Little Things That Make a Big Difference in Blog Writing
Writing was never really my focus when I first began blogging - I just wanted to take pictures and play around in Photoshop - but over the years, it's come to mean just as much to me as the visual components, and my writing process is something I put a lot of heart and soul into. I love that it gets my brain thinking, that it challenges my creativity and I love having a platform to express my thoughts and opinions. When it comes to blogging, there's a huge focus on photography, which is understandable as it's first thing that attracts readers, but I don't think I've ever seen any posts to do with writing and I certainly don't believe pretty pictures are everything in a blog. In my post Little Things That Make a Big Difference in Blog Photography, I shared my perspective on all things visual and afterwards, felt inspired to do the same with writing. Our words are valuable tools to our online platforms and I think they can have equally as much impact as photography.
1. Make it personal
Although most of us all here because of our common interest in beauty, there's nothing more I love than being able to relate with like-minded people in other ways and getting to know a blogger beyond their favourite products. Of course, I'm not saying you should feel comfortable enough to share your innermost secrets (sharing our vulnerabilities with the world definitely isn't easy), but what music and movies do you like? Do you have other hobbies and interests? What have you been up to lately and what's on your mind? The main reason why I started writing my Life Lately posts was because I needed an outlet to talk about these things and while my life definitely isn't exciting, some of the best feedback I've received has been on my lifestyle posts. Beauty is a big love in my life, but it certainly isn't my only interest and regardless of liking the same things as fellow bloggers, sometimes it's just really cool to read about what people are passionate about. While niche blogs strictly about beauty have their place here in the blogosphere, the main thing that draws me to blogging is connecting with the community, and when you don't really know much about a blogger outside of the products they use, it can be hard to do that.
As I mentioned in my Finding Your Feet as a Blogger post, I much prefer blogs that read like I'm catching up with a friend as opposed to a magazine and when I do write about beauty, there's so much more to say other than what a product does or how much I like it. I enjoy talking about why I bought it, sometimes I'll even share an anecdote of my shopping trip, and I think writing is so much more compelling when you inject a little bit of personality into it.
2. Inclusivity and being mindful of other people's social/cultural backgrounds
While I realise the predominant demographic of my blog is probably 20-something, cis-gendered straight women like myself, I'm very aware that there's also probably a portion who aren't. The beauty industry is notorious for excluding people of colour and the LGBTIQA community, and though we can really only speak from our own personal experiences, it's important to use inclusive language and be mindful of race, gender, and social and cultural differences. For example, I have a medium, yellow-toned skin colouring that's on the dehydrated side and when writing about products, I like to mention if I think they'd be suited to skin colours and skin types that are different from my own. Staying clear of words such as "girly", "feminine" and "masculine" and being more gender neutral when describing beauty is important to me too because not everyone can identify with those terms and everyone should feel free to wear whatever they want regardless of what they traditionally represent. That's not to say they're bad words, but if I do use them myself, I'll put them in quotation marks as a scare quote or add "traditionally" before the adjective to acknowledge that it isn't always the norm.
Consumerism and differing financial situations are factors to be mindful of too. When a blog post is titled "The Five Lipsticks You Need This Summer", for example, to me, not only is it impersonal and imply that we all like or suit the same things, but what gives us the right to say who "needs" something? Nobody needs lipstick and I'm not Vogue, so I'd feel much more comfortable saying something like "My Five Favourite Lipsticks for Summer" instead. I know I tend to favour expensive, luxury brands, but I'll make sure to state whether a product is worth it or not and justify the cost if I think it is. Self-care is a topic that's became prevalent in the blogging community and one we should also tread lightly with. A lot of self-care advice can come across as very white privilege-y, and taking a Lush bubble bath or binge-watching our favourite TV shows are only short-term bandaid solutions to our wellbeing. Coline's post, Why Self-Care Should NOT Be Your Top Priority elaborates on this and if you want real self-care advice, I'd read Sophie's post, The Act of Self Care: 5 Crucial Habits to Adopt. To have the makeup collection I own and to have a platform where I can freely express my thoughts is a massive privilege, and while my blog is a reflection of me, I also want my online space to feel as inclusive as possible.
