Bits of knowledge, wisdom and experience on content writing, content strategy and content marketing
Category Archives: Thoughts On Writing
Is the Internet changing the way we write?
Writing is constantly in the process of evolution, as everything else is in this world. Almost 100 new words — taken from new worldly developments and the inter-mixing of various cultures — have been added to the English dictionary in 2009. How much impact has the Internet had on the way we write? This GigaOm blog post cites many instances, for instance the way people write online articles, blog posts, comments, Facebook updates, Tweets, and even text messages. But is that writing? Some of it, yes, most, no. One thing is clear, more and more people are writing, especially with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, but that’s not writing: they simply communicate.
Writing has certainly changed over the years. You read Charles Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and then you read Martin Amis or any other contemporary writers — you notice a big difference. There is less word-play and more communicating of ideas. Readers have less patience of intricate expressions and this is more true on the Internet. But let me not digress into literary writing.
As a content writer and a professional copywriter my primary concern is writing in such a manner that the central idea is conveyed sans obscurity and the reader is prompted to perform an action whether that action is buying something, contacting the business owner, forwarding a link or subscribing to a newsletter. My only concern is that the readers (prospective clients and customers) don’t leave the website just because the copy is too verbose, too long, or too brief.
Considering this, the Internet has definitely made us into better communicators and that’s what writing means: communicating the right ideas to cause the desired effect.
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10 ways of generating interest in your readers
If both the roads are safe and the drive smooth, would you take the shorter way or the longer one? Time is short and sweet, definitely the shorter one, most of us would agree. Longer distances are good if you are on a vacation, you want to tune yourself with the nature and spend some quality time driving. Now, think your reader is the driver of the car and the roads the writing. If you are penning down something for the daily news, columns about technology, climate, retail etc, reports, etc – your reader will like the short road. For novel, thesis, poetry, stories or sometimes elaborate literature articles – the longer route with minute details, flowery language is the key. It’s as simple as GIVE WHAT THEY WANT. So, here we go, giving you what you are looking for – 10 ways of generating interest in your readers:
Identify your reader – If you know your reader well, you can work in that direction.
Interesting headlines – If you have a nice headline in tune with your article half the battle is won. Headlines should be appealing and innovative.
Opening batsman is important – A good start is as important as the opening batsman to his team. A good start will ensure that the reader begins to read your work.
KISS – Keep it short and simple. We all know about this golden rule, but do we always follow it? This is the key to the shorter route.
Avoid jargon – Only when absolutely necessary use jargons and technical terms.
Visual appeal – Break your article into short paragraphs and use a readable font. Readers, usually lose interest in long winding paragraphs.
Flowery language – Again, if this is what your article and reader demands, put it to good use.
Give facts – State facts and numbers as much as you can; as it gives your reader the real picture.
Examples – Oh, my personal favorite. Give examples and try to relate the subject with the reader. Examples help them to identify with the topic and generate curiosity and interest.
Closing paragraph – It is the general tendency to read the start and end; and glance through the middle of the article. Write an impressive closing paragraph, which will the hearts of your audience.
Use these golden rules as per your need, just to correct as per the need of your reader and you sure have a winning piece.
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10 Reasons NOT to become a writer
Yes you read correctly. The word “NOT” is too clear to go unnoticed. Scanning random articles on the internet, on ‘writing’, I came across lots of pieces wherein I was being goaded into ’101′ ways to write effectively or being told about its top ’25′ benefits and sometimes also being reminded about the ‘few’ essentials to keep in mind if I was to build a profitable writing career for myself. While all of that was very good advice( I also love sharing my own experiences with “how-to” articles like these), I think first and foremost, an aspiring write MUST answer the most fundamental question – “WHY DO I WANT TO WRITE?”
I thought of and listed below a few reasons why many budding writers take up writing in the first place and if you answer ‘yes’ to any of these, then either re-think your answers, choose not to answer the questions, lie to yourself or re-visit the whole writing business idea. I’m not exaggerating.
I LOVE Shakespeare and want to be like him someday: Heady goal! And good to know that you aim high, but if becoming a splitting image of the famous bard is the ONLY reason driving you to take up writing as a career, think again! It takes a LOT of natural talent to be like William S and also, he lived in a time when there was only the pen (although that has trials of its own)! No TV’s no radios, not as much competition as one would have to face these days (not undermining his capabilities in any way…I’m a BIG Shakespeare fan myself). But you have to be realistic. Morphing into a modern day Shakespeare is possible, but very difficult and you have got to have a reason stronger than that.
