How to make your blog your writer's CV
Freelance writer Sarah Scott started her vegetarian cooking blog The View From The Table in early 2012, and has since been given a column in Vegetarian Living magazine on the strength of her writing. Here she shares her top tips for creating a consistent personal voice that keeps readers (and editors) coming back for more.
"People blog for many reasons - for fun, to create an online diary, or to promote themselves or their talents. I started blogging just over a year ago to write all the food and drink related ideas I had floating around my head that otherwise had no home - I'm a freelance writer, I pitch a great many more ideas to magazines then I ever get commissioned. My blog quickly became a labour of love but I soon realised it was also an online, bang up to date, transparent CV - and if I wanted it to reflect my work then I had to treat it as such.
Six months in to writing The View From the Table, I was offered a paid column in a national magazine based on my blog - I'm still pinching myself on that one. My professional writing experience was for a charity's communications team, but I badgered every food magazine and website I could find for work - mostly unpaid - as I built up my portfolio. I'm not a professional blogger either; I get lost with all the linkys, I am truly clueless about advertising and Google Analytics might as well be written in hieroglyphics that can only be viewed from the air. What I do know is that you have to treat your blog as an extension of the work you hope it will bring you. This is what works for me.
Don't underestimate the power of the post
Writing a column was always a dream and in hindsight it seems ironic that the blog, my outlet for all those homeless 'features', would be the tool that helped me get there. But a blog is powerful - it's an opportunity to make your mark. I know that editors read them, and in the case of food blogs, restaurateurs value them.
Through my chosen career I've learned that editors and communications managers will make no bones about telling you your work is rubbish - there is no softly, softly. A few years ago I sat opposite my then boss as he scored angry red lines through a first draft muttering 'boring… boring… REALLY boring…'. I sat digging my nails into my knees to stop me from crying and almost welcomed his parting comment - that he enjoyed the end paragraph the most as it meant the pain of having to read my draft was almost over. Nice.
Writing a blog isn't really that much different, or it shouldn't be if you want your writing to be taken seriously. Your reader doesn't have to persevere right through to the end, and if the first paragraph doesn't engage, they will be off your blog in less time than it took me to flee my insensitive boss's office and lock myself in the loo.
Who are you writing for?
It's incredibly liberating to write a blog - it's your space to fill as you will. I write freely - generally about gin and cake - but my intended reader is always a stranger. I imagine someone who knows nothing about me, who has no allegiance to me reading the post. Not my mum or my sister or friends who will indulge me, but a stranger who doesn't care about my feelings and wants to be entertained or informed or both. And if they're not I've missed my chance at a reader who might return again.
Is that you in there?
It's been said many times before, but writing in your own voice, to your own tune, is the only way. Writing and publishing on the internet is daunting and I can understand the temptation to mimic someone else's tried and tested style, but it's so easy to spot - it never flows as it should, and it's impossible to keep up. If you write about what you really love then your own voice is never far away. It's your blog - why would you want to pretend to be someone else?
Be your own critic
Being critical of your writing is so important. Don't batter yourself on the head with your laptop, but look from that stranger's point of view - will it hold their attention? If you're not happy that it will, then go back and do some editing. Writing for the web is a whole different beast to writing for print - people skim read. You might have spent three hours crafting a brilliant piece, but if it looks too long it will daunt readers who are probably sneaking a blog peep between many other things. Cut out anything that's not relevant and don't repeat yourself. Photographs keep a reader with you - and so does breaking up long posts into shorter paragraphs.
Keeping that stranger reading your work in mind is a very powerful way of staying focused. This is a trick I do: the next time you're on a bus or a train look around the carriage and imagine those people reading your work. It's a scary prospect but it really works."