By: Marilyn L. Davis
Writing, Hiking, and Solitary Thoughts
“An author who composes while walking, on the other hand, is free from such bonds; his thought is not the slave of other volumes, not swollen with verifications, nor weighted with the thought of others. It contains no explanation owed to anyone: just thought, judgement, decision. It is thought born of a movement, an impulse. In it we can feel the body’s elasticity, the rhythm of a dance. ― Frédéric Gros,
Paula LaRocque, author of The Book on Writing was a writing coach at The Dallas Morning News. She tells us to think of readers as hikers on a trail. They’ll tolerate an uphill climb if you sprinkle goodies along the way, and guarantee a reward at the end of the hike. It’s the same with our reader.
Shrouded in Mist – The Unknown Beginning
Granted, you’ve got an idea of where we’re going in this post. Maybe I’m going to scatter tidbits that help you improve your writing, or offer you some advice about blogging, but what’s coming later in the post isn’t apparent quite yet.
It’s still a mystery where my mind and ideas are going.
But maybe, just maybe, you’re trusting that I’ll get you up this hill and reward your efforts with something you can use.
Take the Time to Scatter the Goodies
When I submitted a draft of my memoir to Scott earlier in the year, he cautioned me that I seemed to be rushing to get to the ‘good parts’ and didn’t flesh out certain experiences in my life to give the readers enough backstory to make sense. I had to revise it to include enough information so the readers understood what I was feeling, thinking, and experiencing that preceded my decline into my addiction.
While word count is not necessarily a consideration in my memoir, with standard blog posts of 1500 words, I can get overwhelmed when the writer gives me everything at once. I can’t grasp the importance of one aspect because they’ve overwhelmed me with all their information.
Each Item is Vital for the Post’s Survival
So what makes a good post and where do I scatter a goodie?Beyond excellent writing advice, goodies are the personal stories that make a how-to more than instructional. Click To Tweet
Goodies are the flowers growing at 14,000 feet; that unexpected ‘take your breath away’ view, or a profound sense of self that comes from personal achievements or the realization of our flaws.
I’ve already let you know that I made mistakes in my memoir. I’ve let you know that someone else critiqued it and I survived to write another day, and I’ve let you know how troubled I am when I’m overwhelmed with too much information.
You, as the reader may or may not relate, but I’ve given you something to think about and perhaps, you’ll reflect.
If so, then I’ve done part of my job as a writer. But more than adding what will make a reader think, we’ve got to think about what our readers want.
Bloggers: Lead the Day Hikers
Ben Montgomery explains in Grandma Gatwood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail that, “The trail was designed to have no end, a wild place on which to be comfortably lost for as long as one desired. In those early days nobody fathomed walking the thing from beginning to end in one go. Section hikes, yes. Day hikes, too. But losing yourself for five months, measuring your body against the earth, fingering the edge of mental and physical endurance, wasn’t the point. The trail was to be considered in sections, like a cow is divided into cuts of beef. Even if you sample every slice, to eat the entire beast in a single sitting was not the point. Before 1948, it wasn’t even considered possible.”
Just as it wasn’t possible to hike the entire trail in one day or eat the whole beast, we give our readers just enough to satisfy their need to know or give them pleasure in reading. What that day hiker reader needs is content that is:
- A quick read
- Helpful and informative
Pack Your Gear, We’re Off
Why did I select those four descriptors for our backpack? Because without them, we won’t survive as a blogger; rather like not having enough water, food or knowing where the shelter is on the trail. We’d be doomed to fail.
But we’re also doomed to fail, as bloggers, if we provide too much. It’s a balancing act between what to say and what to leave out.
1. A Quick Read
People search for information and want it now. With more people reading on mobile devices, posts in the 1000-2000 word range do well on Google. The average number of words in a Google Ranked #1 post is 1890 words. That’s about a seven minute read for the average person.
There are several tools that you can use to read your post to you. Ginger is a grammar checker that also offers this feature.
Some words, like concise, show up in a how-to, but what is concise writing?
- Using the fewest words to convey the information.
- There is a point to each word
- The writing flows from one point to the next in an easy to read manner.
While taking extra water on our hike is probably a good idea, simply adding extra words to fulfill a word count is not. Filler words, overly inflated adjectives or adverbs are like distractions on the trail. Maybe it’s okay to stop and look at one interesting bush or pause and listen to the birds chirping, but we’re not getting anywhere. Those extra words, that don’t serve a purpose, prolong the reading experience and remember, they’ll leave if they get bored or tired.
3. Helpful and Informative
Are the words you’re using giving information that you promised in the title and summary? If not, then you’re just writing to write or have something to publish.
It’s not helpful. It’s rather like a broken compass, no one can find North. We’re lost and in turn, our readers are, too. And what happens when a reader gets lost in the content? They skedaddle because they’ve lost interest.
What makes any post interesting is when the writer uses their voice – that distinct way that they form the sentences and paragraphs along with their choices of images, similes, metaphors, or other literary devices to convey the intent of the post.
If you’ve decided on a particular theme that seems irrelevant to the intent, like I have with backpacking, hiking, and writing, make sure that you can tie these seemingly dissimilar concepts together so that they make sense to the reader.
I’d also caution you not to rely too heavily on clever. Hopefully, I haven’t gone too far off the beaten path with this one. Time, views, and comments will of course let me know.
When you’re ready to share your writing advice, prose, poetry, grammar shorts, or memoir, I’ll be back from the wilderness tomorrow. I would love a submission.
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