Writing When You Really Don’t Want To

Okay. I promised myself last week that I would get back on track here. Three posts a week. It’s not impossible. It’s not even difficult. Yes, it’s easy to not do it. But it’s not difficult to do. I just need to actually sit down and freaking do it.

Of course, Monday morning rolls around, and I’d rather do anything else than sit down and write. I could blame it on the fact that my wife and I had a nice, relaxing visit with our families this weekend. I could blame it on the excitement and comedown of Super Bowl Sunday. I could blame it on the fact that I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in Connecticut right now – when I think hotel, I think “vacation.”

But then I could come back with “Okay, you were visiting family, but you didn’t have an hour or two to yourself?” I did – no excuse there. “Okay, so yesterday was the Super Bowl. But it started at 6:30. And it’s not like you were partying all day like you used to. So what happened to the rest of your day?” Again – no excuse. “So just because you’re in a hotel you’re gonna pretend it’s summer vacation?” The only reason we’re here is because my wife is currently at a job interview. Clearly, this isn’t a vacation.

For every excuse I could possibly make, the writer in me has a quick rebuttal that makes me feel like a lazy schlub for not breaking out the Chromebook and at least getting something out.

So here we are.

I’ll admit, writing about not wanting to write is a bit of a copout. But, if it’ll get my fingers moving on the keyboard, so be it.

But I want to go a little deeper than just lamenting about not wanting to do any work. I mean, most – if not all – of us, at one time or another, simply don’t feel like working. It’s not that out of the ordinary.

But:

Our reasons for not wanting to work can be as complicated as we are as human beings. Sure, laziness may be one factor. But To chalk up a lack of drive to simple laziness is…well…lazy.

I figured to get back into the swing of things, I’ll take a look at the many reasons I (and many of you, most likely) have fallen short of my writing goals in the past:

  • A lack of inspiration
  • A lack of motivation
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Outside factors

Lack of Inspiration

Inspiration is defined as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

It’s the metaphorical lightbulb that goes on over your head right before you start out on some creative venture.

When you’re inspired to do something, nothing will get in your way while you work. Hunger, fatigue, sickness…when inspiration hits you, none of these detrimental factors come into play. You simply don’t make excuses.

On the other hand, when you’re not inspired, it can be hard to get moving.

Sometimes those “aha” moments come to you and make it easy to get down to business. But other times, you have to do some prerequisite work before you get started.

If you’re not feeling inspired, there are a few ways you can get there:

Be a Consumer

It can be difficult to produce anything of value if you haven’t recently consumed anything to inspire you.

I’ve mentioned the importance of being an avid reader if you want to create a consistent and successful blog.

Think about it: Shakespeare wasn’t born with all those plays and sonnets hidden somewhere in his mind. Many of his plays are based on stories that had been written hundreds of years beforehand. And, while he may have written some of the most incredible sonnets known to man, he certainly didn’t create the poetic form himself.

To paraphrase Sir Isaac Asimov: you’ll be able to see much further by standing on the shoulders of giants.

In other words, if you’re having trouble creating a new post or article, look to the greats in your field. Read some of their newest posts, or listen to their latest podcasts. You’ll almost certainly find something to write about once these outside sources get you in the right frame of mind.

Dig Deep

Of course, you don’t want to simply piggyback off of a blog or podcast you just came across. It wouldn’t make much sense to simply rewrite something that’s already been done, would it?

Instead, dig a little deeper.

Read the post with the explicit purpose of finding a springboard for an article of your own.

Make a list of questions you have while listening to a podcast, and research the answers.

Check the comments section – both of your own blog and others in your blogging community.

Find out what people are talking about and run with it.

Look on Twitter to see what hashtags are trending. There’s bound to be something that both interests you and is worth studying a bit more about.

In short: be an active consumer. Don’t just passively read as if you were watching a rerun of a sitcom you’ve seen a dozen times. Don’t just throw on a podcast and let your mind wander to all the chores you have to do later on.

If the goal is to gain fuel with which to produce content yourself, make sure you’re actively taking in all the information you possibly can.

Lack of Motivation

While inspiration and motivation are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a clear difference between the two.

Inspiration, as mentioned, is the catalyst that gets you moving.

Motivation is defined as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.”

In other words, motivation is the knowledge that without action, you’ll never reach your goal.

However, this is not to say the two aren’t deeply intertwined. It’s almost certain that, while I discuss motivation in the next section, I’ll bring up the word “inspiration” at least a couple times. Hopefully I don’t confuse myself!

Anyway, motivation can come from two different sources: from the outside, and from within. Let’s examine how we can fix a lack of both.

Extrinsic Motivation

I like to pretend I’m not a huge fan of extrinsic motivation. I guess it’s because I know that, somewhere in the spacetime continuum, the teenage me is calling the 30-year-old me a sellout. I can just hear him now: “You don’t need to get paid to enjoy your work, man!”

 

Since when are intrinsic rewards bad?
Now I have to wear this, according to a contract I made up when I was 15.

