“Am I getting better at this?”
It may be the most important question you can ask yourself as a writer.
If you’ve never thought to ask it before, go ahead and do it now.
And be honest. Are you a better writer than you were three months ago? A year ago? Three years ago?
If the answer’s “No” (or even “Yes, but not by much”) then you face a serious problem.
Because your skill as a writer is key to your success as a blogger.
Sure, skillful writing won’t guarantee your success, but a lack of skill will sure as hell hinder it.
But if your writing isn’t improving fast enough, there’s some good news…
It doesn’t mean you’re a slow learner.
It just means you’re not engineering enough opportunities to improve.
Let’s find out how, shall we?
How to Get Better at Anything (Even If You Think You’re Too Lazy to Learn)
If you’re reading this blog, you likely have intentions to become a better writer.
But how often do your intentions turn into action?
Intentions, unfortunately, are as weak as a lazy summer breeze. They are too easily overcome by the seemingly urgent demands of everyday life.
The best way to improve at anything is to commit to something that will force you to raise your game.
Want to improve your fitness? Sign up for a marathon.
Want to improve your presentation skills? Tell your boss you want to give a team talk next month.
Want to become a better writer and blogger? Enter a writing competition judged by experts.
The “Serious Bloggers Only” Spring Contest 2015
At the tail end of 2014, we created a writing competition for subscribers to our Serious Bloggers Only membership program.
We received well over 150 entries, and the winners are celebrated in this post.
Those selected were naturally delighted, but win or lose, we heard one comment time and time again from our members – entering the contest was a catalyst for action:
- Some were inspired to write their first posts and launch their blogs.
- Others finally wrote posts they’d been procrastinating over for months.
- Many simply found the courage to put their work in the spotlight (even though it scared the bejesus out of them.)
With people getting results like these from just entering the contest, we’d be crazy not to run it again, right?
So back in March we launched our Best Posts of Spring 2015. This time we had even more entries, and this post celebrates our latest batch of winners.
But if you’re not an entrant or even an SBO member, keep reading. You can still learn much from studying these winning examples. You just need the right framing. As you review these winners, ask yourself:
What specific ideas or techniques could you borrow for your own writer’s toolbox?
What could it mean for your writing to push yourself in the way these writers have?
Keeping those questions in mind, let’s take a look at the winners.
The Contest Results
Category: Best Storytelling
Winner – Will Falconer – Vital Animal & The Natural Path
This true story of a veterinarian attending a sick cow during a blizzard reads like a thriller. It’s beautifully told and rich with detail that transports us for a few minutes into the world of the writer – which is precisely what great stories do.
Runner-up – Kenneth Camp – KennethACamp.com
This simple story of adoption moved me to tears. The background of the tale is economically but engagingly established but I challenge you not to feel a lump in your throat by the final paragraphs. Sometimes a story doesn’t need a performance, it just needs telling – and that’s what Kenneth does brilliantly here.
Highly commended – Kathleen Tozier – Take Back Your Power to Heal
In this post, a moving account of the death of the writer’s mother is the starting point for a discussion about the lost rituals of grief. The author’s personal story earns her the right to advise us on a difficult topic, and the result is ultimately uplifting.
Category: Most Personality
Winner – John Yeoman – Writers’ Village
This short post is packed with humor and attitude. In fact it’s really just a warm-up act before an invitation for the audience to take center stage. And when the host has introduced the topic du jour so entertainingly, you’ll want to join the conversation.
Runner-up – Rozanne Paxman – Life Muses
This post had me at “The headache hovered on the left, top-side of my head like an Oldsmobile with a flat tire.” This kind of evocative writing ensures that by the time we reach the advice that lies at the heart of this post, we feel like it’s wisdom coming from a close friend.
Highly commended – Jess Campbell – Run, Farm Girl! Run!
In her own words, Jess is a farm girl “and proud of it.” Her enthusiasm for the farming life infuses the writing, and her personality lives in every sentence. She has an agenda – to persuade us of how little we know about farming – but she never preaches or bullies. She’s simply taking us on a journey she’s traveled herself.
Category: Most Fearless
Winner – J.B.W. Tucker – The Writings of J.B.W. Tucker
This writer pulls few punches with a thorough and scholarly treatment of a potentially incendiary topic. Will likely attract a negative response from some quarters, but that hasn’t stopped the writer from clicking “Publish.” Fearless and thought-provoking.
Runner-up – Jodie Milton – Your Primal Essence
Dealing frankly with the symptoms of “feminine disconnect,” this post will undoubtedly lend comfort to women who were previously unable to name their concerns. Openly discussing a topic few would be brave enough to discuss earns this post its place in our list.
Highly commended – Jacqueline Stone – The Mogul Mom (Guest Post)
Jacqueline’s post opens with a somber story about death and then invites us to contemplate our own mortality. While many posts encourage us to make the most of life, few ask us to embrace our own inevitable passing, and this one is all the more impactful for doing so.
Visit Jacqueline’s blog here: Wise Stress Mastery
Category: Best “Big Idea”
Winner – Martin Edwards – Martin Socially
Writing a blog post that hangs on a single metaphor can be tough, but here the idea that entrepreneurship is like baking bread works perfectly. The notion that you should feel the same simple sense of accomplishment about your business as the sight of a newly risen loaf is particularly appealing.
