Ali Luke is a blogger, writer and writing coach. Ali runs her own blog about writing Aliventures . She has also written three e-books for bloggers,“The Bloggers Guide to Effective Writing“, “The Blogger’s Guide to Freelancing” and “The Blogger’s Guide to Irresistable E-books”. You can see her work in many well-known blogs, such as Pick The Brain, Dumb Little Man Write To Done and Copyblogger.
Ali, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hi! I’m Ali, I live with my husband in Oxford in the UK, and I’m a full-time writer/blogger/writing coach. I write both fiction and non-fiction, and I also work with writers as a coach. My own blog is called Aliventures, but you can also find me posting on a fair few other writing-related blogs, like Copyblogger, ProBlogger, Men with Pens and Write to Done.
I’ve met many people who would like to start their blogs, but they worry about their writing skills. That’s especially common among people who weren’t very good at writing essays in high school and college. What would you say to those people? Are their concerns valid and they should pursue something else? Or can they become successful bloggers even though their blog posts won’t get them Pulitzer prize anytime soon?
I think high school and college have a lot to answer for! I can’t tell you how many great writers I’ve come across who are afraid to put their work out there because they had a bad experience in school. Academic writing is just one way to express yourself, and most of the real writing you’ll do in life isn’t going to be anything like an essay.
Blog readers don’t want Pulitzer-prize-winning prose. They’re not looking for the next Shakespeare. They want friendly, laid-back, conversational language that lets them understand what you’re saying and feel a connection to you, the author. I firmly believe that everyone is capable of writing like that.
Also, don’t forget that writing is a skill, just like any other. No-one’s born able to write well – we learn through being taught and through trying things out. My own writing has improved immeasurably since I started blogging, partly through the sheer volume of posts that I’ve written, but also through taking a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing.
Blogging is a fantastic way to get into writing. No-one expects perfection from a blog post – and you can always go back and change (or even delete) the things that you’ve written. The blogging community is also, on the whole, very supportive and friendly.
People who don’t have much experience with writing often have a hard time figuring what they should write about. What would you say to someone who is stuck with this? Where do you get ideas from?
A great place to start is with your interests, or any particular areas of expertise that you have. For instance, if you love books, you might want to start a blog where you publish book reviews or interviews with authors. If you’re a keen cook, you might post about different recipes and techniques.
You can also use writing prompts to help get the ideas flowing. These tend to be targeted towards people writing memoir or fiction, but even if you’re working on blog posts, you might find that a prompt sparks off a train of thought.
Many bloggers don’t put much efforts to learn about writing, therefore their writing habits are very inefficient. You write for a living, so you can’t really afford to do it inefficiently. Do you have a specific process for writing blog posts? What are the key steps that someone who wants to write a great blog post has to take?
I’ve always written in quite a systematic way – I had a system for essays when I was an undergraduate (I studied English Literature at Cambridge University, so I had to write a lot of essays!) and now I do have a system for blog posts.
My posting system looks like this:
- Come up with ideas. I try to get several at a time – I keep a list on my computer that I add to when I’ve got a few minutes to sit and brainstorm.
- Write an outline for the post. My outlines always have “introduction” at the start and “call to action” at the end. In the middle, I’ll have a few key points – these often become subheadings. If I’m planning a list post, I’ll brainstorm the items for the list and juggle them around to find the best order.
- Draft the post (following the outline). I try to do this in one sitting, so I don’t lose my train of thought. If I’m working on a really big post, though, I might do different sections on different days. When I’m drafting, I don’t worry too much about writing perfect sentences or using correct grammar: I can fix any problems in the editing stage.
- Edit the post. Quite often, I’ll leave a post for a few hours or even overnight so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes. I always find some things that I want to change – sentences to cut out or rewrite, for instance. This is a good chance to look out for typos, too.
- Publish and promote the post. It might seem a bit odd to include this in a writing system, but a big part of any sort of writing involves getting your message out to an audience. Personally, I don’t feel like my writing is complete until it has readers.
