Editorial Day: How to Write Real Good

Flomu (or whatever he calls himself now) has decreed that today shall be Editorial Day. So I shall oblige and write an editorial. In the spirit of Flomu himself, a self-proclaimed cynical asshole, I’ll write a meta post explaining how much other bloggers suck and pissing everyone off giving helpful writing advice. This is more intended for other bloggers than for my regular readers, so you might want to skip this, unless you’re interested in improving your own writing.

How to Write Real Good

  1. Have something to say.
  2. Say it.
  3. Stop.

Commentary

First, let me acknowledge that I am not the world’s best writer. A more accurate title for this post would be “How to Not Write Crap.” Because honestly, that is likely all you will have time for as a blogger, especially as an episodic blogger who publishes at least a post a day.

If I say so myself, I do ok with step three: see two of my favorite posts. Some writers seem to think that length is a good thing: I see them brag about how they wrote a thousand word post on Twitter. Later, I go read the thousand word post, and it manages to say less than my zero word post did. So before you write a thousand word post, make sure you have something to say! And once you say it, stop! It takes your readers time to read your posts. Don’t make that time wasted.

My biggest difficulties are with steps one and two. I don’t always have a lot to say, especially with episodic posts. But that’s where step three comes in, because when I don’t have anything more to say, I stop. I’d much rather read (and write) a ten word post that says very little than a thousand word post that says the same thing.

And when I do have a lot to say, I tend to have a bit of a problem with step two (I think). I write as if I’m talking to myself, and if something is obvious, I skip over it. The problem is that things that seem obvious to me are not necessarily obvious to everyone else, and vice-versa.

But in general, step two is the easy one, although of course you could spend a lifetime improving at it. It’s steps one and three that give people the most difficulty.

Here’s one suggestion for step one: organize your thoughts. Don’t just put everything in a mass of paragraphs. I like to plan out what I’m going to say before I even start writing. I put in the section headers beforehand, and have an outline of what I’m going to say. Before I used section headings, my writing was a rambling mess, and I felt that using sections helped immensely. This will help with step three as well, since once you’ve fleshed out the topics, you’re done.

An essential part of having something to say is limiting what you’re going to say. I could easily write a thousand page book analyzing Mawaru Penguindrum, for example. But I don’t. No one wants to read that. Pick some important points, and say them. Try to say everything and you end up saying nothing at all.

Also, use lists and relevant pictures when necessary! You’re writing something for people to read, not trying to impress your high school English teacher.

How to Make Me Read Your Blog

I subscribe to over eighty blogs, which publish over fifty items per day. Unfortunately, if I would like to do anything besides read blogs all day, I cannot read all of these posts. I’d estimate that I read about 10% of the posts, skim 40%, and skip the rest. How do I decide which to read, skim or skip?

Well, the best way to get all your articles in the read pile is to write interesting posts! Two of my favorite bloggers to read are animekritik and E Minor (E Minor, come back!). They always have something interesting to say, and are masters at step one. They both know how to stop, as well. I’ll read everything they write, even if it’s about a show I haven’t seen. Check out some of their posts for good examples.

But, not everyone will always have the most interesting things to say. Here are some easy steps you can take to move your post up to the skim or read piles:

  1. Make your post viewable in Google Reader! I am lazy. If I have to open a new tab to read your post, my enthusiasm will wane. There is no excuse for not doing this. Hey, Anya, BeldenOtaku, Justin, Riyoga, AOIA, Nakayo, Glo, feal87, TWWK and Marina, I’m talking to you! On a related note, make sure your pictures work in Google Reader! And create a favicon!
  2. Give a thoughtful title to your posts. This is the first part of your post I read, and your first chance to catch my attention. And no, “Mirai Nikki 11” is not a thoughtful title.
  3. A blog post is not a letter! I’ll give a shout out to my friends beldenotaku and feal87! If you haven’t hooked me by your title, I’ll decide whether to read your post or not based on the first sentence. If that sentence begins with “Hey minna” or “Hello everyone” I’ve already lost interest. Just say what you want to say, don’t add pointless fluff!
  4. Don’t summarize! Perhaps some people read blogs for summaries, but this is how to make me read your blog. I have already watched the episode, and reading a summary is a waste of my time. If I haven’t watched the episode, it’s because I didn’t like the show and am not going to read your post anyway. I will skip anything that smacks of a summary. So if you must summarize, clearly delineate the summary from your own thoughts. I might scroll down to read your thoughts then.
  5. Talk about anime, not how much you suck (you don’t!), how busy you are, or your lengthy quest to write your blog post. Some personal stuff is fine, but don’t let your blog be about your journey to write a blog.

