Note from Jon: This is a post by Johnny B. Truant. Aside from being a close friend, he’s also one hell of a writer, and I don’t say that lightly. If you’re a writer, be sure to check out his books.
Ever feel like you started a blog on the right foot, but now it’s stuck in quicksand?
You’re writing lots of posts. You’re promoting them. You’re responding to each and every commenter like they’re your best friend.
But it’s not working. The more you work, the harder you struggle, the deeper you sink.
Well, it might be a little tough to swallow, but here you go:
You could suck at writing.
That’s not the only reason people fail. Some people are just lazy, thinking it’s going to happen without doing any work. Other people never learn how to promote their posts. Still others are totally anonymous, and they need to improve their connections before they can succeed.
But there are also bloggers who do all of that right, and they’re still stuck.
They are working their butts off, doing everything imaginable to promote their blogs, promote affiliate products, and they’re even networking masters who know everybody, but they’re still failing. And it’s because they suck at writing.
Think about that for a second.
You build it and they come … but it sucks, so they leave.
And another potentially great blog bites the dust.
Why sucking at writing sucks for your blog
Let’s start with a little mental exercise.
Pretend you’re standing in front of someone, trying to convince them of something. You could be trying to persuade them to bet on one sports team over another, to buy a new car, or that the climax scene in The Devil’s Advocate is overacted and stupid. Doesn’t matter.
Now, pretend you’ve given your entire persuasive argument to a transcriptionist instead of to the person you’re trying to convince. The transcriptionist will write down all of your powerful words and hand them over for your target to read.
See the problem?
You’ve just been robbed of your body language, your tone of voice, your subtle inflections, your facial expressions, and your withering stare. And all of this while you’re trying to make someone change their mind… and hopefully to tell their friends to do the same.
Unless you use a lot of video and audio, this is your task every time you write on your blog. You’re trying to persuade people to feel what you feel, to tell their friends about you, and maybe to buy from you using only words, which some studies suggest might comprise just seven percent of your total communication arsenal.
You’ve got your hands tied behind your back to the tune of ninety-three percent when you’re writing words on your blog, so you’d better make those words count.
You might think this is a lot of hot air.
You might be sitting there and saying, “Words are words. As long as the reader can understand the message, that’s all that matters.” And you’re right. Tossing together words will indeed get your message across. Your reader will, in fact, be informed. Unless you’re incompetent, that reader will understand you.
But will they be moved?
Will they feel that they must share your post with their friends?
Will they come back to that post over and over?
Will they join your list or subscribe to your feed so that they don’t miss your future posts?
Will they feel a connection with you that they will remember the next time your paths cross?
I kind of doubt it. Nobody has ever said, “Hey Jim, you absolutely MUST drop everything and check out this post I just read! It wasn’t well-written, but MAN did it objectively convey some information!”
You want your message to spread? You want your posts to go viral?
Then don’t just “effectively convey your message.” Instead, write your posts well enough and strongly enough that your words will (as Jon once told me) “hit people with a baseball bat.”
Exhibits A, B, and C
Do you think people shared those posts because Jon effectively conveyed the fact that he’s got a lethal disease, and then informed the reader that his childhood was, factually speaking, adequate?
The objective, factual content of those posts could be conveyed in a five-second elevator pitch: “Jon Morrow built a successful business while being in a wheelchair.”
And if you heard that pitch without Jon’s careful and deliberate delivery, how much would that information impact you? Would you love that “factual content” enough to share that post over 7,000 times and turn it into the most popular post in Problogger’s history? Would you feel compelled to begin following Jon, to join his list, and possibly hire him or join his courses, as many readers of that post did?
Now, if you don’t mind profanity (but ONLY if you don’t mind profanity; you’ve been warned), check out this post I wrote.
That post’s objective content informs the reader that he or she will eventually die. File that little factoid under “shocking epiphanies,” right? Yet almost five thousand people shared that post with their friends — not because of what I said, but because of how I said it.
If you want your posts to go viral — if you want your blog to be found, followed, shared, and loved — you need to do more than to convey your message.
You can’t just share information. You have to share it well. You need to write your posts well. And the bad news is that if you suck as a writer, your blog is doomed — no matter how good your traffic strategy is.
How to know if you suck
I’m not saying you suck. You might not suck at all. If you aren’t getting enough traffic, it’s possible that you haven’t found a good traffic strategy. You might be too new, or you might just have gotten some unlucky breaks.
But let’s at least consider the possibility that your writing sucks. Let’s take a good, hard, honest look.
