I took a break from writing for a while. Well, about 5 months to be exact. And my blog readers sputtered to a halt.
But my experience interviewing with a company got me so angry, I had to start writing again. So I put up a new blog post.
Two weeks later, I’ve now been on the frontpage of reddit’s r/programming section, on the frontpage of r/python, featured in Pycoder’s Weekly (subscribe!), and asked expand a blog post into a book by a major publisher.
Blogging is really building a brand around yourself. It has huge benefits, the biggest of which is people approach you, aware of your name, and not the other way around. This puts you in a position of bargaining advantage when it comes to negotiations, and also attracts higher quality people.
So how do you write so people will read?
80/20 The Headline
A strong headline is the difference between a success and a failure.
If you can pick a catchy title, 99% of your work is done. So sometimes I’ll actually spend more time rewriting the title than I spend actually writing the article.
Understand, the majority of people on the internet will make a snap judgement based upon your title, and not bother to read anything else. So unfortunately, your ability to land eyeballs depends more on your title than your actual content.
When I decide to write about a topic, I first ask myself if I can come up with a decent title for it. If it’s not something I can explain in a catchy title, it probably won’t get written about. (Except when I want to teach something.)
Make it Visual
Wait a second, weren’t we talking about writing?
The more visually absorbant you can make your writing, the better. If I can skim through your article, and call out the major points you make in bold, I’m one step closer.
Even better if you’ve got pictures for me to skim too. People are busy, and you need to convey the benefits you’ve got for them as quickly and clearly as possible.
Images and bold points let people decide for themselves whether or not it’s worth drilling down and reading everything else you’ve written.
What’s in it for me?
Make sure you’re writing to benefit the person reading. Take the extra time to make graphics, find the real data, and generally make the reader’s life better for having read what you’ve written.
This means focusing in on the benefits you can provide your reader. Look into and find as much new data as possible. Link to other sites that can help them out.
Pretend the reader is a close, intelligent friend, and try to help them out as much as possible in every post.
Make It Emotional
We humans like to pretend we’re rational creatures, but the data shows we’re overwhelmingly run by our emotions. And emotions push stories to people.
But this isn’t all sensationalist bullshit. A strong emotional experience when learning encodes a stronger memory. So writing from an emotionally charged place actually helps people remember what you’ve written.
Make It Simple
Don’t use big words where a tiny one would do. I try to limit my writing vocabulary to 3 syllable words, maximum. A lot of people try to use big words to push an image of intelligence, but that doesn’t work. The easier something is to comprehend, the quicker we can absorb it.
And anyone can use big words to hide not completely understanding their topic. Get over it. Always ask yourself, do I need this paragraph? Can I remove this sentence?
The biggest part of being a writer is being able to throw things out. Throw out all the stuff which does not move your point forward.
When I read my personal bible on writing (Stephen King’s On Writing, I’ve gifted copies to all my writer friends), I saw how Stephen King stressed rewriting as a part of the process. In the book, he actually walks through rewriting and cutting down a story, so you can see how he does it.
Wherever I go, I take my Moleskine journal and my fountain pen with me. I’ll write up complete articles in this, staring off into space, being outdoors, with a cup of coffee, and really enjoying the process of writing. Something about the process of having a high quality fountain pen write on nice paper is really a pleasure for me.
But when it’s time to write for the computer, things really take a turn for the worse. I usually end up throwing out all the stuff I wrote in the journal, and start out all over again as I write in WordPress.
In this way, I guarantee I’m rewriting every post at least twice. Usually, everything I post has been rewritten 3 times.
Show the Data
Don’t say something without being able to back it up with data. When you first write your article, you may have to bullshit some facts to get the thing written. But after you finish writing your draft, go back and fill in all of the holes of what you’ve written.
Search out and find the data on all the things you’ve said. Link to them. Show me a photo, show me and info graphic. This has become a part of being a decent blogger. Searching out and finding the facts most people pass by, then distilling them into a neat set.
Tell People About What You’ve Written
This is the most difficult part of all. You’ve got to push what you’ve written out there. If you’ve written anything emotionally charged, or with a strong opinion, there will be people who will try to make you feel horrible about it.
Ignore them. Keep writing.
The crowd can be a brutal audience, so stay focused and talk directly to a persona you have in mind. I recommend starting out with niche marketplaces, and submitting your posts to them first. Almost every news venue is starved for things to talk about. Target them first.