Doing these things will increase the chances I’ll read your post. But again, the best way is to write interesting posts. The take-away message is:

  1. Have something to say.
  2. Say it.
  3. Stop.

They say one who masters English is to become the Masterof all. Go forth and become the Masterof all!

60 thoughts on “Editorial Day: How to Write Real Good

    1. Today is Editorial Day, where you too can be a cynical asshole! Forgot to mention it, but you guys are also great at step one.

  1. Awesome post. Ugh summaries, and a smaller ugh to posts not readable in google reader. I open a tab for two-thirds of all posts anyway, but I prefer to be able to read the post without doing so for the remaining third I feel like it. Summaries I always skip, and long posts without substance are what made me unfollow several blogs.

    1. “I open a tab for two-thirds of all posts anyway, but I prefer to be able to read the post without doing so for the remaining third.”

      Ignore the “I feel like it” part :P. This is what I get for editing on the run and not reading the entire comment before posting.

  2. While I have considered “Hey minna” to be useless, I still do it because it helps focus me into what I’m about to do. Call is a bad habit, but it’s just one of those things to help me get the right thought processes going to write what I need to write.
    And I agree, having something to say is key, which is why I bundle some anime like Shinryaku! Ika Musume. If I don’t much to go over (being a comedy series) there’s no point in making a post about nothing.
    “Saying it” is harder than it sounds, and is something everyone who learns to write struggles with. Knowing what you want to say and then knowing to properly convey your meaning is a skill not easily obtained for some.
    Stopping is difficult only if I’m over-excited about what I’m writing about. At least 2 a week I end up cutting down at least 40% of what I’ve written before posting, because I realized it wasn’t necessary or it was just repetitious rambling.
    These are good thoughts, and I’m looking into how to make a wordpress blog readable on Google Reader as I type.

    1. If putting “Hey minna” helps you focus, maybe you can write it first and then take it out after you’re finished? Just a thought.

      “Saying it” is easy, it’s “saying it well” that’s hard. 🙂 I’m perfectly willing to look past grammatical errors and awkward wording if the ideas being conveyed are interesting. And you tend to be pretty good at step three from what I’ve seen.

      To make your posts readable in Google Reader from WordPress, go to your Dashboard, Settings, Reading Settings, and choose to show “Full Text” instead of a summary. It’s easy. 🙂

      1. Oh, thanks, I’ll get that fixed right away.
        As far as keeping or leaving “Hey minna”….I’ll have to think about it. I mean, it’s one of those nothing items that really doesn’t do anything but, at the same time, I don’t really wanna not do it.

  3. With episodic posts, I’ve always found it helpful to look at one or two points about an episode that stand out to you and then stick to writing about those in detail. There are so many episodic blogs around that even with series that are lower on the general viewer’s radar, there are still likely to be at least 2-3 other people writing about them if the shows are fansubbed at a steady rate. That means there will be overlap in what people write about, so trying to cover everything is a fool’s errand. Just write about what interests you most, even if it’s minor — especially if it’s minor, actually. It might be something someone else overlooked.

    Your “stop” point definitely should be something people take into account — including myself. Sometimes your thoughts buzz so much about a series, and you have so much you want to say, and as a result, your writing is all over the place. Again, grabbing a definite focus and sticking to that helps.

    And when all else fails for me, I just make dumb jokes.

    1. Agreed, and a great point— the minor things are the ones people are most likely to miss, and can add the most to a discussion.

      And hey, dumb jokes definitely qualify as something to say!

