There’s the short answer:
Fill in the empty parts until they aren’t empty, then hit “Publish.”
Then there’s the long answer. The process involves a number of steps you’ve considered, but you need the discipline to imprint it into your workflow. (oh… and this isn’t just for blogs, either.)
Lay the Egg
Conversely, hatching someone else’s eggs makes you look weak in comparison, as you’re just promulgating someone else’s heritage. Be yourself, speak from your experiences and ideas.
Fit the Nest to the Egg
…not the egg to the nest.
- A good blog post should be roughly 400-600 words.
- You should only board with a single carry-on bag.
- Your car should ideally weigh 1,823 pounds.
- Your third child should have its arms and legs removed, to get you to 2.4 children.
Each one sounds progressively more absurd, but they all come from the same fallacy: an artificially-imposed restriction. There is no optimal length for your post, because only you can decide when you’ve exhausted the material to the level of detail you require. Yes, your 2,400 word novella can indeed bore a reader into submission, but you can just as easily bore them in 400.
Size doesn’t matter. Pixels are cheap, and you aren’t bound by the restrictions of print publications or rigid television time constraints. Say what you need to say, and let your passion expand to fill the prose.
Paint the Egg
If you’re giving the reader a lot of information, respect the way they navigate the page. Break up the post with visual elements that act as mileposts, so as they scroll down the page they can see the progress they’re making.
- Bullets work for this
- So do images
- Pull quotes are great
- Subheads are even better, because they communicate a structure
Think about how you read. If you are scrolling through a page that is nothing but text, you can get lost. But if you know where you are with relation to that image on the screen, it’s easy to recover from a distraction and get back into the piece.
Don’t count on your sidebar to play that role. Readers tune out sidebars completely when they engage with your essay. Your visual signpost needs to be within that 600-pixel-wide content box.
When you preview what you’ve written, scroll through it. If you ever encounter a section that doesn’t contain an element for visual cues, then add something. Preferably something of value.
Paint the egg, add a decal… something that tells us we’re moving.
Hatch an Experience
People respond well to narratives, because story gives context while fact shivers naked in the cold.
Want to know what the original subheads of this piece were?
- Hatch the Egg
- Let it Breathe
- Break it Up
- Tell a Story
- Tie Loose Ends
- Start at the End
Those were very functional headings, but they didn’t drive a narrative. Once I went through my “Polishing Pass” (see below), I saw an opportunity to weave the chicken and egg theme throughout this post. It came to me as an after-thought, like many good ideas do. (And voila, I also now have a story to include in this post, which is already meta beyond hope.)
If there isn’t a real opportunity to insert a story, at least write the way you talk. When you write for academics or search engines, you end up meeting their expectations.
Dry and formulaic are no way to go through life, son.
Tidy the Shell Fragments
You are going back and previewing, aren’t you?
This is different than the typical proofreading pass for spelling and grammar. (And based on what I see published, too many of you believe spell-check will fix your there/they’re and lose/loose problems.)
This is the time to read for theme and tone.
- Did you maintain a consistent voice?
- Is your tone uniform?
- Did you bring your reader to a satisfying conclusion?
I like a lot of the first instincts I have about what I write. But on the “polishing pass,” I look for opportunities to bring the post to a new level. Sometimes I’ll have a great beginning and ending, but missed a chance to extend the overall analogy to the middle points. You might have a post that starts with “X” but ends in “Y,” when really it is more interesting to bring things full-circle. Maybe start with “X” and end on “X-prime.”
Comedians refer to those hooks as “tie-backs.” The punchline you deliver early on can re-emerge during a crescendo conclusion with an altered meaning. It builds layers into your communication, and in the case of the comedian reminds the audience of something they thought was funny a while ago. Successful comics weave several tie-backs into the final minute, so the audience walks away remembering the highlights of the performance. Which leads us to…
Which Comes First…
…the chicken or the Egg?
Start with your End, or at least fake it.
Whether you are doing a speech, a Powerpoint presentation, a blog post or a story, you need to leave your audience with a takeaway. Have in mind the one thing you want them to remember, and strive to make that point.
Sometimes it takes you 2,000 words to make the case and share the evidence.
Sometimes it takes but a sentence.
But leave them with a single takeaway. If you have to, go back and tweak the introduction to properly set up the piece and foreshadow the takeaway. Then rewrite the title to describe the benefit, not state it.
Dear chicken, it’s not about you. It’s about the egg. Serve the egg, and you’ll be asked to produce more.