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It might seem obvious, but to stand out from the crowd, be a successful writer and blogger—even a successful person for that matter—you have to be interesting. Pique people’s interest with your words or website and they will definitely come back; bore them and you will never see them again.
I’ve been writing, mostly about myself, for almost a year now—surely the least interesting topic you would think—yet have steadily built readership and traffic, mostly through writing alone. It’s simple, self-evident even, but when I write, the interest of my readers is always foremost in mind.
In trying to be interesting and relevant to my readership, often writing about things that are anything but mainstream, here are a couple of things I have learnt, some tips to lift your writing above the mundane.
1. Talking about yourself is never interesting
Most of us probably recognise the archetypal bore—the person who only talks about themselves, demands attention but never listens in return.
In terms of blogging it might seem like a contradiction, and in the context of my site even hypocritical—is not the very definition of blogging to talk about oneself, an online diary shared with the entire world? Yes, but there is a world of difference between the conversational forms of writing: confession, auto-biography, story-telling, and their paler, water-thin imitations: writing that is all narcissism, self-aggrandisement and self-interest.
Even in the form of a diary or autobiography, good writers maintain interest by offering rather than taking, sharing their valuable insight, impressions or emotions—sometime literally spilling blood and tears on the page for the sake of their readers, rather than boring to tears.
As an example, you might assume that the life of a restaurant waiter would be anything but interesting, but by sharing the intimate details of his life with others, along with acerbic wit and insight, the writer of Waiter Rant has built a massive readership, landed a book deal and won awards—and is for the most part 100% interesting.
Interesting writers don’t just talk about themselves, they share themselves as well.
2. Talk to people, not at them
Are you talking to people, or at them? Are you having a conversation, or instead making a speech? If the difference is not obvious you may have a little to learn, for the art of conversation implies the participation of more than one person. A true conversation is shared communication, listening by both parties. Unlike conversation, a speech is a one way street—in the blogging sense, your readers can either listen or get out of the way.
Of course every rule admits an exception—the writer of Violent Acres takes opinion, ranting and unabashed raving to their logical, sometimes illogical extremes—naval gazing with a sharpened seppuku knife if you will, the writing equivalent of “going postal”—but is therefore one of the most interesting, readable blogs around. It’s ok to rant and rave, even be offensive and disagreeable if you do it very, very well.
3. Write what people want to read
Kind of obvious this one, but it can imply something of a mind-shift. To be a good writer you need an appreciation of what others might find interesting, whether that be about yourself or a particular topic, as opposed to what you yourself find interesting. Unfortunately, our own and other’s interest are not always the same thing—a successful, interesting writer always has this point foremost in mind, a semi-critical reader of their own work as they are writing it.
4. Cut the chaff, keep the wheat
Less is often more in writing. Particularly online writing, where attention spans are smaller than they ever have been, competition for attention greater than ever before, it is imperative to keep in mind whether every line is necessary to making your point? Does each sentence, each paragraph further your argument or story? Can you complete your sentence with less words, finish a thought in half the…?
You can immediately recognise good from bad writing by the focus of the author; a good writer stays on topic, builds steadily and maintains energy and flow. Their every word, sentence and paragraph is well chosen and appropriate. Fast-paced, brief, more concentrated writing is easier and more enjoyable to read, and therefore more interesting.
5. Be selfless
To some extent blogging is fundamentally a selfless act, albeit perhaps unconsciously so. For most who blog there is little reward, attention or fame—hours are spent creating, offering something to the world for little in return.
Being selfless is synonymous with self-giving, which, believe it or not, intentionally or otherwise, is almost always interesting. When we offer something that people truly want—good writing, useful advice, helpful information—we automatically become interesting.
We all run a mile when we encounter websites that want something from us without giving anything in return—“sign up,” “complete this survey,” “buy this service;” conversely, the most popular, highly trafficked sites on the internet offer something freely, without explicit reward.
Ultimately selfish people or websites are never interesting—they demand our attention, interest, energy but give nothing in return.
But I’m already interesting?
So you already think you’re interesting? Witty, original and creative. Are you tempted to play with fire, dance with the devil and go for broke? Submit a suitably interesting catchphrase (my entry: “Putting the Miss in Misanthropic”) to the ongoing Violent Acres Catchphrase Contest and receive a link from a high-traffic, PR5 site. And maybe a little personal abuse…
The final list of entrants in the Tips and Tricks Contest has just been released, and it includes entries by Sensitivity to Things friends NetWriting, AllAboutRunning and DontBeShy. Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone as it’s a long list.