Writing for Web: Blogging — Time and Readership

Last week I discussed how to start your blog or website. This week I want to talk about how to keep it going and build a fan base who will follow your content. There’s one thing you must be in order for your site to succeed: loyal.

Loyal: adj., (3) faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product

(Source: Merriam-Webster.com)

In order for a blog or site to succeed, contributors must be loyal to their content, fans, and themselves. If you decide to write, you must commit to the cause – whether it’s to make a name for yourself or share your creativity with the world – writers must put in the time and effort.

Felder recommends challenging yourself to stick to a schedule. When RevPub started, we decided we would each do a post a week, make it the best we could, and have fun. Whether it’s a post a week or a post a day, a schedule will help you find and make time to add content.

Building a Fan Base

One you’ve created a topic list and set a schedule, how do you build a fan base? Here are some tips from the book and a few others we recommend:

  • Be a credible source. One new tip: don’t overload your writing with keywords. If you write naturally, your keywords will be there.
  • Keep content fresh. Don’t reuse your content. If you run out of ideas, try writing exercises or guest bloggers.
  • Include a bio with photos. Your readers want to know who you are, so tailor your bios and photos to the type of page you want.
  • Have an About page. What is your site about and what are you trying to accomplish?
  • Encourage feedback and comments. Negative or positive, comments help you gauge your readers, make improvements, and get people talking.
  • Be passionate. Give 100 percent every time you post. Use your passions to fuel your creativity, or keep an open mind so you find new ones. The results are up to you.
  • Use social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pintrest, etc.; it doesn’t matter. I suggest starting with one, and as your site grows and you make more time, take on more social media platforms. You may even find people who will help you push out your content.
  • Talk about your site with peers, coworkers, and family. The support we receive is overwhelming, and I learned this is just as effective as social media. People can see your excitement and thrive off of it.
  • And most importantly, commit. Make a commitment to yourself and your readers to make each post as awesome as it can be. The Avengers grossed $1.5 billion this year, and at one point, that was just an idea. Loyalty can go a long way.

I learned a lot from chapter 12, and I look forward improving our site and adding a new category, which will premier this month. What do you think? Is there anything you would like to see on RevenantPublications.com?

Writing for Web: Blogging – Getting Started

“Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.” – Nolan Bushnell

So, you’re in the shower and you think, “Wouldn’t it be cool to start a blog or website?” The answer is yes. It is very cool and totally doable with the tools and technology available.

This week’s chapter is all about blogging, but I would like to add a little spin. Let’s talk muse, too.

Felder gives some great ideas for getting started. The first decision to make is what to write about? Some questions you can ask yourself are:

What makes you mad?

What makes you smile?

What hobbies do you enjoy?

What is your passion?

Is there a topic you can talk about for hours?

What do you want to learn more about?

Now take those questions and pick a topic. Then decide if you can write a lot of content about it. If not, expand your topic. For example, if you like haunted houses you may want to extend that to all places haunted, which may include lighthouses, castles, asylums, prisons, etc.

Make a list of topics (these will later be blog posts). Write them down for as long as you can, and always keep a pen and paper handy. A friend gave out a tiny composition book during a blog session a couple of years ago, and it is still in my purse just in case.

We at RevPub like to have a stockpile of ideas too because sometimes you just don’t feel creative or want to work a lot on something. In those instances, what should you do? Here’s where the muse comes in.

 The Muse

Muse: The source of your inspiration that gives you new ideas and topics.

Most people have something that inspires them. It can be a child, job, lifelong dream or goal, best friend, or successful people in the world. It doesn’t matter what your muse is or how you find it; the important thing is to find it, hold onto it, and let it guide you.

If you feel your muse has abandoned you, don’t worry. Felder suggests taking a walk, listening to music, aromatherapy, and even eating chocolate. Other strategies I found are TV shows like Shark Tank and Supernatural, yoga, and hanging out with people who have similar interests. In fact, most of my Writing for Web posts are done with a horror movie in the background. All of these can get your mind moving in the right direction, so just pick what works for you and go with it!

Now that you have a category and topics, it’s time to research a little. Felder advises looking at other sites and blogs about similar topics, making notes about what you like and don’t like, and deciding how to make yours better. This is an interesting exercise and allows you to improve your writing and style before you write your first post.

With all those in mind, get started. Pick a site to blog on – WordPress and Blogger are both free and very popular. Be sure to check in next week when we’ll discuss scheduling, content, and readership.

In the meantime, tell us this: what is your muse? Do you have tips for others on how to find inspiration?

