Earlier I argued that people skim blogs more than read them, and this means a good spirituality blog is written to be skimmed. They’ll slow down to focus in on what they don’t know. When you hide your ideas in cluttered writing that assumes the reader already understands you, your readers will not learn from you. http://wp.me/p2ukOd-92
I had a terrible boss once who, when you asked a simple question, would tell you everything she knew about the subject. If you asked where you should park, she would tell you the history of the parking lot, explain the company’s relationship with the property owner, contrast this with other locations, and somewhere in there, if you were lucky, would be where you could or could not park.
After a couple weeks, I learned to nod — “Uh huh. Uh huh.” — and ignore her. My ears would sharpen when she said something relevant to what I wanted to know. That’s how people have learned to read internet material, for similar reasons.
We do not naturally write the same way we read. Most people tend to write long-winded, assuming our readers will read every word. Especially spirituality blogs. Writing and clarity are learned.
Write your posts in a logical structure so your readers will understand you clearly.
Blogging is basically magazine writing. It’s a little bit of sales, some technical writing — might not be about technology, but it’s still “how-to” — and some thesis-support, argumentative writing. All this is done in a “report the facts” newspaper style.
Usually you provide value by telling your readers how to solve a problem. So there’s a how-to element. The form is to convince your reader the problem merits attention. That’s sales. Finally, you must convince them your solution is worth trying, which means presenting arguments and evidence.
–This kind of writing is a spin-off of sales. In many ways it’s like writing a sermon, but it’s not bound to a text and the mode of discovery is tangible.
Therefore, structure your articles with a “Problem-Solution” pattern. It goes something like this:
- Introduce Topic
- Identify the Problem
- Sell the Problem — say why it is a problem
- Give some analysis
- Present the Solution
- Sell the Solution — convince the reader it’s worth trying
- Anticipate Rewards & Consider the Future
Within this structure, you might have little problem-solution sequences. Or you might have more than one problem attached to the topic. If that happens, name the problems in the introduction, and then give a section to each problem-solution set.
You’ll notice I’ve started identifying problems in red, and solutions in green. I don’t know if I’ll keep doing that, but I kind of like it. Also, I try to spend about the same amount of time on each section, so my writing has a rhythm. That way my readers know what to expect, understand that I’m moving things along, and if there’s a reason to skip ahead they’ll know about how far to go.
Other Structures. The problem-solution writing structure is a basic and good one. In relation to spiritual blogging, it helps to focus the writing. Spiritual bloggers do tend to go off on theological tangents that are (in my view) usually irrelevant to using spiritual practice to coming to lead a good life. –I have a bias toward teaching simple, applied technique, because I’ve observed that technique tends to work powerfully well regardless of the content of the belief. Whether a devout person is a Hindu or a Christian, the kinds of things they do with their humanity in relation to the Divine tends to be the same.
The Learning Pathway is a structure for crafting presentations for group learning (seminars) and e-learning. You can read about it online. It’s claimed to be most efficient to present information this way:
- Definitions of Concepts. Tools the learner will need to know.
- What we’re calling “the solution” is the sum total of all those tools.
- Importance. What would happen if the learner didn’t do this?
- Explain what goes right if it’s done this way and what could go wrong if it’s not done this way.
- Relate the teaching to the value attained by the practice.
- Exploration. How it works.
- What it looks and feels like to do it this way.
- Application. Mentally prepare the learner to do it this way in the future.
This is a good teaching structure. The folks who like it explain that some types of people are more impatient than others. You want to convince the impatient types first, to keep them interested. Note that often the learning pathway is used for training software, which allows the user to test themselves as they go along.
The Canvassing Approach is how Greenpeace activists are taught to constantly test and respond to the people they meet on the street. They want the people to put their name to a petition. This is how they do it:
- Explain the Problem. The 1% are clubbing baby seals to death for sport; whatever.
- Do they agree it’s a problem? — if not, have something ready about how awful it is.
- A Solution is Possible.
- Do they believe a solution is possible? — if not, have something ready about how the problem is not inevitable.
- The Solution Is To _______.
- Do they agree that this is the solution? — if not, listen to why.
- Be ready for each of the two or three most common objections.
- Do they agree that this is the solution? — if not, listen to why.
- Call to Action
- sign the damn petition
These are short, quick little interactions. Probably nobody cares about the 1% clubbing baby seals to death for sport, and it’s likely that a few of the people you meet will secretly envy the rich their criminal pastimes, but on the other hand it’s easy enough to sign the paperwork and people want to get on with their day.
- Have something ready for anybody who seems really sympathetic to the baby seals.
- Ask them to give you their mailing address so you can ask them to contribute funding.
In writing articles for your blog, you won’t have that face-to-face interaction. But you can still anticipate an intelligent reader’s thought process, and implicitly handle objections as they come up.
The Ancient Vedic Diagnostic Structure. The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths were a unique application of the ancient diagnostic procedure that doctors practicing vedic medicine used. That structure is:
- Identify the Problem (or Illness)
- Find the Cause of the Problem
- Identify the Cure
- Plan and Action to Achieve the Cure
But How Do You Know What Your Reader Needs To Know? Well, you’re really supposed to know that already. After all, aren’t you an expert in what you’re writing about?
However, since you asked, and to make sure you feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth from reading this post –
The basic things any skill must include are:
- Entry. How you know what is included, what you should handle, and when to get involved. This includes recognizing cues and signals to engage with a problem.
- How-To. What you do. This means,
- Prioritization. Resources are limited: money, time, manpower — all that. You need to know what tasks and goals must be addressed before the others. First Things First has some useful stuff here (see figure).
- Timing. Opportunity comes and goes. Some things can only be done when external factors create opportunities. You must be able to recognize those opportunities, and be ready to act on them before they pass.
- Exit. How you know when you’re done.
Clearly you won’t handle all of these things in one blog post. However, as you come back to and treat of a subject again and again, keep in mind these are the things your reader will need to come to understand — either with your help or on their own — in order to handle the task domain well.
Consider where you can contribute, and write it up — in a clear, brief, informative style!
If you liked this post, you might also want to read Tilted Candle’s Blogging Tips To Write The Best Spirituality Blogs, which talks more about how to organize your spirituality blog.