3. Proofread, proofread, proofread
Spelling, grammar and punctuation are important components to good writing and while I don't think any of us here are professional writers or editors, not paying close attention to these things can really detract from the quality of your work. I'm constantly going back and forth between writing and proofreading to check for slip-ups, as well as ensuring that my writing flows and feels natural to read. I have to admit, I'm someone who used to be quite judgemental of spelling and grammar, but I try not to be a dick about it anymore because not only is it just plain mean, but you also never know if someone has a learning disability or if English is even their first language. I'm certainly not perfect either, but the great thing about blogging and having a platform to write is that I'm constantly learning and improving my writing skills. In fact, I just recently learnt that there's a difference between "ton" and "tonne" ("ton" isn't strictly US spelling!) and that "comprised of" isn't grammatically correct! There have also been a couple of occasions where people have pointed out my typos through email and comments, and although I don't really get why you'd go to such lengths, I appreciate it nonetheless because it means I'm going to be more aware of making those mistakes again. If I could offer some friendly advice on a common slip-up I see, be mindful that there's a there's a difference between "compliment" and "complement"!
There are browser extensions available to help with grammar too, but at the end of the day, we're only one person with one set of eyes and it's only natural to make mistakes and typos. Even after publishing, I may still miss something and will have to go back and edit it. We all have our strengths and weaknesses in life and though I may be better with words, I completely suck at anything to do with numbers! Take proofreading seriously and pay as much attention as you possibly can, but human error is totally normal too.
4. Not going too hard on yourself when trying to overcome writer's block
The biggest challenge for me in blogging is writer's block and I can't even tell you the number of times I've sat staring blankly at my computer screen for hours on end only to produce very little and feel so unaccomplished. It's not so much an issue of coming up with original ideas or not knowing what to write, but more to do with translating what's on my mind into written, coherent sentences. It's not always easy expressing myself articulately so that everything isn't just one massive train of thought, and out of the whole blogging process, writing is definitely the most time consuming for me. I always manage to pull through in the end, however, and throughout the years, I've learnt that it's best to go easy on yourself, while also recognising that it's something you have to work through. Whenever my words just aren't going my way, this is what I do to attempt to overcome writer's block:
- Clear my mind: we're all our own worst critics and sometimes when we're too close to our work, the only thing that stands out is our flaws. Pushing through writer's block can work - sometimes it's the only way I'll ever get anything done - but there'll be other times where the process becomes simply too frustrating and I just need to take a step back. Getting outside, reading or even sleeping on it allows me to switch off, remove myself from my scattered and jumbled thoughts, and give me a fresh and clearer perspective on things. After that, it's then usually easier to focus and write.
- Write anything, even if it doesn't make sense: while what I want to write may make sense in my mind, as I previously mentioned, translating those thoughts into written words doesn't always come easy. Rather than overthink things and focus on constructing my sentences perfectly, I often find it helps to write any old thing down and trick my mind into feeling productive instead. Seeing words on a page - no matter what they are - can help inspire actual productivity and you can always go back to fine tune things later.
- Take my photos first: for the longest time, I could never write my posts until I had my photos done and as I consider myself more of a visual person, I found them to help inspire my words too. Nowadays, I tend to get my writing done first (because my posts are on the lengthy side and depending on how long they are, I'll take more photos to break up the text), but if writing is something you struggle with, it may help you to start with your photography process and get those creative juices flowing in another way.
- Use a thesaurus: I love descriptive writing, but during bouts of writer's block, coming up with different synonyms isn't always easy. Other times, I may not even know any for certain words. Not only does using the same words over and over become boring to write, but also means it's probably boring to read. I mean, how many of us are over the word "autumnal" right now? If different words just aren't springing to mind, I'll often turn to an online thesaurus to help add interest to my writing, as well as help expand on my vocabulary.
