To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, half of all written content is shit.
While he actually said “the first draft of anything is shit,” I would maintain that this applies to all online content in general for a couple of reasons:
- If we look at a normal bell curve of distribution, you know there’s a halfway mark where everything above it is average, above average, and excellent. That means that the other half is average, below average, and terrible.
- Most content marketers publish their first draft.
That doesn’t seem like so much until you realize that there are 70 million blog posts being produced on WordPress.com alone.
In other words, of that 70 million, exactly 35 million of them are above average, and 35 million are below average.
This does not include all the articles appearing on Blogger, Tumblr, LiveJournal, and all the other self-hosted blogs and websites. Let’s be generous and say there are 200 million articles posted every month.
I’ve lost count of the number of so-called content marketers and personal branding experts who publish sub-par blog articles on a daily basis. They
issue a warning statement boast about how they wrote their entire week’s worth of blog articles on a Sunday afternoon, taking only two hours to complete the entire week’s work.
That works out to roughly 24 minutes to write a single blog article.
It shows, guys! It shows!
If what Ernest says is true, and the first draft of anything is shit, and half of anything is worse than average, there’s a very good chance that your 24-minute article is hot garbage.
So if you think you can get away with writing a single blog article in less than 30 minutes and expect it to be any good, you’ve got another think coming.
5 Quick and Dirty Tips to Improve Your Writing
There are entire books that will help you improve your writing, but let me give you these five quick tips to improve what you’ve already written. Even if it’s something you wrote a few weeks ago, you owe it to yourself and your readers to practice these five steps.
- Adopt a process of Write, Rewrite Twice, Polish Once. (Trust me, this one tip alone will make all the difference in the world.)
- Use Grammarly.com to find and correct any issues. Download it for Mac or Windows, and install the plugin on your web browser(s). Grammarly will check your writing anywhere and everywhere, which means it can help you identify problems in your email, tweets, and Facebook updates, which can help you correct some bad habits.
- Read your work out loud. If necessary, change the point size so the text lays out differently on the page. This forces you to look more closely as you read. You’ll catch double words like “the the” or sentences that you forgot to.
- Use Hemingwayapp.com. This works much in the same way that Grammarly does, but it forces you to look at sentence complexity, adverb usage, and reading level. (Remember, you want a lower reading level, not higher.)
- Edit paragraphs so there are no orphans. “Widows and orphans” is a typography term. (Read about it here.) In this case, orphans are single words on their own line at the end of a paragraph. As you’re writing your piece, edit each paragraph so there are no orphans. This will force you to tighten up the entire paragraph until you can pull that orphan up to the previous line.
Excellent Work Is Being Buried Under Mountains of Shit
There’s enough content online that the good stuff is getting buried. Remember, we estimated 200 million blog articles per month?
Even if we created 5 million “excellent” pieces of work — something that’s two standard deviations from the dead-center average — it’s being buried by 195 million pieces of everything else.
While you probably won’t write THE ABSOLUTE BESTEST NUMERO UNO BLOG ARTICLE OF ALL TIME!! this month (you have a 1-in-200-million chance), you can at least write a very interesting and memorable article that your readers will remember, love, and be inspired by. And you can get more of them if you can share it through social media and some clever SEO.
If you can do these five things — especially #s 1 and 2 — you’ll greatly improve your written content online. At the very least, you can get it above that halfway mark in the distribution curve. It’s not that hard, you just have to spend a little more than 24 minutes on a single blog article.
Photo credit: Bell Curve by Abhijit Bhaduri (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)
Photo credit: GPA Photo Archive (Flickr, Creative Commons 0)