Earlier this week, I visited my alma mater to speak with students with a few different classes. I go back at least once a year now–it’s my way of giving back to my alma mater. This time around, I spoke to three different classes–one of which was a class on feature writing. The professor asked me to talk about writing. So, I thought about potential angles and approaches. What would students find interesting?
Truth be told, I couldn’t think of a good approach. Then I thought about an old axiom: Talk about what you know. I had it: Blogging. More specifically, blogging and what it’s taught me about being a better writer.
After giving it a bit of thought, I came up with 8 ways blogging has made me a better writer. For those bloggers out there, see if you agree. For those thinking about blogging, I recommend starting–immediately. It’s helped me in innumerable ways over the last five years. But, like the title says, most importantly it’s made me a better writer.
#1: Practice makes (almost) perfect
Since I started blogging in 2009, I’ve written almost 500 blog posts. My average post is probably around 750 words. That’s 375,000 words of copy I’ve developed over the last four years–just for this blog. That’s a lot of writing. It might sound easy, but writing 2-3 posts a week for years on end is tougher than it looks. Not only do you need to write the posts, you need to think up the ideas, and edit and proof them. All fantastic practice for the professional writing you’ll do in your ‘day job.’
#2: Broaden horizons with different formats
Over the years, I’ve experimented with all sorts of formats for posts. And that’s been a big part of what I love about blogging: testing new formats. For me, a few of the formats that have worked the best have been: list posts (see below).
Movie, book and in this case, TV show reviews:
“How to” posts, such as this one which led to a feature on KARE-11 news here in Minneapolis:
Experiment posts, such as this one I wrote last fall which led to a quote in Twin Cities Business earlier this year:
#3: Hone your interviewing skills
One of the great things about having a blog is that it gives you license to reach out to folks you might not normally reach out to. A blog is a powerful thing like that. I figured that out early on in my blogging–that’s what led to my PR Rock Star series. Over the years, I’ve interviewe some 30-plus PR folks from across the country, including Google’s Adam Singer below. This has also been a great way for me to hone my interviewing skills–learning what types of questions to ask. And which questions will provide answers that will make for compelling posts.
And interview folks like Fleishman Hillard’s Beth Ward. This was a great interview, but I had to spend a lot of time reseraching Beth and thinking up questions readers would want to know the answers to from a big agency recruiter.
#4: Learn to think like a publisher
How you package a post is almost as important as the content within the post. Case in point: This post on Pinterest from late last year. Sure, I could have written a post from my point-of-view about what I thought about Pinterest as it was on the precipice of exploding last fall. But instead, I thought a more compelling way to “package” a post like that was to interview 15 power users and feature their answers (along with head shots and pics of their boards) and my short take at the end.
Here’s a sample of how each interviewee showed up on the post.
#5: Think more visually
Visuals have become even more prominent in blogging than when I started four years ago. That’s seeped into my writing, as I’ll often let the visuals do the talking for me. So, in a way, thinking visually is making me a better “writer.” See what I did here with this post. Instead of writing about my trip to Seattle and what happened during my stay, I let my Instagram pics to the heavy lifting.
I featured a number of images in this post–this shot of the Seattle Public Market was the first of the series.
#6: Grammar and spelling still matter
Don’t let anyone fool you–grammar and spelling still matter when it comes to blogging. You might hear differently from people, but I guarantee you those folks haven’t worked in marketing and communications very long. All you have in this business is your reputation. If you have a rep for being a lazy, unprofessional writer, believe me, that word will get around. However, if you have a reputation for being a great writer who takes pride in her work, that can make all the difference in terms of finding new jobs and winning new clients.
#7: What would my readers care about?
This is the filter I start with for most posts. What are folks like me thinking about this week when it comes to digital marketing/PR? If I can come up with an idea I think most folks are talking/thinking about, I know I have something. The post below is a good example of that. This was a topic of discussion that kept coming up with folks the last few weeks. So, why not write about it?
Here’s another one. Another hot topic as many folks are still writing social media books. Is that the equivalent of the corporate MBA? Guess you’ll have to read the post 🙂
#8: Headlines. Headlines. Headlines.
If there’s one thing you take away from this post–and blogging–it’s the power of a great headline. This doesn’t just apply to blog writing either. Think about ads. Brochures. News releases. You name it. Headlines are huge. But the great thing about headline writing and blogging is that results and the feedback are virtually instantaneous. Write a post, throw it up and you know how well your headline is performing pretty quickly by counting the number of shares and unique visits to that post. Understanding how to write compelling headlines may be one of the most important skills for a PR pro today. See a couple examples of headlines I thought worked pretty well on my blog in the last 6-9 months.
So there you have it. 8 ways blogging has made me a better writer. What do you think? Did I miss anything?