But, let’s be serious: in the real world, getting paid to do work is definitely a motivating factor.

That’s not to say I’m getting paid for this post (I’m not). But I do know that every post I write on here is one more article to add to my portfolio, which, in turn, may lead to more prospects in the future. So, even though I’m not getting paid per se for this post, it may lead to money in the long run.

In fact, I’ll do a little bit of full disclosure: That last paragraph was the entire reason I sat down to write this post. I could have just spent two hours watching SportsCenter while I waited for my wife to wrap up her interview.

But the thought crossed my mind: If you don’t do anything for the next two hours, you’re setting your future self back two whole hours – time you’ll never get back. Stop waiting. Get moving, or you’re costing your future self money.

I didn’t start writing this post because I had to, or even because I wanted to. I did it because of this extrinsic rewards I’ll eventually reap, and I’ll know that this post was, even in the slightest bit, a contributing factor to earning those rewards.

If you’re having trouble getting started, think of the rewards you’ll receive, either in the short- or long-term, for a job well done. It should be enough to get you moving in the right direction.

Intrinsic Motivation

Okay, I just got done saying I didn’t actively want to write this when I started out.

But guess what? Now that I’m almost done (I’ll wait while you breathe a sigh of relief), I’m incredibly glad I got down to work.

What value would have been added to my life if I wasted the last two hours watching SportsCenter? I watched the Super Bowl last night. I don’t need to hear anymore about how Cam Newton stormed out of his press conference, or how Peyton Manning said “Budweiser” 75 times in his post-game interview.

However, working on this post has, even in the slightest way, made me a better writer. I’m not sure how – and I’m not sure I’m supposed to know how – but I’m sure my skills have improved ever so slightly in the past two hours.

And, once I committed to writing this article, I decided to not be content with a half-assed post that didn’t say anything of value.

With the exception of the span of time in which I wrote that last section, I wasn’t thinking of any outside reward at all while writing this. I’ve focused on one thing: creating a solid piece of writing.

It took a little inspiration to get started, and I had to convince myself that lounging around watching ESPN wasn’t a good way to start my week off, but once I got moving, there was no stopping me. And, by the time I wrap this up, it’ll be just about time to check out and go pick up my wife.

I might not have started out writing because of intrinsic factors, but looking back, I feel much better about myself than I would have if I just went back to bed for the morning.

Sometimes intrinsic motivation works backwards, I guess.


Okay, there are two other factors I mentioned as to why I – and others – fall short of our writing goals. But I’ll let you off the hook for now, and get back to you later on this week. See how I’m tricking myself into writing more? Hey, whatever works, right?

Blogging Consistently, Part 2

Last week, I ate some crow after letting my blogging habit fall to the wayside.

Unlike times past, when I would have just given up altogether and moved on to some other venture, though, this time I used my shortcomings as a springboard for a new blog post about blogging consistently.

I decided to make it a two-part entry for a few reasons:

  1. The initial discussion about the importance of blogging consistently ran a little long
  2. I figured I could keep you all coming back to see how to stay consistent
  3. It gave me incentive to come back and write more. How “meta”!

So:

We all know that blogging consistently is incredibly important if we want to retain and grow our audience.

But how can you hold yourself to it? We all live busy lives, and, for lack of a better term, shit happens to all of us. Some days, blogging just isn’t the most important thing in your life.

I understand we’re all human. And your audience definitely knows this.

But:

They have no obligation to stick around on your page if you’re not providing them with anything of value. I’ve said it before: your audience isn’t interested in you on a personal level.

This sounds so callous, but think about it: If your local coffee shop was closed for the day, you wouldn’t spend more than a minute or two wondering if the owner is okay. You’d go across the street and get your morning pick-me-up elsewhere, and move on with your day. This isn’t to say you don’t care and are some horrible person; it’s just that you have other things to worry about, and can’t afford to take on the burden of worrying about someone’s well-being just because you buy coffee from them.

Anyway, I digress.

The point is, if you want your blog to be successful, you have to stay consistent, no matter what.

And you can do this by:

  • Setting Reasonable, Meaningful, and Measurable Goals
  • Making a Schedule and Sticking to It
  • Being Deliberate
  • Shifting Your Perspective

Let’s unpack these a little bit, shall we?

Setting Reasonable, Meaningful, and Measurable Goals

I mentioned this in passing in the first part of this post.

But I want to dive a little deeper into the topic, because it really can make or break a blog (and a blogger).

Think back on all the New Year’s Resolutions you’ve made in the past. How many of them have you actually kept?

Now, I’m not saying you never kept any of them. But I bet the ones you didn’t keep weren’t reasonable, meaningful, or measurable. By setting up these unrealistic goals, you actually set yourself up to fail before you even took the first steps.

The same goes for your blogging goals.

***

I told myself at the beginning of this year that I would blog at least three times a week (aiming for five), including one longform post.

It doesn’t sound like a lot, does it? It sounds pretty reasonable, especially as I write this.

