Paraphrasing a very wise SNL character: “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.”
A decade ago, a pair of twenty-somethings at a party asked what I thought about the future of traditional journalism with online media and communication gaining speed, strength and reach.
“The Internet,” I said, as if I had half a clue, “is a double-edged sword. On one side you have this world-shaking, powerful technology that allows anyone to have a voice, to publish what they have to say, a privilege once reserved for those with power and money.”
And the other side of the sword, they asked.
“Not everyone has something to say.”
These days, there’s still a double edge, but it’s on a different sword. There are plenty of people who, through the power of online self-publishing have discovered that, yes, they do actually have something to say.
And the other side of the sword?
Most are not very good at saying it.
It sounds like an uber-snooty remark but, truthfully, there really is an Everest-size difference between saying something and telling a story, between a compelling narrative and a rehash of a diary, between informing and regurgitating, between writing and, well, just typing. There’s a similarly sized difference between getting readers to open your blog and getting them to come back.
Responding to a LinkedIn question I posted about the importance of quality writing in blogs, nearly every poster said yes, they prefer sites that are well written. While the reasons varied, the one that jumped out at me was painfully simple:
“Readers want to feel like they’re having a discussion with somebody smarter than they are. Poor writing, no matter how well informed, won’t get that done.”
Are we talking about Steinbeck? No. Solid writing has less to do with prose and fancy phrasing than it has to do with 3 steps: Having a point, knowing what that point is, and writing to that point. Sounds simple, but a quick cruise through the blogosphere (and, frankly, a lot of legacy media outlets) shows that the importance of a point is, at best, underestimated.
That said, it’s not difficult to, with a few basic tips, make writing significantly better. Really.
Are there bloggers who are wildly successful without great writing skills? Of course. They have to work harder or rely more on their other tools – photography, videography, research, self-promotion, SEO – to not just gain new readers, but to keep them.
Can you rely entirely on great writing to be wildly successful? No. You still have to have something to say.
“If it ain’t one thing …”
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to learn how to turn your writing into powerful storytelling, be sure to check out Spud Hilton‘s session at NMX in January, entitled “Road map to storytelling: Writing that turns visitors into loyal readers.”