I have been in a bit of a blog slump lately. There has been no reduction in the number of ideas swirling around my head but owing to other priorities I seem to have lost the ability to get them down on paper, so to speak. In an attempt to give myself a kick up the bum, I attended a Guardian Masterclass on how to write a column and in the blazing sunshine on a Sunday morning two weeks ago I disappeared into the depths of the Royal Society of Medicine in Wimpole Street for a few hours of talks, Qs&As and participative sessions with some of the Guardian’s columnists including Lucy Mangan and Marina Hyde.
It was a bit hit and miss in all honesty, and it didn’t entirely stick to the agenda, but nonetheless I came out feeling invigorated and inspired. Much of the advice crosses over to blogging, particularly posts that discuss a subject rather than more journal style posts. Here are the most salient things I learnt.
1. Embrace brevity. Columns (and blog posts) should be around 500-700 unless they are an in depth analysis. It takes real discipline to write a post this short, particularly on a meaty subject, and one has to be a brutal editor.
2. Write quickly. A column should take no more than 90 minutes to write (!). Obviously the idea will have been percolating in our brains for a few days or weeks before actually sitting down to write it up, but this is still a bafflingly short amount of time for those of us who can agonise over a post for hours or even days. Of course blog posts will take a little long than a column because of having to edit and upload photographs, but I’ve already found it good practice to set myself a target of 90 minutes and just get it done. A good way to prevent our blogs from taking over our lives I think.
3. What’s your point? Be clear about what it is that you want to say and don’t ramble. Only include things that strictly support your point.
4. Have a distinct point of view. And even better, be polemic. Something frustratingly lacking in the interior design world.
5. Make your point in the first two paragraphs. Unlike essays, where an argument reaches its peak somewhere in the middle, if you don’t make your point at the start, your reader will wander off to another blog.
6. Subject – Angle – Execution. Execution is the format, a blog post for most of us, but it could also be a Q&A, an interview, video etc. The angle is what is crucial as it’s what enables newspaper columnists to all pick the same topical subject on the same day but write entirely unique columns.
7. Never, ever, socialise with those you write about. It’s impossible to be honest about them afterwards. I found this interesting in relation to blogging where so many of us bloggers feel an obligation to write nice things about products/restaurants/books because they people that gave them to us/invited us are so nice!
8. Analyse other columns. See how other columnists use humour, how they construct their columns, how they make their arguments, what their angle is.
9. Use humour to make devastating points. Easier said than done but incredibly effective. Hadley Freeman is masterful at this, especially on the subject of feminism.
10. Don’t use ‘I’. You shouldn’t need to use ‘I’ to describe your thoughts. It’s obvious from the column what you think and so it’s not necessary to point this out. The more you read newspaper columns, the more you see they rarely use ‘I’.