Now, even if you’re brand new and haven’t gotten much of an audience, I’m sure at least a few people are reading your posts. So, right now, think of those people… and eliminate your mom, dad, cousin, best friend, or anyone else who would tell you that your posts are great even if they aren’t. And then ask yourself some questions:
- Are those people (even if there are only a few) sharing your posts without you asking them to do so? And when they share, what comments do they make when they share (i.e. “This is amazing!” vs. “Here is a useful post”)?
- When people leave comments on your blog, are they raving comments, or are they noncommittal comments like, “You make an interesting point”?
- Do you ever get comments, emails, tweets, or Facebook mentions that are similar to any of the following: “This is exactly what I needed right now,” “You’ve really opened my eyes,” “You said exactly what I was thinking,” “This is going to make a huge difference in my life/business,” or “This is absolutely amazing/astonishing/moving/awesome”?
- Do you ever receive thanks for your posts? (I’m talking about literal thanks: “Thank you for writing this” or something similar. Note: “this was helpful” is not a thank-you.)
- Do you ever get emails from readers in which they share their own personal stories that are similar to what you wrote about in your post?
Well, I have bad news. If you can’t answer yes to any of the above, there’s a decent chance you might suck as a writer.
But all is not lost. Here’s how you can get better.
What to do if you suck
What to do if you suck (in more detail)
This is the part where I give you the magic formula for becoming an amazing writer, right?
Well, bad news. I don’t have a magic formula. Sorry.
I do have a formula, but it’s not magic. It’s the one I just gave you:
The honest answer as to how you improve as a writer is to do more writing and do more reading. No matter what you learn and no matter what whiz-bang writing course you buy, there is no substitute in the end for simply gutting it out and putting more words on the page.
So if you suck, keep writing. Write through the suck. Write a crap-ton of posts. Write copy, e-books, posts, letters to the editor, screenplays, novels, whatever.
It’s like clearing a drain… there’s a certain amount of crap in there, and the only way to get it out is to get it out. Ship what you can and throw out the bad stuff if you must, and then keep writing.
If that sounds disheartening, listen to what Ira Glass, host of This American Life, has to say about putting in the time:
The good news is that none of this is magic or the elusive concept of “artistry.”
Regardless of innate talent, the more you write and the more you read, the better writer you will become. You’ll begin to recognize that certain sentences work while others do not.
You know how when you’re reading something, and it just kind of loses its “flow?” You’ll start to see that when you read your own writing… and when you do, you’ll go back and make a change, read it again, and see if it flows any better. You’ll learn to do that until you get it right.
I wish I had an easier system, but I don’t. Ask any good writer how he or she got good and they’ll tell you: “I kept writing.”
Writing is not an art — not the kind of art you’re born able to do, anyway. Writing is a job. You put your butt in a chair and you work. And work. And work. Great writers are great because they put in their 10,000 hours. That’s all.
I’ll tell you, as a guy who sends a decent number of posts viral, that the posts I write today get vastly, vastly more traffic than they did two years ago. I’m able to write faster all the time. I “hear” my message more clearly each time I write a blog post. I’m more popular each year than I was the year before.
Is that a coincidence? Is it luck?
Or is it the fact that I spend about a thousand hours per year putting words on the page?
(By the way, If you want to see the details of my own process, here’s a post I wrote about how I turned a brand-new idea into a finished, published novel in 29 days.)
A step by step plan to get more traffic
Here’s what to do:
Step 1: DON’T PANIC
If it looks like you might suck as a writer, don’t beat yourself up. Stephen King says that he believes that with a lot of practice, it’s possible to turn a merely competent writer into a good one, and I agree.
Step 2: FILL YOUR TOOLBOX
Speaking of Stephen King, pick up his book On Writing. It is without question the best book I’ve ever read on the actual practice of writing. Do this step whether you like Stephen King or not, and do it even if you’re a nonfiction writer (as most bloggers are.) Then study it. Trust me on this one.
Step 3: WRITE. WRITE. WRITE.
Put in your hours. It’s not glamorous, but this is how you get better.
If you start to put as much conscious attention on your style and delivery as you put on your actual content, people will, with time, start to share your posts. They’ll start to tell their friends how amazing those posts are. They’ll start to send you notes and leave you comments, thanking you for writing what you’ve written. You’ll gain fans instead of mere visitors, and those fans will tell their friends about you.
When that happens, just watch what happens to your traffic. Wait’ll you see how much more effective your guest posts become. Wait’ll you see how many more people follow your calls to action, join your list, or become customers making it easier to monetize your blog.
Writing well requires hard work, and there is no substitute for hard work. But that’s good news, because few of your competitors are willing to put in the time and effort to become better.