Writing for the Web

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned wanting to learn how to write better and the idea of a self-directed writing course. I hadn’t forgotten and have been piecing together ideas on what I would want in such a course. I have decided that a good starting place is the subject of ‘writing for the web’. This site could no doubt benefit from better writing and it provides a base to build upon. At the bottom of this post I’m also listing some things I will not be covering in my exploration of this subject.

Writing for the Web

Goal: To understand what is unique about writing for readers of the internet and how to best communicate through written web content.

My approach to this ‘course of study’ will be to research each topic and produce a blog post with what I learn. I may try to tackle some sort of special project in order to apply what I learn also, but I don’t currently know the form this would take.

Topics:

This is a preliminary list of topics that I want to at least touch upon over the next fifteen weeks or so. As I write posts about topics I will link to them here. The list is sure to grow and change as I learn, and I may not tackle topics in the order listed.

How is web writing different?

The Writer

  • Credibility

The Audience

  • Engaging your audience
  • What do they want?

Writing

  • Content structure
    • the inverted pyramid
    • Frame
    • Plan
  • Creative nonfiction
  • Finding a story
  • Characters
  • Guiding the reader
  • Influencing readers
  • Keeping it brief
  • Metaphor
  • Point of view
  • Reconstruction of events
  • Reflection
  • Scenes
  • Subjectivity
  • Truth
  • Use of imagination
  • Headlines
  • Voice
  • Interviewing
  • Is there a ‘perfect’ blog post?
  • Editorial planning
  • Writing well is thinking well

Storytelling

  • What is story?
  • Why is storytelling important?
  • What can story do that facts can’t?
  • How to use storytelling

Research

  • What sort of research is necessary?
  • Pulling research together into a story
  • Where to start?

Ethics

  • Fact or fiction
  • Fact-checking
  • Avoiding plagiarism
  • Acknowledgment of sources
  • Defamation and libel
  • Compression

What I will not cover:

  • Content forms that are primarily audio or visual such as podcasts and videos. I will consider how visual elements affect written web content.
  • How to increase traffic
  • SEO
  • Making money
  • Website design

Becoming a Better Faith Blogger

The PDF for today is one I downloaded as a freebie for subscribing to Ed Cyzewski’s blog a few years back. I’ve followed his blog on and off since around 2012. This same ebook is available on Amazon and NoiseTrade. The ebook is short, 47 pages of content. It is divided into sections so I will use those as headings in this summary.

In explaining why he has written an ebook focused on faith blogging, Ed states:

The goals for Christian blogs can become quite murky at times since we aspire to physically live out our faith. Thinking and writing about it simply won’t do for serious followers of Jesus.

I think of this from another angle: Because I’m seeking to live out my faith, my goals for blogging are strongly influenced by what I believe. This probably amounts to the same thing but is easier to get my head around.

Go Deep

In this section Ed extols the virtues of being succinct and to the point, then also recommends writers at least occasionally take the time to go deep on a particular topic.

Invite Guests

Don’t be afraid that inviting others to contribute yo your blog will make you look like less of an expert, it will probably make you look better.

I do wonder how this can be applied to a personal blog like mine? A basic premise of my approach is that this blog is mostly about stuff I am interested in rather than being a ‘niche’ blog. Though, asking people who I’m curious to learn more about would be an obvious way to include the contributions of others. This is worth some consideration.

The Essentials

Becoming a better faith blogger begins with zeroing in on the essentials for a blog post

Ed points out how easy it is to ramble on about our faith, obscuring the message by telling too much detail in the stories we share.

Make your point. Tell your story. Keep. It. Moving.

Read and Link

By reading other blogs and noticing what they do well, we begin to improve our own writing. Follow other bloggers in your area of interest, know what is being discussed about a topic, be informed.

I also note that Ed specifically recommends reading high quality blogs. Just as the people we hang out with influence our thinking, what we are reading will influence both the content and quality of our writing.

We read other blogs in order to share our unique perspectives with existing conversations or to start new conversations that aren’t happening already.

Be Yourself

Don’t try to pursue some abstract ideal of what a ‘good’ blogger should be. Write in a style and voice that is your own. This means finding a sweet spot between stiff formality and brash oversharing. A blog is not an academic journal, but neither is it drunken commiseration with your best mate.

… real life experiences, if shared with discretion, can be truly powerful.

A good question to ask in the context of being yourself is:

What does this look like to me?

An Unbound Niche

This section is a bit hard to sum up so I will just quote this one paragraph:

While we can’t always write for everyone, we can write for a niche in such a way that our work has its own integrity and power so that our niche is open and unbounded by insider jargon or divisive language.

Paint a scene

This is clearly an art, one which I have not mastered. The idea is to carefully paint a scene for the reader that draws them in and pulls them along. The big challenge is to engage readers in such a way as to make them care about what you are saying.

