Writing For Online Audiences? Say More. Write Less.

It’s a humbling experience to realize that while you enjoy writing, did well in school and aren’t afraid of expository essays – it’s a whole other world when writing for the web. Social media, email newsletters, company blog posts…these should be considered channels to produce “copy” – not tomes.

Compelling copy is written economically.

Less is more, no matter how long the supporting body copy should be. Twitter imposes a 140 character limit….but Facebook doesn’t. Neither does email. Long-winded social media posts and emails bore readers; too much copy that takes too long to get to the point sacrifices attention – and ultimately sales.

Consider theSkimm, an email newsletter that raised $6.3M in Series A funding this past December. It recaps top news stories, pared-down into informal, easy-to-digest snippets. Created by two former NBC News producers, theSkimm excels at explaining why those top stories are considered important. This layer of meta-value is created thanks to an appreciation by the editors for their audience’s time and intelligence: busy professionals who want to know not just what’s happening in the world, but why it matters.

Another example of the value of sharp content is Blinkist, an app that summarizes nonfiction books into 250 words or less chapters, including a Final Summary chapter. Their tagline is “A smarter you in 15 minutes”. Brilliant. For free, you get access to one pre-selected book a day. I recently upgraded to receive unlimited “Blinks” for less than $40 per year. Classics like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Emotional Intelligence and Getting Things Done are broken down and digested in a way that feels intravenous.

This trend is also part of what makes Medium so compelling as a blog publishing platform; each post has a “read time” next to the title, allowing the reader to mentally prepare before making any investment of attention or time.

Read time on Medium

Image of a “5-min read” article by Medium author @amarchenkova

theSkimm, Blinkist and Medium are examples of how to make online content compelling. They’re both modeled on providing “hooks” – a reader gets a taste of something he or she can then decide to further investigate. theSkimm links to original sources; I’m waiting for Blinkist to offer integration with Amazon’s “Wish List” if not a direct link to the book’s product page.

Brands interested in grabbing and retaining attention need to say less.

Which requires smarter writing. Which involves more thought. To understand the target audience. What’s the value of the content. How to communicate smartly and effectively.

For more on writing crisp, concise copy for the web, Copyblogger is a great resource on the topic. Pair with “Hey Whipple Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan, a guidebook on creating effective ad copy. You could even read it in 13min on Blinkist. 😉

The Artist’s Way, Nostalgia & Inspiration


Nostalgia as a Source of Inspiration

I’ve been thinking lately a lot about nostalgia. Probably because of the holidays, and I’ve been back to my parents’ house a few times since Thanksgiving, Christmas and a couple of weekends spent visiting my grandmas. I go home and my old room is totally full of photographs and memorabilia. Old clothes I can’t bear to part with. Trinkets and objects collected as gifts on birthdays, books I read in college, funny notes passed to friends during class. I even have a box full of gifts and letters from my first boyfriend, although that recently made its way to the basement (unless one of my parents smartly tossed it instead.) But what do I do with the rest of all that painfully meaningful…stuff?

The Artist’s Way

Last week I started reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s sort of a self-help book (keep reading) that guides you through a 12-week course of exercises designed to tap into and re-awaken the creative self. Reciting daily affirmations is one of the exercises. I’ve never done affirmations before, but one of them resonated with me strongly: I will let myself learn how to create. It’s not that I don’t know how to technically or physically create; it’s that I have this problem where I look at creative expression as an unproductive waste of time, unless I’m already creating something totally inspiring, magical, beautiful, complicated, deep and representative of something totally important and transcendent. Which is a great way to guarantee you won’t sit down to create.

Blogging as Creative Expression

I often ask myself What’s the point of blogging? which probably had something to do with me quitting National Blog Posting Month in the middle of the month. I hate the idea of blogging as publishing my personal diary. I don’t like how much I use the word “I” in what I write here. Yet, I feel compelled to continue writing, as a form of expression. It’s an easy, instant form of expression. I could write on my computer or in a journal (or 5), which I do. But there’s something cathartic in publishing a blog post you don’t quite get from keeping it within the confines of your apartment. Putting in on the internet means it’s officially not just yours anymore; and perhaps someone else can read it and relate. Probably the best part of participating in National Blog Posting Month was receiving comments by new readers, in the form of encouragement or support. A sign of life. Someone’s at the other end of the keyboard.

The Art of Letting Go

One of the hardest things to do is to let go, and nostalgia is basically the antithesis of moving on and putting something behind you. I want to figure out a way to turn it into an art form; some way to preserve the ticket stubs, letters from classmates, photographs of people with whom I don’t speak anymore, in a way that honors their existence yet simultaneously frees me from their clutches.

I blame my mother for a lot of this intense urge to preserve the past; she is infamous for incessantly taking photographs of family, putting the images into albums and sending copies to all those who are photographed. It’s great for everyone else who receives a printed photograph in the mail following an important event like their child’s wedding. But I’ve grown up with piles and piles of doubles of the photos I’ve already put in photo albums, stuffed into my desk and cabinets like symbols of guilt. Guilt because I can’t just throw them out, since my mom spent money getting them printed. And the longer those piles sit there, the more often I encounter them when making room for more recent “stuff” I’ve accumulated.

Nostalgia is draining. There’s a time and a place for it, and it’s not every day. I’m determined to exterminate some of the nostalgia from my life, and to use this blog as the backpack exterminators wear. Or the hose they use to spray their chemicals. Or something else that makes the metaphor work.