January 13, 2017

You’re bright, right? Write!

Emily Malloy

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Is penning a blog in your future? Oh good! The only thing standing between you and the splash you are bound to make is … a blank page. Ferocious in its blankness. Blanketed in its blankness.

Fear not. Here are a few pointers that may guide you in the blog-drafting process.

Vintage snoopy in metal toy car atop a large toy pencil

So, what’s your story?

You’ve got to know how to get from A to Z if you want your readers to do the same. Think carefully — dare I say ruminate — about the arc of your narrative. Sleep on it. See if you can boil the story down to a sentence or two or three, as these humble groupings of words and ideas can act as signposts as you begin the journey of writing.

If the path forward seems muddy, talk through your ideas with a friend. Engaging in a back-and-forth verbal conversation can help you focus on the flow of key events and identify points of greatest interest or any gaps in the big picture of your story.

Speaking of conversations: Have one with your reader.

Write the way you talk. It will sound most like you! And it will make for an authentic read. Starting sentences with “And” or “But”? But of course. And really, why not? Quick short sentences? Love them. Personal anecdotes that relate to your topic? And how. Which reminds me of the time when I ... but I digress.

Seniors jumping rope on Skinner Green, circa 1910Seniors jumping rope on Skinner Green, circa 1910. Courtesy of Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections.

Get shifty.

Take pains to keep the dear reader from having to jump around to get the gist of it all. If this means shifting paragraphs and sentences around once they are written, go for it. The only thing set in stone is the call for clarity. You are not lazy. You have vision and grit. And you’re going to get this thing right. If that means making a copy of your in-progress draft and fiddling with the copy — so you don’t muck up the original — do it. Then compare the two. If you see improvements, keep them.

Lede the way.

The blog’s introductory sentence and paragraph — known as the lede — set the stage for everything that follows. Do you start with a startling revelation? A lesson learned the hard way? Arresting dialogue? A series of to-be-answered questions? If writing is an exercise in creativity, writing the lede is an exercise in concise, precise creativity. With this small group of words, make a pop. A boom. A statement. And your reader will be powerless to do anything but follow you.

A closeup of a keyboard featuring a red "Be Creative" button

Add humor.

Fun and funny? Yes and yes. Always a good idea when the topic or story lends itself to a lighter touch.

Give bullets* a shot.

Why? Because they:

  • are a concise way to list a bunch of items
  • add visual variety
  • are a way to add emphasis
  • can help you avoid a string of sentences structured in similar way.

Will you introduce bullets with a lead in that applies to all of the subsequent phrases? Or with a lead in that lets each bullet stand as its own sentence? So much suspense!

*Or try numbers, if your bullets work in a sequence!

Find your fortune at 500.

Aim for a draft of about 500 words. The editing process inevitably lengthens the copy. Questions get asked and answered. Details get teased out to give necessary background or foundational understanding. Which is all a good thing, unless it results in a behemoth of a text growing even more unwieldy.

To cover a lot of ground with an economy of words? Challenging but rewarding. Your story will flow forward with purpose instead of endlessly twirling and swirling (read: down a drain). If you are over the word count, challenge yourself: Can you cut 200 words in one pass of reading and revising? Can you merge ideas, delete fluff or otherwise cut to the chase? Sift out the unnecessary as you polish the true gems of your story.

The graduation pin of Clara Herendeen, class of 1873The graduation pin of Clara Herendeen, class of 1873

About that editing process ...

Most blogging opportunities will involve an editing step. Go team! Editing is a partnership — you hold the insight and the editor likely has lots of questions and suggestions, plus experience on how to craft a compelling piece. With any luck, the edits will prompt you to consider your piece with fresh eyes, or from a new perspective. 

Your blog bio blurb: Don’t phone it in!

You’ll likely be asked to provide a headshot and brief bio. Sure you could fire off a pic from your phone along with your hometown, class year and major. Or you could give this task a bit more attention. Picture a high-quality headshot — professional with just the right dash of personality — paired with a concise mash-up of bio details. You in a paragraph, ready to meet the world. When in doubt, turn to the professionals at the Center for Career Development for help.

Every story needs the right setting.  Learn More

A copywriter and copyeditor in Mount Holyoke’s Office of Communications and Marketing, Emily Malloy of South Deerfield, Massachusetts, has a thing for words. Ditto for reading, punning and the collecting of pencils and notebooks. She aspires to be a language gawdess — as in, “My gawd, that’s good!” — as she helps Mount Holyoke students share their experiences, stories and achievements with the world at large through The Gates blog. One of Malloy’s favorite quotes is by Jack Kerouac: “[...] the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”
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