Developing your blog writing style…

This started life as a comment on the Teck Line blog, about developing one’s own writing style when blogging, but it got out of hand and, like Topsy, just growed, so I copied it over to Word, just using what’s now the sixth para as my comment, as it relates to something another commenter said, so that I could carry on writing. Essentially, it’s a few tips on developing a writing style, about which I know bugger all, as my own style just went off on its own. Yours will, too – just don’t try to hard. I mean that – if you have to work at having a style, as well as work at writing, they whole thing just gets too tedious – you need to let your natural style emerge, then maybe tweak it just a little if it’s rough around the edges. to impose a style on yourself. It’ll never work properly.

First of all, if English is your native tongue, write standard English, don’t lapse into regional dialect or use jargon, or misspell words for some misbegotten humorous effect (I can haz cheezburger my arse!) – a blog is an international affair, and most of your readers won’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Standard English is an extremely versatile language for a writer, and can be read not just by English-speakers, but by people for whom English is a second, or even third, language.

The important things, when it comes to developing a style are to (a) be yourself – falseness and pretension will shine through – and (b) be literate. That’s a particular bugbear of mine – your readers shouldn’t have to work to figure what it is you’re saying. You should also know where the spell-checker lives and use it. To me, anyone who can’t be bothered to spell-check is insulting their readers – not that they deserve any. Always respect your readers – without them, you’re just blogging into a black hole.

Writers who use English as a foreign language should get a little more latitude but, even then, not hitting the spell-check button is still a cardinal sin.

Always read through what you’ve written several times, before you publish it online. The spell-checker won’t correct wrong words spelled properly but misused – to, for example, when you may mean two, or too. Beware of other homophones, too. From a personal viewpoint, I may intend to type I, but it could turn out as A, i, or even eye! It’s a mental hiccup and, again, the spell-checker won’t spot it because it’s not a spelling mistake (actually, it will pick up an orphan i but, for the rest, you’re on your own).

To pick up a point from Sensico (on the original blog’s comments), elisions, like wouldn’t rather than would not, can’t instead of cannot, etc., are perfectly acceptable, and anyone who thinks they’re not is plain wrong – and bloody ill-mannered too, if they should say so. End of argument. They make your text flow better for the reader, and be more user-friendly. I tend to use the full words mainly for emphasis – anything else looks stilted and archaic.

Likewise, don’t lose sleep about split infinitives – the fact that you can’t spit an infinite in Latin (it’s all one word), shouldn’t carry over into English. It used to, but the world has moved on, and only a few, mostly academic, obsessives care any more. Similarly, starting a sentence with and or but used to be considered a capital crime; it doesn’t matter any more, and it’s a fact that, on occasion, you’ll run up a sentence that won’t start smoothly without one or the other. Don’t worry about it.

Please, though, don’t go berserk with exclamation points!!! Strictly speaking they have no place anywhere except in dialogue, but through custom and practice (I have a blind spot when it comes to practise and practice, by the way, but I’ve stopped worrying about it), they have become accepted outside dialogue. Never, though, use more than one, and not too often, either. And on the subject of punctuation, the thing that’s most buggered about with is the ellipsis … that’s three periods, not 12, or 27, just three, and they should be written with a space between each (Word will do that for you). It’s used to indicate that there might well have been more words, but, hey, you know. . .

Above all, though, you need to write as much as possible, so that you don’t have to work at having a style every time you write, it’ll develop and it become perfectly natural. I don’t even think ahead about the words, or my “style”, I just sit down with an idea, and let the words come. Mostly, they’ll be just fine. Really, it is quite possible to try too hard – spontaneity works better.

Occasionally, a sequence of words will look clunky – and if they look clunky to me, they will to my readers, too, so out they go. Don’t tinker, dump them. But here’s a tip – with a rewrite like that, even if it’s only a dozen words or so, don’t delete your clunky words until you’ve written their replacements – otherwise you might lose the thread, if the phone rings, or an email arrives.

Writing about what you know is pretty obvious, but always fact-check (if the nature of your blog requires it, and maybe even if it doesn’t), because if you don’t someone will pop up in your comments to tell you you’re wrong – and often, not pleasantly! My blog has evolved to become mainly about disability, disability benefits, and equipment, plus any related subjects that occur to me, so getting it wrong isn’t an option. The factual stuff is interspersed with comment pieces just for my own entertainment – rants, if you like (my blog’s called Ron’s Rants because I suck at picking names – and also it was the sub-title of my original blog some years ago).

You need to stretch your burgeoning talent, too, and try writing about things that don’t really appeal – try to get 500 words out of what would normally be an unpromising subject – pick something off a news website (and hold yourself to your normal standards – no getting sloppy). Once you have 2 or three sentences, the rest will follow naturally – trust me. . . I do this every few days; not all of them are good enough to post, but quite a few have been posted, and I defy anyone to identify them. I reckon I can get 500 quality words out of almost any subject that’s sensible (but, of course, I get to decide what’s sensible!)