Runner-up – Devishobha Chandramouli – Kidskintha
The headline is certainly eye-catching, but even after the “reveal” (that the “F” in question stands for “Fail” not, well, you know…), Rachel holds our attention with creative reasons that make a familiar topic (that failure is ultimately good) feel fresh and surprising.
Category: Most Epic Scope
Winner – Joseph Scherrer – The Leadership Crucible
Many posts about leadership exist, but few have this ambitious scope. By taking us on a guided tour of every major style of leadership, Joseph not only gives us a 10,000-foot-view view of the topic, but he also demonstrates his own authority in the space.
Runner-up – Mandy O’Neill
This detail-packed guide does for emails what Jon’s Headline Hacks guide does for blog posts. It must have taken a ton of time to create but content this good will pay back the author’s effort many times over.
Highly commended – Hendrik Schuster – skelleton.net
Hendrik understands that even the technically minded need a topic as complex as this to be broken down into clear steps. It’ll be incomprehensible to most readers because of the subject matter, but for its intended audience, it could be a lifesaver.
Category: Most Valuable Post
Winner – Gaye Groover Christmus – Calm. Healthy. Sexy.
I loved the combination of a potentially delicate topic (one’s desire to feel attractive) and highly practical, down-to-earth advice that could make a real difference to its target audience. Gaye uses an honest admission of her own insecurities to bond with an audience who likely feel the same, and then she delivers her valuable advice.
Runner-up – Maat van Uitert – Frugal Chicken
Too many blog posts give advice that simply recycles the accepted wisdom of others. In contrast each of the points in this post feels hard-won from the author’s own experiences, and the post is all the more credible for it.
Highly commended – Wilfried Lehmkuhler – Pick the Brain (Guest Post)
Sometimes a post is valuable because the author has done the hard work for you. This post will be irresistible to anyone thinking of relocating to improve their quality of life because it puts the information they need to pick a destination at their fingertips.
Visit Wilfried’s blog here: Financial Freedom and a Life You Love
Category: Best List Post
Winner – Larisa Lambert Mills – The Writer Editor
The secret to a strong list post is to include points that are not just valuable, but also feel fresh and surprising. While I’ve read dozens of posts encouraging the reader to “go write that book,” Larisa’s post will motivate more people to actually do so by giving many new reasons to sit down and write.
Runner-up – Ellie Hodges – An Emergent Life
The headline promises practical tips, and Ellie delivers in spades. In fact, the bright and breezy tone alone could snap you out of the doldrums. The categories improve the post’s “scannability” and make it easy for the reader to find the most likely cure for their particular flavor of funk.
Highly commended – Jeffrey Benson – Jeff’s Tips
When we think of social media, the same big names come to mind: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. What’s refreshing about this list post is that it introduces us to dozens of lesser-known networks that could still bring valuable traffic and channels that support your goal to monetize your blog. A great idea and a natural candidate for a list post.
Category: Best Execution
Winner – Debashish Das – Medium
This relatively short post is a masterclass in writing technique. It opens with a story, expands to a principle, and ends with a lesson. I particularly loved the example of a wedding photographer shifting focus (pun intended) that brought a familiar theme – “do what you love” – to life.
Runner-up – Rob Kornblum – StartupBros (Guest Post)
A clear headline. An empathetic opening. Strong points with engaging subheads. I don’t know if Rob was channeling Jon while writing this post, but I can easily imagine Mr. Morrow nodding along in approval. The result is a highly-readable post with great advice for the budding entrepreneur.
Visit Rob’s blog here: StartLaunchGrow
Highly commended – Peter Banerjea – Tiny Buddha (Guest Post)
Tiny Buddha has become a hugely popular blog with a simple formula – posts that expand the writer’s personal experiences into lessons for the reader. This one follows that formula but does it so well, and with such tightly-written prose, you can easily see why it garnered 400+ comments.
Visit Peter’s blog here: FreeMind PitStop
Most Persuasive Post – Tracy Gillet – Raised Good
The topic of sleep training babies provokes strong views among parents. In this post, Tracy makes a persuasive case on one side of the argument by combining research with her own commonsense reasoning.
Best Creative Post – Courtney Urquhart – I Watch Them Grow
As a blog post, this is short and simple. But the creative idea behind it – creating homemade snowman kits that tap into the Frozen movie phenomenon – was so enchanting that I felt it deserved recognition.
How Can You Create Opportunities to Become a Better Writer?
If you truly want to raise your game as a writer, good intentions aren’t enough.
Why? Because they don’t have a strong track record for producing action.
To actually improve, you must create events in your future that will force you to improve.
In other words, commit to something now that will make inaction uncomfortable.
If you’re a member of Serious Bloggers Only, we’ve made it easy. Simply commit to entering our next contest.
But if you’re not , that’s totally fine. You’ll have to find another way to force your hand.
So announce the date you’ll be starting your new blog.
Or pitch that killer guest post idea to one of your blogging heroes.
Or simply find another writing contest to enter.
However you do it, set things up so that inaction is not an option.
And next time you ask the question “Am I getting better at this?” you’ll have a different answer.
“Yes. I am.”