Writing for Web: Instructions and Processes

Have you ever put an entertainment center together? What about watched a YouTube video of how to do something? Or maybe you like to try new recipes?

If you have done any of the above, you followed instructions. This week’s chapter is about writing instructions and process, and how to do so effectively. Felder explains the dos and don’ts, and this is a longer chapter, so I encourage those who want the full scoop to buy Writing for the Web.

How to Write Instructions and Processes

1. Determine who your audience is and what materials they need.

2. Write an introduction to your project. Felder suggests an overview, summary or anecdote.

3. Use numbers to write a step-by-step process for the task. I find doing the process while writing it helps you avoid missing steps, and you are testing your process. That’s multitasking!

4. Write a conclusion. Felder encourages ending on a positive note with a fun sentence or anecdote.

5. Proofread your instructions. (You knew I would make that a step).

6. Should you add photos, screen shots, or video to explain your process? Visuals are great additions.

7. Pull it all together, and have someone else test it.

8. Revise as needed.

9. Upload and publish.

10. Ta-da! You have successfully written a process.

Process writing is my favorite type of writing, and I have written them for years. I love the feeling when someone goes through the process, takes notes, and uses it as a reference. That is what I get out of writing.

Tips for Writing Instructions and Processes

Now that you know how to write a process, let’s go through the dos and don’ts.

  • Keep it simple. Use simple language and familiar terms tailored to your audience.
  • Don’t preach or lecture. This is important with video and audio, too. Give your instructions some life.
  • Learn the different learning styles. This helps you cater to your readers, and will help you decide what to add.
  • Use commands and be straightforward. Don’t worry about being bossy; you’re there to help.
  • Don’t over or under explain. Your audience doesn’t need every single step, so stick to major steps. During testing, you can adjust the process accordingly.
  • Break up lengthy steps. Don’t put more than one step in a numbered item. A lot of people do not read ahead, so too much information may frustrate them.
  • Have fun! If you have fun writing it, your audience will enjoy reading it.

Felder discusses other tips, but many of these are writing rules in other chapters. Writing instructions and processes are great ways to practice writing, too.

Now it’s your turn. What is your favorite thing to write about? Could you turn it into a process or instructions?

Writing for Web: Rhetorical Modes

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Write what you know?” Well, let’s challenge that advice. What’s wrong with researching something you don’t know and writing to learn about it and teach others? The important question is: What is your goal?

Chapter 10 discusses rhetorical modes: narration, description, explanation, and argument. These ancient ideas have worked for centuries, but how do you apply it to 20th-century Web writing? It is true that most writing crosses over into several modes, but practicing them separately will give you a better understanding of how they work and how they are effective.

In chapter 10, Felder repeats a lot of ideas from previous chapters, so it’s a little redundant. A better way to present this information is to define what your goal is, and use the rhetorical modes in order to accomplish that goal. If you’re not sure where to start, try these ideas from the chapter:

Narration – Tell the reader what happened. This is great for personal experiences, and try with who, what, where, why, and how?

Description – This mode explains how something happened. These are the nitty-gritty details that can either bore your readers or keep them wanting more. There is a fine line, so make sure you find a happy medium.

Explanation – This makes your writing easier to understand. This mode is more common in explaining processes, cause and effect, and used to compare and contrast ideas. Think simple. Your readers will understand your ideas and find you more credible.

Argument – Who doesn’t love a good debate? Whether it’s a political debate or an argument written for entertainment or discussion, arguments get people talking. Use this mode to persuade your audience to think on their own or side with a particular viewpoint.

Point of View

Another important topic in this chapter is Point of View. POV is very important, but not for reasons you may think. For example, have you noticed this post is written in second person? If so, kudos. If not, it’s no big deal because many people do not pay that close attention.

The important thing is consistency. If you bounce between I, you, and he/she, you will irritate your readers and lose their attention. Here’s a cheat sheet:

First person = I, me, we, our, etc.

Second person = you (Yes, I am writing to you the reader)

Third person = he, she, they, them, etc.

So, before you try only writing what you know, try a topic you know nothing about. Some ideas could be fly fishing, biotechnology, BASE jumping, fashion, teen movies, auto mechanics, sea dragons. Then choose your mode(s) and point of view, and see what happens! You will learn something new and teach someone else through your writing exercise.

And remember, it’s not what you know, it’s what you’re willing to learn.

Writing for Web: Telling a Story

Once upon a time there was a writer typing on a laptop while sitting on the couch. Or maybe at a desk or at a table in a coffee shop?