But, I didn’t take into consideration all the other writing I’d be doing as a freelancer. I didn’t take into consideration that some weeks my daily schedule would be absolutely packed with assignments that actually need to be done unless I wanted to lose a well-paying gig. I didn’t take into consideration life’s contingencies, like flat tires, doctor’s appointments, and family dinners. For some reason, I thought it would be possible (and socially acceptable) to just lock myself up and write, write, write for an entire year. I mean, it’d be nice…but it just isn’t reasonable.

Not to mention the human factor – that is, I’m no machine. Not yet, at least.

Robots can work all day...they just choose not to.
One day, Matt…One day…

Imagine if, instead of blogging daily, my goal was to hit the gym every single day. It sounds ambitious, but it’s not sustainable. Even professional athletes have rest days, after all.

It was crazy of me to think that blogging daily would be any different. Yes, some days you’ll wake up ready to type, type, type. But other days, it’s just like any other job – you’d rather stare at the wall for eight hours than go anywhere near your keyboard.

I’m reminded of the old adage that works in pretty much any given scenario (except the 400m dash, I guess): It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

In other words, pace yourself.

I’m going to run some numbers here to make sense of what I’m trying to say.

Let’s say I paced myself at three articles a week throughout the entire year (and stuck to it):

(3 x 52) = 156.

By the end of my first year of blogging, I’d have 156 posts under my belt (in addition to the many other articles I’d hopefully have written elsewhere).

In reality, during the month of January, I wrote eight posts in the first two weeks, then took almost two weeks off (let’s round up to two weeks to make it easy). Essentially, that’s only eight posts per month.

8 x 12 = 96.

Even though I started off incredibly fast, I only kept up that pace for two weeks. Extrapolated over a year, this method would result in sixty fewer posts than if I committed to three per week.

It turns out writing less, but more consistently, will ultimately result in huge gains in the long run.

***

Another thing to take note of is the measurable aspect of this goal.

Imagine my goal was “I want to blog more than I did last year.” If that were my goal, I would have already reached it by now with the ten or so articles I’ve posted. Big whoop.

“More” isn’t exactly quantifiable. And it doesn’t speak to quality, either. I could have posted “more” than I did last year by just posting a captioned stock photo every day. Again, big whoop. I would have reached my goal, but am I really growing in any way?

Since I revamped my goal to three blog posts per week (on average), I will be able to tell by the end of the year whether or not I’ve reached my goal.

Yes, I know I need to step it up. Keep it to yourself 😉

Make a Schedule, and Stick to It

As with any goal, you need to figure out how often you want to work toward your goal. And you should never, ever derive from this plan for anything short of a true emergency.

I discussed this in the intro of the first part of this post: Once you make one excuse, it becomes easier to make another, and another…until you just stop working toward your goal completely.

Don’t let this happen. Your friends want to meet for happy hour? Too bad, it’s a blogging day. Your favorite rerun of Seinfeld is on? Too bad, you have work to do. Your wife’s car broke down? Too ba…

Just kidding. Like I said, things come up. Of course, you should never put your blogging above the health and safety of yourself or your loved ones. But just know that once you pick your wife up and take care of the car troubles, you’re going to have to sacrifice some leisure time later on to reach your daily goal.

Set the Bar, Then Aim Higher

Okay, so you’ve set a reasonable goal, and set a schedule for your blogging habit. But some weeks you just feel like you could do better.

By no means should you confuse the bar you set for a ceiling.

If you feel like writing, write. Don’t hold yourself back just because you’ve already written your “three for the week.” Take advantage of the time you have. Push yourself when the mood strikes.

But:

Internet readers are fickle (which I’ve said before). You don’t want to confuse your audience by posting daily one week, three times another week, two times in one day the next week…you get my point.

If you post on a random Thursday after your audience has become accustomed to hearing from you every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, what do you think they’re going to want next Thursday?

Instead of posting whenever you finish an article, no matter how many posts you write, keep your schedule consistent. Keep those other posts locked up for future publication. Within a few months you should have a dozen or so articles that have yet to go live, giving you a bit of leeway when life throws a monkey wrench into your plans.

Be Deliberate

I said something before about how easy it would be simply to “blog more”: It’d be easy to just write a quick paragraph every single day and boast about how you wrote 365 blog posts this year.

But that’s not what you want to do, is it?

Don’t ever catch yourself writing “just because you have to.” Blogging will quickly become a chore if you start seeing it like one.

Write About Your Interests

I love writing, and I love writing about writing.

Unlike in my college days, I’m not constantly looking at the word count of the blog posts I write. I’m not writing to fulfill a quota; I’m writing to get my ideas out there.

That isn’t to say I’m writing for myself. You should know by now that’s not the case.

But I’m not writing about something I have absolutely no vested interest in just because it’s a hot button topic. You’d know immediately if I was looking for clicks.

One of the best ways to stay consistent in your blogging is to always write about topics that interest you. Your daily life is a treasure trove of content, even if you don’t realize it. Case in point: this article stemmed from the fact that I had shirked my blogging responsibility for almost two weeks. In delving into a shortcoming of mine, I’ve managed to pen a longform article discussing how I (and others in similar situations) can improve.