I want to be famous: A stylized version of the above mentioned point with many more connotations and possibilities. And a high probability of the same end result. There is a famous spiritual concept which essentially says that one must not be attached to the fruit of one’s actions, but only perform the action (to the best of his abilities). All aspiring writers should make this the mantra of their lives. And this applies to basically everything in life. Whatever you do, if you do it just for the sake of attaining fame, you probably won’t get famous at all and even if you do, it won’t last and even if it does last, there will be a part of you which will always know that you didn’t do justice to your work.
I want to get rich: A subset of point number 2. And equally disastrous. I would be wrong in saying that writers don’t get rich. Dan Brown and JK Rowling among others would raise their legendary eyebrows if they heard me make an absurd statement like that. It is a known fact that lots of novelists, short story writers, biographers and even freelance writers have made plenty of money, thanks to lots of efforts, time, luck, more time and a lot more effort. But I doubt they started out with that aim in mind. I firmly believe they began writing because of sheer love for the art. If you want to make money, get a high paying IT job, become an investment banker, go to a French culinary school and become a world famous chef, but do not get into writing solely because you want to get rich. For most writers, writing is a time consuming, low paying (at least in the initial years) and sometimes heart breaking affair. So think again.
I used to write in school: Yeah? So? If you really think that having written a few poems in school and a handful of funny short stories in college are enough to make you a published writer overnight, I’m sorry to burst your little bubble. It doesn’t work. Writing is a skill that has to be honed and sharpened each and every day. It doesn’t just “come” to you overnight. It takes a LOT of hard work, a LOT of time, MANY rejection letters and a good many years of patience and undying faith in your abilities and aspirations. To those who go through these trials by fire, and still emerge victorious with a stronger determination, I wish you all the luck! You are on your way to becoming successful writers.
I’m fed up of my day job: Woah! That sounds like something that 90% of the world’s working population is saying at this very moment. If everyone with a boring job quit their work to retreat into the solitude of their homes to become writers, not only would the world become a much quieter place, but at the same time, there’d be chaos on every level of the global economy! Most people who currently hold a day job, but WANT to write, are usually advised to continue writing on the side and I must say, that is VERY sound advice. To such budding writers, I would say, “Get a foothold in the business, get your bearings and when you feel financially stable and emotionally independent, quit your job and take up writing full time-but until then have a steady source of income to feed your dreams of becoming a writer.” To the rest of you guys who want to write because you hate your jobs, I’d say, “Don’t do it! You’re making the biggest mistake of your life.”
I want to make my family proud: Neil Armstrong’s family was proud! But he wasn’t a writer; he just helped mankind take the metaphorical giant leap. My family’s proud of me and I’ve never even set foot in a rocket ship-neither am I another Chetan Bhagat (yet). If you want to make your family and friends proud of you, then do fantastically well at something you’re really good at or alternatively something that you are passionate about. Don’t use writing as an excuse to sort your life at every turn. Do what you want to do. And the pride will emerge unhindered.
I like to express myself this way: This is one of the most common reasons people want to spend their time writing. And I agree, it’s one of the best ways to let one self go. There are few mediums of expression that work as well as writing does. However, I staunchly believe that this alone is not a reason to turn to writing as a career. It may be a good reason for some people, but on an average a freelance writer has to spend hours researching markets and stories, structuring, editing etc. For the daily grind in a freelancer’s life, there is usually little space for expression. However, with creative writing it does help, but to reach a stage where creative writing is profitable for you and where you are known well enough, it takes time. So if you want to write simply for expression, do it as a hobby. If you want to turn it into a full-fledged career option, rethink, revise and review the strategy.
I want to see my name in print: Lots of people don’t really want to get famous, but they harbor a dominant fascination to see their names in print-either under an article in a newspaper, a filler in a magazine or on the back portion of a hard cover novel with one of those pictures of the author in a philosophical pose, finger on the chin and a faraway look in the eyes. Lovely thought. Very romantic idea. But not the right way to go about doing it. Wanting to see your name in black and white may be the motivation and the drive you need to keep working at it and churning out material in bundles. But very often in such a case, where ambition alone fuels work, the quality of the work suffers. And once the trained eye of your audience (or editor as may be the case) begins to see the difference, you literally fall in popularity and may find it very difficult to pick yourself up again. My advice would be to write as well as you can. And again, the name in print will follow.
I have a luxurious ‘work from home’ dream: Ah! The age old desire for the perfect job. Flexible work hours, wake up when you want to and sleep whenever you wish, go to work in your pajamas, be your own boss, have a beautiful study with a mahogany/oak desk, a little green lamp on the side, surrounded by carved wooden cabinets stuffed with books, glass window overlooking a lake…watching the swans while you type. It’s amazing how Hollywood movies imprint themselves on our minds and weave their ways into our dreams. The scenario I painted for you is the average dream of just about every second writer you’ll ever hope to come across. It’s the Universal Dream of writers worldwide (I dream of the oak desk too!) However it takes significant accomplishment to get the desk and even more efforts to get a room big enough to hold the humongous quantities of books. Don’t even get me started on the amount of work you’ll have to put in to get the swans! There are hundreds of thousands of writers worldwide and each one has to put in his fair share of struggles and strife to earn a comfortable living. You will too, in all probability, so keep your goals realistic.
