You know what? Today we’re not doing the numbered list thing. People love ‘em, but I just count the number of entries wrong and look like a twit. So today we’re talking about an indeterminate number of bold-faced points that help writing blogs stay interesting, engaging, and above-all readable.
Meet the <Enter> Key, Your New Best Friend
Later points will actually have to do specifically with writing; this one is for everyone. There is a button on the left-hand side of your keyboard, just below the pipeline/backslash and above Shift, which says Enter on it. Whenever you come to the end of a train of thought, or you just feel like you’d be pausing in conversation if speaking aloud? Hit that puppy.
That makes even a reasonably long entry much, much, much less scary-looking when Joe Busy-As-Fuck Reader scrolls past your blog in his/her (it could be short for Josephine) RSS feed, or site tracker, or whatever. And, just like in this and Monday’s disastrously numbered post, you’ll want to separate major ideas with bold-faced headers of some kind as well. You can play around with keywords in those or not, as you please — I’ll talk a bit more about that Friday — but the important thing is to get some white space in there. You’re competing with the entire internet for your readers’ attention, so you absolutely can’t look like work, and huge blocks of text look like work.
Have a Schedule; Keep to the Schedule
Hand in hand with that whole “don’t be work for people” thing — not everyone uses RSS feeds or other automatically-updating ways of keeping an eye on your blog. Some people just click their bookmark every day. If you have a regular schedule, they know which days to click and which not to. I’ve always been M-W-F, and plan to stay that way for the foreseeable future; other people go for five or even seven days a week straight out of the door. More power to them, but don’t start out that way and then taper off. You’ll leave your early fans wondering what happened, and the fans that got linked to your page later on thinking that you’re one of those frustrating blogs that’s funny when it posts but not worth keeping track of on a regular basis.
Once in a great while, you just won’t have something to say. I recommend finding a link relating to your subject matter (like writing — we are talking about writing blogs today, right?) and just saying “hey, this is relevant and y’all might like it” on those days, but even if you can’t, post something saying “today the space monkeys ate my socks and I cannot type without my socks.”
No, seriously. That exact phrase. Trust me.
If you know you’re not going to be able to update for a few days (camping trip, say), mention it in the last post you put up before vanishing, and mention when you’ll be updating again. That way the first thing visitors see is the date they can expect you back.
Relate Everything to Writing — Everything!
If you blog about something else, you can probably replace “writing” with that thing and still use this advice. Don’t be afraid to overextend a metaphor in the name of keeping your core audience happy. You can get away with broader themes as well, but you need to stay at least slightly on-topic, or you’re just writing a blog of whatever goes through your head. Unless you’re very famous or very funny, no one’s that interested in checking regularly to see what you’re thinking today.
I have, interestingly enough, given the exact opposite advice on this blog in the past. I was a bit frustrated with overextended metaphors at the time. But you’ll notice I related it to writing.
Make ‘Em Laugh
A smile will do, but shoot for laugh-out-loud, read-it-to-your-coworker levels of funny in your casual writing. Be absurd. Be abrupt. Swear from time to time, but rarely enough that it’s funny when you do. People do want real advice, but remember — competing with the whole internet. There will be other sites giving the same advice you are, guaranteed. If yours also has space monkeys…well, then you’re going places. (Alcoholism also seems to get the laughs, you heartless pricks.)
Keep it Short
Notice how I’ve talked about this for two days and plan to string it out for a third? That’s because I know that a thousand words is seriously pushing both your attention span and mine. However awesome your advice is, look for ways to break it up and turn it into multiple posts. If you get too wordy people start getting bored. That’s all there is to this idea, so I’m going to stop writing about it — see how it works?
Never Number Your Lists
Nah, seriously, you can totally do that. I’m just still sore about skipping a number and mislabeling Monday’s post. Kudos to Nate Wilson of Sometimes, The Wheel Is On Fire for pointing it out to me in the comments.
And that’s the basics of a readable blog. But how about a popular one? We all know the numbers are really what it’s about…and they’re what I’ll be talking about Friday. Stay tuned!