Write With Fervor

My blog’s tagline says it all: Why write if my life doesn’t depend on it?

When you sit down to write, you need to be writing. Not checking your Facebook page. Not wondering if your friend got the meme you sent them earlier. Not eavesdropping on the conversation being held on the other side of the Starbucks. You need to write.

***

If you find yourself getting distracted constantly, figure out the problem and fix it.

The problem is going to be unique to your own situation, so unfortunately you’re on your own for the most part. Maybe you need some soundproof headphones. Maybe you need to unplug your WiFi. Maybe you need a change of scenery. Whatever it is, do it, and do it now – before you waste anymore time

Check out Write or Die if you’re having trouble staying on track. It sounds pretty morbid, but it’s more along the lines of sadistic: Once you start writing, you can’t stop – or you’ll be punished. If you so much as glance around the room, your words will start to be erased. It’s a great way to keep your ideas flowing and stop you from micro-editing along the way. And you definitely won’t want to “just check Instagram for a minute,” because a minute could be all it takes to erase an hour of your hard work.

***

If you have trouble managing your time while writing, check out time-tracking apps such as Toggl, or use the Pomodoro technique. There are a ton of programs out there that will help you keep track of how much time you’ve spent working – as well as how much time you’ve wasted staring into space. Seeing how both of these periods of time add up may just be the catalyst you need to make a change in your writing habits.


Maintaining a blog seems like it’d be pretty easy, but once you start it becomes crystal clear that a lot more goes into it than you may have at first thought. Once you have a more realistic idea of what to expect throughout your blogging journey, though, you’ll realize that you definitely can make it happen – as long as you do it on your own terms.

Blogging Consistently, Part 1

Okay, it’s time for another round of Full Disclosure:

I suck. It’s been almost two weeks since my last post on here, and I have absolutely no excuse for being so lax in my writing. Guess I haven’t been living up to my blog’s name, have I?

What follows may sound like a list of excuses, which you should know I’m completely against. So, please know this next part isn’t meant to excuse me from my writing. It’s meant to be a quick summary of my past month of blogging: where I succeeded, and where I fell short.

I started the year optimistic and enthusiastic about where I’d be taking my blog. Within a week, I had five detailed posts under my belt, grown a small following of other students in The Daily Post’s Blogging 101 course, and connected with established bloggers through backlinks and comments. Things were going great.

I believe I kept up the pace for the first two weeks of the course. I know I missed one assignment that was fairly inconsequential to my needs and goals, and I was okay with that. It didn’t seem like a big deal – especially because I had otherwise remained consistent in my posting.

But then, as it is want to do, life threw a few things my way that needed my immediate attention. I put my blog on the backburner for a few days, knowing I could come back to it when I was ready and able to focus on my writing.

Right there is where the problem began. Saying I’d come back to it “when I’m ready” was such an ambiguous statement that I started rationalizing not blogging by saying I “wasn’t in the mood” or “would get to it soon.” Ahh, tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…

But enough about my sob story. Like I said, I made excuses to myself, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to slack off. I’ll bite the bullet, fess up, and move on.

At least it gave me something to write about today…


Today, I’ll be talking about blogging consistently, and why it’s important to audience retention and growth, as well as SEO rankings.

Audience Retention

Imagine a new store opens up in your neighborhood advertising state-of-the-art electronics, gadgets, and gizmos at prices that blow the nearest chain store out of the water. You take a walk downtown during an afternoon off to check it out, only to see a “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign in the window. Confused, you look for a sign telling you the store’s hours of operations, but there is none. You call the next day to get more info, and are told “Well, we might be open for the rest of the day, but we might not be. I’m not sure if anyone will be in tomorrow, either. On Friday, we’ll definitely be closed – we want to enjoy a long weekend.”

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

When will you "be back"? Your audience needs to know!
What, exactly, is your idea of “shortly”?

No matter how awesome every other aspect of the store is, if it only operates whenever the owner or manager “feels like it,” it’ll never succeed. Customers will just end up going elsewhere, even if it means spending a little extra money – as long as they can be sure they’ll actually get what they want.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

I’ve said it before: A blog is not created for the sake of the blogger; it’s for the audience. And audience members will only stick around if they can rely on the blog’s creator to provide valuable content on a consistent basis. There are hundreds – if not thousands – of other places to get similar information on the Internet. If you’re not providing what your audience wants, they’ll find someone else who will.

This isn’t to say you should hit the ground running and never stop.

Let’s revisit the store metaphor. What if the owner started out by keeping the store open for forty hours a week, before it had built a large customer base? The amount of wasted electricity and manpower would likely be enough to sink the business before it ever got moving. At the very least, he would immediately have to scale back its operational hours – which, to its customers, would appear to be writing on the wall symbolizing problems with the business in general. They wouldn’t be able to trust any guarantees or warranties given by the store, and would end up choosing a more reputable place to do business with.

