As an editor and content strategist, I work with writers daily. I copy edit at least 50 blog posts per week, and I’m always working on a substantive editing project. I work with great writers who inspire me and aspiring writers who have a way to go. Working with all of these authors gives me insight into what makes a blog post or article compelling. Of course, the answer can be multi-faceted, but there is one common denominator in the work of the handful of clients I would call great writers:
Their writing is not about themselves.
The reality that most of us don’t want to face is that we simply aren’t that interesting. Of course, we are to ourselves, and to the people who love us, but for the stranger who finds their way to our blog? Not so much.
Think about what you like to read. Think about the posts that have been most compelling to you – the ones you bookmark and re-read. Here’s my shortlist:
None of these posts are about the writer. Instead, they contain advice, insight, or information that I (the reader) find useful and enlightening. These are my personal choices – the posts I return to again and again. But if you look at the short list of anyone who actually has a short list of posts like this, I bet my bottom dollar that the articles selected won’t be about the author.
Autobiographies are wonderful – two of my favorites are Katherine Graham’s and Ben Bradlee’s. What made them so interesting isn’t necessarily the details about the authors, but about their involvement and experiences during Watergate. Normally, we are only interested in the biographies or autobiographies of those who have lived a significant life or accomplished something phenomenal. For many bloggers, this isn’t the case… or at least it isn’t yet.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever write about yourself; there are times when your stories can tie your post to something more universal – something many of us have experienced or can relate to. But in those cases, it’s the universality, not the details of the writer’s personal life, that makes the story compelling.
The trick to making your writing less narrative and self-absorbed may not be in the initial draft. Sometimes you just need to get the ideas out and onto paper or screen. Then give your post breathing time – perhaps a day or two. You can then return to it with fresh eyes and try to experience it from the vantage point of your reader, and eliminate some of the autobiographical details that are only important to you. With practice that window of time to gain distance will shrink and writing for others instead of about yourself will become second nature.
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