As a writer and editor, I have read and worked with a lot of online content. I’ve (constructively) rejected a lot, and I’ve published a lot of things that I love and don’t love. I have worked with both new writers and ones that have way more experience than myself.
I love being an editor; it’s challenging, rewarding and I’m constantly learning something new. And it’s about a lot more than just learning how to use a semi-colon or where to break a paragraph. This list is based on my experiences with the other side of editing — the part that has less to do with technicalities (what we’re doing), and more to do with decorum (who we are as writers).
Some of these tips (like #1), are lighthearted comments stemming from observation, but most will apply in some form or another if you are producing a lot of online content.
1. Don’t quote yourself.
I’m not 100% serious about this one, but please, for the love of god, hold off on making a spattering of memes from your own blogs, at least when you are first starting out. I don’t mean to offend my friends who do this (and some do it well), but the way you market yourself and your words offers glimpses into the way you are as a writer, and person.
My main point here is to remind you that it’s never all about you.
2. Reference appropriately.
Okay, let’s face it: this is blogland, not your Master’s thesis. Your work is hopefully a lot more accessible and useful to the world at large than many people’s academic work (no offence academics, and yay us!).
For most blogs, it’s likely that a long list of super academic references won’t be useful to the reader, but it’s still crucial to back up any idea or claim that is not your opinion (or experience) and you can’t back up.
Reference thoroughly and carefully, in a way that fits the tone and intent of the publication. A link will usually suffice, though sometimes editors may add or delete them. Readers might also find it useful if you include a short list for further reading at the end.
The more effective the information has the potential to be, the more important it is to source appropriately.
Example: You don’t get to claim that “green smoothies cure cancer,” even if they seem to have cured your cancer. But you can say “I think that green smoothies played a big role in my healing. There’s also evidence that x, y, z nutrients in the smoothies are powerful antioxidants and may play a role in removing harmful substances from the body.” Then you link that sentence directly to a study or reputable, well-sourced article.
If you are an expert in your chosen topic, you don’t need to reference — but here’s the thing: It’s just good practice. It’s how you show your audience that you are legit, which is important, because there are people all over the place out there that are actually, ostensibly — or even accidentally — spewing bullshit.
Making the choice to not even appear to spew bullshit will help you gain credibility as a writer in the long run.
3. Repurposing content is (not) okay.
Don’t steal! Okay, this may seem obvious, but I’ve seen people stealing content without really understanding that they were doing so.
In digital land, we are always inspired by the ideas of others, and we kinda borrow them, here and there. This is how art gets made.
But I beg of you: take the time to source appropriately, to incorporate your own story, to build your own arguments. Understand the what and the why behind plagiarism if you did not learn this in school. Familiarize yourself with fair use guidelines and Creative Commons licenses, and always attribute images.
Be wary of cross-posting your own work to multiple publications. It’s ideal to have a few different versions of the same piece on hand (or be ready to edit) if you want to send the same piece out to different publications. But always check a publication’s rights policy before submitting — and don’t even go there if you are even slightly uncomfortable with it.
I’m not going to lie: you can probably get away with achieving some amount of success based on material that is heavily borrowed, but in the long run this benefits no one, and it will come back to bite you in the ass.
4. The number of views you have on a given piece doesn’t matter (sort of).
It’s awesome to get more views, but we’ve gotta keep our purpose, and (intended) audience as our primary concerns — -that means asking ourselves regularly if we’re writing with integrity.
Keep an eye on your stats, but don’t obsess over them.
5. Get an editor.
Your editor is essentially your audience testing ground. They are not there to change your work, but to help you craft it into something that you both agree will resonate more deeply with the audience.
A good editor should acknowledge your natural voice, understand your purpose and be able to work with you and your content. You have to be willing to work with them too — but like any relationship, sometimes it’s just not a good fit and if this is the case, it’s perfectly okay to find someone else that’s better suited to your style and person.
6. Listen to your editor(s).
You don’t have to agree with everything, but pay attention to what they are saying, and don’t be scared to ask questions about revision suggestions.
7. Argue respectfully with your editor(s).
Respectful disagreements (think dialectics, not debates), can be powerful learning tools for both editors and writers. Editors aren’t always “right,” so be clear about your intent as you work with them.
Having great conversations with your editors and allowing some give and take will make you a better writer.
8. Dip your toes into the “narcissist” pool, but don’t drown in it.
If you want to promote your art, you have to be a little self-promotey, for better or for worse. If you want a blog to take off, you have to genuinely like your work and not be afraid to say it.
Stay curious. Stay mindful. Dig in.
But remember also to just sit back and watch sometimes. (see #1)
9. Support your tribe.
Don’t get so caught up in #8 that you don’t have the time and energy to collaborate. By collaborate, I don’t mean just hitting “like” on their Facebook posts. I mean commenting on and sharing work by others that you deeply admire. I mean diving into new projects, and planning activities that you are mutually passionate about.
Cultivating deep relationships of genuine mutual support will be key to your overall sustenance.
10. Learn how to create a F*cking Great Title.
(Hint: using swear words in your title was *so* 2015).
11. Remember that some content is risky business.
You might be tempted to write something sexy or controversial at some point, possibly even sharing deeply personal and painful details about your life. Or maybe that’s your regular thing.
Think long and hard whether you want to make that information public before you publish.
Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Anyone might read, or worse, copy/republish your work without you even knowing it. So even if you publish your own blog and then delete it, there is still a chance of this kind of thing happening.
It all comes back to being mindful about the way we craft our words and how our audience will interpret, digest, and use the information and ideas that we put out there.
Great writing takes time. When we are honest, transparent and put the work in from the outset, our chances for success will be much greater in the long term.