Again, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

If your blog’s audience sees that you haven’t posted in weeks (after getting used to reading something new every day), what are they going to think? They’ll believe you’re getting lazy, or you ran out of ideas, or simply don’t care about whatever cause you “dedicated yourself to” in your initial blog post. They’ll end up finding a more reliable source of information, and will leave your blog behind.

Audience Growth

Of course, you want to do more than simply retain the readers you already have. The ultimate goal of any blog is to see its readership grow.

The more you post, the wider your reach becomes. A blogger who consistently comes up with new topics to write about will reach a wide variety of audience members – all individuals looking to fill a specific need.

As your blog – and your audience –  grows, you’ll gain the momentum needed to keep pushing. And it will become easier and easier to sustain an intensive blogging schedule.

When you only have a small audience base, creating post after post can be draining (side note: I love you guys, your comments have been amazing, but I can’t dedicate two hours each and every day to something only a handful of people are reading!).

If my audience consisted of thousands of individuals – which may result in contracted freelance work, or more – I’d be more than happy to dedicate a huge chunk of every day to creating engaging content for my own blog. But if my blog posts aren’t paying the bills, it simply can’t be my top priority

Like with any other business, as I said, a blog should grow with its audience. Find a balance. Create enough engaging content that your audience slowly but surely increases in numbers. But don’t dive in so fast that you get burnt out and let down the people who gave you a chance in the first place. Do that, and your initial efforts will all be for naught.

Search Engine Optimization

Sure, your audience can grow through word-of-mouth (your own, or your current audience members’). But you can also make Google and other search engines work for you – if you’re consistent.

As you gain a deeper understanding of SEO, you’ll start to see it’s not all about keyword stuffing and cloaking. Google’s algorithms are getting smarter and smarter, and can see through these spammy techniques right away.

Search engine rankings go even deeper than calculating the amount of visits a page gets, too. Google now records how long a visitor stays on a specific site or page, as well. It uses these data to calculate a site’s dwell time, which Neil Patel calls “a critical, but often overlooked facet of search optimization.”

(Side note: Finish reading this article before you check out that link. I’ll give you the basics, and let Neil dive deeper afterwards)

Anyways, what does this have to do with consistency?

The answer to that question is two-fold:

  1. Consistent content = consistent pageviews = higher SEO ranking
  2. Fresh content = more crawling done by search engines = higher SEO ranking

The first part of this is just common sense. Much like the shop that maintains steady business hours, your blog will be visited by readers during the times they would expect to see new content. And as your audience returns, they’ll end up spending more time on your page in the process (perhaps checking out other posts they may have missed, or articles full of information that supplements the new post). All of these actions performed by your reader while logged on to your site make you look beautiful in the eyes of search engines.

But, if you’re inconsistent with your posting, your audience won’t know when to expect something new, and may not come back at all.

***

The second part of that answer – search engine crawling – is a little more technical.

I’ll try to keep it simple (for myself as much as for you!). Search engines are programmed to “crawl” web pages as they are updated. If your blog lays dormant for long periods of time, it stops being noticed by these search engine “bots.” (I really want to make some sort of “cob-World Wide-web” pun, but I’ll spare you from that torture)

A deserted blog will end up collecting virtual cobwebs.
What, exactly, is your idea of “shortly”?

Think of it like this: a restaurant reviewer isn’t going to go back to an eatery he’s reviewed in the past and order the same meal, right? He wouldn’t have anything new to say, and would only be wasting his time.

On the other hand, if the restaurant adds something new to the menu, the reviewer will be more likely to go back and try it out – knowing he’ll have new material to work with.

The more you update your blog – with valuable content, mind you – the more attention you’ll get from search engine bots. Every time you update your blog, you’re virtually raising your hand above the horde of other websites out there, saying “Hey! Check me out! I got some new stuff to show you!” 

Again, the “new stuff” you have to show off better be good, or it won’t matter how often you update your site. Don’t be like the kid in class who answers every question the teacher asks incorrectly just so he gets noticed. You’ll only gain the ire of the virtual Raymond Reddington’s of the World Wide Web.

 


It really is that simple.

Just kidding, it’s really not. But I’ll explain more about that in future posts. For now, just know that if you want to retain and grow your audience, whether through human or computerized recommendations, one of the most important facets to keep in mind is providing valuable content on a consistent basis.

But how, exactly, do you keep the ball rolling? How can you stay consistent in such a busy, hectic world?

We’ll discuss that next time. I’m sure you’ve had enough of me by now =)

In the meantime, I want to know: What are your experiences with starting and maintaining a blog? Have you had any trouble staying consistent? What have you done to stay motivated? Have you changed your routine at all to accommodate your blogging? Let’s start up a discussion down below!

Academic vs. Web Writing

First of all, let me apologize to you guys, myself, and the Blogging Gods for falling off the face of the Earth for the past few days. I started off my venture using the Daily Post’s Blogging 101 assignments using a “no excuses” mantra, so I’ll just admit that I haven’t exactly been making the most of my time over the past week, and let valuable blogging time slip away because of it.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for my next post (just keep telling yourself that, Matt!), so without further ado, I want to dive in right where I left off: Getting inspired by my neighbors.

