t know how or why, but I might think something is really great, yet when I return to it after a few days I see so many obvious ways it can be improved.

I rarely “crank out” a blog post. They usually gestate a few days, sometimes even a few weeks.

This a gentle art, though.  You can’t let it sit there until it is “perfect” because that will never happen. At the end of the day, the most important characterstic of a successful blogger is having the courage to push that publish button!

Get help

I do not enjoy auto mechanics.  So I hire a professional who can get the job done right at a fraction of the cost and time compared to me trying to hack through a repair.

If you don’t enjoy writing, you’re going to suck at blogging. But maybe you still have a desire or a legitimate business reason to blog.  I think it is a perfectly viable option to hire a professional writer to help you.  Provide a purpose statement for a blog post and 3-4 key bullet points and let a professional work their magic.

Start

You cannot become a great blog writer in one day, in one week, or one month. It takes experience and practice. You will get better, faster, and more effective over time as you find “your voice,” get feedback from your community, and figure out your own system.  Starting is the hardest part, but to become a competent writer, there is no choice!

I’m 100 percent convinced that almost anybody can be a successful blogger with the right framework, dedication and attitude. I hope these insider tricks help and that you take the leap.

What tips and tricks would you add to help a beginner blogger?

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  • Donna Kastner

    Great post, Mark – my neck aches because I nodded in agreement with every tip you shared.

    I’d add that best-in-class bloggers are keen observers of what’s going on around them. They’re always on the lookout for genius breakthroughs (often from others) and then they weave lessons into stories to help readers drive better results.

  • Claudia Licher

    Write upside down – I’ve got to improve on that point, though I think I’ve come a long way – my days of getting to the point after 300 words are long gone I hope. But sometimes I forget.
    How about “if you can’t write, try a video blog”? Get someone to interview you if that works for you.
    Thanks for sharing Mark!

  • I like the tip, “write upside down.”

    Most people never read a complete blog no matter how short it is, so what I have done is that I have “Key Takeaway” of the blog in the beginning. I don’t want to make readers think too hard. If that is all they want, then I am fine with it, too.

  • Ah, great post. Wish more wannabe bloggers would take this to heart. Since you asked, I’d like to add: aim for a strong, original and focussed opinion. I get way too many blog submissions that are plain reposts of other peoples views. Or it’s about some point of view that absolutely everybody will instantly agree on. Or it’s a confused jumble of about five of eight blogs in one. You want to be at least a bit provocative if you want to grab anybody’s attention, you can’t be afraid to shock some readers if you want to be heard, and you want to make very clear what your blog is going to be about. The beginning matters indeed: make the first punch count. There’s plenty of room for nuance later if you want, but a little outrage goes a long way to start a discussion.

  • Thanks for another awesomely awesome post Mark! You offered some great insight, and I’m definitely gonna implement your tips as I continue my journey from obvious novice, to not-so-obvious novice. In my experiences so far, one of the biggest things that’s helped me grow as a blogger, is to genuinely engage with other bloggers I admire … which is something I’m implementing right at this very moment. 🙂 I know how much goes into writing a post, so when I really enjoy a fellow writer’s work, I’m gonna take the time to let them know. Even with all your success, you strike me as the kind of person who still appreciates his readers, and takes the time to let them know. I LOVE that! I’m still so new at this, but have formed some wonderful relationships with other bloggers. I truly value their feedback and advice, and I’ve come to realize that they’ve been a huge source of my ongoing motivation and inspiration. I really, REALLY love being a part of the blogging community, and am excited to learn more and find my own voice. Thanks again for sharing your brilliant brain with us! Have a happy day!

    Gratitude high-fives from Maui,
    Wendy

  • I like that you used Hemingway. He was certainly a writer who discarded fanciful style for a direct and honest style of writing. That to me is the crux of it. It is necessary to write how you speak, as a person. Connected to this I think is that too often bloggers write these tips and ideas in an abstract way. Writing from practical experience and application will make the piece naturally more honest and personal. It is hard to write well, as yourself when you are just offering a bunch of tips.

  • Great contribution Volkert. Thanks!

  • Hurray for you. Love your spirit and energy Wendy and thank you SO much for being part of the community. I do appreciate my readers!

  • Hemingway is a favorite!

  • Ok. I owe you some Advil then : )

  • I should have had that one in there!

  • That is a great idea. I need to consider that myself!

  • A favorite of mine too. Straight to the gut

  • I like this idea too especially as the extract in the listing page would be more compelling. Difficult to chose one takeaway though! Thinking about it would that make short snippets using a skinned tumblr as a blog a better way to provide updates that people want to consume?

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  • The tip about reading your post out loud is spot on. I think my dogs have finally gotten used to my reading out loud while sitting at the top of the stairs and my son barely even rolls his eyes now when he hears me :-).

    Also great tips about letting it site for a while, even overnight helps – I need to get back into that habit and out of the rush mode I seem to have gotten myself back into.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  • Good advice, especially the idea of leaving a post to gestate for a while. In the pressure to keep to a publishing schedule, I often ignore that one.

