Increasing Your Blog’s Readership and Authority

Copywriter's typewriter and red proofreading pencilWhen choosing to illustrate the subject of “writing”, many bloggers will choose an avatar of a fountain or quill pen, or an antique typewriter. There is an organic, iconic simplicity to these tools, a functional beauty, elegance and purity of form that still holds a romantic place in the hearts of writers today.

The Way We Were

For thousands of years, a dip pen and bottle of ink were the only tools of a writer. In 953, Ma’ād al-Mu’izz, the caliph of the Maghreb, demanded a pen that would not dribble on his hands or clothes, and was provided with a writing instrument that held ink in a bladder and fed it to the nib. The fountain pen was born.

In the 19th century the Moleskine notebook made its appearance. A fountain pen or pencil, and the leather-bound black notebook, were popular with writers for over two centuries. You can still buy them today.

The first working typewriter was developed by the Italian Pellegrino Turri in 1808. For over 260 years, the tap-tap of a typewriter augmented the thought processes of writers around the globe, transferring their words to paper.

A blank sheet of paper, a well-used typewriter, a red proofreading pencil and the Oxford dictionary were all a writer needed. The only notable writing tools to emerge over two centuries were Roget’s Thesaurus in 1911 and Webster’s American Dictionary in 1913.

Libraries provided limited source material, so most editorial content flowed from the hearts and minds of writers. Feedback from readers helped hone columnists’ skills, and engagement with their audience enabled writers to establish their own unique voice. Good, authoritative writing was informative, but it also connected with the readership. Edgy, opinionated writers tended to have the greatest following.

The first dedicated word processors emerged as stand-alone office machines in the 1970s They combined a keyboard for text entry with the printing functionality of an electric typewriter. Lift-off correction tape permitted minor corrections on the fly. Within a few years, sophisticated computer processors would save documents to RAM or disk, eliminating much of the retyping during editing. My third job was in sales, marketing word processors for the Olivetti typewriter company. Secretaries oohed as I showed them how documents could be stored for reuse. It was a brave new world.

In 1979 Micropro International introduced their WordStar software and writing has never been the same. Today, the blogger is presented with a bewildering array of software options, each promising to make writing simpler, improve the writer’s workflow or protect them from  their inadequacies.

I treasure my ‘swirl’ glass nib dip pen and Mont Blanc 149 Diplomat fountain pen, although I rarely write with them. They are elegant symbols of a time when writing was much simpler.  I would love to get my hands on a Royal No. 10 vintage typewriter (introduced 1914)… a thing of exquisite beauty. It too is a classic icon of the writer’s craft.

Can We Go Back To Simpler, More Organic Writing?

We live in an electronic age, so it’s unrealistic for most of us to consider going back to writing content on a typewriter.  Ribbons and typewriter repair shops have become extremely difficult to find, but there are still a few purists that do their writing on a typewriter, then scan  their text into the computer or tablet with an OCR reader app like Readiris.

If you’ve chosen to write on a tablet, instead of a laptop, a Bluetooth keyboard and perhaps a raised stand will provide a comparable typewriter experience. Many software apps exist for laptop computers and tablets that offer a distraction-free ‘blank sheet’ experience. Two examples are WriteRoom for Mac/iOS and Q10 for Windows 8. Here’s the good news: you will probably actually only need one app for life.

Toting hardcover editions of your dictionary and thesaurus are not practical or necessary today. For proofreading, Grammarly or WhiteSmoke  will check your text for spelling and grammatical errors. There are many bloggers who still write their first draft in Microsoft Word and print it out double-spaced, so they can proofread it with a red gel pen. (The Pilot FriXion Erasable in red is a favorite with professional editors.) Word also includes a light spelling/grammar checker.

Writers of the last two centuries did not purchase a new typewriter every few months or even years. They chose one at the beginning of their careers and it became almost as much a part of them as their right arm. I was watching an episode of Million Dollar Listing recently and noticed that one of the top earners was using an ancient PowerBook laptop that still required the old blue LAN cable because it was pre-wi-fi. I was puzzled that a millionaire would use that old clunker, considering his shoes cost more than a brand new top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. On reflection, it occurred to me that he retained it because a new model with all the bells and whistles would contribute absolutely nothing to his bottom line. He was sparing himself the wasted time and distraction involved in shopping for a new one, upgrading to the latest software and hardware and then enduring the frustration of learning a new operating system. His current computer worked, it was a familiar friend, and he would rather sell homes.