In an earlier post in which I discussed the importance of reading as much (if not more) than you actually write as a blogger, I mentioned a handful of blog posts that really struck a chord with me. One such article, written by The Judgmental Observer, argued in defense of academic writing (something I had argued against early on in my blog’s lifetime).

Although I’ve already admitted I was a bit misguided in my initial approach, I feel like I owe it to Amanda Klein (the Judgmental Observer herself) to unpack my thoughts a little further.

What the Reader Wants

One thing we can all agree on is the fact that the Internet offers something for everyone. No matter your purpose for logging onto the Web, you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for within minutes (possibly even seconds).

That being said, in addition to the fact that roughly three billion people have access to the Internet, it’d be an incredible oversight to write something such as academic writing off as “dying” or “dead.” Longform, in-depth articles might not exactly be the most-clicked stories on the web, but that doesn’t mean absolutely nobody is interested in them.

Depending on a reader’s purpose, both academic and web writing have their merits.

Why pick up a book if you don't want to read it?
Why pick up a book if you don’t want to read it?

If you’ve sat down with the intent of finding hard-hitting, insightful prose which gets to the heart of a certain topic – and makes you question your foundational values at the same time – which type of article would you seek out? A longform academic piece will be much more effective in discussing complex issues than an article titled, oh, I don’t know, “Ten Reasons Racism is Alive and Well in Today’s Society.” A quickly- (and probably poorly-) written listicle discussing such a deep topic would be nothing short of insulting. Obviously, complex issues that stretch to comprehend ideas woven into the fabric of society need more time and focus to be impactful. No reader seeking enlightenment would click on a 400-word article claiming to have solved some major world issue thinking they’d be getting what they wanted.

On the other hand, readers aren’t always looking for a challenge, so it makes sense that not everything out there is of academic quality. Even if a reader is looking to learn something, that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to wade through lines of long-winded prose to get there. Web writing can, and often does, offer insightful advice while cutting out all the wordiness of academic writing. Read any post by Neil Patel and tell me you didn’t learn something. But notice the difference between his writing and an article you’ll find on Longform: While you may read longform articles to seek abstract enlightenment or intellectual growth, you’d read Patel’s blog posts looking to learn new skills and take immediate action.

Simply put, the purpose of reading longform articles is to enjoy the journey, while reading web writing is all about getting to a new destination.

What the Writer Wants

The writer should have SOME input, right?
The writer should have SOME input, right?

Okay, so when a writer puts words on a page, his audience is in mind at all times. But that doesn’t mean he’s not allowed to do what he wants, right?

When an academic writer sits down to pen an op-ed piece, he does so with the intention of getting out everything that’s on his mind, no matter how long it takes. Since he knows his audience will be prepared to hunker down and dive into a longform piece, he can be comfortable writing without urgency (while also being careful not to go off topic). It makes sense: No reader is going to seek out a longform article only to click away from it because it’s too long. That’d be pretty counterintuitive, wouldn’t it?

On the other hand, someone like Brian Dean isn’t trying to shake up the fabric of society with his writing; he simply wants to offer advice, and get his services noticed in the process. If you check out his blog, you’ll notice he doesn’t beat around the bush. Every single word in each of his blog posts serves a single function; there’s no wasted space. Brian doesn’t have to use long-winded prose to convince you of some abstract ideal; he hits his audience with a barrage of statistics, facts, and actionable advice, and lets his readers do with it what they will.

Hoping for a Similar Outcome

Through two completely different methods, both academic and web writers actually aim at having a similar effect on their audience.

Simply put: All writers write because they want to improve their audience’s lives in some way. Why would they publish their words on the Internet if they didn’t want others to be affected by them in some way?

Actually, this may be the reason web writers can get right to the point while academics need more room to get their ideas out.

Web writers can work under the assumption that their readers already agrees with them, and are looking for actionable advice on how to move forward. They don’t need to spend time convincing their readers that such and such a method is the way to go, so they can dive right in and start helping their audience improve their skills and abilities – and their lives as a whole.

On the other hand, many – if not most – academic writers have some persuading to do in their writing. They not only have to present facts that support their perspective, but they also have to weave a story that convinces others that their point of view is correct. They have to appeal not only to their readers’ intellect, but also to their emotions as well.

In both cases, the writer’s overall goal is the same: Provide information that leaves their audiences changed in a positive way.


 

Again, I’ll admit I took a black-and-white stance on an issue that clearly has many grey areas. Lesson learned!

Is there anything else to add about the value of either academic or web writing? As always, I’d like to think I covered it all, but if I missed anything, be sure to let me know down below!

 

Make Every Word Count

Imagine you’re in a movie theatre when you notice a fire beginning to break out. Which of the following are you more likely to shout?

“Excuse me, everyone, but I believe the building we’re currently in may soon become engulfed in flames! We are all in danger, and should evacuate as soon as humanly possible!”

or

“FIRE!”