- Write my introduction last: a good blog post title will obviously do a fine job on its own telling your readers what your post is about, but I enjoy writing an introduction as a way of providing a point of entry and adding a little more structure and flow. I always find it most difficult beginning my post as I don't necessarily know how it's going to turn out as a whole just yet, so I often find it easier to move onto the body section and revisit the introduction later. Once I get going with my writing and my post is finally coming together, the introduction will usually come more easily.
- Read my favourite blogs: when you're stuck in a rut and things just aren't happening, it's so easy to compare yourself to other bloggers and question your own abilities. When you become aware of these negative feelings and stop them in their tracks, however, on the flip side, you'll probably find yourself feeling inspired instead. When I'm reading my favourite blogs, I'll think, 'Wow, look at this amazing work' and it only makes me feel motivated and encouraged to do the same. Sometimes reading a thought-provoking piece of writing or looking at some beautiful photography gives us that little burst of energy we need.
When it comes to blog post ideas, my day-to-day life is where I take most of my inspiration from and I'm usually away from any sort of screen when my ideas come to me too. I know seasonal content, and especially during this time of year, is very popular, but for me, my life doesn't change all that dramatically season-to-season and whether it be beauty or style, I usually only end up writing one post for each season in a year. Inspiration strikes randomly and spontaneously for me and for the most part, I like my blog post ideas best when they come to me organically. It all feels a bit too contrived otherwise and never will I force ideas for the sake of producing content. As a slow blogger, this works well for me and I luckily always have a backlog of ideas on hand because of it, but if blogging is your job or you simply enjoy sticking to a schedule, it's okay to take a break every now and then. We all need time to recharge and refresh, and you're not going to be doing both yourself or your readers any favours by blogging when you're feeling unimaginative or burnt out. You'll most likely end up producing half-hearted content that way and that's also when blogging stops being fun.
This year has been quite challenging to come up with beauty related posts since I've stopped buying so much of it. However, rather than let my purchases dictate what I blog about now, I'm relying more on my creativity and I actually feel a lot happier with the direction I've taken my content in. I feel like my post ideas are more original and more personal to me, and I think feeling uninspired can often end up working in our favour as we're forced out of our comfort zones.
Writer's block happens to the best of us, but I think the important thing is to keep in mind that it's only temporary and that it's going to feel all the more rewarding once you finally overcome it. Every creative hits a roadblock at some point, but in the wise words of Maya Angelou:
You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.
5. Write what you want to read
The commercialisation of blogging has brought about a great deal of trendy content that doesn't feel sincere and although this may seem like an obvious statement to make, to me, it feels important enough to reiterate. Writing about what you'd want to read yourself means your content is genuine and conveys to your readers that you love what you do, while it's usually pretty obvious when a blogger is only in it for the money and the page views. Christmas content dominates the blogosphere during this time of year, but I haven't cared about the holidays since I was a kid, so you'll certainly never see me writing or reading gift guides. I've often thought about writing a blog post dedicated to my makeup brushes, but to me, they aren't the most thrilling topic when it comes to beauty and if I'm not excited enough to write about something, then it's not worth the effort.
When it comes to my style of writing, my posts are on the lengthy side and I'm not sure if that puts people off or not, but when I read blogs, there's nothing more I love than sinking my teeth into a long, well-thought out post. What I write about is what I enjoy reading in my favourite blogs and I love writing that's descriptive, personal, informative and makes you think. To me, that's what's most engaging, though that's definitely not to say short and concise content can't be. I'm just not good at writing that way myself! Writing is hard enough as it is, but writing about what I want to read means I love what I do, I have my own voice and the effort I put into my blog is meaningful and always worth it. At the end of the day, trends and hype come and go, and even if only two people read my posts, that's totally okay because to write what I want to read is to express myself authentically and that's what matters most.
What do you think makes a difference in blog writing?