Note: This post was written just to demonstrate that you can get 500 words, or more, from the most unpromising material. I’m not saying you can do this right at the outset (don’t forget, I’ve been at this for years), but even if the result sucks, it’s a useful exercise.

Try not to sit down at your keyboard with too many preconceived ideas. A little while ago, I sat down to write a book review that should have run to maybe 300 words, but it took on a life of its own, went off in a different direction and, over 1,000 words later, it became this https://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/the-sedentary-birder/

I’ve written two posts about the art of blogging, because it is an art – done properly anyway; it should be more than just words on a page – as much as any other form of writing is an art:-

https://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/blogging-technique/

and

https://ronsrants.wordpress.com/2009/01/11/the-ideal-length-of-a-blog-post/

As I’ve said elsewhere on my blog, I’ve been writing steadily since 2004, with a magazine column for the ME Association (in the UK), and also on my website, Ron’s Realm, which in reality is just a blog with delusions of grandeur. When I look back on my early work, it’s identifiably me, but it seems a bit clunky now – and that’s simply because the more you write, the better it gets. More importantly, the easier it gets, too. In the early days I’d often sit looking at a blank screen – now pretty much the only conscious thought it gets is in getting my facts straight – getting the words down is pretty much an auto-pilot thing. Yep, do I know how glib that sounds but, sorry, it’s true. What can I say? Really, if I had to sit and think about every word, I just wouldn’t bother.

If you want to write well, you also need to read – quite a bit. For a start, it’ll help expand your vocabulary, should you need it (most of us do, to some degree, at some time), and you’ll get to experience a lot of different styles. Let’s look at just a few authors:-

Take Stephen King. Technically, he’s not a great writer, but he has a tremendous, innate feel for the dynamics of language, that just sucks you in. Note King’s use of relatively short words, 2 or 3 syllables for the most part – never a bad thing. He also writes about small-town America better than almost anyone else.

In contrast, Dean Koontz – who comes from an anti-intellectual, working-class background much like mine – has a liking for polysyllabic words. It’s a class thing – the mark of an under-educated writer striving to extend his intellectual reach (or maybe he’s just a pretentious sod!). Either way, it’s also a mistake (I’ve been there – I got it out of my system a long time ago). It’s just not smart to use words that might send readers scurrying for a dictionary (which isn’t the same as looking up an unfamiliar word because they want to). It makes them feel dumb, and resent you. It also gets in the way of the narrative and makes you look like a prick.

Read, too, Clifford Simak, possibly my all-time favourite writer and an all-round great human being, which shines throughout his writing. But there was a man who would never break a rule of grammar or punctuation – he’d torture a sentence rather than split an infinitive. But he, too, loved the language, and his quirks lent his writing a unique charm. Like King, his subjects could often be off the wall, but also like King, you were drawn in so slickly, that suspension of disbelief was never a problem – whereas Koontz keeps jolting you out of it. You don’t need suspension of disbelief in a blog post, but you do need to draw your reader in. Look at the words I choose as the cut-off point for my home-page introduction – the Continue Reading instruction often comes a a point where it’s difficult to guess what comes next – without clicking it. That’s a good example of dynamics at work, drawing people in.

It’s also worth mentioning Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days, partly because I’m currently reading it, but also for his sheer skill in making not just a few people, or a town, but an entire Minnesota county and a large chunk of history 100% believable, when it’s total fiction (the first time I read it I assumed it was autobiographical).

I’d also suggest reading a quality newspaper rather than a tabloid; read online – I haven’t bought a paper in years. It won’t help your style much, papers have a house style, apart from their columnists, but it will broaden your horizons and, as so often happens for me, it provides subjects about which to write.

Do read the occasional tabloid, though, because love them or hate them, they are very good at conveying information to their readers in an easily-assimylable form – because they use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs, which makes reading easier. Many years ago, someone once said that a writer should never use a $10 word when a 5 cent one will do (I paraphrase somewhat), and that’s a pretty good rule of thumb.

I have a natural tendency to write complex sentences, partly because the punctuation system I was taught makes that easy, and partly because, well, that’s just me – I tend to ramble. I do try to control it, though, as comparing my current stuff to my early works shows. My point? Your natural style may not be your best, but tweaking is often better than a wholesale revision.

I may revisit this subject at a later date (he said, having no real idea how to wind it up), but for now, above all else, enjoy your blogging, and don’t let the occasional (and sadly inevitable), psycho commenter discourage you. Which brings me to a final point – which I’d have forgotten if I hadn’t flannelled that last bit – never say anything about anybody in your blog that you wouldn’t say to their face, without getting a justifiable smack in the mouth for your pains. Yes, folks, it really is that simple.