Episode #37: How Good Does My Writing Need to Be Online?
Not long ago, writer, poet and blogger Christina Hubbard asked me, “How polished should a blog post be?”
Shortly after she asked that, I saw a presentation by a successful young online entrepreneur who suggested that blogs can be a little sloppy; people reading online don’t mind an error here or there. Blogging’s casual, he said, so don’t worry about it—the mistakes make you more real.
I couldn’t help but notice a similar message from another young online entrepreneur who trains business owners how to communicate their message more clearly. She urges people to get their message out there. Don’t let perfectionism hold you back, she says. Better to get the message out into the world than to wait forever and never take action because you’re afraid it’s not perfect—or you keep trying to make it perfect.
What do you think? Is the first person right? Do people expect blog posts to be messy?
Maybe some readers don’t mind. But then I think…well, I’m a reader. I’m also a writer, a writing coach, and an editor, but as a reader, I disagree. I spotted many typos in someone’s webinar a few weeks ago, and maybe it’s because of my work—maybe a typical viewer wouldn’t react the same—but that sort of lowered my trust in the presenter’s message.
I advise writers to produce their best work every time they write.
Three Big Reasons to Publish Quality Blog Posts
If you’ve wondered how good your writing online needs to be, I have three big reasons to give it your best, even if it means publishing less frequently.
1. It’s a first impression to readers. People arrive at your website a lot of different ways: from a link on someone’s blog, from a link in social media, through a search, from a referral. They could arrive at a post you published last year or yesterday, and if this is the first time they encounter you, they’re going to make a quick decision about what kind of writer you are in the first few lines. If it’s riddled with errors, delivers little value, or doesn’t flow well, what impression have you left them with?
Give every article your best effort, because with a good impression, you could convert a casual one-time visitor to a subscriber to wants to read more from you.
2. It’s your online portfolio. You may have a tab on your blog where you present an official portfolio, but everything you publish on your website becomes an unofficial contribution to your portfolio. Not only casual readers who could be converted to fans or followers but also industry influencers could find their way to your home online.
Imagine if the post you churn out without a lot of effort ends up being a publisher’s first encounter with you. If this person is going to recommend you to an acquisitions editor or make a decision about offering you a contract, why give them a reason to hesitate? Show them quality work anywhere they might land on your site.
3. It’s a key element to building your platform. Some of us have been told that our platform depends upon frequent and consistent publishing online, to bulk up our site’s content. To pull that off as one lone blogger is asking a lot when we have so many other tasks. In order to stay on schedule and keep up the pace, we might be tempted to push something out before it’s ready.
But you want to deliver value to readers and build a reputation as someone who has ideas, answers to questions, solutions to problems, and thoughtful input on a topic or theme. Better to take your time and write fewer posts that will be saved and shared and build your name in association with that field or genre or topic than to spit out a few short posts that didn’t contribute much to the bigger conversation.
Part of building a platform is to become a resource or spokesperson for something. Even if it’s poetry or storytelling, you want to be known for quality work. More frequent posting may or may not increase our exposure, but I recommend less frequent posting if increased frequency sacrifices quality content.
Quality and Excellence vs. Perfection
That said, I know a lot of my work has gone out with a typo or misplaced punctuation mark. Sometimes I repeat myself or order my ideas in a way that’s hard to follow.
Perfection isn’t what I’m pressing for. The word I mentioned several times was “quality.” I think the person who says to get your message out there even if it’s not perfect is wise. If a writer is otherwise paralyzed by perfectionism, take that advice. Absolute perfection isn’t really possible anyway. Aim for quality.
Quality work, even aiming for excellence, is a goal worth aiming for with everything we publish, online or anywhere.
Also, I want to be clear that conversational and casual writing is great, so don’t equate quality with formality or excellence with fancy. Misspelled words, misplaced modifiers, and wacky punctuation are not the way to achieve a casual style. We can write in a casual, comfortable, charming style and present it through copy that’s error-free.
Take Time to Self-Edit
Finally, don’t let this call to excellence scare you and hold you back from clicking “publish.” Instead, let it inspire you to aim a little higher for your own reputation and your reader’s benefit. Take a few extra minutes to read your post out loud and listen for confusing spots or sections that drag. Proofread your work. If you don’t know what to look for, use a self-editing checklist like the one Charity Singleton Craig offers, get a blogging buddy to give you some input, or hire a coach.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. So wherever you write, online or offline, for a major publication or for your own blog, give it your best.
Wherever you write, write well.
Listen for the full podcast.
- Every Writer’s Guide to Self-Editing, a downloadable resource provided by Charity Singleton Craig
- Christina Hubbard
- #14: Progress, Not Perfection (podcast)
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Image by Ann Kroeker.
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