Get to the point

Get to your point immediately or readers will abandon you. This is especially so online. No one is willing to plow through that first little bit you write to guide a reader into your subject. It is “now or never” online.

I saw a rather stark example of what I consider this online no-no today. And it was on a very respectable site, one I enjoy a lot. They preceded their point with words, words, words. I almost stopped reading because it seemed to be writing for the sake of writing.

I think I only continued because I have a high opinion of the site and the blogger.

I’m guilty of the same thing so I’m not going to name names — it serves no purpose. But what they did was to begin with a 275 word block of text, no breaks, before getting to what the post was about. This is a surefire way of ensuring no one reads your post.

It’s a bad practice in any writing but especially so online when people grant you the merest of glances to engage their interest. Get to your point immediately. Stop the business of setting it up with mellifluous language, creating a tone and easing a reader into the subject.

Deliver the goods, now.

By the way, it appears I harp on this every two years:


The editor steps in again

It’s been unusually quiet at Writelife. You can blame the editor for that. I have three posts unpublished because the editor has nixed them. Yes, the editor is me. The editor is a self-editor.

What was wrong with the posts? They were cranky. Whiny. The tone was all bitchiness.

The editor doesn’t like that. Not when that is all that’s being generated. There is nothing wrong with those kinds of posts. Some people have huge followings because they’ve made a point of finding things to complain and rant about. But I tire of reading those kinds of things quickly and soon find them more annoying than anything. Not wishing to become that kind of blog, my editor politely declines such posts.

I have been posting, however. But I’ve been doing it at my other site, Piddleville, a site about movies — another form of storytelling.

I’m fascinated by storytelling, have little more to add on the subject of it, but have all kinds of enthusiasm for stories, which movies are.

But here on Writelife? Today’s original post (declined by the editor) was about the why behind the lengthy silence. It may show up following a rewrite but for now the explanation it contained sounded too whiny. So the editor said, “No.”

I have to go back to Seth Godin. He manages to post every day. He’s able to because he knows each post needn’t be a book, lengthy essay, dissertation. They are often so short you wonder if it’s a post or a headline. But there is value in each one.

I must learn how to do that.Православни икони

How social is social media?

This is a question I’ve been mulling over a while now. I know social media is social but I wonder if it isn’t social in a way that displaces – or perhaps the correct word is “replaces” – another form of sociability.

Increasingly, I see people with their smartphones walking around talking and texting and reading in what I’d call the “cone of silence” (if you recall the old Get Smart television show). They are oblivious to the world around them. They are surrounded by people yet they seldom acknowledge their presence. It’s as if those people don’t exist; they only real people are the ones they encounter online.

I saw a woman walking down the sidewalk the other day. Ahead of her, coming towards her, was a woman with a disability. The other woman was in one of those motorized contraptions – I’m not sure what they’re called.

The woman on the phone walked directly at the woman with the disability utterly unaware anyone was in front of her. The other woman literally had to stop; she had no way of getting around or avoiding the woman on the phone.

This was just a somewhat extreme example. But I see people behaving this way more and more. The real, external world is non-existent to them. It sort of reminds me of the Hoverchair people on the ship in Wall-e.

The other thing I notice is how many updates on Twitter and Facebook are automated. Having them automated makes sense; I do it myself for some things. The reason is simple: it’s efficient. There simply isn’t the time to do everything manually.

The cost, however, is the personal quality, one of the key virtues of all social media tools.

So I’m left pondering the question. How social is social media? I haven’t arrived at an answer yet.

My most popular posts in 2010

I took a look at my analytics to see what posts were the most popular here during the year. And I made a list of them.

I find it interesting looking back at the past year to see that my focus on social media drooped a bit somewhere during the summer as my focus was taken up by the idea of stories and storytelling. That focus persists. I wonder how far into 2011 it will linger?

As for the most popular, my favourites from the list would be #6 and #8, and maybe #3.

Top Writelife posts in 2010

  1. Metaphors and similes like bling for words
  2. How to waste your time effectively
  3. How Kurt Vonnegut defined social media: connection precedes communication
  4. Social media basics for a small business
  5. Guidelines vs. rules: bamboozled by bullets
  6. Lose the model: everything is a story
  7. Repetition is good so it’s good to repeat ourselves
  8. Words and how they sound
  9. Seth Godin on linchpins, focus, spreading stories
  10. Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘What the Dog Saw’ – a review

Note: This list is not entirely accurate. The top post was one titled, Joni and Bob; poets and thieves. I chose to leave it off the list because it was an aberration. It was linked from a Bob Dylan fan site and the numbers went through the roof.

The awful truth about being brief

Being brief takes time. That is the awful truth.

You would think brevity would take less time. It is, after all, brief. The reality, however, is that it takes more time; at least it does if you intend to write something worthwhile.

Writing something long, like a blog post, is easy. At least it is for me. A scan of my own posts shows I do it all the time. The reason is simple: I ramble and then find I have no time to edit. Sometimes, I also have a love affair with my own words and can’t bring myself to delete the unnecessary writing.

If you want to be brief and concise, you find that time. If you want a good post that is succinct, you find the time.

The web is time’s enemy. It wants everything now and good enough is all it requires. So people like me write lengthy posts when we should be writing much shorter posts – posts that require editing to make them shorter and more succinct.

This is likely the shortest post I’ve written in a while. Earlier today, I wrote a rambling movie review for my other site, Piddleville. It should never have been as long as it was but I was pressed for time and didn’t edit. So a long rambling post went up. My bad.

Being brief takes time. That is the awful truth.

(I wrote this after reading Chris Brogan’s post How to Grow Traffic to Your Blog where the third item in his list is, “Brevity is the game.” He’s right. I just wanted to point out that it isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.)

Storytelling — get out of the way

With the indifference of weather, he shot the child and kept walking.

I’ve mentioned before that far too often we’re focused on writing rather than storytelling. I refer to writing because that is what I do, but this is applicable to all forms of storytelling – written, verbal, film, etc.

Our writing gets in the way of the story. Our verbosity gets in the way. Our filmmaking gets in the way. Why does this happen? That is easily answered.

We’re too busy selling the story rather than telling it.

If you have a good story, get the hell out of the way.

I’ve seen a lot of writing, particularly with new writers, that goes overboard with description and repetition  in an effort to get a point across, like a certain character is a bad guy. A really bad guy. A really, really bad guy – so bad he smelled bad too!

And so on. There will be long paragraph after long paragraph of description that isn’t really description but overselling. It overstates the point and, in overstating, loses the reader because it loses the tempo of the story. Like watching a show on television and hitting the ads, it is interruptive. It disrupts flow and often does the opposite of what is intended.

On the other hand, a brief sentence like the one at the start of this post says all that needs saying. A man shoots a child? Now that’s bad. He does so with indifference? That’s even worse! What kind of guy is this?

Were it part of a story, my guess is you would keep reading because it communicates quickly all it needs to. Later, you may want some physical description but you don’t need much. The reader has created their own image of this monster.

So … get out of the way. Let your story be told. Quit interrupting it with unnecessary ads.