Robyn Seaton introduced Alan Dean Foster to me after she and I met at WordCamp Phoenix, and PodCamp Arizona last week. She didn’t have a blog yet. After a fully packed weekend, she was ready but overwhelmed. What to blog about?
She twittered and emailed me that she wanted to help me in my quest to meet Alan Dean Foster. In the process, found her blog passion and voice. A few days ago, she started her very first blog in WordPress, Robyn Transforms, and now has two posts published on the blog. She says she was inspired by me, but I feel inspired by her!
I want to share a few of her questions on blog writing, as they also apply to my upcoming meeting with Alan Dean Foster.
How do you break away from a post? In other words, how do you know when to stop fussing with it? One of the reasons I hadn’t posted before was because I kept going back and rewriting. Every time I look at something, I find something about it I want to change. I’m sure I completely rewrote my About page at least 4 or 5 times, even after I had published it. (Should this go here? Would it be better in a post? Blah, blah, blah.) I suppose the answer becomes as simple as “when you get too tired or find something else to do.” I hope it’s really that simple.
How Do You Know to Stop Writing a Blog Post?
I assured Robyn that her questions and feelings are normal. Birthing a blog is like birthing a baby. There is a lot of anticipation and anxiety, a ton of questions and great unknowns, but once it’s born, it’s a responsibility. After a while, and a few accidents along the way, the answers come instinctively. You somehow know what to do as you get a little more experienced.
Honestly, there are no rules for how long a post must be. In my training workshops and keynotes, I tell everyone to write until the job is done, then edit, edit, edit, edit, re-read, edit, and hit publish. Trust your instincts. If it feels too clunky or makes too many points, then break it up. If it feels right, hit publish.
Here are some more specific points on the basics of writing a blog post:
- Write Until It’s Done: Sit down at your blog post or text editor and write until the thought is done. Don’t worry about self-editing, spelling, grammar, or what others will think. Just write. You’ll know when you’re done, but focus on pulling all the thoughts out of your head first.
- Edit, Edit, Edit: The true art of writing doesn’t come with just the writing but the editing. It’s rarely perfect the first time out of your head. I call that stage the “brain dump” as I pull all the thoughts out as they come. Then the editing process kicks in to clean it up, restructure, and break up the thoughts into the final form. Sometimes it takes a lot of writing to make all the critical points in one document, and other times a few words do the trick and you’re done. Editing helps you make those decisions as you sift through the thoughts you’ve just written.
- Write in Complete Thoughts: Do not write with the expectation that the reader can read your mind. Edit your thoughts so they make sense and we can follow all the dots. Don’t assume we’ve read what came before. Give us a recap of the history, if necessary, and help us understand where you are coming from.
- Don’t Be a Perfectionist: Unlike published books or articles, you can always fix a blog post.
- Make Your Point and Stop: It’s that simple. Don’t try to shove 84 points into a single blog post. Make your point and stop. Save the other points for more blog posts.
- What’s the Right Length for a Blog Post: There has been some research over the past few years on the correct length for a blog post. While short and concise usually wins, the reality is that if the post is well written and pulls the reader through to the end, they will read until the end. Don’t write to a word count. Few people really judge the quality of a book by it’s page count, nor should they blog posts. You will know instinctively when a post is long enough or too long. Trust that.
- What is Your Point? “Make your point and stop.” That’s true, but it only goes so far. What’s a point? What’s your point? What if your point takes a long story to tell in order to make the point? What if you need 3 or 10 points to get your message across? While there are template formats for writing a “proper blog post,” write in your own style and voice. Tell your own story your way, after all, it’s your story! We’re reading your blog for you, not for the format. Let you shine through and make your point your way.
In an Dig Museum, Alan Dean Foster actually answers this better than me.
Do you remember what was the first thing you wrote (not necessarily published)?
Yes. It was a story about an aluminum Christmas tree that was thrown out with the trash…and took root, and grew. Nice idea, not enough story.
If you don’t have enough story, don’t publish. If you have too much story, edit it down. When the story is right, publish.
Putting This Into Perspective and Reality
As I worked with Robyn to calm her fears and stay focused, I realized that I’d spent the last few days feeling exactly the same way.
Knowing you are going to meet your rock star fantasy hero in two days gives you time to get past the giddy, passing out, swoons and fears, and into some serious contemplation and planning. I’ve been reviewing all of Alan Dean Foster’s more than 100 books and stories, sorting through the memories of the stories I’ve read two to four or more times each. I’ve recalled where I was in my life for each of the books, and how that book impacted my life and helped me change direction, or keep moving forward. I’ve reviewed many of his articles and interviews, including info on his Wikipedia page and listened to some of my favorite podcast interviews with Foster on The Future and You. I’m finding the man behind the stories as I read and listen again to my favorite author’s thoughts on writing, movie making, movie script writing, publishing, and science fiction, but am I? Who is he really?
I’ve been gathering questions from fellow fans on what to ask Alan Dean Foster, and coming up with a huge list of my own. With two days to think about it, I’ve had time to think up a million questions. Too many. I organize them, try to find structure, edit non-stop in my head – unable to sleep and starting to panic that these questions are old ones, asked a million times before, or that I’ll overwhelm him or myself in the process – or worse. Think too much and blow the whole thing.
When Robyn emailed me about her own panic on how to write a blog post and knowing when to stop writing, I realized that I was doing the same thing. Over-working the entire process in my head.
I stopped. I am treating the upcoming interview like my blog. It has to be organic. Natural. Whatever will happen will happen. Listen, feel, and let the experience flow.
You have to do the same with your own blog writing.
Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network, and author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.