In my tenth year of teaching, I learned a lesson that forever changed the way I look at people, their abilities and, in particular, my own capacity to produce great things. As a blogger, I have revisited this discovery time and time again.
For reasons unknown to me at the time, I was recruited for a new assignment in an upscale school neighborhood of the city. The school district’s Director of Personnel invited—well, more like urged—me to leave my current school and take over for a much celebrated first grade teacher, who was retiring.
I told him, “Those are big shoes to fill.”
He said, “You have pretty big feet yourself,” which I took as a compliment.
The school year started like any other one: tearing off huge hunks of butcher paper for the bulletin boards, cutting out construction paper letters, making name tags in oversized, first-grade type print, fixing alphabet cards to the wall. All the things that make a classroom ready for 29 short, noisy people.
Then my students arrived, rolling through the doors like an ocean wave. Some smiling, some shouting for my attention, some standing back, taking it all in. And a few in tears.
A typical first day.
Through it all I kept my eye on the prize.
They would learn to read.
I knew how it worked: test for their knowledge of letters and sounds, gradually build to reading words, then sentences, then whole stories. And they did. By mid-year, every child was reading, some, of course, at higher levels than others.
What my principal told me in February blew me away. Every one of my students had had a ‘throwaway’ year in kindergarten. Because the school levy election had failed the year before, teachers had to be let go. In the scramble to fill classrooms, a high school history teacher had been assigned to these kids.
A high school history teacher.
She could not be blamed for not knowing how to manage a classroom of 5-year-olds—or how to build the language skills they would need to succeed in first grade.
So why did these kids, who had missed the most basic building blocks, all learn to read in my classroom?
Because I didn’t know their past.
I had a clean slate to work with, so I held the same expectations for them as any other class I had ever had. I didn’t go to the dark side because I didn’t know there was one. And these kids came through for me because I made them believe they could succeed.
What does this have to do with blogging?
What could we achieve if we could forget every single negative thing someone else said about our writing? If we could push a button and wipe the slate clean?
Maybe it was the fifth grade teacher who had a scowl on her face you could feel when she stood over your shoulder. Or the college instructor who picked apart your essay and said you might want to consider majoring in, say, automotive technology instead.
Maybe we need to forget all that baggage we carry around from bad writing experiences— or our own beliefs about how good a writer or blogger we are.
Maybe we need a clean slate.
5 tips for writing a memorable blog post
I believe that the most successful bloggers have basic writing skills and a knowledge of their topics. But more than that, they have a deep need to connect with their readers emotionally, a sense of fun, a little vulnerability and a willingness to shake things up every once in a while.
Most of all, they start with a clean slate every time they write a new post.
They give themselves permission to channel their inner child. To experiment. To fail even.
If you have ever watched kids, they don’t have pre-conceived ideas about what they can do. They create, act and try out new things because adults haven’t beaten them into submission yet. And they don’t do something if they aren’t having fun.
Here they are: five tips for wiping that mental slate clean and writing a memorable blog post:
1. Have fun.
Because if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
I know what you are thinking.”Writing and having fun? Is she kidding?”
But here’s the thing. If something makes you smile, it is likely to make your reader smile, too. Take an idea and stretch it to the extreme. Make a point by exaggerating something. Tell a funny story (with a point, of course). Have fun.
It doesn’t make you sound unprofessional. It makes you human.
2. Read. A lot.
Whether your goal is to improve your writing on your blog, or craft a more interesting piece of fiction, or develop better sales copy, you’ll gain new insights and perspectives the more you read other writers’ stuff.
Not only do you get a richer, more diverse vocabulary, but you begin to see how other writers keep their readers turning the pages and staying with the story.
I just finished Mary Karr’s new book, The Art of Memoir. In addition to my issues of The New Yorker, Time and Atlantic Monthly, I have gotten lost recently in books on my Kindle bookshelf: Julia Child’s My Life in France, The Art of Social Media by Guy Kawasaki, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (for the zillionth time) and some light fiction, English Ivy, a fun read by my friend Betsy Talbot, .
I have found that reading widely, and in all genres, is the best way to keep my writing from getting stale. It triggers new ideas for my own blogging all the time.
3. Be outrageous once in a while.
If you are a little adventurous, but at the end of your post you have made your point, your readers will thank you for getting them to think in different ways.
4. Use sticky words.
Do you remember that hilarious Late Night with David Letterman episode—the one where Letterman, in a super-strength velcro suit, jumped off a trampoline and attached himself to a wall? Picture your reader’s mind as the wall. Which words would be the velcro—the ones that would stick? You know, the words with staying power, the ones that make your readers remember your post?
Go through your draft and look for the sticky words—the details, the voices, the images—that stay in your mind. Often they are the words that describe how something looks, feels, smells, sounds or tastes. Add a few more where you can.
5. Find your emotional truth.
Writing about the things that are true for you, the things you feel in your heart,will make your post memorable because you made your readers feel something. It won’t always be a warm and fuzzy feeling. (In fact, sometimes it will be just the opposite.)
One of the best ways to do this in a blog is by telling a personal story that changed the way you act or the way you think about something. And often your reader will say to herself, “Yeah, I’ve felt that way before. I know just what she means.”.
What about you?
Do you think our beliefs about our own abilities limit us as bloggers?
Have you tried any of these strategies?