    2. Regarding the “fool’s errand”: I notice some people don’t seem to know the difference between summarize the main plot points and relating every freaking thing that happened.

      If you find yourself typing things like: “Then they walk down the stairs”, “Then she looks around”, and so forth, you probably are wasting your own time, to say nothing of your readers.

      As Shin says, think about what interests you. Don’t type it because it happened, type it because it stood out as an *interesting* detail to you. If it really is interesting that someone is looking around, maybe you can explain why you thought that was important, surprising, or funny.

  4. Nothing disappoints me more when I click on a blog and it’s just episode summaries. I understand if you have to summarize a bit to put what you’re about to say into context (I do that myself) but if it’s just summary? No. I already saw the episode. I want to know what other people think about it. That the main reason why I read episodic blogs, and try to make mine like that in turn.

  5. You didn’t mention rewriting and proofreading. I’ve read too many blog posts which follow your three steps and are painful to read because those were missing.

    1. Yes, proofreading is important too. I always reread my posts before publishing them. But I’d much rather read a post that had something to say and was written messily than a beautiful piece of language saying nothing at all.

  6. hey minna

    Let’s start a petition to get E Minor back. Those always work.

    Some personal stuff is fine, but don’t let your blog be about your journey to write a blog.

    I’ll get there eventually, I promise.

    Until Next Time, FLO BALLER

  7. Great post, I love the 3 rules and wish some police could enforce those. They should also be applied to twitter.

    When writing an episodic post about an anime there is one important rule I follow, if it is over 350 words it is too long, no exceptions. However a post like this post can be as long as it needs to be to explain the content properly.

    On a side note I only read this article because the title is great. It totally contradicts itself.

    1. I think that longer posts can be appropriate: most of my Penguindrum posts are around a thousand words. Most are less than 350 though. It all depends how much you have to say.

      The title is actually a loving but teasing reference to this article, which focuses on the form but not the essence of writing.

  8. I tend to follow the “Do Not Summarize” rule to a fault, but there’s some interesting things here that I never thought of. I don’t really consider the titles of my posts because I’m usually discussing different series than other people, and because I don’t start all my posts the same way. I also never considered Google Reader, but I’m not sure how to make a post viewable there. For all I know, my posts already are.

    1. I somehow missed you, but your posts don’t show up on Google Reader either. 🙂 See my earlier tips to BeldenOtaku.

      The title is the first thing that people read of your post, and your best chance to draw them in.

  9. Ahh…Google Reader. There was a time I had no idea my screencaps took over nearly half of the screen in that thing. Imagine the horror. I still have no idea how to get myself an awesome favicon. GODDAMN.

    Like you, I found it easier to organize my thoughts by dividing things into sections especially with shows where I find a lot to blabber about. “Stop.” is an incredibly useful piece of advice. We’re not trying to reach a specific word (or post) count here. Sometimes I have nothing to say about Mirai Nikki so I just don’t try at all. But there are times when I have so much to say and this is seen through my posts on Un-Go and HxH. Luckily, I’m motivated to write so much about them because there aren’t a lot of places where you can discuss both shows extensively.

    I’ll definitely keep these tips in mind, I’ve come across posts I wish I never wrote but hey, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve.

  10. Ooooh very nice post! I have only done one editorial post in my whole ani-blogging “career” And that was basically a few anime characters that I could relate to, but yeah it helped to have a few others toss me some advice and help.

    As for episodic posts yeah the whole welcome back or hi! Does get old trust me I have tried my best to avoid doing that. And for summarizing an episode I don’t really like to do that at all! And I agree most people that comment have already seen the episode so why do they want to read that part? Then again that is something we have always done on Metanorn.

    And end thoughts on a episode I try to have a “plan” on what to comment on.Normally I talk about the good points or stuff that stood out! Like guilty crown, while there is a lot to bash on there are rare moments when you find a cool moment to talk about.

    In the end I just have a great time making screen cap comments or doing a few things with graphics for a few jokes. There is always something fun to be found for me during those parts of blogging.

    Thanks for this post lots of great info here.

