How Creative Writing Made Me a Better Blogger

by Jessica Ruane

Like every aspiring child writer, I grew up believing I’d be the next great American novelist.

I had dreams of sitting out on the balcony of my beach house, effortlessly composing the next bestseller, taking the occasional break to read letters from fans and devoted readers. Oh, how adorably clueless I was.

As I got older, family and friends showed their support for my chosen career path by buying me countless books on writing.

Ironically, their innocent encouragement soon became the source of my disillusionment.The books were full of horror stories, caveats, and warnings on how the odds of becoming a published author were not in my favor.

I felt destined to fail

In college, I took countless creative writing classes, only to hear the same thing from my professors. Although my teachers were all talented wordsmiths, they were all “failed” writers themselves.

My vision of life as a bohemian poet living on the beach was fading fast. The future did not look promising.

Slowly but surely, I gave up.

Blogging is for babies

I know it sounds impossible, but I didn’t even hear about blogging — much less blogging for pay — until after I graduated from college.

The “elite” world of creative writing viewed blogging as a desperate author’s low-rent attempt to attract an audience.

Snarky remarks from classmates about the dire consequences of democratizing the publishing process kept me away from blogging. I was resigned to filling notebooks in solitude with my “sub-par” writing.

Embracing the blog

After a while, the notebooks got old. The part-time jobs were getting tiresome. Getting my M.F.A. seemed pointless.

Occasionally, I’d muster up the determination to apply for writing jobs posted on Craigslist.

One day, I heard back about a copywriting internship. I was hired—my first job as a writer!

For the job, I needed to write web copy, press releases (nothing I couldn’t handle), and—the dreaded “B-Word”—blogs.

I didn’t know if I could do it. I went to school to write poetry, not blogs!

Then I realized something wonderful. All my creative writing skills — poetry, short fiction, characterization, and imagery — can be applied directly to blog writing.

Why had nobody told me this before?

I had been so stressed out over learning how to blog, that I didn’t even realize that I already knew how.

How I use poetry and prose in my blogs

Alliteration in headlines

Headings have to be catchy and click-worthy and irresistibly juicy, but there’s no reason they can’t do all that and sound beautiful, too. Tapping into my poetry background allows me to write headlines that just ooze with layers of meaning.

My favorite approach is to use alliteration to give headlines added flair. For Example:

Your surfaces are too superficial, so I will use your slippery sides to slide to and fro.

Traditionally, alliteration is used in lines of poetry (like the one above) to create rhythm. You can appropriate alliteration (get it?) to help you write beautiful headlines.

Imagery enlivens dull topics

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you’ve heard the phrase: “Show, don’t tell.”

I find the use of imagery especially helpful when writing about a boring topic.

Recently, I needed to blog about a census data feature on my company’s website. I was trying to convince users that our way of delivering census data was superior to a government website’s.

Are you still awake? Here’s how I spiced this up:

I wrote, “ [On a government website], trying to find information on a specific neighborhood is like swimming through an ocean searching for a drop of water. By the end of the day, you’re washed up on some deserted beach, shivering, exhausted, with blurred vision and burning eyes.”

If the subject matter of your copy is bone dry, some vivid images can give it a splash of personality.

Creative writing workshops toughen you up

When you take a creative writing class, you go through a process called “workshopping.”

When it is your turn, you read your piece aloud, and then sit there while everyone takes turns telling you everything they don’t like about it. All you can do is sit back and listen, as your hard work is eviscerated.

It’s really kind of a masochistic process. If you ever want to see a grown man cry, watch him workshop a piece of poetry.

Traumatic though it may be, it makes you a better writer. Workshopping teaches writers how to abandon their egos and focus on improvement. I am able to take heavy criticism from editors in stride, because I apply the lessons I learned when it was my turn to be brutally workshopped.

But does it make me happy?

Yes. I can honestly say that I’m happy I chose to produce web content and blog, as opposed to pursuing an M.F.A.

Not only do I make more money than my friends who are still stuck in grad school, I get to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing for a living.

Do you think blogging is the new frontier of writing? Can’t wait to read your comments!

Jessica Ruane is a freelance blogger living in San Diego, CA. She writes about any topic under the sun from social media and online dating, to cat behavior (no, seriously).

 

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27 comments on “How Creative Writing Made Me a Better Blogger
  1. Great story! Thanks for posting it! I also grew up in the dark ages of blogging and had a negative opinion of it well into my undergrad career (which (a.) lasted for seven years and (b.) resulted in a business degree) until a friend encouraged me to start a blog. I guess I needed someone’s permission because after he told me to, I did. And everything I’ve done since, pursuing writing and editing as my career, going from an unpaid blogger to a content mill writer to bylines in international travel and lifestyle magazines and leading websites in their fields, came from taking two minutes to get an account at blogger.com.