R. Petty with her laptop (in cartoon format)

However you write it, that opening sentence begins a story. It may lead to a fantasy land full of talking animals or vampires, or to a place familiar and realistic. Either way, it’s a beginning.

This week discusses how to tell a good story. I am not a creative writer, so this chapter was helpful as Felder explained tips on how to write a story. Of course there are the basics, such as plot, character development, and conflict, but I want to zoom in a little closer.

How do you start a story?

Many writers feel this is the hardest part. I know I do, and I will put a book down if I get 50 pages in and I am not interested. The beginning is just as important as the rest of the story and can make or break your content.

New writers may feel they have to set everything up before starting the action, but Felder believes this is a mistake. Her advice is to jump in! Start with a hook. These are the first two to three sentences that start your story, and here are a few ideas to help guide you through them:

  • An exciting event. Maybe you dump your reader in the middle of a race, a robbery, a love scene, or an adventure.
  • An interesting character. Someone who is unusual, someone who thinks unlike most people, or someone who a reader will immediately sympathize with are all ways to use a person as a hook.
  • Put a character into real trouble. Immediately, start with a conflict to create suspense.
  • If you haven’t developed characters yet, what about a strange event? An event that stands out and urges the reader to keep going to discover the outcome.
  • Many authors love to set a scene. This gives readers a chance to envision a world that may be different from their reality. Think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Narnia.
  • Love and learn the language. Don’t use the Thesaurus for evil just to replace words; think about how you want to say it. What do you hope to express with your opening? What do you want your readers to see? Set the scene without being too wordy and long-winded.

You may be wondering how this all applies to Web writing? I wondered the same thing, and unfortunately Felder only gives one example of how this applies: Your home page should hook your readers. As I read more, I realized this was it. So, I looked at a few other sites for ideas and discovered you can use a hook to start an article, short story, or simple blog post. And, you can use more than words. Your hook can be a picture, video, slide show, or podcast. In fact, with Web writing you have more options than in print.

So, as you think about your next great idea, think of a good hook. How will you draw your readers in and keep them coming back? If you’re struggling for ideas or just need inspiration, check out some of my favorite stories with solid hooks:

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

The Black Cat

A Little Cloud

The Lottery

Writing for Web: Grammar

Grammar is not sexy. It is not exciting or glamorous. But grammar is important.

I’m a proofreader. I hear more times than I can remember, “I couldn’t do what you do, I couldn’t read all day, or Ugh. How do you do it?”

I love what I do, that’s how. I am a proud grammar Nazi, word nerd, or whatever other name you call me. I read your articles, stories, texts, ads, and statuses, and catch the errors. I am not perfect, but I am your best friend.

This chapter discusses why grammar is important, and I agree with Felder 100 percent. You don’t have to know every rule, but you should know if you’re good at grammar or not. If you are, hone your skills. If you are not, make friends with someone who is. You will grow to love them. We’re not monsters, just rule-driven perfectionists.

So why does it matter?

Because you want people to take you seriously. You want readers to stay on your page and come back. Without good grammar and spelling, your readers will think you’re a joke. You will become one of the people who is a YouTube hit due to their crappy writing. And, anyone who knows better will make fun of you.

Not all grammarians are bad. I don’t proofread texts or personal emails, and when I do proofread, it is to make it better. That’s our end goal: try to make it perfect. With that said, here are a few tips to help you:

1. When in doubt, look it up. It takes three seconds to search something. Webster, grammarbook.com, and Grammar Girl are great tools.

2. Read it aloud, slowly. You will be amazed at how many changes you make. In fact, you are reading my third or fourth version of this post!

3. Don’t be shy. Have everything proofread: posts, resumes, cover letters, anything that someone else will read. The other reader doesn’t have to be a proofreader, but it is always better to have an extra set of eyes on something.

4. About commas and apostrophes: If you are unsure about using one, don’t. It is more forgiving to overlook a missing one than to draw attention to a misused one.

5. Decide when you can break the rules. Sometimes it’s okay to end a sentence with a ‘to’ or ‘with’. Break the rules when you feel it’s necessary for Web or creative writing, but try to follow them in professional letters and resumes.

6. Use spell check. Pay attention to those red squiggly lines.

7. Respect proofreaders; don’t begrudge them. They work hard to know the rules and only want to help.

If you keep these tips in mind, you will improve your writing. The world is moving toward incoherent speech more and more, and if we do not fight it, we will sound like the people in the videos below. Enjoy the laughs, because they are hilarious, but know that could be you if you’re not careful.

And my personal favorite: