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6.5 Tricks To Becoming A Better Writer

1) Have linkbait titles.

I was recently reflecting on whether all this blogging has made me a better person because, we all know, no one reads this stuff. Similarly, it is unlikely that it has made me a better person in any respect other than that I may be a better writer. Am I a better writer? Well, I read Tim Ferris’ study on titles that get retweeted. I have heard the standard Digg-bait logic for title writing.

2) Appreciation of SEO.

My gut instinct is that most of that stuff about linkbait titles only has value at scale. Am I getting value out of that? I suspect that the only real value I am getting from writing better titles is probably SEO and Tim’s suggestions about writing crazy titles probably diminish the SEO value of a post. Of course, I am knowledgeable enough about SEO to know that the real driver is not my amazing title writing but the number of links to my post/blog. Which is few.

3) Writing a good lead.

I am terrible at this. Most of my posts are stream of conscious rambles – also, generally, rambles that are continuations of things that were going on in my head already, so the first paragraph rarely tells you the preceding story. I would actually say that my tendency is far more to have the first sentence be either a sub-title to the title, an explanation of why I am writing a post with that title, or a bad joke. Mostly bad jokes. The good news is, if this were fiction, I am doing a good job of starting in the middle rather than the beginning, so it is Hollywood.

4) Story Structure

Alas, I rarely even bother with this any more. When I was a high school debater, I was required to do extemporaneous speaking events as well – until I proved so consistently terrible and disinterested in it that I was finally put out of my misery. Every competitor in that game knew the format:

  • Introduction
  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3
  • Conclusion with circular reference

I have found that most of my blog posts today are something like:

  • Introduction
  • Point 1
  • Peter out……..

This is a visceral trade-off in some ways. Would people prefer me to bang out a post or three per week (my target is three per week) or would you like a monthly post that is a ten page well-constructed diatribe?

I have opted to ere on the side of volume and pointless-ness. Certainly, that means many posts are simply me getting a quick thing off my chest, but that isn’t necessarily bad. Some of those things are good.

5) Value Brevity

Some days I think I should simply focus all my wittiness on Twitter. Some days I think I should abandon Twitter to capture all the wittiness on my blog. Maybe I should more aggressively stream my wittiest tweets onto Twitter. Regardless, I certainly look at some of my blog posts and how they peter out and think, “If I could get this down another ten characters, it could just be a tweet.” But I like to tell my stories how they are. I do think of myself as an entertaining storyteller and I am loath to ruin a good story simply to get it down to 150 characters.

But I do think it tells you something about the market that if you go google “blogging makes you a better writer”, 4 of the first 8 results are actually “twitter makes you a better writer”. If twitter actually makes you a better writer, we are doomed as a society.

6) Writing makes you a better writer

This is probably the best thing that I have gotten out of blogging – besides the relationships I have built through blogging. Every single writer says, “to become a better writer, you have to write.” I have cranked out almost 400 blog posts. There has to be a pony in there somewhere.

Despite that, I do not think I will ever write a book. I love great writing. I appreciate great writing. I have found that if I work very, very hard I can write very well (few examples of this exist on my blog, but you could look here or here), but I cannot sustain it. And I have bad writing so much that I cannot write a book. You want good writing? Go read Jonathan Safran Foer.

6.5) Annoying writing devices are annoying

Any time people use that “and a half” cliche in list writing, I instantly loathe them. I loathe them. Jeffrey Gitomer? LOATHE HIM. (I cannot link to him but let’s say that every week he tells you X.5 ways to do something in sales.)

I cannot read a post, no matter how linkbait, that starts that way. I encourage you to never, ever do that. It is a stupid thing to say and a stupid device. It reminds me of people that price things with a $0.99 on the end – maybe studies demonstrate its effectiveness, but I find it so smug and I feel like I am being sold the post – and Jeffrey Gitomer knows that no one likes to be sold, they like to buy.

Your transparent use of devices makes me hate you. That is not good writing. It is as unsubtle as a jackhammer.

Was this post facetious? As I mentioned, I ramble. That was not the original intent. I was spending some B-time thinking about what I could do to improve my blog posts, but unfortunately I have been struck with the stark realization that the key to this is time and the only way I can create time to improve my posts is to post less frequently.  My informal polling, as well as research by third parties, indicates that frequency right now is pretty good and I would be hurting myself to lower it. And I am barely keeping up as it is.

So I have decided to settle – a recipe for non-greatness.

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