Great writers read for perspective and ideas. Here is a new perspective on how the capital vices can turn into web writing sins.
Don’t be lazy, edit every little detail. We’re putting this at the head of the pack because it just might be the most important detail in crafting a triumphant portfolio of writing.
Edit and proof the title. We blundered this yesterday in our article about cool space perspectives, and the title that first went out didn’t make sense. Of course, we scampered back to fix the slugs, submissions to external sites and auto feeds (one-by-one, that was really fun) but the damage had already been done. By sending that bad title out to our readers through the RSS feed, we failed to inspire them to click and it showed in the first stages of traffic. So, as we experienced yesterday, a perfectly good, even great article fell on fewer eyes because we hastily published it with a bad title. It was a missed opportunity and a little embarrassing too. We fixed it quickly, but lesson learned indeed.
Image captions are just as, if not more, important than the article itself when it comes to search engine rankings. Image captions are also most often the first thing that skimmers (attention is hard to grab these days) generally read first to get a sense of what the article is about.
Follow your own style guide. Whether you are using AP, Chicago or your self-made style guide, set your style rules early and wisely and stay loyal to them.
The article itself. Duh. Read it out loud, read it in your head as you are typing, read it onscreen, on your tablet, mobile phone, etc., and ask yourself if it sounds like a human is speaking. Yes? Congratulations on speaking human. Now check grammar, style, images and last and most certainly not least — the title!
Don’t be envious of better writers, become one. In an age when repackaging content earns traffic and increases Google page rank, content is king. But the royalties come when you start to earn organic traffic — the kind of traffic the invites ad revenue, repeat visitors and a loyal following — and organic traffic comes from organic ideas. Become a thought leader. It is no longer enough to have an original voice, you need to have something to say too. Failing to grow your own ideas can turn you into an idea vampire, a plagiarizer, a content thief. That being said, even the best ideas come from a re-purposed look at a topic. So sit for a minute – stare out the window, phone a friend and let unique thoughts spring forth. There is always a new angle to stand from.
Become a humble writer. Historically, pride is the original and the direct of all seven sins, marking the egotist and his/her desire to be more powerful and beautiful, godlike. It is also associated with the act of casting the greatness of others aside in order to stand taller — to be a slanderer and a saboteur. In Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” pride drove Lucifer’s quest to battle God turning him into Satan. So, it’s really a story of good versus evil:
Be brave, but have humility. Don’t be afraid to write with drama, but understand that your audience is not you, and the dramatic words you choose may not appeal to others. Don’t be too “beautiful”, so to speak.
Admire other writers. Build upon their ideas, congratulate them for words well written and help grow the tribe of great 21st century writers.
We encourage it. Have lust for writing and publishing and reading every word that passes your way. Be lustful for developing a new readership, idea-smithing, writing good stories and completing work. Lust after a task such as writing one piece that might improve or encourage or touch another’s life. Think of writing and publishing like antiquing. You search, and you dig and you ponder your finds until you commit to purchasing a few really special items. In writing, you write and research and think about your articles, but when it comes time to “pay,” you know that you have a good piece in hand and will be happy to own it. Turn your lust into your reader’s love.
Don’t dowse a bowl of quinoa with marinara sauce.
Think about your audience, consider what they want to read and give them that. Do you run a blog but publish longform? The essence of gluttony is selfishness, putting your wanton needs above the needs of others. Writers become writers because we have a lot to say — so often we are just one misguided sentence away from pontificating upon inflated ideas, opinions, sob-stories, politics, and other narcissistic diatribes. If you can’t be objective in web writing, you will probably fail to gain a readership (unless you are targeting a particular niche of wacko’s.) If you want to share every thought in your head, write a book and let those who care to explore your entire head choose to buy it.
Medieval church leader Thomas Aquinas suggested that gluttony be observed at a macro level, so that obsessive and extravagant behaviors not become a transgression – and the same can be applied to writing:
- Praepropere – Eating publishing too soon. Have you done your sloth check?
- Laute – Eating writing too expensively. And what we mean by expensive is, how high is your cost/value ratio of what you’re producing? Has it taken you too long to write an article? Set it aside for another time and start another.
- Nimis – Eating writing too much. That is, writing 500 words and not saying a thing. Cut redundancies, incomplete thoughts, ideas that don’t flow — reduce the waste. We like to make the comparison of packing for a faraway trip: lay out everything you think you’ll need and bring half.
- Ardenter – Eating writing too eagerly. Elizabeth Gilbert outlined a conversation with poet Ruth Stone in her TED Talk about the creative process. Stone told her that when working in the field in rural Virginia, a poem would come in with the wind and she would run to the house as quickly as she could to catch it before it missed her entirely. That (or something like that) definitely happens to writers. But writers can also benefit from marinating in an idea for a while. Ideas are like a great love, they can evolve into something incredibly strong and powerful over time.
- Studiose – Eating writing too daintily. Not everything is lollipops and rainbows and not every place or product or experience deserves a good review. Speak your mind and be strong, just be kind about it.
- Forente – Eating venturing wildly off topic. There is nothing more distracting than not knowing what time zone of an article you are in. If you choose to go off topic, and done well this can make for marvelous reading, tie it back and make a connection. Every paragraph should be connected to the overall topic in some way.
Welcome others to your circle, share the wealth. Don’t keep all of the anchored or reciprocal links for yourself or your own site or one specific site — spread the love. This is what becoming a thought leader is all about. Your readers want to learn something and sharing smart sites with them is a big part of earning their trust. If you want webmasters to link to your site, link to theirs too. Don’t ask for social exposure if you never give it in return. Give as much, give more, than what you get in return. Be the opposite of greedy, be giving and the conversation will come.
Oh, one more thing — don’t make promises that you can’t keep. If you promise a follow up article, follow through.
Don’t attack readers with off-topic, unattractive, and worst of all, distorted images. Imagine looking at a photo of yourself that is distorted – stretched so wide that your face looks like a football, or so tall that you look like a cone-head, or so fuzzy that you become unrecognizable, like a mirage in a house of mirrors. To the person in that photo, it’s insulting. Now, if this is an insult to a person, why wouldn’t it be just as much an insult to a place or a thing or an idea (if only it had a voice!?) Be kind to your images, be kind to your readers — love your images and make the viewers feel great. Images guide the article – it’s the family photo depicting the family tree. It’s the history, the record and you are the historian.
Art by Pieter Bruegel the Elder — (1525-1569) Dutch renaissance genre painter best known for his detailed peasant scenes. Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
© 2013, World on a Fork. All rights reserved.