When I started this blog four years ago I had no idea what I was doing. My first article was on the arrogance of trying to build a brand online. I openly mocked the concept, myself for going along with it, and any potential audience for reading it. The one thing I can say for my approach was that it was honest. I was daunted by the excess of blogs by other writers who were trying to do the same thing. I resisted the notion that authors have to sell themselves before they sell their work.
I wrote with a cynical tone because I feared an intimate one would make me vulnerable to criticism. A sarcastic edge is the armor of every novice blogger. I just wanted to share my art. I didn’t know the write way to acknowledge my audience.
The months went on and my blog became more than a depository for old poetry. I realized all the tricks I used to keep my writing flowing were things worth sharing. I just had to develop the language to articulate them. Over the years I’ve perfected this blogging formula. These are some of the techniques I use.
Use a Straw Self Argument
A Strawman argument is when you misrepresent someone else’s argument to make it easier to attack. A Straw Self Argument is when you take liberties with how you represent your past self to make your present self appear more evolved.
I use Straw Self Arguments for a lot of reasons. I blog about bad habits that stifle creativity. Often these are behaviors I’ve observed in others that I claim as my own. I do this because I don’t want to shame anyone else out. It’s the sin not the sinner, so why not turn myself into a sin eater?
I believe people can change. Sometimes they need dramatic examples to motivate their transformation. When I recount a humbling situation I tweak it to be humiliating to illustrate how much I had to learn. I often open articles with these Straw Selves to show readers how far I’ve come since then.
Straw Drew’s aren’t complete fabrications they’re just portrayals of me with all the dignity edited out. It makes it easier to illustrate how a writing technique or personal philosophy improved my process.
How to Build A Straw Self:
- A well constructed Straw Self requires an actual life event to hang a narrative on. It’s easier for an audience to remember a story than a series of free floating ideas.
- The whole point of these anecdotes is to say, “If I knew then what I know now,” so pile on the dumb things you’ve done and go heavy on the consequences.
- Distance yourself from your past self, but don’t hate on yourself. Stories of failure will make you more sympathetic to readers, but not if your attitude is too harsh. If your tone is too fatalistic your audience may think your foreshadowing the tragedy that your life has become and not a success.
- Keep it “kinda” real. Don’t go full Tony Robbins and claim you had to wash your dishes in the bathtub. Don’t write something you’ll have to explain away to family members, lovers, and coworkers. Don’t break your audience’s suspension of disbelief by telling a grand deception. Keep your lies fun-sized.
- Assure that the most tragic moment isn’t the conclusion. For the proper ending the audience will have to read the rest of the article.
To Swear or Not to Swear
Studies have found that when someone swears around you it’s a sign of trust. A foul mouth can be a sign of an honest upfront personality. In a strange way profanity can create intimacy. Drop an F bomb in your first paragraph and you’ll know if your readers are cool with it.
Since I specialize in giving creative advice I don’t want to alienate anyone up front. I choose to limit my sailor’s tongue to make my blog more welcoming.
I’m not easily offended. My only problem with vulgarity is if its used to the point of redundancy. If you’re dropping F bombs every other line you’re lessening their impact.
Copy and Paste Your Darlings
If your train of thought goes off topic let it. It’s better to keep your creative flow going then to stop and ponder every junction. If your detour takes you too far away from your article’s thesis, find out where it started, find if it has a natural conclusion and highlight it. Now don’t delete it, copy and paste it into a new document, and drop it into a folder labeled BLOGS IN PROGRESS.
Just because an idea doesn’t run parallel to your central thesis doesn’t mean it won’t fit a premise you have later. Park those train cars in the yard and hook them up when your next train of thought has a use for them.
Why I Use an Artistic Structure
In his article on Unconventional Conjunctive Devices Chuck Palahniuk says, “Fiction writers should abandon technically correct writing and experiment in the same way painters were forced to experiment in order to keep their medium relevant.”
I love pushing the boundaries of proper formatting to explore the emotional impact of language. I love breaking the rules to make my words pop. I like remixing common turns of phrase, playing with the rule of three by using comedian callbacks. My blogging voice openly embraces pop culture references, rhyme schemes, alliteration, and slang. I’ll trudge through a thesaurus to trounce out a tally of terrible tongue twisters. There’s freedom in blog structure. Here I do things I’d never do in narrative writing.
Sometimes I’ll drop a verse to see if anyone notices: my hair brained rhyme scheme lyrical bonuses, my meta musings defying all the codices, in my self indulgent wordplay abyss.
Turn Your Criticism Into Something Creative
This American Life host Ira Glass once said, “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”
Many of my blogs on writing identify problems I’ve identified in my favorite mediums: fiction and film. I may not have been the best writer when I wrote them, but I trusted my taste enough to apply it to criticism.
Go the Distance
If someone is telling you it’s best to write a 350 word comment-sized blogs then they’re operating on dated information. Long form writing is not as intimidating as social media gurus once believe it to be. When people click a link to a blog and see the entry doesn’t end on screen one they get a sense that they’re getting valuable information.
A clickbait headline leading to paragraph of information followed by a series of links isn’t going to cut it if you claim to be offering guidance.
Pro Tip: Every blog on writing is giving entry level advice, introducing concepts, and closing with an inspirational quote that makes good writing seem like it’s just an attitude adjustment away. This makes technical information hard to find. If you write an article that gets technical you increase your odds of going viral. My piece How to Turn A Complex Story into A Simple Synopsis is one of my most read, because I break everything authors need to do down to the molecular level.
Share Your Secret Methods
I don’t feel a strong desire to reiterate well known writing rules or expound on the habits of literary icons. I don’t like summarizing other authors’ techniques. Everyone else is doing that already. Instead I like to catalogue things I’ve learned on my own. Sure there might be other terms for the processes I’ve developed, but I like the ones I coined. Terms like: Spare Your Darlings, The Memory Palace Pitch, and The Straw Self.
This is the type of advice I look for when I search for blogs on writing. I don’t like reading fixed maps on the craft. I prefer suggestions from adventures who’ve already explored the terrain.
Blogging is not merely writing net-worthy narratives, persuasive posts, or diary entries in the digital domain, it’s a form of writing all its own. Part of the fun of blogging is finding your own approach, skating on the edge of formal and informal writing, of being topical and conversational, of journaling and being part of a broader conversation.
If you’re a narrative writer a blog is a great place to perfect your voice. Techniques you develop online might serve the pages of your first person narrators later. This is a great space to experiment with unconventional prose, amass your favorite stock phrases, and develop your own lingo.
Write about what you’re passionate about, the topics you’d bring to a standup stage if only you had the courage. Put yourself out there on social media. See what resonates the most and hone in on it. If your readers like to share entries on a specific topic then this is your niche. Master your niche and then try to broaden it.
My audiobook Terms and Conditions is now free on Bandcamp. You can listen to it right here!