    I had that blog for two years, writing whatever came into my head and the ONLY people who read it were my mom and brother. No likes, no followers, nothing. I also never promoted it. Or gave it a niche or anything as such, BUT what it gave me was confidence.

    I also have to thank Carol because I stumbled on this blog through a conversation thread between writers at the old content mill, and for the first time I felt like I could really do it for real.

    Also, totally agree that a poetry background is so helpful for short copy. Copywriting especially.

    • Carol Tice says:

      *Sob* — glad I could help!

      The first I heard of blogs was when a CEO asked me to ghost his, in 2006. Being the sort of blithe idiot that I am I said, “Sure!” Then I went and learned what a blog was. ;-)

    • Marisa, thanks for the comment! Glad I’m not the only one who struggled with the transition but have eventually embraced it!

      Good luck on your journey! I’m glad you found Carol’s blog. She has created a truly amazing resource for freelance writers!!

  2. Also:

    There are of course successful Blogger blogs. BUT I’ve since moved my blogs over to Tumblr and the community is much more active in terms of liking and following and commenting. FYI for anyone who is thinking about starting a blog.
    Marisa Swanson recently posted..Don’t do it. Don’t you dare do it.

  3. Arden Zich says:

    As someone blogging for fun and for the experience of taking my writing (and perhaps career) in a new direction, my answer is “yes.” If blogs are the fast food of writing, please place your order and pull up to the second window. I want to know what others think and feel, how they do this and that, why I should buy this or that, and I want a bunch of examples with words and pictures. And I want it right now. Personally and professionally, the value is unlimited.
    Arden Zich recently posted..A Big Boy Beak, Goosey Squeaks, and Lots of Teeth

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, Jon Morrow recently wrote that he will earn $500,000 from his blog in its first year. Whoever thinks of blogs as a second-class mode of communication doesn’t understand how powerful they can be.

    • Thanks for your feedback Arden! I agree with both you and Carol, our method of consuming information is not going to get any less digital anytime soon. Blogging is the future, and I’m glad we are at the forefront of what is already a huge movement!

  4. Erica says:

    I’m the only writer among my family and friends, and most of them think that blogs have come and gone. That “nobody blogs anymore.” But that’s not true.

    I ghost blog for a local non-profit (pro bono) and it’s one of their few marketing tools. As I hunt for clients, I find that blogging is in higher demand than it was even just a couple years ago.

    As for my own blog, it’s where I practice my writing, document what I’m up to, market myself and work out various aspects of my freelancing (if I can explain it to me…). I’ve even used it as a writing sample. It’s not technically or visually perfect, but I’m still proud of it.

    I love this post. Thank you.
    Erica recently posted..How to Weed Out Low-paying Freelance Clients

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, there is SO much opportunity in paid blogging it’s not even funny, and no doubt there will be more next year. Every marketing survey they take out there shows companies are planning to put more marketing budget into developing content.

    • Thanks Erica!

      I agree with Carol. Paid blogging opportunities are only going to become more abundant in the coming year. Especially with the changes Google has been making, SEO efforts in the future will have to be centered around quality, unique content which means more jobs for good writers!!

      -Jess-

  5. Terri H says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I especially loved the point how all the writing books were riddled of stories of failure. While I agree the professors, writing books, etc. tell those stories to help, it can get discouraging at times. It’s great you found a way to tap another avenue that allows put your love or words to use.
    Terri H recently posted..The Best Christmas Gift of All: Encouragement

    • Thank you Terri!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! It can certainly be discouraging when you tell people that you want to be a writer. It’s like telling someone you want to be an actor. They immediately feel like they have to “warn” you about how hard it’s going to be. But, making a living writing is something that is very, very possible. Especially if you can write ad copy and produce web content.

  6. art williams says:

    Far as I know, I’ve got maybe a dozen people who read my blog. But I don’t care. I blog for the same reason a bird signs….because I like it.

    And….I’m sorta ashamed to admit it but I have been gigging over on Fiverr (yeah……I know!) but..

    I’ve got 4+ outside clients that I met there who pay me more. I’m waiting anxiously for Carol to open up the Writers Den so I can get some knowledge that’ll take me to the next rung in my rates.

    Meanwhile though…I do have plans to do a personal contact campaign to major sign companies. I used to sell signs and really enjoyed it. But I’m betting there are a lot of them who don’t have much, if any, content on their blog….or don’t even have a blog or any kind or social media at all.