    1. I said “never summarize”, but rules are meant to be broken. For example, Jesus159159159 always summarizes the episode, and his summaries are hilarious. If you can do it in an entertaining or interesting way it’s fine. Some readers seem to like summaries too. I don’t, but you can’t please everyone.

  11. Hello
    Although I have yet to read this post of yours (half alive, half asleep), I can already tell that it does well what it’s supposed to.

    “Have something to say.
    Say it.
    Stop.”

    Honestly, I’ve been subconsciously using some heuristic that helped me choose which post’s are worth reading and that might’ve been exactly those three short sentences. I remembered something important today and for that I am grateful. Even though I do not blog, in my field of studies it is important to have your point made clear and it’s always good to be aware of that. Thanks and cheers.

    1. Yes, this advice isn’t specific to blogging at all. I actually first heard this from someone telling me how to do technical writing.

  12. Thanks for the shoutout~

    What you say about Google Reader is sad (to me) but true. Since my blog has a black background, I used to love using yellow font in my days of innocence. Then Google readers started complaining that they couldn’t read it on the white GR background. I made a stand, I told them my blog needed to be read in all its (black) purity. Very soon I had to surrender though. Google Reader is just too popular and you do need to accomodate to it.

    1. You should be able to have yellow on your blog and black on google reader. I think if you change the stylesheet to show yellow text and not the inline html the text will still show up black on google reader. You probably already tried that though…

        1. Ahhh, forgot about that. 🙁 That’s much of the reason I pay for hosting (about $60 a year), so I have more control but I can understand perfectly why you’d go with WordPress.

  13. O_O I’ve been called out by scary draggle!

    I went ahead and made my post readable on google reader; I find this ironic though since I, too, use reader to view other blogs and never really thought about how it’s annoying to have to go to the actual page to view past the summary.

    1. Bwah ha ha ha! Don’t worry, I’ll return to my usual mellow self at the stroke of midnight when flomu’s evil spell ends!

      Awesome, good to hear!

  14. Despite how much different I wish this was, that post of mine you linked to has 40% more comments than any other post on my blog. I can only assume my own perception of failing is at least 40% more interesting than my thoughts on anime.

  15. You do have a point. This is the only post I’ve written that wasn’t about anime, and it got about five times as many comments as usual. I do think it’s ok to do an occasional post on non-anime things, as long as you don’t let it dominate your entire blog and limit it to the occasional post.

  16. Hello minna,

    That really made me laugh.

    Thank you!

    I also preferred blogs which don’t summarize. Usually, I only read a post if I have an idea of what’s going on and I’m always after for the interesting thoughts and insights which bring new stuff to the table.

  17. Quite self-conscious I see, but no this is not a guide to write well. It’s a guide to write like you, something not everyone want to do. I’m quite fine with my style at the moment and it seems to be working fine in terms of popularity. ;D

    Btw Rss readers mess up my layout and I don’t like to put my whole post in there. 🙂

    1. Well, the commentary section is more for writing like me, but the three steps are something everyone should do.

      The RSS feed is up to you, of course, I’m just pointing out I’d be more likely to read your posts if it didn’t require an extra click through.

      1. I understand your feelings, but adapting the RSS feed to have a proper layout is a bit of a mess.
        I’ll put it in the 2012 things to do just to honor your good work! I like reading your moanings after all…I come here just for that mostly…:D

  18. Hehe, three simple steps that are not quite so simple. ^ ^

    I think the biggest struggle these days with me is still length. I usually try to keep it around 500-600, but lately, I find myself being more and more wordy. Maybe it’s that I write a lot less frequently now, so each time becomes a verbal release.

    Blogging is an ever evolving process, and I guess I’ll find my balance between length, ideas, and meaningless fluff someday.

    1. Or maybe you’ve just had more to say lately. 🙂 That’s definitely not a bad thing.

      I’m constantly working on finding the best balance too.

  19. Gack. Er, uh, I have no idea how you can’t view my posts on Google Reader. Is there a specific setting I’m supposed to change it to?

    Also, yes, I finally read this. I refuse to tell you how I found this!

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