Last year I had the good sense to sign up for an online course with Penelope Trunk on ‘writing about yourself.' I was writing a memoir at the time so figured I might learn something useful. What I learned helped not only with my memoir, but also changed the way I blogged.Since those learnings helped me, I figure they could help others too. So today I am sharing my nine take-homes from that course.
1. There must be storytelling involved
Humans like stories, we learn best from stories. We connect with stories. We like to share stories.
The best blog posts incorporate some level of storytelling because if there is no story, the reader struggles to connect with what has been written.
No connection = no interest.
For instance, even though this is a bit of a ‘how to’ post, in my intro above I have told the story of where these tips have come from. If you’re a blogger, ever wanted to write a memoir or know anything about Penelope Trunk, then the intro created a connection. That connection got you interested enough to read on.
2. The story/topic must be interesting
Well 'duh’ I can hear you say.
But it’s amazing how many people start writing a post around something without giving any thought to whether it is actually interesting. Here’s how you know a story or a topic is interesting – it’s fun or painful for you to tell and it resonates with other people. If you are not sure, if your story is any of these things then test it first. Tell someone your story. If you find yourself petering out towards the end of telling it … or if the person you’re telling it to doesn’t engage with it … then it’s a dud.
3. The story should have an arc
For posts such as this one (how to posts), the story arc is less crucial – but for all other blog posts, there should be a beginning, middle, and end.The beginning is the hook. Your first paragraph should grab the reader’s interest and foreshadow a bit of what is to come.
The middle is where you introduce an element of conflict. You might be disagreeing with something you read online, sharing something that annoyed you or something that made you think.
The end is the resolution – what you learned or the conclusion you came to.
4. Don’t try to control your story
Have you ever found yourself writing a blog post that ended up being completely different to what you envisioned? Did you get taken in an unintended direction? This is GREAT!
If you as the writer are surprised and interested with where things have gone, then your reader will probably be surprised and impressed too.For this reason, don’t plot out your blog posts to the nth degree, give them a bit of room to move.
5. The story must be useful
This post here sums up humans quite beautifully when it says ‘the world only cares what it can get from you.' Harsh but true.
If I am going to spend my precious time reading someone’s words, I’d better be getting something useful out of them. If I don’t learn something (either about the topic or the person), then I feel ripped off. So if your post is just a stream of consciousness rant designed to make you feel better about something or if it’s completely self-indulgent, then you’ve got yourself a diary entry, not a blog post.
Nothing in it for the reader = no connection = no interest
6. Remember that people don’t care about you
This is in the same vein as number 5 above. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people care about you.
Put plainly; when they’re reading your blog post, they’re waiting to get to the bit about them.
Don’t believe me? Take note the next time you click on a link. Are you going to that link to see how that person’s day has been … or are you clicking because you think something is interesting there for you? Similarly – take note when you don’t click. The reason you’re not clicking is that you don’t think there’s anything there for you.
7. Cut out 20% of everything you write
Penelope maintains that everything you write can benefit from this. She believes that when you’re writing about yourself, the risk of it being boring is super-high. And the more personal your post is, the bigger the risk is that you're boring.
When I go over old blog posts of mine, I am shocked to find that this is 100% correct.
The best writers in the world aren’t the best writers – they are the best editors. So be ruthless. Kill your darlings. Your readers will love you for it.
8. If you’re not scared about what you’re writing, then it’s probably not interesting
Generally speaking, we attract people like ourselves to our blogs. So if we’re not writing about something that scares us or gives us pause, our readers are unlikely to be moved by our words.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard bloggers say that the posts they were most scared to hit ‘Publish’ on were the ones that got the most comments. If you care enough about something that you’re scared to write about it, you can pretty much guarantee it is going to resonate deeply with your readers.
9. Be honest
It’s hard to be completely honest in our blog posts because we all like to be liked.
Sometimes this manifests in us telling our readers what they want to hear, rather than what we actually think.
This is safe and boring.
Honesty may be scary for us … but is interesting for our readers. Think about your favorite bloggers. They are most likely the ones that are the most honest.