What Are You For?

Be a writer who builds up rather than tearing down. Twitter holds plenty of examples of folks tearing others down, don’t go there. This is a section that I think definitely applies to Christian bloggers – I’m baffled by the way supposedly Christian people write about other Christians in scathing and nasty ways. Disagreeing does not need to be nasty.

What Ed seems to be saying on this topic is to write about what you are wanting to build up and just leave behind the stuff you might be against. This enables you to write positively instead of standing in opposition to something you don’t like.

Self-Deprecating Humour

Ed recommends using humorous stories about ourselves to let others see us at our most cringe-worthy, embarrassed and vulnerable. People are able to relate to these sorts of stories.

I’m not even sure how to attempt this. Perhaps this shows it is something I need to try for myself and practise?

Summary

Ed uses examples of Christian bloggers to show what he means with each go the topics covered. All the links to these blogs are working in the version currently available via Noisetrade, except for the link to ‘Then I Like Being Naïve’ by Preston Yancey. Oddly the links to Ed’s newsletter sign up and his old blog at inamirrordimly, including the ‘women in ministry series’ which he mentions are broken.

Despite the examples of Christian bloggers, the ebook does not go into much detail about much that is specific to faith blogging, something I was looking for.

100 Day Project

As I dug through my notes in Evernote yesterday I found one about the 100 Day Project. The basic idea is to commit to creating something new everyday for 100 days. The website recommends choosing an object (or objects) you already have as the material for your project and then an action to do with that object.

What Is the 100-Day Project? It’s a celebration of process that encourages everyone to participate in 100 days of making. The great surrender is the process; showing up day after day is the goal. For the 100-Day Project, it’s not about fetishizing finished products—it’s about the process.

I was mulling this idea over while considering what to delete from my vast collection of unread pdfs (see yesterday’s post). Then I realised I can combine my goal of writing 365 blog posts in 2018 with all these pdf articles by using an article a day as a writing prompt. This gives me incentive to read all this stuff and also daily inspiration to write about.

Many of the articles I’ve saved are quite technical but there is lighter stuff in amongst it so you will get some variety. This will also give you some insight into my eclectic interests. I’m excited about this project as it will be fun to read these articles and to do something useful with them.

More books and writing

Swapping blogs for books

In 2017 I did a lot of reading. Some of that was books, but a large amount was articles and blog posts on the internet. As a result of consuming an estimated 3,650 written articles from the web last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that my time could be better spent reading books instead.

Some of the reasons for this conclusion are:

  • Many blog posts end up repeating much the same information as others (especially anything about how to do something with WordPress).
  • Due to the shorter format of even a long web article, reading off the internet is wide but shallow. Good books enable a deeper exploration of a topic.
  •  Most web articles are not particularly well researched (there are exceptions and I love those).
  • Reading from a computer screen in the evening is detrimental to good sleep, something that is becoming more important to me as I get older.
  • I have a massive list of books I want to read!

Therefore, in 2018 one of my goals is to devote my evening reading time to books rather than web articles. In theory this should result in a jump in the number of books I read, and maybe even see me knock off some heavy duty tomes which I keep putting off diving into despite knowing that I will gain much from digesting them.

More writing

A sort-of related goal for this year is that I want to do much more writing. Last year I spent a lot of time tinkering around with websites. I consider this to have been valuable learning experience and don’t regret the time invested but have realised that I’m unlikely to become a full web developer and want to improve my writing skills in 2018 rather than continuing to focus on web development.

The obvious way to improve my writing is to write more, so expect to see much more published on this blog in 2018 than over the last few years. Not all of what I write will end up here (be glad for that), some will be junk, some will be purely practise and some won’t be stuff I want to publish on the internet.

I do see the potential hypocrisy in wanting to read less from blogs yet intending to publish more on my own blog. However, nobody is forcing you to read my blog and it hurts no-one for posts to sit here lonesome and unread. In the long run if my writing improves any lonely unread posts will have been worth the effort.

Poems attach us to one another

I am not a huge poetry fan. I’d like to be, poetry is a sophisticated art and appreciating the art form is a good step in becoming a better writer. Beyond that, poetry at it’s best can touch upon what it means to be human and this I am interested in. This is well expressed in a blog post I read today:

… Since that moment, I’ve believed very deeply that poetry’s sole purpose is to attach us to one another, and I’ve lived by poetry’s guidance to allow that kind of connection to grow in my life. If a poem isn’t reaching out its hand, then I get bored and move on.

I want poems of the bystander trying to make sense of the world. I want poems of rich experience written by women and men unable to turn away from what they must see and what they must say. I want poems that awaken me. If the poem is too detached or too ecstatic, I bristle—they’re fallacies of human emotion. I want the poem that gives life by being true to life. (Dave Harrity at tweetspeak poetry)