Thursday, November 28, 2013

How to write a blog post

by Andy

Writing a good blog post is all about the first sentence. Insert ironic pause. The first sentence needs to grab your interest and make an assertion. When I say “your interest,” I am speaking to you as a writer. If it grabs you, then the reader will join you. Once your first sentence is written, you are done. The rest of the essay will write itself. Not really. But your first draft might flow directly out of that first sentence.

There are days when I walk around with a potential first sentence in my head. Maybe I saw something inspiring in nature, or I read something that started me thinking. I might get up in the morning and realize that if I can just capture that fleeting sentence as it floats across my half awake brain, then I'll have a blog post. Writing a first sentence is like opening a door and peering down a long dark passageway. I'll compose a first sentence and then a potential essay will begin to come into focus. My brain will make connections and begin to bring in things that might be related to the assertion. All of this can happen in a few seconds and sometimes below my level of conscious thought. This is the magic of staking out an intention, my unconscious mind loves to make connections.

If I am true to the process, as I begin to write the essay, something will be revealed that I did not expect. The writing process is like bringing a torch into that dark passageway. I begin to see things that were not illuminated a minute ago. As I write a first draft, new ideas and connections are woven into the original assertion, enriching it and adding dynamic energy to the blog post. It is useful at this point not to filter too much. I just allow words to flow. I do, however, try to write in complete sentences and paragraphs. An unfinished sentence or paragraph is like an unfinished thought. In the first draft stage it is useful to me to finish my thoughts so I can see where they end up. Often they lead me somewhere unexpected.

As I prepare to conclude the essay, I am drawn to reread the preceding paragraphs. Sometimes what seemed like a magical connection reveals itself to be an uninteresting tangent. Just because my unconscious mind produced it, does not mean that it is worth including in the final essay. I go back to the first sentence and use it as a touchstone for the rest of the essay. Do subsequent ideas and paragraphs enrich and develop that first interest-grabbing assertion? If not then I have two choices. I either revise my first paragraph to include the new ideas, or I set aside those new ideas for another day. I often read it aloud and I use this rereading time to check for style and flow. How do the sentences read? Where is my essay redundant or overly wordy? (here!) Do I mix metaphors? Is there a little alliteration? Is it funny? Does each paragraph develop a unique theme? I try to root out the passive construction and add in active verbs. I add in more sensorial details. I look to make sure that the point of view and the verbs tenses are consistent throughout. Then I reread again. Then I am ready to write a conclusion.

For me, the conclusion needs to restate the original assertion in a new way that also includes the magical new revelations I made along the way. The conclusion is problematic because my pull is to wrap the essay up by making a pronouncement. I want to tell the reader what the moral of the story is and close the door on the essay. I would like to think that the conclusion is like the completion of a sentence. When a sentence is complete, the thought is complete. And when a blog post contains a conclusion, then that whole developed thought feels complete. But this is all illusion, because in my experience a good essay conclusion opens more doors than it closes. Often in the very act of writing the conclusion I see a new twist. If this new twist is interesting, then I will include it so that the essay will leave the reader with an open-ended question. An essay is just a metaphor for life. Where will your next first sentence take you?

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