Blogging Insights NF # 51 — “Good value for money”


First, I never believe any blogger who says he or she is “only writing for him/herself.” If you are writing for yourself, why do you have a blog? All you need is a diary. By definition, if you have a blog, you are expecting others to read it. Unless you have it set up so no one can read it without a private password, it’s public.

In this quote “value” means “something interesting, funny, engaging.” While I don’t have a short attention span, I also don’t have a lot of spare time. If I start reading and it’s not interesting, I move on.

Every reader is perpetually one click from leaving. Not only on blogs, but in books, on television, on a podcast. We are all ready to change the channel, close the book, or put the newspaper in the recycle bin. Until you grab their interest and they become immersed in the wonder of your words, they’re ready to leave. Ah, but when you’ve got them wrapped in your words, you own them — at least for a little while.

Overall, I pretty much agree with the quote except some of us enjoy a bit of verbal meandering as we write. Some material requires more context and/or background information to make it understandable and interesting. But on the whole, I agree. Unless you have a reason to verbally wander, write as if you doing the news.

Here’s the formula:

  1. Who, what, where, when, and why. It’s a good for most subjects other than fiction. Tell your readers who you are writing about, what and where it happened, and finally, why.
  2. Why usually takes more words than all the rest combined. This is also where you can offer background information and context. It’s the “explaining” section. Why is news written this way? For all the reasons in the quote. Whether it’s a paper or TV or radio or online, give the basics at the top and hopefully, that will tease your reader into reading, watching, or listening to everything else.
  3. Don’t bury the lead. Put the most important information at the top. Write “frontward.”
  4. Keep your language lean. Which doesn’t mean dull. Hemingway was lean, but not dull.

People read news (and blogs) “informationally.” Give readers basic information and grab their interest. If you are good at it, they might hang around to read the rest of your ruminations.

I thought maybe I’d include a good “first paragraph” that sets up a much longer story. This one is from The Boston Globe:

The consequences of withholding reproductive choice were expressed in stark and varied terms, by a Republican state legislator in South Carolina, by voters in New York, by political pundits balling up their midterm predictions, and by HBO viewers shocked by the premiere of the “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon.”

What a great hook! Here are the next paragraphs:

But before we get to Westeros, let’s stop in the Palmetto State, where a Republican state lawmaker’s abortion regret clearly struck a chord.

Rep. Neal Collins told an emotional story about the real-life fallout of the “Fetal Heartbeat Bill” he had supported, which prevented a 19-year-old whose water broke at 15 weeks from terminating a pregnancy that was not viable. She was sent home from the hospital with a greater than 50 percent chance of losing her uterus, he said, and a 10 percent chance of developing sepsis and dying.

— Chronicling the next chapter in America’s battle over abortion rights. By Stephanie Ebbert, Globe Staff

Not dull, but all the information is there. Now, Ms. Ebbert can fill in the rest of the story. I know this sounds very dry when you describe it, but it’s not dry unless that’s how you write.

There are a million ways to convey the same information using this simple format. I learned everything I know about writing by reading. You don’t have to enroll in a course or pay a lot of money and you get to read interesting books. It’s a great way to learn. Everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Categories: #Blogging, #Photography, #Writing, Anecdote, Challenges

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7 replies

  1. All very good points. I suspect I only follow some of them some of the time! I am inclined to meander in conversation and in writing 🤔


    • The thing about these basics is you CAN meander all you want after you get the basic information out front. You give the who – what – when. The “why” can go on for as long as you want because that’s the story. The beginning is information. It helps to get creative about writing “headlines” too. If you can come up with a good lead paragraph, you are almost guaranteed to hook the reader. I don’t know if you read any newspapers or newsletters, but the good ones have great lead lines. Just because you’re giving information doesn’t mean it has to be dull. I meander too. I like meandering too after which I circle back. But I learned to put the basic material up front and try to make it clear, concise, and hopefully snappy.

      Okay, here’s an example. I follow this guy’s writing because I like it. The actual article is about 2,000 words, but this is how it starts:

      “In the Mar-a-Lago saga, Donald Trump has offered several big defenses. First, he has reportedly insisted to aides that he primarily took from the White House documents that were “mine.” Second, he has suggested he always intended to do the right thing and turn over government documents in his possession. Third, he has said in many ways that the FBI’s Aug. 8 search of his Florida estate amounted to illegitimate jackbooted tyranny.”

      Who? Trump. What? Mar-a-Lago documents. Where? Again, Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida estate. When? August 8th. What? “Illegitimate jackbooted tyranny” — which is the tease. The rest of the “what” is the story — the other 2000 words. Good hook, wasn’t it? He wandered plenty in the rest of the story, but I read it because I was hooked. Just defining “primarily mine” probably took 500 words.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re right, the hook is everything. I read a lot of travel writing and the writers usually start in the middle of the action and then track back to tell how they got to that point. If they started ‘Last year I took a flight to …’ it would be much less of a hook than ‘The border guard looked at me challengingly but kept his gun at his side’.


  2. Great writing tips Marilyn.


    • These are the basics for writing any kind of nonfiction. The real issue is making sure the most important stuff is at the top and the rest of the “story” comes later. You can meander all you want after you write the basic stuff. It doesn’t have to be dry. It also doesn’t have to be short. Mostly, it’s designed to make sure you don’t bury the lead. The length of the story doesn’t matter. It can be very short or very long and once you get the information out there, what you do with the rest of the post is pretty free-range.

      AND, none of this applies to fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

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