(Silverdale, Washington; August 10, 2020) – I had the distinct pleasure of spending a year on the road seeing all 50 states and a bit of Canada during “Grand Tour USA” from 2017 – 2018. I wrote numerous Travel Logs detailing my adventures. Following one post, a reader left a comment asking how I got my blog entries so sharp, tight, and easy to read. I responded to them, but began thinking I might ought to do a full-on blog post about how to write truly successful blog posts.
The three pillars of journalism are accuracy, brevity, and clarity. A blog is not necessarily journalism per se; it can be an opinion forum, so adherence to objective “accuracy” is not always required. If your blog is focused on, for instance, the tips and tricks of the carpentry trade, then accuracy will be indispensable to maintaining your reader base. If your blog is your opinion about current issues, then “accuracy” means being true to yourself and your beliefs.
I firmly believe the world of blogging is first defined by the last two of the three pillars of journalism: brevity and clarity.
The first mistake I see many bloggers make is length (wordiness). Our world is a tightly-wound place filled with multiple media outlets clamoring for our attention. Blogging is, by its nature, short-form communication. Readers are generally not looking to spend several hours curled up by the fire with a good blog. They want to get in, get the desired information, and get out. Excessive exercises in luxuriously loquacious language are better left for one’s next novel, not one’s boastful blog blitz.
During the Grand Tour, I found I was writing Travel Logs that were three or four pages long. I was stuffing them full of every detail, every sensation, and every visceral experience or travel tip I could scrounge up from my remarkably colorful memory. I was at risk of driving readers into deleting this blog from their “Favorites” menu because I was irritatingly long-winded. I was equally at risk of turning off potential readers. I shifted rudder and decided to approach blogging the same way I approach the development of a news or feature story during my journalism career. I began targeting each entry as narrowly as possible and limited myself to justtwo pages of type-written text. These two parameters ensure my entries short and to the point.
I draft my entries using Libre Office, a freeware office suite compatible with Microsoft Office. Each entry is drafted on a template that has three pages: two for the entry and the third for the links to my Flickr and Instagram accounts, and my hash tags. The pages are formatted with the font set to Liberation Serif at 12 points, and I skip a line between paragraphs.
That’s it. Those two pages (with a 12 point font and line breaks between paragraphs) are the only pages I allow myself for the blog entry’s body. If I can’t fit an entry onto two pages, then I have to shorten it. Staying within such tight parameters takes some discipline, but discipline becomes easier over time as one consistently practices it. I learned very quickly during the Grand Tour the two-page limit was, for me, the “magic number” to rely on. The rough draft of a blog entry might hit three or more pages, but I then prune it back until it fits on only two pages prior to being published. During the pruning effort, I find the entry almost magically tightening up and becoming much more dynamic as I zero in on the best language to use and ideas to convey.
The limit also requires I fall back on the journalism skills I spent 20 years developing and honing. A good journalist sorts the merely important details from the very important details prior to writing their story. This helps maintain a tight focus and a brief, active style of writing. Readers do not want to swim through mud to figure out the point of the story; they want to be told straight up what it’s all about and learn the critical details. After that, they are free to research more on their own if they wish.
I believe limiting the length of physical space to be the primary foundational step towards a successful blog. Once you limit your space and ensure brevity, you just took a BIG step towards clarity (did you like the visual pun of “big” being written physically “BIG?”). Limiting your writing space naturally leads to the necessity of creating a narrow focus. Narrowing your focus then naturally brings you to one of the hardest aspects of writing anything: separating the very important points from the merely important ones.
Brevity is assured by simply limiting the number of pages you will allow for an entry (two pages, in my case). Clarity is assisted by brevity, but clarity only blossoms by choosing the right ideas, examples, and anecdotes to share. Cutting away information can be hard; as the writer you know it’s all important and relevant. However, you must only use the really important ideas, examples, and anecdotes to ensure your reader is not overwhelmed with information, but is instead presented a clear, easily understandable story.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the crux of this discussion: all blog entries are stories. The story might be that of your opinion on political matters, or your guidance about travel destinations, or your tips for building the perfect dining room table, but the entry is a story. The blog is the Story of You, of your life and your beliefs and your priorities. Our entire species is defined by our love of, and our need for, story. We seek out stories we find interesting because they entertain us and resonate with us. Stories connect us with our past and our present through the shared experience. Your readers are interested in the Story of You. They just want it presented clearly and briefly so they can comfortably fit it into their own busy lives.
The way we communicate varies greatly depending on the forum. Spoken communication and written communication are very different constructions. A good writer creates the illusion the characters are having a casual conversation using colloquial language. However, real spoken communication is longer, more fluid, and punctuated by odd pauses and phrasing breaks that, on the written page, would be horribly confusing. Read a transcript of a speech or interview. The language usually comes across as stuttering, indirect, and long-winded. Written communication is much more concise and more closely hews to grammatical structure.
Every writer is different. Experiment. Find out what system or methods work for you, but I strongly urge you to focus on brevity and clarity. Keeping the physical blog entry short will entice new readers to check out your work, and encourage established readers to keep coming back.
…Oh, yes! Before anyone says “Grand Tour USA” is not entirely accurate, I know Canada is a sovereign nation and not part of the USA. Although I visited Quebec and Ontario in Canada, I did not visit any part of Mexico. Therefore, I can not accurately call that 2017 – 2018 road trip “Grand Tour North America.” “Grand Tour USA” is the most accurate name, so I stuck with it. If I’m a bit lucky, then Grand Tour 2, currently planned for sometime around 2025, will be a proper “Grand Tour North America.” Will that story happen? Follow this blog…turn the digital page…find out…
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