A beloved novelist's list of tips for writing for the web

"Capture, capture, capture!" writes Ruth Ozeki in a blog post for the Hollyhock Writing for the Web workshop taking place this weekend on Cortes Island. "If you want to write, you should get into the habit of carrying a small notetaking device to capture thoughts, observations and inspiration immediately, otherwise you will forget." 

I've  been talking about how to promote a blog and how to make your Tweet go viral. This has to do with what to do after you write a great piece. Or post. Or blog. Or article.  Here, a master word craftsman and Zen priest in training gives her tips for writing well online. I've also been talking about how Ruth, who is the author of My Year of Meats and All Over Creation generously stepped in for me when I got sick and has been presenting in my place at the "Writing for the Web" workshop at Hollyhock.
Here is what Ruth (pictured above in a photograph by Yukiko Onley), posted in our workshop blog about writing online:

If you want to write, you should get into the habit of carrying a small notetaking device to capture thoughts, observations and inspiration immediately, otherwise you will forget. 

Train yourself, too, to process your notes regularly. This means reading through your notebook and pulling what's useful and moving it on to your computer where you can access it easily.

When writing your post, don't save the best for last. Online readers aren't willing to wade through a lot of text to find the payoff. So start with the best, and then try to get better. (This holds true for most kinds of writing, although people who read novels and poetry generally have more patience.)

Trust yourself. What appeals to you? What grabs you? Write with your gut.

Keep your posts short, concise, and conversational.  

Use quotations. Quotations bring an article to life. They inject a moment of  real time live action into a text. They pop off the page and stand out from a block of text. So when you're doing interviews, keep your ear out for good quotes. Write them down. Don't be afraid to ask your subject to repeat something. 

Try starting a post with a good quote to bring your reader directly into the moment.

Use your senses when you write. Keep your eyes open, your ears open. Describe what you see and hear and smell.

Experiment with putting yourself into your post. How "present" do you want to be? How "objective"? How intimate? In writing, we call this modulation of intimacy "psychic distance." Play with it. 

Pay attention to the verb "to be." Check your text for words like "was" and "is." Keep an eye out for "-ing." Replace these with real meaty verbs, in the simple past (or sometimes present) tense, whenever possible.

Read your writing out loud to yourself, and listen. Do your sentences sound stilted? Overly complicated? Rewrite until they don't.

Ruth is offering a workshop here soon called "A Way with Words: A Writing and Meditation Workshop. It's a  five day residential writing and meditation retreat, from June 4 through June 9, at Hollyhock, on Cortes Island, B.C. For more information or to register, please go to the Hollyhock website.


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