    I have a direct sales background so I don’t mind asking questions to see if somebody can use my service.

    Regards,
    Art Williams
    the Original WanderingSalsero

    • Carol Tice says:

      What, we were just open last week Art! But now we’re not — get on the waitlist…or check out my post Friday for another way in the Den ;-)

    • Art,

      Thanks for leaving a comment, and good luck with your campaign! Being proactive and passionate will get you so far. As SEO and SEM become more and more important to brick and mortar businesses, they will have to start incorporating blogs in the company websites.

      Hopefully you land some stellar new clients!

      -Jess-

  7. Anita says:

    Your story reminds me a bit of my own. Practical considerations are important when choosing a career path. And with the right perspective, you can still say you’re doing what you love.

    All the best to you, Jessica.
    Anita recently posted..school choice, safety and a love for truth

    • Thanks Anita!

      Glad to hear that other writers can relate to my story. Being a starving artist was acceptable when I was in college, but afterwards I realized that I needed financial security. It was refreshing to discover that my skills could be adapted to have commercial appeal, while still being able to write for a living.

      -Jess-

  8. Tony Roberts says:

    I’m beginning a blog about my transition into a second career in writing. While developing my blogroll, I stumbled across your blog (doing a Google blog search on “writing”). I read a couple posts and pages and really like what I found. I’m sure I’ll be back (and send others your way).
    Tony Roberts recently posted..Good Work; God’s Work

  9. Dana Sitar says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! So many creative writers get stuck in that mode of pooh-poohing blogging or copywriting, and I’m so glad to see how you’ve tied it all together. Of course we can apply our creative skills to “boring” writing — that’s why they hire *writers* to do it, and not Bob from accounting :)

    Happy to hear you’re enjoying your work, too. It’s sad to see how many writers spend years in grad school and get out and have no work prospects, precisely because they weren’t taught applicable writing skills in school. That’s changing in a few places around the country; I hope it continues to grow as messages like *yours* spread!
    Dana Sitar recently posted..Create a Career in Writing That’s Just Right for You

    • Hi Dana,
      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment! I’m currently on contract with a web company, helping them hire a full time editor, and I must say that we get a lot of applicants who write beautiful poetry and boast about their MFAs in creative writing but then they can’t write a press release to save their lives. I’m really seeing how important it is to be adept at blogging and writing web copy when it comes to looking for work. You can’t write a blog like you would a short story, but there are certainly creative writing skill sets which can carry over.

      Glad to see that other writers can relate to my story!

      -Jess-

  10. Lisa Jayne says:

    Creative writing courses are widely available, however, there are very few that are professional and really do teach you everything you need to know. When I started writing creatively as a hobby, I went to a couple of writing course classes / workshops, however, these were not giving me what was required to become a successful creative writer. I then found a company called writers bureau and they were absolutely amazing in terms of what they offered and how they helped me with creative writing.

    http://www.writersbureau.com/blog/creative-writing/2012/12/

    • Hi Lisa,

      I’m glad to see you’ve found a writing community. I certainly learned the most about writing from the spoken word shows I’ve done, and the free workshops I’ve attended. The Writer’s Den here that Carol has started is another writing network treasure!

  11. I can totally relate to the elitist mentality of many would be writers in creative writing programs, where any kind of online writing is seen as below them. “Anybody can just post something on the internet,” they would say as a way to explain why they only pursued print publication. Well, I think we’ve all read print material that’s of sub par quality. Good writing is good, no matter where it’s published.
    Sarah L. Webb recently posted..Can Girls Benefit From Absent Fathers?

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m with you, Sarah. I think increasingly, the medium is less important than the value and quality of the content.

    • Thanks Sarah!

      I agree with you and Carol. The way we consume information is only going to become more digitized, not less. I believe those elitist creative writers who think they will be able to earn a living off their poetry are shooting themselves in the foot (and wallet).

      Thanks for the comment!

      -Jess-

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "How Creative Writing Made Me a Better Blogger"
  1. [...] Essay: How Creative Writing Made Me a Better Blogger, by Carol Tice – “I know it sounds impossible, but I didn’t even hear about blogging — much less blogging for pay — until after I graduated from college. The ‘elite’ world of creative writing viewed blogging as a desperate author’s low-rent attempt to attract an audience.” Make a Living Writing [...]

  2. […] and what doesn’t. This is feedback that you can use to help develop your writing skills. Jessica Ruane hated the process but admits that it made her a better […]

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