    Some readers do still like stories, some of my most frequently read posts have been over 1000 words with a beginning, middle and ending, others have been the shorter ones with the point clearly made in the first paragraph.

    The best piece of advice I have been given is to either focus on a narrow niche or be completely generalised. There are great blogs of both types, but not that many which successfully try and cover a handful of unrelated topics.

    I was guilty of that, but I enjoyed writing about two different subjects and had readers interested in each but not both, the solution was to spin the secondary topic off to a separate blog.

  • I have to learn this write upside down technique. I’ve had a few editors suggest this before, and I still haven’t really gotten it. Cliffhangers are also important.

  • Love this article! Very strong tips. Reading an article out loud does help and editing is a must! In most cases when I seek out articles to read around the internet, I’ll generally leave the page if the first paragraph or even first sentence isn’t grabbing. And it’s so true that an article’s title can make or break the chances of someone to click on it.

  • If you aren’t interested in the topic than your readers won’t be either.

  • Michelle Lowery

    To the “Get Help” tip I would add, “and don’t go cheap.” Professional writers and good content cost money. No, you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars for one blog post, but getting a post from a content mill for ten bucks will probably not win you any readers.

    Just like the mechanic in your example, the best writers and editors spend years honing their craft. If you wouldn’t take your car to a cut-rate mechanic, don’t buy your content from an inexperienced writer just to save money. Remember, you get what you pay for.

  • Yes! Use all of the tips and tricks you can to help you get started. Reading it out loud and letting it sit have been keys for me, unfortunately ones I’ve moved away from. But most importantly, realize it will get easier over time.

    I’ve never been a great writer (and never will be) but I’m a better one today thanks to two+ years of regular blogging. Although I’ll probably never be able to produce a quality post in less than 30 minutes like you sometimes can Mark!

    Nice tips, congrats to you and Stan on the book!

  • Nice post with a lot of good advice. I would just add – talk about yourself. Talk about what you like, what you think, what you have experienced. People don’t want to hear the regurgitated plain content that is all over the article directories. They want to hear stories that they can relate to. If you talk in your own voice and tell people how to overcome things or entertain them, you will be successful.

  • Gil Effron

    Amen. Too many bloggers feel they need to teach a course or educate in a formal way. Michael is right on when he says to talk about yourself and let people know what you think. Plus, telling stories brings to life what would otherwise be a boring post.

  • Pragati Bidkar

    Great post, Mark! I liked the one about writing upside down. I think
    someone who is used to structured writing might need to ‘unlearn’ a few
    things, since correct does not necessarily equate mass appeal. So being
    unconventional is certainly a desirable trait for a blogger.

    If you had to choose correctness or popularity, which one would you choose?

    Since
    change is the only constant, I think every blogger has to be prepared
    to reinvent themselves as often as needed, and shake off any comfort
    zones.

    Thoughts?

    P.S For new bloggers – please make commenting easy!

  • Tara Geissinger

    So refreshing to see someone actually say it’s okay to hire a professional copywriter to help you flesh out your ideas. It’s a collaboration for sure — you need to participate in the content brainstorming and outlining as much as possible, but if you aren’t a writer (or don’t have the time), outsourcing is a viable option! I think ghostwriters are vilified too easily — but that could just be MY perspective! LOL

    I agree with @mikemartel:disqus below that it’s important to talk about yourself and your personal experiences as much as possible. Use first person. Share details. Be human. It goes a long way towards building relationships and establishing a following.

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  • Oh love that Beth. Reading to your dogs. That is a great image!

  • I’m glad you chimed in with some dissent Peter. Really there are no rules nad of course you can be successful with a beginning, a middle and an end ; ) But for most beginners, I think they can benefit from getting to the point!

  • Glad to be of help Sean. Thanks for commenting.

  • Thanks for commenting.

  • GREAT point Josh!

  • Awesome contribution to the discussion Michelle!

  • It’s funny you should say that about yourself. I think you are one of the better writers i have come across Eric.

  • That has been on of my regular themes around here Michael and I agree 100%

  • Amen to that.

  • Commenting … and social sharing.

    I have never had to choose between correctness and popularity since both have been so elusive : )

  • Superb comment Tara. Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom today!

  • Janine Payne

    I love this article. My first blog was posted today, and although I am excited, I realize that I have so much to learn. Step 1: Subscribe to Grow. Now. See ya!

  • Ha. A very good step indeed. Best of luck with your blogging adventure!

  • Michelle Lowery

    Thank you, Mark! And thanks for writing this post! 🙂

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  • Tiffany Sun

    I do feel that great writing is part of the key ingredients to be an exceptional blogger. By great writing, I’m talking about how you can clearly communicate your ideas in the SHORTEST amount of words possible, using strong reasons or evidence to back your point up (without this, you’re all talk without show). Great article about this topic, Mark!

    I’m just curious, but when you started writing seriously, what was the hardest part? Cutting down words? Thinking of the headline?

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