Why Blogging Can Ruin Your Writing

This is reproduced, like all stories are, from John Forde’s Copywriter’s Roundtable No. 447, August 17, 2010.

By Kyle Wagner

“Blogs are an easy way to quickly disseminate information on a regular basis. The downside, obviously, of the proliferation of blogs is that it’s causing writers to lose their ability to write well.”

An editor friend recently confessed that she’d had the toughest time finding a replacement for a food writer position from an enormous pool of applicants from around the country.

The problem? The majority of the hundreds vying for the job had submitted blog-style submissions for a newspaper gig, and when pressed by this editor to resubmit a feature-length piece in a journalistic format, seemed to be incapable of doing so.

After removing the names from the submissions, she sent some of the trial articles over to let me check them out. She was right: They were great blog posts – conversational, casual, and often compelling. Some did contain misspellings and incorrect information, and a few included links in ways that would be far more appropriate online than in a straight newspaper or magazine story. For the most part, though, they were informative and on-topic, concise, and to the point — all the essential elements of a blog.

Few of them, however, bothered with truly smooth transitions between paragraphs, instead jumping from one idea to another in a random, conversational way. Clearly these were first drafts, and little consideration had gone into adjectives, dynamic writing, or active sentence structure.

In fact, many of the applicants hadn’t even taken the time to write a lede or a hook to draw in a reader, nor had many included a “nutgraf” to give the reader something to latch on to as the point of reading the story beyond the main opinion the writer wanted to give. And once that opinion was offered, rarely did the writer offer background or organized information to back up the assertions — usually it was simply lists of reasons as to why it was so.

[Notes: “Lede” and “nut graf” are also written “lead” and “nut graph,” and they’re journalist slang for the “first line or so of the story” and the “sentence or paragraph that sums up what your story’s about, respectively. Just in case you non-journalist types were wondering.]

All of this can be fine – although not always ideal – in a blog post. Readers often come upon blog posts already knowing why they’re there. They’ve searched the web for a topic, and this particular blog has related information to share. It’s not as crucial for the writer of the post to draw the reader in with a catchy hook, overwhelmingly engaging language or solid arguments, nor is it always practical.

Blogs are an easy way to quickly disseminate information on a regular basis. The downside, obviously, of the proliferation of blogs is that it’s causing writers to lose their ability to write well. I call it the flip-flop syndrome: If you look around, many of us can be found in airports, church, and yes, even the White House, wearing those oh-so-ubiquitous flip-flops, in every color imaginable. They’re cheap, easy to slip on, and danged comfortable. Of course, they’re also terrible for our feet, and they look sloppy.

That means folks who wear nice heels and dress shoes stand out as polished, professional, and put-together – just as writers who are able to transition easily
between blog posts and publication writing stand out, as well.

Use your blog posts as a way to practice writing, yes, but don’t get so caught up in the casual, informal nature of the style that you lose your ability to offer strong, creative, well-constructed compositions, too.

Some things to think about that can help keep these two types of writing separate while still exploring them fully:

  1. When you blog, labor over your transitions. Just because you’re blogging, don’t be lazy about starting the next paragraph without any kind of connection to the previous one. This will ensure smooth segues, regardless of the medium, and will make the writing immeasurably more enjoyable to read.
  2. Never turn in a first draft to a any editor. The toughest part about blogging for most longtime writers for mainstream publications is that it can be hard to let go so quickly — now the opposite seems to be true for bloggers trying to break into mainstream publications. Good writers always read over their work and then tweak, fuss, change, fix, rewrite. Rarely is that a bad thing, because a second — or third, or fourth — read can reveal sentence structure and grammatical errors, as well as places where rhythmic flaws and passive voice weaken the story flow.
  3. Look at each writing style as practice for the other. but do both on a regular basis. Many established writers look at blogging the same way painters do
    “studies” for their larger paintings or sculptures — begin a topic on your blog, and then expand on it in a feature story, using the blog as a way to try out some thoughts, offering opinions or getting feedback, and then incorporating your findings into the final, full-length piece.

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