How to Write Conversationally–One Step at a Time
Recently I read a great article about writing conversationally on your blog, and how it can improve everything from attracting readers and commenters to enhancing your social proof. And now that I violated one of it's suggestions (avoid long sentences ), I'll try to get back on a conversational track. Wish me luck.
First, we need to understand what conversational writing is, and why it is important.
Some people are naturally conversational writers. I am not. Are you?
Conversational writers tend to write spontaneously, and put together posts that are more like they are simply chatting with you. And, I'm going to bet they are very actively writing stuff on Facebook and Twitter. Words and phrases come naturally to them, and the tone of their messages just seems to be "friendlier" than what I can usually muster.
I, and possibly you, on the other hand fall into the category of "formal" writers. Although we can formulate great thoughts in our heads, once it's time to "put it down on paper", we revert to writing just like we were taught to do in school.
We can't help it. The sentence is formed from our thoughts. Our analytic brain kicks in and all of those grammar and spelling rules just kick in. We wind up editing and rewriting each and every sentence until it strictly follows those rules. And what do we get?
Something that reads just like a term paper. Yuck.
The Conversational Rules
So, back to the article I read. Here's the rules, without all the psychological explanations, they suggest for conversational writing.
- Use simple, easy to understand words. In other words, don't try to impress with extravagant vocabulary .
- Get personal. Use "You" and "I" instead of variations of "They" and "Them".
- Tell stories instead of lecturing. Easier said than done. Stories make reading easier (and "funner"), but I don't think it's always possible to do it. I'll have to try harder.
- Keep it short. Short sentences, sparse paragraphs. As I like to say, "White space is Good".
- Break the rules. Go ahead – end a sentence with a preposition. Use extra commas. Start a sentence with "And.". Use contractions" It's all good. (But, avoid sounding like a hick - no offense to hicks).
- Active vs. passive voice. This one always gets me, and I still can't tell the exact difference (kind of like when I try to decide whether something is a "benefit" or "feature" - but that's another story). I hope I write actively, but I can't always tell.
- Don't ramble. Hmmm. Do I ramble? I don't think so... I might ramble sometimes, but that's usually because I can't quite think of the best way to say something... but, I'm rambling.
- Ask questions. This really engages the reader. A simple question can break up a long, dragging-on thought and bring a readers attention back on track.
- Examples, similes, and metaphors. Again, this is tough. I tend to use analogies (a kind of example) a lot, but similes and metaphors mostly escape me. Maybe you can do better.
- Target your audience. This kind of goes without saying, but it's worth mentioning. If your content is intended for a particular audience, use words and phrases they would be familiar with. Never generalize (get it?).
My Mission (and Yours)
I read lots of articles like this, with fantastic tips, and never act on them. That's one of the problems with blogs and a lot of online advice. Reading (or saying) – and doing – are greatly different things.
I thought about this after I read the article. Sure, I'd like to write more naturally and conversationally. It would be great. But, how could I possibly go about doing it?
So, I came up with a plan. Baby steps. Instead of trying to do it all at once, I have to do it in small increments. Heck, it's how I program (a module at a time) - it should work for other skill improvements. Right? Right!
Here's the plan. Pick one rule (like #2. Get Personal). Focus on that single rule. Don't worry about the other rules. Just that single rule. Write everything with that one rule in mind, until it becomes totally ingrained. Then, once it has become a habit, move on to another rule. Rinse and repeat.
Hopefully, over time, I will become the kind of writer I'd like to be. To be continued...
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