Though both examples convey the exact same message, the second one gets the point across much more efficiently: The building is on fire, get out now.

What does this have to do with blogging? It’s not like reading an article is a life or death situation, right?

Okay, so it’s true no one will die if it takes them too long to read your writing. But If it takes too long, they will move on before getting the full effect of your article.

In his opening lines of a post on high intensity writing, Michael Stackpole says a major goal of effective writing is “to pack a lot of information into as few words as possible.”

Neil Patel echoes this sentiment, explaining that the intensity of a blog post directly relates to its value and length. The longer a post is, the more valuable it should be.

That makes sense: if a post is 2,000 words long, but the audience only finds one 200-word section valuable, 90% of it is worthless – and the entire article would be seen as such.

If that valuable section were to be made into a standalone article, its value would become crystal clear to the audience.

So how do you do you maximize the value of your blog posts?

Simple: Make every word count.

Okay, it’s not that simple – especially if you’re transitioning to blogging from academic writing. But it can be done.

First, check for adverbs.

I know I went on about ditching your thesaurus in my last post, but I also mentioned the importance of being specific when it comes to your word choice. When it comes to using adverbs (or not using them, I should say), word choice is everything.

He ran quickly.”

So, what’s the problem?

Considering the sentence is only three words long, there’s not much room for error.

But there are two problems here:

First of all, the adverb “quickly” doesn’t add anything to the sentence. If a person is running, the reader will assume he’s being quick about it. If the person was running awkwardly, or doggedly, that’d be a different story. But saying “He ran quickly” is like saying “He screamed loudly”; the adverb serves no purpose.

Secondly, if the point of this sentence is that he ran faster than normal, it could have said “He sprinted.” Big deal, right? So I used two words instead of three. But think of the big picture. If you extrapolate this simple fix throughout a 1,200 word post, there would be roughly 400 extraneous words throughout the article. That’s enough for a whole new post! Unless the adverb truly adds value to the verb, find a better verb to use.

Next on the chopping block: redundancies.

Unnecessary redundancy is redundant and unnecessary
From the Department of Redundancy Department

“It’s absolutely necessary to get rid of any superfluous redundancies in your online blogging.”

Did you catch them all?

Absolutely necessary.” Is anything ever not absolutely necessary? If it’s necessary, it’s necessary. If you read the section on adverbs, this should be a no-brainer.

Superfluous redundancies.” By definition, a redundancy is superfluous. No need to qualify it. Other examples of redundancies include “Unintentional mistake” and “historic milestone.” I’m sure we’ve all used similar phrases while writing term papers in high school to pad our word count. You don’t need to do that anymore.

Online blogging.” Okay, I doubt anyone says this, but I needed one more example. If you’re blogging, there’s a 100% chance you’re doing so online. You don’t need to clarify that to your audience.

With these changes, a fourteen-word sentence becomes an eleven-word sentence. Again, it doesn’t sound like much, but this would mean a 1,400 word post would only really need to be 1,100 words. Once more, that’s enough for an entire new post.

Lastly, get rid of passive voice.

The droning, computerized voice is bad enough, but when coupled with the constant use of “was,” it’s enough to put you to sleep.

The test was failed by half the class.” Not only does this sentence shift the focus of the message onto the test, but it also adds a few unnecessary words.

You can send the same message using an active voice, and it focuses the reader’s attention on the intended subject: “Half the class failed the test.”

What could have been said in six words took the first writer eight. Multiply that by 100, and you have an 800-word post that only needed to be 600 words long. If 25% of your article is fluff, it’s barely worth skimming.

The Takeaway

As has been this blog’s theme so far, your days of writing for a teacher are gone. You no longer need to stretch out your message over a specific amount of words to fill a quota. In fact, your audience wants you to get your message across as quickly as possible.

Making every word of a post count not only makes it easier for your audience to read it, but it also allows you more time and energy to focus on what you have to say next.

I’m sure there are other ways to cut the fluff out of your writing, but I wanted to hit the big points first. What else could I have included on this list? Throw me some ideas, and I’ll dig up some more sources for you! Also, if I used any adverbs, redundancies, or passive voice, call me out. I thought I caught them all, but nobody’s absolutely perfect, right?…I’ll see myself out.

Keep Your Audience Close, and Your Words Simple

Remember the essays you wrote for your college English classes? The ones where you used intricate sentence structures and million-dollar words to impress your professor and solidify that “A”?

Yeah…about those:

That only works in the classroom. It simply won’t do in the real world. 

Ditch Your Thesaurus

In grade school and college, your thesaurus was your ticket to “wowing” your teacher. A so-called “beautiful word” would stop your junior high English teacher in her tracks as she circled it and wrote “Great word choice!” in the margin. Even if the content of your paper was completely void of meaning, you’d at least get some points for your artistic ability.

This isn’t academia. Nobody’s grading your writing on your ability to string together beautiful sentences with multisyllabic words you looked up just to sound smarter. You might have fooled your professor with your “way with words,” but others will see right through you.