We’re striving for simplicity, so that our minds are free to create and connect with our readers. Don’t get caught up in ‘shiny new object syndrome’, buying every new app and hardware recommendation presented to you. The new toys will not make you a better writer. Writing regularly and listening carefully to your readers are the way you’ll improve.

Most modern writers feel they must read constantly to be an authority in their industry. They believe they are inspired by big-name and competitive bloggers in their niche. They rely on readily-available reference materials rather than looking internally for their own unique take on the subject.

I have no issues with being informed and up to date, but am convinced that a blogger becomes an authority because people identify with the writer as much as the message. Reading outside of your niche can expand your outlook and fuel creativity. Reading other blogs and reference material in your own field obsessively often replaces inspiration and creativity with textbook knowledge, and I believe this is behind much of the “me too” regurgitated drivel found on websites today.

To achieve  ‘contrast’ — to stand out — you need to look beyond the usual sources. Accurate, informative content that does not resonate with your readership is not going to build your audience. Without an audience or platform, you will have a very difficult time being recognized as an authority in your niche.

The Takeaway

Inspired writing in 2014 will not come as a result of buying new computer hardware, more software apps, new online solutions or subscribing to an ever increasing list of resource feeds and email updates in your niche.  Clearing the clutter, so you’re left with only your computer or tablet, your writing app and perhaps a spelling/grammar checker can be very liberating. Consider embracing the mantra, “I already have everything I need.”

You probably read entirely too much in your niche and that’s made it very difficult for you to provide a new perspective to your readers. Your copy will naturally sound exactly like everyone else’s if you don’t expose yourself to something completely different every day.

You need feedback, so write to elicit a response from your readers. Then carefully read and reply to your comments. Commenting on other blogs in your niche also provides an opportunity to test reader reactions, provide a unique perspective and attract readers to your site. Let your personality shine through. Present an opinion. Take a few chances with your content in 2014. Any successful columnist had readers that both agreed and disagreed. In the same way, as long as your critics are respectful, publishing their comments is likely to contribute  to the conversation and increase further engagement.

Over to You

Would you agree that a return to the purity of simple tools, an uncluttered and creative mind, and a close connection with your readers are keys to increasing your readership and authority? Or do you believe cutting edge software tools and hardware, and a level of automation, have become necessary in building an audience today?

Has anyone written content on an old Commodore Pet, Apple II or other seriously cool vintage piece of hardware? I sold some of the first Olivetti M20 computers, bundled with Corel’s WordPerfect software and an external glass-ceramic hard drive enclosed in a wood cabinet. (Set one down roughly and the platter shattered.) Did any of you begin your writing career on a manual, or perhaps an IBM Selectric typewriter, then move to a computer later? Have you hammered out editorial copy for a publication? Here’s the place to share your writing roots.

I love edgy, opinionated “tell it like it is” writing that entertains, is thought provoking and informative, and inspires me to either make positive changes in my life or consider another point of view. Some examples are Paul Boag, Ash Ambirge (The Middle Finger Project) and Chris Brogan. Do you have any recommendations?

Comments

  1. Anne Wiebe says

    I found this article on the progression on writing from it’s early stages till modern technology very interesting. We have come a long way but sometimes we long for the simplicity and less stressful days of the past when life wasn’t so hectic. There was an art to writings of old and a personal touch which sometimes gets lost in technology.

  2. says

    Hello; I’ve gone from writing by hand to using a manual typewriter and then to an electric. I have used word processing software. The truth is writers become writers by writing. And of course, you are only truly successful if you can generate an audience. So, having your own voice and interacting with your readers are the most important keys to being a successful writer/blogger. And comments not only give you a chance to sharpen your skills they also bring you into contact with other writers who can give you pointers. I’ve gotten a lot of help from my blogging friends. I know my site wouldn’t be where it is without their help. So, by all means do reach out to other bloggers. I wish everyone here the best of luck in 2014. Take care, max
    maxwell ivey recently posted…My first video and a special offerMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Maxwell,

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. It’s great to hear from someone that has traveled down a similar path. Wow, writing by hand and a manual typewriter. By comparison, I got started with a very ‘modern’ daisy wheel Olivetti Praxis 35 electronic. My first word processor was WordStar software running on a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III. :-)

      You’re so right, writers become writers by writing. A great writer could build an audience and authority with a pencil, steno pad and a friend willing to transcribe posts to WordPress.

      – Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…Increasing Your Blog’s Readership and AuthorityMy Profile

      • says

        Hi Cole; If you have any doubts about conditions not needing to be perfect to b a successful writer read steven king’s autobiography. He often didn’t have food heat or fancy tools; but he had a story to tell. and since i am blind often the latest tools aren’t available to me. I use mars edit on my mac to write my posts. It helps with spell checking embedding photos and adding links; but it doesn’t have anything to check my grammar. I’ve been told my sentence structure is a little to complex for the net, but its who i am and how i write; so I find it hard to change my style. I have added headers and now break the text up into smaller blocks; but that’s it. I know people who used to do their work by typing it on a perkins braille writer or by hand using a slate and stylist and having someone transcribe it into usable documents. Thankfully that’s a thing of the past. smile appreciate the post. Take care, max
        maxwell ivey recently posted…My first video and a special offerMy Profile

        • says

          Welcome back,

          I shall put Steven King’s autobiography on my wish list at Amazon.

          Never thought of that; being blind must provide very unique challenges and would certainly reduce your software options. In other ways, I imagine you would benefit from less distractions pulling you from your writing. I appreciate your sharing that. Less software options may not be a bad thing… there are way too many of them out there.

          Mars Edit is one of the many software apps I’ve purchased and downloaded, then left to “gather dust” in my Applications folder, although I’ve read some great reviews. Finding the time to get up to speed and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of all those apps has been the big problem. Have you tried voice-to-text solutions like Dragon Naturally Speaking?

          Having come from a magazine publishing background, I would agree with you that writing for the web is different. I still struggle with paragraphs that are too long every day. Breaking a thought into several chunks I believe breaks the flow, so there’s a conflict with my writing style. Fortunately, we are adaptable creatures.

          – Cole
          Cole Wiebe recently posted…Increasing Your Blog’s Readership and AuthorityMy Profile

          • says

            Hi Cole; well, i find your understanding of my situation refreshing. And I love th point of view that having fewer choices allows clarity. I agree with you. Since starting my site, I have never had a big budget for software or hardware purchases. For this reason I believe i suffer far less from the shiny new object syndrome that plagues so many bloggers. to date i have purchased mars edit and comment love premium. I have one annual ad on a carnival site for $200 a year. and yes i do generally have fewer distractions. I think in this area the generally unfriendly nature of most social media sites keeps my time on them way down in comparison with others working online. you can find good in anything if you look. thanks, max
            maxwell ivey recently posted…My first video and a special offerMy Profile

  3. says

    Wow Cole!
    What a post. I loved it. It’s my first visit here after finding your comment on Adrienne Smith’s Blog so just have to leave my 2 cents worth!

    I was meeting a client in the pub the other day and was showing him his website on my old and battered up HP Pavilion that’s rocking windows vista 32 bit and we was chatting about blogging and technology as well!

    I was asked “Why you got the old battered old lappy you have had that for years now. Is is not time you should upgrade to a better model” my reaction was this “I have been with my Louise now for nearly 5 years, do you think i should upgrade her to a new model?” we both laughed anyway as it was all in jest!

    I went on to say “Yea ok it’s falling apart, the silver edging is peeling and breaking off, there are scratches all over the body and yes I have lost the + and O buttons on the keypad but it still works fine and it makes me money”. Like the old saying goes “Why fix something if it’s not broke”

    I have since upgraded to windows 7 now as vista was having problems but my beaten up old lappy still works fine and I will still use it till it’s dying day! Thanks for sharing your awesome thoughts Cole I really enjoyed reading it. I am going to sign up for Grammarly now as I think my grammar needs some working on!

    Until next time.
    – Phillip
    Phillip Dews recently posted…A Day I Will Never Forget | Losing a Mum on Christmas DayMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Phillip,

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      Hmm… I wonder if we had the same model of HP’s Pavillion (mine was an N5425). That thing was built like a tank inside, with a steel frame the hard drive and components were bolted to. It met it’s end, sadly, when my ex’s cat urinated on it and shorted out the motherboard. (How unusual is that? The cat was named “Whizzer” thereafter.) One of my blogging friends swears by his old IBM ThinkPad 770, still running Windows 95. Nothing ‘sleek’ about that machine. Thing is, it handles writing and email perfectly, so it’s all he actually needs, and it’s become an old, trusted friend. The matte finish has been buffed to a high sheen in many areas, due to heavy use. But to him, it’s like a pair of well-worn jeans and it’s kind of an extension of his non-conformist personality.

