By Peter Springett | @PeterSpringett
Most of us already have the raw skills to draft a blog, even if we’re yet to find our voice. Look at the caption you just wrote for a holiday photo on Facebook. Or that online argument about the new manager for your soccer team.
Facebook is often the place where I start when coaching aspiring bloggers. That’s because the move to writing for a wider audience has a strange effect on our voice. People who are fluent on social media with friends and family clam up when typing the first blog for their business.
Talking a good story
But social is a good place to start. The days of having to churn out copy like a Times leader writer are long gone. Today, most successful bloggers have an informal, distinctive voice that wouldn’t look out of place when discussing politics, books, cooking or sport with friends.
It’s all about holding a natural conversation. So much so I’m always encouraging people to imagine, when they write, that they are talking to a friend over coffee, or holding forth at dinner party.
Talking is the key word here. One of my favourite ‘writing’ tools is the voice recorder on my smartphone. When the words won’t appear, I record my ideas, and then transcribe them. As I get more confident, I explore different tones of voice, or imagine I’m in conversation with a colleague, a friend or my boss. This helps me to unlock the best turn of phrase.
Break up sentences to keep copy punchy
What next? When I’m transcribing my recording (or just getting ideas down on the page) I try to break the copy down to the smallest units of sense possible. This makes it easier to organize ideas, if I need, before I combine phrases into longer sentences.
That said, many of the original statements survive. Short and sweet is best. If I’m not sure where to break the copy, I’ll read it out again. Does it sound natural? Am I running out of breath as my sentence runs across two or more lines? Try and be a ruthless editor with your copy. Less is always more.
Add ‘sign posts’ wherever possible
Building on that idea, I’m a big fan of ‘sign posts’. These are the elements of copy that steer your reader through your article. Add short sub-headings that direct the reader’s eye to important information. In the same way, the opening sentence of a paragraph should be as short as possible. Think of it as the headline for the copy that follows.
Other style points
Don’t use capital letters except in headlines, proper nouns and the start of sentences. Don’t use them to draw attention to a particular WORD. It looks like you are shouting out loud.
And avoid overuse of exclamation marks and question marks. With the former, one per blog is pretty much the allowance these days. Rhetorical questions are great, but don’t overuse and certainly don’t run two or three together.
Bringing copy to life
The harsh truth is that it takes years of writing to become a Seth Godin or Timothy Hughes for that matter.
The one advantage you have over anyone, even Seth and Tim, is your own experience. Keep a notepad or digital equivalent with you always for when inspiration strikes. The co-founders of Digital Leadership Associates, Adam Gray and Tim Hughes, are past masters at bringing a personal anecdote to life. This could be anything from an argument with a colleague or prospect, a sporting event, or an article they read over the weekend.
Blogs can be emotional as well. Anything that made you laugh, or cry, or both, will help bring an article to life. Here’s a link to a blog where I talk about experiences that you can weave into your articles.
10 ideas to inspire your next blog post. https://buff.ly/2wDdo1l
One last tip. Don’t be afraid to imitate the voice of your favourite writer. I have one ex-colleague who was stuck for words until he discovered he spoke fluent Jeremy Clarkeson. Thankfully he went on develop his own style, but by imitating a popular writer he found the confidence to write some of the best blogs published by that business.
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