The thing about blog writing is that it’s both easier and harder than it sounds.
It’s easy in the sense that, to a certain extent, everybody can write. The literacy rate in the United States is 99 percent (according to the CIA World Factbook). That means most of us have at least a rudimentary understanding of how to communicate using the written word.
But blog writing is also harder than it sounds. It’s harder because, while almost everyone knows how to write, not everyone knows how to write well. You may be able to craft a complete sentence, but do you know how to craft a compelling one? A persuasive one? An entertaining one?
A business’s own team members are is its best pool of writers. I firmly believe that, even as a professional writer and editor for hire. Your team members know best what information your prospective customers are looking for, and they have the first-hand experience and expertise required to provide that information. And, as I said above, they do know how to write (most of them are college graduates, after all). But that doesn’t mean they know how to write well.
More than once, my agency’s clients have launched an internal blog writing campaign and I’ve been asked to provide a few easy pointers on how they can spiff up their writing, as if there’s some hidden trick to going from just writing to writing well. There isn’t.
The only trick to writing well is to get lots of practice. This might be unwelcome news to busy businesspeople who are always looking for ways to increase their productivity and maximize their time, but there you have it. If you want to become a great content writer, it’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some work. It’s like the old joke about getting to Carnegie Hall—practice, practice, practice.
How can a busy businessperson such as yourself find time to put in the practice required to become a better blog writer? Here are two ways:
1. Always Be Writing
Creative writing professors often advise their students to write every day by keeping a journal. The objective of this exercise is not only to practice writing, but to develop an ever-expanding corpus of thoughts and observations from which to extract the best ones for use in stories and poems. Of course, this is too much to expect from businesspeople for whom writing is only one among many duties. But, you can still practice writing without waking up at five every morning to write in your journal.
Most businesspeople, from the CEO on down, write every day, throughout the day. It’s called email. According to this report, “In 2011, the typical corporate email user sends and receives about 105 email messages per day.” That’s a lot of opportunities to practice writing. The trick is to view it as writing, by which I mean, as long as you’re going to be writing emails anyway, you might as well put some effort into it.
A lot of good blogging ideas can come out of your email communications with clients and co-workers. Treat your email exchanges as your writer’s journal—your opportunity to not only develop your ideas for blog articles, but to practice writing coherent, logically-structured, well thought-out content.
And, if that sounds like too much, don’t feel like you have to do it for every single email you send. I believe that putting care and precision into all business communication will ultimately save more time than it wastes, but I know I’m not going to win that battle.
Try treating, say, the first 10 emails of your day as your personal writing practice. You’ll experience the dual benefits of improved blog articles as well as the appreciation of your correspondents.
2. Train Your 'Ear'
I majored in English in college (obviously) but I minored in music. One of the most important disciplines music students study is ear training. Students learn to identify harmonies and melodies “by ear,” meaning, without the aid of written music. The idea is to gain a natural instinct for music, to be able to anticipate notes and even improvise melodies and accompaniment.
How does one train one’s ear? By listening to music—a lot. That’s the only way to learn what music is supposed to sound like.
Writers can train their ears too. Good writers learn to identify good and bad writing instinctively. They may not be able to put it into words, exactly, but they know just by looking at it when a sentence is clunky and awkward, and when one word will spice up a sentence while another will kill it. And, just like musicians who train their ears by listening to a lot of music, writers can train themselves by reading a lot.
Reading is one of the best, if not the best, things you can do to improve your writing skills. If you make it a habit to read high-quality writing on a regular basis, you will start to pick up a feel for high-quality writing.
Here’s the best part: It doesn’t matter a whole lot what you’re reading, as long as it’s good. Read novels, non-fiction books, newspaper and magazine articles. It doesn’t matter. The point is to read and familiarize yourself with the structure and flow of high-quality content.
Just don’t try to pass off those 100 emails you find in your inbox every morning as your daily dose of reading.
"On Content" is an ongoing blog series by IMR content manager Matthew Cook that confronts the difficulties and celebrates the pleasures of writing online content.