I’ve been blogging since before it was called blogging. Since before there was software to even do it. I started out by publishing my newspaper humor column once a week on a website where I hand coded the html. In the intervening years, I’ve written over 900 articles and blog posts, so I’ve been asked a lot of questions about blogging.
“Think of blogging like you’re writing an email,” I tell aspiring bloggers. “Put ‘Dear Mom, Let me tell you about this cool thing I learned today. . .’ and then write about that cool thing. Then, go back and delete the salutation, and you’re done.”
All in all, it’s pretty easy. I can do it a typical blog post (350 – 450 words) in about 20 minutes. Add another 10 – 15 for editing, and I’m done.
Of course, I’ve been a writer for nearly 23 years, so I’ve got a few secrets and techniques. I’ve written marketing copy, newspaper columns, speeches, and anything else you care to name, so I actually know how to write something well in 20 minutes.
The problem is that most new writers figure, “Hey, Erik takes 20 minutes to write a post, I can write it in 20 minutes too.”
Yes you can take 20 minutes, but it sure shows.
Listen, writing is easy, writing well is hard. Just because you know how to construct a complete sentence doesn’t mean you are actually a writer. I know where Middle C is on a piano, but that doesn’t make me a concert pianist.
A good blog post on the part of a beginning writer should take about 1 – 2 hours each. That includes reading, researching, writing, editing, re-editing, and then editing some more. Notice that the actual writing is only one small part of that list.
Yet, these noobie writers will vomit something out in a few minutes, hit ‘Publish’ and think they’re done. Or worse, they study all the SEO writing blogs and come up with little gems like “For free writing tips, download this free writing tips article about free writing tips.” (And then wonder why no one is reading their stuff.)
I’ve been seeing this a lot lately in people who profess to be professional writers and content creators. They’re the ones who are advising clients on how to create content that will set them apart in their industry, make them thought leaders, and help them win searches in the search engines.
I don’t know how to say this, except to just say it: Some of your writing just sucks.
There, I said it. I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to say it. I feel like Simon Cowell, but without the Botox.
It’s not that you’re bad people or that you’re trying to trick people. It’s just that, well, you look like you spent 20 minutes writing your post. There’s missing and misused punctuation, bad grammar, egregious misspellings, and incomplete sentences.
“But it’s blogging!” you’re saying. “It’s supposed to be more informal, and not bound by the same rules of business writing.”
True, true. But if you claim to be a writer, then for God’s sake, act like one! Writers have at least a basic grasp of language, storytelling, and sentence structure. Admittedly not all of them do (American novelist Leon Uris is famous for not being able to spell or use punctuation properly), but if you’re a product of our public schools and universities, I would hope you have some understanding of these basic concepts.
It’s especially important as blogging is starting to see some legitimacy in the business setting, and the decision makers are still concerned that their writers don’t sound like complete boobs churning out electronic doggerel for the world to see.
The problem is that I’ve seen more and more so-called “content creators” who are putting up some of their own stuff that looks like it was written by a 10th grader. I believe you should put as much care and attention into your own stuff as you do your clients. The way you react to the small things is the way you will react to everything. And if you can’t be bothered to write your own stuff well, how can you be counted on to write others’ stuff well?
As a writer and teacher in spirit, nothing warms my heart more than someone who tells me they want to learn how to be a writer. I love teaching them some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past 23 years, and showing them how to express the ideas they want to share with the world.
Just be prepared to put in the time and energy it will take to make your writing successful. Don’t just throw something up and hope no one will notice all the problems and mistakes. If you want to be able to write something in 20 minutes, it’ll take you several years.
(For the record, this took me 22 minutes.)