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20 Tips to Crafting a Brilliant Blog Piece: Part 1

Writing is a craft.

Just like a stubborn carpenter at work, a writer needs to chop, sharpen and give shape to his prose until it comes out pitch-perfect.

Wish to learn more about this ancient craft that has got a lot more promiscuous in style these days? Simple.

Check out William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well.” The book has some rock-solid, practical examples that could help perk up your prose and make you a technically-sound writer in a very short time.

20 Tips to Crafting a Brilliant Blog Piece: Part 1

Here are the top 10 writing tips from the guru of prose William Zinsser: 

#1. “If your job is to write everyday, you learn do it like any other job.”

“The professional writer must establish a daily schedule and stick to it. Writing is a craft and not an art, and the man who runs away from his craft because he lacks inspiration is fooling himself. He is also going broke.” – William Zinsser” 

For some, writing comes easy. They can go on and on tirelessly as if the muse is sitting right on their window sill, whispering.

But for some, writing is hard.  Words don’t flow, let alone sentences.

It’s like sitting down at a typewriter and bleeding. Sure, it was something that Ernest Hemmingway said.  But then, you can totally relate to it. Can’t you?

Tell me, how many times have you ended up changing your lead sentence? How many times, the right word lurks right there in the corner of your mind, but unwilling to show up at the right time?

When you are stuck in such situations, the only recourse is to keep writing.

Ah! What?

Yes. Keep writing.

Come up with a vomit-draft first. That’s easy. Whatever is running in your head put that down pat. But then, remember, it’s a vomit draft. It will be repulsive and smelly, like the smell of undigested food.  But then, believe me, these undigested pieces will evolve into perfect pieces of copy over a period of time. So write, write, and write away.

As one of the renowned authors Jodi Picoult  once said,You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” 

Key takeaway:  Writing should be taken just like any other job. Daily, weekly and monthly targets should be met. Muse or no muse.   

#2. “Rewriting is the essence of writing …”

 “Rewriting is the essence of writing. I pointed out that professional writers rewrite their sentences over and over and then rewrite what they had written. Nobody told all the new computer writers that the essence of writing is rewriting. Just because they are writing fluently doesn’t mean they’re writing well.”

How many of us take the trouble to rewrite our sentences? Not many of us, I believe. It’s understood. For one, you’d have deadlines to meet. Another being, staying glued to your computer and chair for longer hours makes you sick and so on and so forth. Whatever the possible reason is, for many of us rewriting is a hassle.

And, by the way, it’s more than dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Sometimes you need to overhaul the whole copy. That seems too much, right? Take heart.  Markus Zusak rewrote “The Book Thief” almost 200 times.  

Key takeaway: Flex your rewriting muscles, every ounce of it, every day, if you wish to be taken seriously as a writer.

#3. “The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components …”

“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.” 

Clutter dominates our writing these days. According to Zinsser, usage of pompous frills, unnecessary words and meaningless jargons have become commonplace, more so, among the professors and professionals because it makes them sound important. They believe that if the sentence is too simple there must be something wrong with it. The author even cites an example of a bombastic airline announcement where the pilot instead of saying ‘rain’ announces that he is ‘presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation.’

Key takeaway:   Whenever you have a choice, use plain language. Check out the Pompous Ass Words website (yes, literally, there’s a site like that), to know the words that make you sound nothing but a pompous ass. Academicians: Get a grip.

#4. “I urge people to write in the first person: to use “I” and “me” and “us.” They put up a fight.”  

“Writers are obviously at their most natural when they write in the first person. Writing is an intimate transaction between two people, conducted on paper, and it will go well to the extent that it retains its humanity. Therefore I urge people to write in the first person: to use “I” and “me” and “us.” They put up a fight.”  

It’s said that only people with authority should voice their opinions. But then, Zinsser has an opposite viewpoint. According to him, writers should express their opinion if they have got something really interesting to say.

Who am I to say what I think, or what I feel,” is not the right way to look at things.

But then again, there are industries such as newspaper, academia and more, where the usage of ‘I’ isn’t allowed. “In such cases, you could write the first draft in the first person and then take out the’I’ out. At least it will warm up your impersonal style,” adds Zinsser.

Key takeaway:  Express your opinions. Use ‘I’ wherever possible.

#5. “You are writing for yourself …”

“It’s a fundamental question, and it has a fundamental answer: You are writing for yourself. Don’t try to visualize the great audience. There is no such great audience – every reader is a different person. Don’t try to guess what sort of thing editors want to publish or what do you think the country is in a mood to read. Editors and readers don’t know what they want to read until they read it. Besides they’re always looking for something new.” 

Reminds me of a Steve Jobs quote, “Customers don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” For all I know, we all love to write for the audience, not for ourselves. But then Zinsser says, you are writing to please yourself, and if you are entertained in the process of writing, be assured, your readers will be as well.  

Key takeaway: Entertain yourself first. If you are entertained, readers are sure to be.

#6. “Writing is learned by imitation.” 

“Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it. But cultivate the best models. Don’t assume that because an article is in the newspaper or a magazine it must be good. Sloppy editing is common in newspapers, often for lack of time.”

