10 Tips for Writing with Meaning in the Digital World

“I’m interested in starting to blog. Do you have any suggestions?” I get this question often. Usually I reply by asking a few questions, and then inviting people to write about what they care about. It isn’t profound, but it seems to work out well for many of us.  For those looking for a bit more, I put together the following ten tips for blogging and other forms of writing in the digital world. These are not tips about how to become an amazing writer or author.  Instead, they focus on writing things that matter…to you and others.

1. Write because you have something to give to the world.

With the billions of words on the web, why would a few more from you be worthwhile? It is because you have a unique collection of experiences, perceptions, gifts and abilities. It allows you to offer something that no other person is capable of offering. Others can write something similar, by my invitation is for you to consider the possibility that your unique twist on it is just what someone out there might need to read in order to find a little extra encouragement or motivation.

2. Write about the “Why.”

There are tons of “how-to” articles online. In fact, this one could be categorized as that. Even if you venture into the “how-to” world, infuse it with “why.” Explain why this is worth doing. We are in a world that is often engorged with data but starving for wisdom. So, why not add some wisdom to your writing? Help people consider why we might want to consider one thing over another. Include writing about meaning and purpose.

3. Embrace writing as kindling.

While it is flattering to think that our article, book, or blog post will end up a classic or in some hall of fame for lasting impact; we have more humble offerings to make as well. Consider that what you write might also just be kindling. Kindling helps get a fire started, but then it burns away, with little memory of it.  That is a useful and acceptable role for writing in the digital age. If what you write is enough to start the fire of conversation, reflection, inspiration, or renewed motivation; that is a noble outcome.

4. Your writing is always one part of a greater living and learning experience.

We want to write with clarity and focus. At the same time, accept the fact that what you write is one piece of a reader’s massive world of life and learning. People will take one sentence and leave another. They will impose their own twists and interpretations on what you write. Sometimes what you consider the main purpose will go unnoticed, and the reader will walk away with a lesser and obscure part of the piece. Remember that you are not fully in control of that.  It is worthwhile to write for shared meaning, but know that people can benefit from your writing even when that goal is not met.

5. “We learn too late that our convictions matter.” – Paul Ilsley

In academic writing, we are sometimes encouraged to remove the “I” from our writing. I contend that removing that letter does not usually remove it from the message. I accept that there are times when it is commendable to bracket one’s biases, but I’m inviting and embracing the opposite. Write with conviction. Feel free to give clear reasons and illustrations to support your position, but also let your convictions loose in the digital world. People will agree and others will disagree. No matter. Your conviction adds to the conversation.

6. Your writing will not be perfect.

I just read an email from Steward Hase about a writing project and he urged me (us) to “Remember Leonard Cohen’s song that warns against stressing about your perfect offering because the cracks are where the light gets in.” I am working on a monograph that I was contracted to complete almost five years ago. It is on a topic that I’ve studied for almost twenty years. I know it well and have ideas to share that might benefit others. Because I knew the topic so well, I placed such a high standard for myself that I procrastinated for almost 2000 days! When I read Stewart’s advice, I decided not to wait longer. I wrote a first draft of a 10,000 word monograph in a single day. It isn’t perfect, but with some work, I think it can help others much more than the 0 words that I had wrote the previous 2000 days. Trust that people can learn and benefit from your flawed work and thinking. Maybe your flaws in writing will even enhance the benefits for some readers.

7. “There is no such thing as good writing…just good re-writing.” – Russ Moulds

Get something written and you can always revise it. Our first draft is never our best work. Sometimes it is good enough. Either way, we need a first draft if we are going to get to a final one.

8. Take it easy on the adverbs.

Stephen King’s suggested this in, On Writing. I don’t remember the advice much of the time, but when I do, it improves my writing.

9. Write to connect.

Recognize that writing in the digital world is not only about conveying meaning, but about connecting with fascinating people around the world. This is even more true as the social web makes it easy to share ideas and look up information about an author. I’ve met hundreds, if not thousands, of people through my writing. Sometimes these turned into ongoing friendships, shared projects, possibilities to help each other out on something, or even open doors to connecting with other people and organizations. For me, this is the best part of writing on the web.

10. Focus on the possibilities as much or more than the problems.

I do my share of critiquing, and it is helpful to point out problems. However, I find it most meaningful to help people consider new possibilities, even in the face of problems. Consider helping people find solutions to the problems in the world through your writing, and you will find far more drawn to connecting and interacting with you.

 

Posted in blog, digital culture

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is the author of Missional Moonshots, Assistant Vice President of Academics, Associate Professor of education, and a frequent keynote speaker and consultant on topics related to educational innovation and entrepreneurship, futures in education, and the intersection of education and digital culture. Opinions expressed here do not reflect those of his primary employer(s).