A few days ago a young man contacted me asking for writing advice. It was the first time I’d ever been asked for writing advice, and it was a bit of a shock. I thought that was something that only happened to famous writers like Neil Gaiman, Margret Atwood, or Anne Rice. But here was another human being asking me how to write “simple and sophisticated” posts “like your blog”. (For context, my most popular post, Half-Marathon: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Body had just been re-run by WordPress Discover, which diverted more than a thousand new readers to my blog over the course of three days, and apparently inspired this young man to write to me.)
I briefly considered refusing, on the grounds that I am not a good enough writer or blogger to give out advice, and advising that perhaps he should seek out someone more proficient. But egotism prevailed: after all, he had asked, and wouldn’t it be rude to refuse after he had sought me out and humbly requested a few tips from a “really inspiring” writer? I sat down and wrote the email.
Since then I’ve received one or two more solicitations for blogging or writing tips, or from writers requesting to cross-post my posts onto their site. I’ve decided, therefore, to share the tips I sent off a few days ago. What follows is the small amount of writing wisdom I’ve acquired over four years of blogging and writing. Here are my tips to writing simple and sophisticated blog posts that make a big impact.
1. Keep It Short. I recognize that my readers have hundreds of thousands of blogs and articles they could choose to read, from journalists and writers much more accomplished and talented than I, and that I am lucky they have alighted upon mine. To this end, I try to keep my posts simple and concise. Almost none of them are longer than 1500 words, and most are below 1200. I know that some bloggers have had great success with longer, 2,000+ word posts, but I think these are the exception, not the rule. In general, it’s easier to draw in readers with a post of substance that they can read from start to finish in fifteen minutes or less.
2. Tell Your Stories. If you share stories that are meaningful to you, people will see that you are writing stories that matter, and have made an impact in your life. They in turn will be influenced by your words. If you write about experiences other people had, or that you wish you’d had, or about lofty dreams and goals that you haven’t yet achieved, you won’t be writing about real things. What influences people most, in my opinion, is writing that gets to the heart of the matter, that cuts to the core, that touches on what is most real in our lives. By sharing stories about personal experiences that have affected you, hurt you, inspired you, moved you, or changed you, your posts will hum with a truth that others will recognize. They will be drawn to that truth. They will empathize with your story and be transformed, just as you were.
3. Make your stories broadly applicable. Part of the reason I believe my post on running a half marathon and accepting my own body was inspirational to so many people is that it struck a common theme. Many people in the 21st century struggle with body love and self-acceptance. By sharing my own story, and then subsequently writing about how others might feel similarly or learn the same lesson I learned, I made my story applicable to a broad and diverse group of people. By telling a personal story and discussing in your post what others can take from it, you will draw people into your world and inspire them both by the experience you had and because you had the courage to share it.
4. Write In Your Own Voice. Do not try to write like someone else, unless as writing practice. Do not try to write like your favorite author. Don’t try to be Ernest Hemingway, or Fyodor Dostoevsky, or J.K. Rowling. Just try to write, simply and clearly, telling your stories. As you practice, your writing will improve, and you will be able to affect more people with your stories. Then, when or if you decide to turn to fiction writing, essays, or long-form journalism, you will have a distinctive voice all of your own, as charismatic and powerful as Jon Krakauer or Toni Morrison, and it will be yours.
So, what do you think? Are these tips helpful? Are they garbage? What advice would you give to aspiring bloggers or writers, if someone wrote to you asking for advice? Thank you for reading!