If you are a writer, you should be a big reader as well. And you need to read both good and bad writers. It’s the best way to make out the differences. But then, it doesn’t end there.

Copying good writers – in terms of their style and voice – is equally important.  Jon Morrow, for instance, read pages from Stephen King’s novels loudly before he wrote his highly popular pieces. It’s also said that he copied Stephen King’s book, “On Writing,” word for word, before he become a world famous blogger.   

I know what you are thinking? Why go through so much pain when some writers take the craft so lightly?

It’s because reading good writers not only helps you to get under the skin of your favorite authors, but also helps you develop a style of your own that closely resembles your favorite author. Such imitation helps writers develop a voice of their own in the long run. And if you are one of those who take the craft lightly, you will never be able to make a career out of writing.

Key takeaway: Damian Farnsworth in his Copyblogger post: 12 Writing lessons says: “Memorize stretches of texts, speeches, and poems. Think of it like programming your mind and filling up your idea tank.

#7. “I write entirely by ear and I read everything aloud before letting it go out into the world.”

“Considerations such as sound and rhythm should go into everything you write. If all your sentences move at the same plodding gait, which even you recognize as deadly but don’t know how to cure, read them aloud. (I write entirely by ear and I read everything aloud before letting it go out into the world.) You’ll begin to hear where the trouble lies.”

For writers, reading aloud is a default process, isn’t it?  As writers, we tend to read aloud in our minds. But then, mind you, Zinsser means it in the literal sense. You really need to read your work aloud to know your weak spots.

Key takeaway: No matter what, read your work aloud. Always.

#8. “Unity is the anchor of good writing.”

“Unity is the anchor of good writing. So, first get your unities straight. Unity not only keeps the readers from straggling off in all the directions; it satisfies your reader’s subconscious need for order and reassures them that all is well at the helm.” 

As a writer, you need to take into account unity of pronoun, unity of tense, and unity of mood. Zinsser explains at length about the nitty-gritty’s of unities in the chapter called “Unity.”  Getting unities right is a must if you really want to evolve and make a mark as a writer.

Key takeaway: Unity is a must in good writing.  Take away Unity from writing, and you will sound like an amateur.

#9. “Think small. Decide what corner of your subject you’re going to bite off and be content to cover it and stop.”

“What you think is definitive today will turn undefinitive by tonight, and writers who doggedly pursue every last fact will find themselves pursuing the rainbow and never settling down to write. Every writing project must be reduced before you start to write.” 

Let me admit it!  I give my best shot to all my posts. Some of the questions that keep popping up in my head while reading my posts are: Is it BIW – Best In World? Have I done enough justice to the prose? Did I move heaven and earth? Ah!  And so on and so forth. So I keep on researching, nosing about every nook and cranny of the internet to find every small piece of information that could add value to my copy.  Which means, good number of hours , days and sometimes weeks are spent on writing a single piece.

Which shouldn’t be the case according to Zinsser.  In short, stop researching and start writing.

Key takeaway: Your not writing an encyclopedia or book. You  are a writing a blog piece, to be very precise. So give your best shot. And get over it as soon as possible.  

#10. “Make active verbs activate your sentences.”

“Don’t set up a business that you can start or launch. Don’t say that the president of the company stepped down. Did he resign? Did he retire? Did he get fired? Be precise. Use precise verbs.  If you want to see how active verbs give vitality to the written word, don’t just go back to Hemingway or Thurber or Thoreau. I recommend King James Bible and William Shakespeare.”   

Verbs should be an indispensable part of your writing toolbox. They give momentum to your prose. Helps you visualize an event.  But then, use more dynamic verbs than static verbs.

Key takeaway:  Sit down with your thesaurus as much as you can and get your verbs working. As much as possible.


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Jini Maxin blogs for OpenXcell – an app development company with 7 years and 700 apps to its credit. A crazy geek, a pseudo tech lover, an insane-wimpy mom, and last but far from least, a die-hard bibliophile, who intends to turn over, no fewer than 1000 books, before hammering out her first-class novel. She has been blogging for the tech world for at least 8 years now, after experimenting with the newspaper and advertising medium. If you are interested in reading her, you could check out her blog posts on www.openxcell.com. http://www.openxcell.com

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Comments
  • Jini Fernandez

    Thanks a ton for publishing the post Sian.

  • derbhiledromey

    Great advice for all creative writers, not just bloggers.

  • Jini Fernandez

    I believe, short story writers, novelists and their tribe should be excused here. Flights of fantasy is their forte. All rules mentioned here don’t apply to them, specifically the 3rd point.

  • derbhiledromey

    I’m a novelist and short story writer and I have to say, I think your points absolutely do apply to me and writers like me. I think we creative writers can get too precious about ourselves, and too attached to our words. Some of the best writing is stripped to its essential points.

  • Jini Fernandez

    Ok…for me I try to keep non-fiction pieces plain and clear. However, when it comes to fiction pieces, I love to experiment in terms of sentence structure and all. Such experiments give me some sort of adrenaline rush…something that keeps me going…anyways…to each its own.




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