I love books and I love to read: That’s wonderful! Devour as much as you can get. But I have to tell you, that just loving the smell of a new hard cover book, or the rustic look of an antique one, loving to read or being fascinated with libraries and book collections, are indeed pre-requisites to becoming a good writer, but not reason enough to decide to be one in the first place. Every writer must read. He/she must incorporate as much of reading into his/her lifestyle as the writing. But if you drop everything to write, just because you visit your local library every two seconds, you may find out along the way that you’re either not good at writing or you just don’t like it as much as reading books. So if you love to read, do so by all means. Just don’t let that motivate you into switching to a full-time writing career. It may do you more harm than good.
I know that by now, I must have deflated your enthusiasm for the writing arena almost completely and my sincerest apologies if I did. That was not the intention. My aim in sharing these thoughts with you was to enable you to get a clearer picture of what YOU want from a writing career. For me it boils down to just one simple truth. I LOVE TO WRITE. And that’s why I’m doing it. And NOTHING compares with the satisfaction I feel after I’ve completed a well rounded article, poem or story.
I firmly believe that if one is passionate about something, one should go after it as if one’s life depended on it. If writing is your passion, if your head is exploding with ideas, if you see alphabets doing little jigs in front of your eyes, if you dream at night about things that you immediately turn into possible storylines, then by all means go ahead and write! If you want to become a writer simply because you LOVE to write and have even a smidgen of faith in your capabilities, go for it! I wish you luck!
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Stupid writing mistakes to be avoided
Language, I believe, is not as inflexible as it is made out to be by the so-called purists and impurists. Anything forced sounds unnatural. A sentence can be interpreted in thousands of ways, and you can convey the same thing in thousands of different sentences. So unless there are some glaring grammatical or spelling mistakes, I don’t think there is right writing or wrong writing — the underlying objective is to convey in the most compelling and comprehensive manner.
Here is a nice blog post on stupidest writing mistakes. I won’t say that all the mistakes listed there are stupidest, but you can certainly learn a few things in this blog post. Take for instance the difference between affect and effect. It amazes me that there are many people who don’t know the difference between the two. The writer aptly explains that an effect is a noun and an affect is a verb: your dramatics don’t affect me; your dramatics have no effect on me.
In some instances the writer plainly seems to have a difference of opinion and seems to stupidize (my word) people for having a different view. I’m not very snooty about using commas before "and" because it does not depend on the rule, but the voice and the feeling. I know it’s difficult to understand, but that’s why some people are writers ;-).
Do read the post though, some good pointers.
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Why your website or blog needs unique content
There are basically two reasons why your website or blog needs unique, fresh content: the search engines prefer unique content compared to commonly and easily found content, and people who are active on various social media and networking websites prefer to promote something unique, something highly useful and something that attracts immediate attention.
Search engines looking for unique content
Various search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! are constantly competing with each other. Just because they get millions of visitors daily don’t assume they have it easy. Even a small fluctuation means millions of ad dollars lost. So they are constantly trying to improve their ranking algorithms and trying to find and index content that is unique.
The uniqueness and the usefulness of the content they find for their users keep those users from switching over to another search engine. Why would the users use a search engine that finds the same stuff that can be found on scores of other websites? Hence, in order to get higher rankings you have to make sure that the content published on your website or blog is unique as well as highly relevant.
Social media users want to promote unique content
Nobody likes to promote content that is being promoted by 500 other users. Social media websites can bring you tons of traffic if you can lure their users to your website by providing highly interesting, topical and relevant content that they cannot find anywhere else. But do they promote your links just for altruistic reasons? Not at all.
Take for instance Twitter and Facebook. Why do people keep posting interesting links on these websites? They want to show that they can locate and share interesting stuff. They want to be useful to their followers and fans. This way, if they are posting 10 useful links from other websites and blogs, they can also post a few from their own website without looking spammy. Besides, on Twitter, interesting tweets get retweeted and this is beneficial both to the owner of the link and the one who tweets it because both gain exposure.
Then there is conventional logic too. When you publish useful content on your website it tells your visitors that you take pains to keep them informed. If you share important information with them you establish yourself as an authority, and in more than 99% cases authority brings respect and trust, and respect and trust leads to loyal customers and clients.