I’ve learned along the way that, if your blog sucks, people won’t want to read it.
Unfortunately, this is true for all types of writing. You can have all the motivation, inspiration, and great ideas in the world, but if you don’t structure your piece in a way that entrances your audience right away, good luck getting them to finish it.
Sure, you’ll want to write short stories/books/poems with your audience in mind. But what about cover letters? Blog posts? Resumes?
How do we write and make sure readers aren’t bored by the second line?
1. Make your opening line pack a punch.
If your piece doesn’t grab your reader right away, you might as well as goodbye to them now. Think about writing a cover letter—how many applications are actually original and non-formulaic? Start out with a quote or a fact that you find interesting and relates to the position at hand. Deviate from the norm and you’re sure to find your submission closer to the top of the pile.
For creative writing, craft an opening line that is a statement. Usually something short and sweet, instead of some lengthy description, is the way to go. If you hook them in right away, your chances of success are much higher.
2. Edit out the boring details.
I’ve discussed the importance of editing before, but here it is again: make sure you edit any extras that don’t advance your plot/letter/etc. You can talk at length about the brilliant color of your main character’s tulips, but if it doesn’t help your story (or exist as symbolism you’ve crafted), then all you’ll do is bore your audience. Edit, edit, edit.
3. Consider your audience—think like a reader.
Put yourself in the audience’s shoes when writing. If you’re applying for a job as an animal handler in the circus, but your résumé only discusses your circus experience as a ride operator, you might want to reframe how your résumé is written.
Similarly, if you’re writing a creative piece that’s supposed to appeal to the Stephen King horror crowd, maybe leave out the flowery descriptions of your character’s love life. Get to the good stuff.
4. Write in your own voice.
Hemingway once said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”
By all means, write your grand Elizabethan epic in a British accent. But if you haven’t immersed yourself in the culture, the history, and the experience of that time frame, you might end up looking like a fraud. Write what is true to you, in your own voice, and your piece will feel more authentic.
5. Make the ending worthwhile.
Echoing the sentiments of item #1, make the ending worth reading. If you’ve done your job correctly, your readers will be sad that your piece is almost over. Make them hurt even more with a devastatingly crafted ending line.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of this, but by following the five tips above, I’ve found great success in attracting and securing readers, and hopefully provoking some thought along the way. And that, my friends, is what matters to a writer.
Nobody sits down and writes a bestseller on the first try. To my knowledge, it's impossible to find a person, much less an experienced writer, who puts forth a grammatically correct, perfectly balanced, and shiny piece of literature at first chance. The genre doesn't matter---poem, book, short story, research paper, that dull statistical analysis you're writing for work---more likely than not, they'll all fail to impress when written the first time.
And that's okay.
I don't mean to be pessimistic; I only intend to stress the importance of rereading, rewriting, and editing. As a full-time Editor myself, I can't emphasize it enough.
(As Stephen King once said, “To write is human, to edit is divine.”)
Your first draft is your chance to get all of those ideas flying around in your head like anxious birds on paper. Release them. It doesn't matter where they fly at the moment; just let them out so they can stretch their wings. Type (or write) your thoughts and see where they take you. Right now, your grammatical skills or the amount of passivity in your sentences doesn't matter. Just write.
Now that you're sufficiently pleased with releasing those birds and they've calmed down a bit, it's time to get them in order and read what you've written. My process usually looks something like this:
You'll find that, not only will rereading/editing your work in multiple drafts make you a better writer, your piece often goes in an unexpected, and better, direction. To view an example, let's look at this poem I created for the purpose of this exercise.
First Draft (Free writing):
It definitely needs work. Let's move on to how it changed when steps 1 and 2 were applied.
Summary of revisions made: Capitalization where necessary, em dashes inserted when breaks between lines weren't full sentences, “within” the current removed since it was strange
Now that this is moderately presentable, it's time to really look at it.
Summary of revisions: “It's hard to know sometimes” section revised and moved to end of poem for emotional impact; "It's hard to know sometimes" changed to "I often wonder"; “Floating from river to ocean” added to tie in river theme; “then, too” added for clarification; “under the weight” removed since currents don't really have weight (do they??)
And the finished product...
I'm not touting this as the best poem ever written, but even this short piece shows editing works wonders. This blog post itself will undergo the same editing process before it's posted.
Returning to the original point: your first draft will likely need some work. But spend the time looking it over, revising it, and giving it a little love---and you may create something magical.
Writer, editor, and storyteller living in the Twin Cities.