writing and blogging

Writing and Blogging – Twin Stars

In an earlier article, “37 Great Ideas for an Active Retirement”, I included Blogging as one of those ideas (Number 18 in the list). The article also has a link to a good source on how to start a WordPress blog. I’ve started upwards of probably half-a-dozen WordPress blogs at this stage, and it’s a fun thing to do.

Freelance Writer Portfolio

A blog is also a great place for freelance writers to maintain a writing example portfolio. Please follow these links to some of my writing examples:

According to the software company Ahrefs, there are about 600 million blogs included in the roughly 1.9 billion websites currently on the Internet. More than 31% of the entire Internet is therefore made up of blogs. We’ll talk about Ahrefs again later but first, let’s look at the other Twin Star to blogging – writing.

Good Content for a Good Blog

A blog has an enormous appetite for good content if it’s going to get any traction in terms of visitors from search engines like Google. We’ll touch on why later. But for the most part that content is manifested by writing in one form or another. For more insight read this full Ahrefs article.

But good writing is crucial to successful blogging. I have referenced two interesting sites aimed at writers here. It deserves as much attention as the blogging tools and technologies to publish the content on the Internet. Let’s look at some important ideas around the Twin Stars of writing and the blog working together as a successful package.

Good Writing – Polishing the Craft

Writing is a craft. Like any craft, we know good writing when we see it, and some will be better at it than others. But we can learn so much from the masters.

There are many options both online and offline to go about this. Investing the time and effort to discover and select what approach and resources we prefer is both fun and useful. However, I just want to focus here on a few masters of the craft of writing that I have enjoyed very much and I think have helped me in the direction I want to go.

Stephen King

Like his work or hate it, Stephen King is a genius at the craft. His record as a writer attests to that. I think I’ve only read one of his novels, and that was many years ago. I enjoyed it. But his book ‘On Writing, A Memoir Of The Craft’ (2012, Hodder) is a goldmine of advice and technique for anyone interested in writing.

For example, his ‘Great Commandment’ for aspiring writers is ‘read a lot and write a lot’. He detests adverbs, the passive voice, and redundant words, or wordy fluff, in prose. He says drafting and redrafting are foundational to good writing. An editor from his early years of writing, he says,
‘did me a hell of a favor’,
by pointing out that he needed to revise the length of a first draft of a new novel as follows:
Rewrite Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.

If we read only one book on the craft of writing, this is the one to go for. But there are other worthwhile works.

William Zinsser

There is a ton of blogs online about writing and I think I picked up this lead from one of them. It’s Zinsser’s book, ‘On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction’ (2016, Harper Perennial).

The book confirms a lot of what Stephen King advised and expands on many other useful areas, such as ‘Writing About Yourself: The Memoir’. His book, being nonfiction-orientated, would be more relevant to bloggers. He covers many dimensions of writing that aren’t obvious to the less experienced.

He emphasises, ‘The essence of writing is rewriting: it’s where the game is won or lost’. He speaks in-depth about important aspects, such as the element of surprise, the fragility of credibility, and people and places being the twin pillars on which most nonfiction is built. Many ultra-useful chapters, including ‘Business Writing: Writing in Your Job’. Assimilating this book would be rewarding for any budding writer and it’s a close second to King’s ‘On Writing’.

William Strunk Jr.

Strunk’s short book, ‘The Elements of Style’ (2018, Edited by De A’Morelli) is a classic. It’s a “do’s and don’t’s” of structure, styling, and grammar. He emphasises George Orwell’s notable advice to writers, highlighting clarity, simplicity, and focus. The book is not exciting, but is most useful. It can be read in bite-sized chunks in any order to assimilate its wisdom.

Dr. Frank Luntz

Luntz is a wordsmith more so than a writer. I have just started his book titled, ‘Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear’ (2007, Hachette). Pundits call him a ‘language architect’ in the political and business arenas and his guidance is sought in crafting the narrative for heavyweight political campaigns. I am very interested in the subject of word choice, and I expect the book will be enlightening. If the material is worthwhile I will update this section in due course.

Decisions Around Content and Keywords

In 2020 the software company Ahrefs determined that over 90% of the content on the Internet gets no, zero, traffic from Google, known as organic traffic. Hence we need to decide if organic traffic is important for us, or not.

If Google organic traffic is important, we need to consider search engine optimisation (SEO), and keyword research and analysis, to steer us toward creating the right content. A good introduction to SEO is available here.

Organic traffic takes time and effort to cultivate. As Ahrefs say here, if nobody is searching for what you’re writing about, you won’t get any traffic from Google – no matter how hard you try.

Keyword research directs SEO around the topics we choose to write about, and keywords within those topics. We need a good keyword research tool for that, the best being the subscription-based Ahrefs keyword research suite of tools. Semrush and Ubersuggest are other options. It’s a big challenge, or almost impossible, to do effective keyword research without subscribing to a good tool.

I have a small-scale, low-budget, keyword research service suitable for small businesses and start-ups available, described here. The service can be ordered here.

AI Writing Assistants

There’s a big buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) writing assistants these days. I suggest each of us try them out for ourselves as it’s useful to have an informed view about them.

After quite a few months of working with two of the leading AI writing assistants, Jasper and ChatGPT, I have decided they are not (yet, perhaps) worth the time and effort in terms of generating good output. For my purposes, the content they produce around useful topics of interest is, in my opinion, beyond poor. When the voices behind these things say little of substance besides how brilliant they are, it seems time to be a little skeptical. Still trying to figure out what all the hype is about.

Finally

Good writing by skilled human beings is going to be the mainstay of good content for a long time yet in my opinion. It is also a very satisfying craft to build skills in, not to speak of being useful, in demand, in so many facets of life and business. Blogging is likely to be the most significant manifestation of that. So let’s dive in, create our niche and make our contribution.