By: Marilyn L. Davis
Writing, Hiking, and Solitary Thoughts
Paula LaRocque was a writing coach at The Dallas Morning News and author of The Book on Writing. 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 readers.
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 blogging advice, 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 – a goodie along the way.
Take the Time to Scatter the Goodies
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. I’ve done the same thing. 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 specific 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. Then, I scattered enough goodies that the reader wanted to know what happened next.
However, I couldn’t use words as fillers; each word had to move the story along – sometimes quickly as in a flat trail. Other times, I used words that completely immersed the reader in the experience and were more time-consuming. Still, the overall flow was better when I lengthened about six chapters and didn’t rush the reader to the next experience but scattered enough goodies to keep them interested.
Each Item is Vital for the Post’s Survival
So what makes a good post, and where can you scatter a goodie? Goodies are the flowers growing at 14,000 feet; that unexpected ‘take your breath away’ view. Beyond excellent writing advice, goodies are the personal stories that make a how-to more than instructional.
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.
As the reader, you 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, or given them what we consider a goodie, we’ve got to think about what our readers want.
Bloggers: Lead the Hikers to the End of Your Post
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. We were to enjoy the trail in sections, like a cow 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, no one considered it possible to walk the whole trail.”
Just as it isn’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 provide them with pleasure in reading. What that day-hiker-reader needs is content that is:
- A quick read
- Concise wording
- Helpful and informative
- Interesting facts, a few goodies, and links
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.
Pack Your Gear; We’re Off
So, what’s in our blogger’s backpack? What are the tools we need to make a post interesting, informative, and keeps our readers engaged?
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 1447 words. That’s about a seven-minute read for the average person. Several apps will read your post to you, and then you have an idea of time for readers. Ginger is a grammar checker that also offers this feature.
If you’re not reading your post aloud, then you’re not becoming your anticipated reader, and you might lose them.
2. Concise Wording
What is concise writing for a blog post?
- Using the fewest words to convey the information
- There is a point to each word – they are succinct and to the point
- 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, merely adding additional 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 or your post didn’t help them in ways they anticipated from your title.
What makes any post interesting is when the writer uses their voice – that distinct way they form the sentences and paragraphs and their choices of images, similes, metaphors, or other literary devices to convey the post’s intent.
If you've decided on a particular theme that seems irrelevant to the intent, like I have with hiking and writing, make sure that you can tie these different concepts together so that they make sense to the reader. Click To Tweet
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 waiting in my inbox.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at Two Drops of Ink and FromAddict2Advocate.com
She recently published her memoir, Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.