I think that most bloggers can use this system. Sometimes you might do things a little differently (for instance, if your idea is for a very short, simple post, you might not need to write an outline) – but these five basic stages should help you to be more efficient.
There are so many blogs out there. This makes it difficult for new bloggers to get their foot in the door, because in order to be noticed, one has to really stand out. How can someone make their writing more interesting and more appealing to their readers? How can a new blogger stand out and catch their reader’s attention?
It is tough to make an impact. Great writing obviously helps – try to get yourself, your personality, into your posts. That doesn’t mean you have to be really outrageous or over-the-top (unless that’s who you are!) – some bloggers are well-known for their gentle, kind personality, like Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett.
One way to stand out is to have a good blog design. I know that might sound like an odd thing for a writer to say – but great design will help your words to really shine. Even something as simple as choosing a nice clear font for your posts will help readers to stay engaged and pay attention.
It’s also important to get the hang of writing in a blog style. Some writers produce blog posts that are more like rambling diary entries, or highly-polished magazine articles: a blog post needs to be somewhere in the middle. You want to give your thoughts and opinions honestly, but that needs to be done in a structured way so that the reader can follow what you’re saying. Make sure that every post you write has a clear point.
It’s obvious that one has to create a high quality content on a regular basis in order to get his or her blog going. However, what is the difference between bad writing and good writing, between bad blog posts and good blog posts? It might be very difficult to objectively evaluate your own writing. How does one know whether they’re writing “useless fluff” or “epic shit”?
Good writing is often quite subjective. There are some bloggers who I know are great writers, but whose style just isn’t a good fit for me personally – so don’t be put off if you find that some readers are reacting against your style.
In general, though, good blog posts:
- Deliver value for the reader – they provide information, or entertainment
- Are clear and easy to read – using subheadings, bullet points, and bold text
- Stick to their topic – long tangents or disconnected posts don’t usually work well
A great way to improve your blogging is to find a writing buddy. Swap posts with them, ask for their feedback, and you’ll find that they come up with all sorts of suggestions that you’d never have thought of. (They’ll also be able to see your typos more easily than you can.)
You’ve said in one of your previous interviews that you don’t experience writer’s block, just writer’s laziness sometimes. What’s your secret to avoiding writer’s block? What would you say to someone who is staring at a blank MS Word page for five hours and can’t write a single paragraph?
I’d say stop, get away from the computer, and do something else. Putting tons of pressure on yourself is definitely going to make you feel stressed about your writing, and that makes things even harder. Writing is supposed to be fun (really!)
A lot of people will say that you should write every day, but I don’t think that’s such great advice. It works for some people, but other writers – like me – prefer to take a day or two off each week. If you’re starting to get burned out, spending a whole weekend away from your writing can re-energize you.
I guess my “secret” is to know when to push myself and when to back off. Usually, if I’m feeling a bit reluctant to start, I’ll tell myself that I’ll just write for 30 minutes. If I’m still really struggling at the end of that time, I know I need a break from my writing – but almost always, I find that I get into the flow after just a few minutes.
Last, but not least, what would be your final piece of advice to our readers who want to write awesome blog posts, but don’t have much experience with that yet? What’s the most important thing there?
Try writing a compilation post, where you bring together great quotes from experts in your field, or you link to valuable resources. This doesn’t require too much in the way of writing skill, but it’s great for your readers – and it shows you in a good light as someone with lots of knowledge about what’s going on in your niche.
A really useful compilation post doesn’t just list a few quotes or links, it gives some context. If you’re pulling together lots of quotes, that context could be a brief bio of each person, or your own thoughts about the quote. If you’re giving links, you could quote from the post/article/book that you’re linking to, or you could create your own short summary.
And keep in mind that one straightforward published post is worth infinitely more to your readers than the world’s most epic post that never makes it off your hard drive. Your compilation doesn’t need to be huge – just three or four great quotes or links could be really useful to your readers.
Don’t forget to visit Ali’s blog, Aliventures, for more great tips on writing!