Okay, so my online writing hasn't made me millions. But I've received a good deal of attention, with several of my pieces going viral and getting my name out there among a community of peers. But more than that, it's given me an outlet for my creativity and a sense of accomplishment.
So here are a few of my not-so-secret secrets:
1. Keep posts short and clean! 500 - 700 words short. If you have a longer piece, post in installations with a link to your initial piece. Keep your paragraphs short as well. Online readers are scanners. They like quick, easy reads, not big blocks of text.
Make your blog visually interesting by laying it out well. Bullet point, number and block quote when you can. Don't indent paragraphs three spaces or double-space between sentences (old school). Read your work aloud before you post aloud then trim it down. (Most blog posts I come across could be reduced by 20 - 30%.) And spell check, of course.
2. Create catchy titles. A good title can truly make or break a piece. My piece entitled The 16 Most Overrated Sexual Acts of All Time and 13 People who Ruined it for Everyone Else got more attention than my post simply titled Love Means. Hmmm...wonder why?
3. Know your News. Regardless of the type of blog or article you write, staying on top of current events, themes and cultural directions gives your writing a "now" edge that resonates, regardless of the subject matter.
You may not want to focus entirely on headline news because it will drown in a sea of similar pieces. Find an interesting niche and exploit it.
When I saw a movement called Boobquake forming in response to an Iranian cleric's misguided statement about women and promiscuity, I threw my feminist hat in the ring. Sure, Boobquake was getting some attention but it wasn't on the cover of the New York Times. My piece found a place within the debate.
So it's important to stay abreast (pun woefully intended) of the world around you for the sake of relevancy.
4. Reach out. Remember your pieces are online. It's not a stuffy essay handed into your college professor. That means add links whenever relevant or whenever irrelevant. (Note in Number 2 how I oh so subtly linked to three of my pieces, which drives traffic to those posts.)
And be generous. I work with many photographers, writers and musicians and happily link to their pages when I'm allowed to use their work. It's a win/win, karmically and creatively.
5. Brand yourself. I'm kind of done with that awful B word, but until I find another, I'll continue with my point: be your own PR machine. Post great shots of yourself online (not blurry, not underexposed and not of your damn cat.) If you don't want to post a photo of yourself, come up with a one-of-kind avatar. Develop a color scheme and style that represents you - or the you you want to be. Use language that is distinctly your own.
Treat yourself like a superhero or a mythic character, where you create your own costume, superpowers, catch phrases, titles, imaginary words, villains, alter egos and kryptonite. Create a world that is distinctly your own online. Mythologize yourself and your story.
6. Take Chances. You're writing online with about 3 trillion others. You simply must take some risks with your writing. Dare to be outspoken - or simply brave enough to express a difficult emotion or delicate situation.
In our "real" lives, we are in a constant state of self-censoring. Your online writing is an opportunity to express yourself with boldness and panache. Take some liberties you might not take in real life. Safe writing is boring writing. If you're worried about what others might think as you write, you're already off your path, I guarantee.
Write to the bone. It's the name of a book that I never read. But the title has always stuck with me. Writing to the bone means that good writing goes deeper and may make you uncomfortable as you write it.
If you try too hard to keep up some false, cutesy persona, your work won't resonate. People like reading about the human experience - the trials, foibles, pain, messiness, confusion, existential angst and glaring imperfections. Dig!
7. Truth, Shmuth. I might get some flack for this, but I don't feel the need to be 100% honest online (hell, I'm lucky if I'm 70% "honest.") I'm not advocating lying; I'm just saying pull at your truth like taffy.
Years ago, I heard an interview with Orson Welles: He said he will often "borrow" stories from others and make them his own, embellishing them along the way. He doesn't feel like it's lying, just molding a good story.
Back to the superhero analogy, your real-life stories can be transformed into action-packed or emotionally-provocative tales. Blow them up! You don't need to convey every iota of boring truth. Further your story by treating it like a tale.
(Of course, if you're writing fact-based, journalistic blogs, you may want to stick some facts in there.)
8. Make it multimedia. The Internet is very alive and in movement, with words, images, videos and sounds. Your online writing needs to be as well. Use other forms of media within your piece.
If there's an image I like, I email the artist directly, who is usually happy to share as long as it's credited properly. Again, win/win. Collaborating with other artists around the world is truly a heady and wonderful feeling as well.
Or better yet? Shoot your own video and images. Use your own music. DIY, baby.
There are also great online resources like Creative Commons "a non-profit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright."
9. Sex Sells. Oh, it's true and you know it. But luckily, you don't need to share the sordid details about your sex life (unless you want to, of course.)
I'm talking about is sexing up your writing. Use lush, rich language that you can touch, taste and smell. Use out-of-the-box analogies to tell your story. Be bold in your word choice. Think rich, creamy dessert. Think word foreplay. Reading online is essentially boring. Your words need to enliven and seduce.
10. Move it.
Most people get the hang of social media by now. And you'd better - because a blog sitting stagnantly on Blogger or WordPress alone will not get many eyes on it. Be your own hustler.
I write my pieces on Blogger. It's my homebase - my library. Then I post it on Open Salon, Red Room and She Writes, all great sites with a large community of writers and readers. Then I post it on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, etc. After that, I send an email notice out to several hundred people. I also dutifully read other writers' work and post comments.
And I submit my pieces to relevant publications....well, I try. I still have a business to run!
(Smooth plug, Beth!)