Or, they won’t see you at all. Use too many million-dollar words, and you’ll lose your audience completely. Chances are, someone out there is saying exactly what you’re saying, but they’re making it much easier for their audience to understand.

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“While I disagree with everything you’ve written, I love your choice of words. What a great article!” – No one ever)

Think Like Your Audience

I have some good news:

You already know how to change your writing style depending on your audience. You proved that in college when you included words like “ubiquitous” and “capricious” in your essays, despite having never actually used those words in your life before.

Now for the bad news: Your professor is no longer your only audience member.

Your potential audience now numbers in the hundreds, thousands, or (possibly one day) millions.

Okay, so that’s not exactly bad news. It’s intimidating, but it’s definitely not a bad thing.

So how do you connect with potentially thousands of different people at the same time? It’s actually pretty simple:

Think like an audience member.

What do you want to see when you click on an article? Do you want to have to stop and look up a bunch of words you don’t know? Do you want to have to wade through long-winded sentences to decipher just what the heck a person’s going on about?

Unless you’re some sort of masochist, the answer is “no.”

The members of your audience can be caprici–fickle. They can be fickle. And – admit it – you can be too, at times. Ever click a link on your Facebook page that you thought would interest you, only to immediately get that “TL;DR” feeling once you see a gigantic wall of text?

We live in a world of instant gratification. We want our information, and we want it now. We don’t want to have to waste time weaving through some narcissistic writer’s “masterful prose” to get to his point.

You hate when you run into that guy on the interwebz. Don’t be that guy on the interwebz.

Be More Efficient

So maybe it’s a tall task to break the habit of writing academically. I know it was for me – and I still struggle with it.

But the good part about this is that by focusing less on sounding smart by using million-dollar words, you’ll have more time and energy to focus on actually providing value. And that’s really all your audience cares about.

As a writer, which would you rather do: Waste countless thinking of synonyms and extended metaphors, or spend time churning out quality content that gets your point across in a clear, concise manner?

When It’s Okay to Be Fancy

Before I let you go, I want to make sure you don’t leave thinking it’s never okay to use those English 101-approved masterpieces. There’s a time and place for everything, after all.

  • Use a complex word if it’s necessary. If the simple version of your word doesn’t do justice to what you’re trying to say, go for it.

Good Example: “Michael Jackson obtained the rights to the Beatles’ songs.” (“Got the rights” just doesn’t work in this situation, even though “obtained” is a fancy way of saying “got”)

Bad Example: “I obtained a candy bar from the store.” No, fancypants. You got  a candy bar from the store.

  • Use a complex word if it was the first word you thought of. Don’t dumb down your writing just for the sake of it. But don’t spend countless minutes looking up a fancier word just to make yourself look smart.
  • Use a complex word when making a specific point. Don’t utilize sesquipedal words unless you’re endeavoring to prove..something.

Okay, that last sentence left me exhausted. I’ll see you next time.

Making the Transition from Academia to Web Writing

So you’ve decided to start a blog. That’s absolutely awesome! The world needs people like you to share their ideas and knowledge rather than hoarding it all for themselves. Go you!

But the party is now over. To put it bluntly: no one cares about you. I mean that in the nicest way possible. The general population does not have the time, and does not want to put in the effort, to celebrate you just for existing. It’s better you learn that now, while your blog is still in its infancy, rather than months or years from now when you have hundreds of posts under your belt, but only a handful of daily visitors.

It sounds harsh, but people don’t care about you as a person. They only care about you in terms of what you can do for them. If you’re not providing valuable content for your audience, they’ll quickly move on to the next blog that does—there are hundreds, if not thousands, more to choose from.

I know, I know. You want your voice to be heard. And I’m not saying it can’t be. I’m saying no one will listen if you’re not doing something for them. If you want others to listen to you, you have to do so on their terms.

This can be incredibly hard to wrap your mind around when you’re just getting started. But take a second to realize why that is:

In grade school and college, why did you write all those essays, papers, and speeches? It wasn’t for your audience; you knew they couldn’t care less. It wasn’t even for your professors; you weren’t teaching them anything they didn’t already know. You wrote them for yourself. So your classmates and teachers could see just how much you know, so you could get a good grade and move on with your life.

academic writing
Those long-winded assignments weren’t doing you any favors

That’s not what you’re here for anymore. No one is clicking through the Internet thinking “I wonder what Jane from Minnesota thinks of [insert hot-button topic here].” They’re clicking around searching for information that’s valuable to them. Your opinion does not matter. All that matters is whether or not you can provide something valuable to your readers. If you can’t, there’s someone else who can.

So now the question is: how can you transition from the egocentric academic writing you’ve been used to your entire life to community-focused, informational pieces that are valuable to thousands, perhaps millions, of individuals throughout the world?

Throughout the next few days, I’ll be rolling out some more information about how to make this transition as seamless as possible. The first step you’ll be taking is to eliminate the million-dollar words from your vocabulary. Focus on keeping your writing as simple as possible throughout the rest of the day, and I’ll be back tomorrow with more.