I’ve been known for quite some time as a bit of a wordsmith. I have a knack for coming up with the right words at the right moment. It’s partly a gift (I won’t lie) but partly a result of practice, too.
I cut my teeth on poetry. With poetry, the way I might write on this blog or on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t fly. Poetry demands original language, interesting imagery, and, above all, conciseness. A typical poem may have fewer than 200 words, and you’ve got to intrigue, inspire, and move people. It’s a quick shot of emotion or insight. It’s a snapshot of something we can see, touch, hear.
Over the course of a few years, I wrote hundreds of poems and read hundreds more. I experimented with different styles, different forms, different points of view, and wasn’t afraid to blast my creations to the blogosphere in the early days. I studied literature in college, then went back for grad school to study it some more.
I tried to blend poetic principles into fiction, personal essays, and even academic essays (the success of which depended entirely on the professor’s tastes). I learned to feel the cadence to language - the combination of stressed syllables and unstressed syllables. I learned about repetition and unusual connections or word combinations that startle people into paying attention.
What does poetry have to do with blogging?
Kevin Gibbons wrote a good article on Search Engine Watch about content marketing. Google, which still dictates the way we optimize our websites for search engines, has made it increasingly difficult to be ranked well by going out and gobbling up backlinks. Google wants natural links - links that are created by people who love your content so much that they need to share it. Getting natural links, though, depends on the quality and relevance of your content.
Relevance depends on you. Between you and me, you’re the one who can know if your blog posts are relevant to your chosen niche. But good quality writing? Now that can be taught.
See, if content marketing is going to become more important, than content itself has to fit the bill. Good writing that captures your audience’s attention and keeps it throughout the length of your post is difficult but attainable.
Good writing is more than good grammar
What I often find is people talking about grammar when deciding what makes for good writing. Yes, it’s true that you should know how to punctuate properly. Yes, it’s also true that you should know the difference between active and passive voice.
Active voice: Billy hit the ball
Passive voice: The ball was hit by Billy.
In active voice, we place the subject of the sentence before the verb, so that Subject does Verb. In passive voice, the subject follows the verb, so that Verb is done by Subject. Passive voice shows less power and is generally avoided.
This is just a small part of good writing, though.
In creative writing, we talk about pacing and rhythm. With prose, we add sentence and paragraph length; with poetry, line breaks. They all pertain to the same idea: variation is key.
The fastest way to lose readers is to bore them. At minimum, you can counteract this by changing up the lengths of your sentences and the lengths of your paragraphs. Also change up the way you write your sentences. If you start several sentences the same basic way, then switch some of them around so they have a different feel.
The trick is to write the way you talk, but not to write the way you talk. Easy, right?
In other words, we all like writing to have a natural, conversational feel, especially online. But we really don’t talk that well many times. My spoken grammar is too often pitiful. I will break grammar rules when I write, but only because I know that I’m breaking them. I’ve proven my ability to write flawless prose. The habits of my spoken grammar, though, are not as intentional. Plus, we speak with slang or we ramble - all sorts of problems that we don’t want to introduce into our writing.
You want conversational but not sloppy. Attract your readers with personable prose, but don’t look stupid in the process.