      Hope to see you around again soon,

      Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…Increasing Your Blog’s Readership and AuthorityMy Profile

      • says

        hahaha an ex’s cat hey! that why you guys split up buddy? Not sure what model mine is any as am currently using it but I agree that are built very well indeed and yes I consider mine as an old friend now as it’s earned me thousands over the years!

        My old man has just got a IBM Thinkpad recently of a mate of his but he really don’t like windows 7 saying that XP is much better!

        Yep I will be back for more Cole.
        Until then. have a good one!
        – Phillip
        Phillip Dews recently posted…Rocket Speed! Ten Ways to Speed up your BlogMy Profile

  4. says

    Hey Cole,

    That picture of that typewriter here in your post, we have one just like it and if you can believe this it still works. Oh my gosh, I so remember those days and yes I guess I’m telling my age.

    I remember when I was introduced to the first word processor and I was in heaven. It was SO much better then just the regular typewriter and man were whiteout and me great friends.

    The first time I worked on a computer was in the late 70’s and I believe the program was good old dos. The black screen with green letters, that’s embedded in my brain forever.

    Now don’t shoot me but I don’t consider myself a writer still so even though I do okay I’m not of the caliber that people of that profession are. I hope that my posts won’t become stale at some point but putting different spins on things is not the easiest thing to learn how to do if you’re really not a writer.

    I agree though when that time comes it’s great to step outside the box and get help from those on that level. I’m trying to think of someone at this very moment that truly inspires me with their words but since I have a headache I’m thinking no name is going to come through at this moment. Guess I picked the wrong time to comment here, sorry.

    Thanks for the education and a stroll down memory lane. Enjoy your week now okay!

    ~Adrienne
    Adrienne recently posted…Where To Find Great Content Topic IdeasMy Profile

  5. says

    Hi Cole

    I’d love to go back to a more uncluttered time. I think we’ve become too automated.

    Blogging is about writing and expressing your feelings and opinions.

    Social media is about engaging with others.

    Somewhere along the way we seem to have confused things and now social media streams are just endless links and meaningless thank yous.

    Blog posts have become safe places where people can pat us on the back!

    I intend to take a few more risks this year, the first one being actually trying to engage with people on social media.
    Tim Bonner recently posted…Lost Your Mojo? 9 Ways To Streamline Your Blogging DayMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Tim,

      You’ve made an astute observation. Blog comments are very much used as a platform for bloggers to tell each other how wonderful they are. Some of the big names in blogging openly admit that they will not publish any comments that disagree with the author in any way. (I’ve had polite, respectful comments rejected because I didn’t fully agree with a post.) I’m not sure if that’s cowardice or vanity.

      Bloggers love to refer to commenting and social media as “relationship building”, but in real relationships people don’t always agree or say lovely, supportive things even when they may not mean them. If someone reads my post, as long as they are respectful, they are welcome to disagree with me. If someone insults me or calls me names, I won’t publish it, but healthy debates are good for relationships.

      There’s a real person behind my posts and comments, and Adrienne Smith inspired me to allow my readers to get to know me better this year.

      – Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…Are You Focusing on Conversion Before You Have Traffic?My Profile

  6. says

    Hi Cole,
    Great post! I agree with you 100%… it’s not about the stuff you have but rather getting your own, original thoughts out into the big wide world. If it was all about having the latest and greatest I am afraid I would be in big trouble. My PC is still running Windows XP and I use Word 97 but I can still write what I want, when I want and publish it anytime I want. That’s good enough for me.

    Thanks for the history lesson… most enjoyable
    Donald
    Donald Gavin recently posted…Why Should I Become An Affiliate?My Profile

    • says

      Hi Donald,

      I switched to Mac about 9 years ago, but keep versions of Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 running in virtual machines. I would say that XP was the most rock solid, bombproof version Microsoft ever offered. I’m amazed by the number of clients that still run it across their networks. I was waiting for my daughter at her university recently and glanced at the computers they make available to students in the library… XP on every one of them. Who knows, maybe XP will give hundred year old Royal and Underwood typewriters, in perfect working order, a run for their money.

      – Cole
      Cole Wiebe recently posted…Are You Focusing on Conversion Before You Have Traffic?My Profile

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