By Kath Walters

One of the biggest impediments to blogging is our fear of stuffing up. We don’t want to appear foolish by making a mistake that only a rookie would make. We want to have something to say, but we don’t want to write something so offensive that we lose all credibility. And what if we don’t even make sense?

For this list of worries, I’m grateful to the participants who shared them at my presentation yesterday, How to Write a Kick-Ass Blog.

And how true they are.

It’s hard enough to tame our inner demon and put our words on the page, but to actually publish what we have written and expose our words to a world of other critics – that is another level of anxiety altogether.

Readers are ruthless

One of the reasons it is so scary is that we know that, as readers, we are ruthless. If the headline doesn’t win our interest, we move on; if the first sentence doesn’t deliver, we flick the page or click away to the next story, blog or website. We don’t have a second to waste as readers.

But as writers, we work hard to craft our story. To be dismissed in an instant hurts. Even to imagine it is painful. The very act of publishing can leave us feeling naked and vulnerable.

And then there are those people who have published something truly foolish and reputation-destroying. Celebrities are especially good at this, but CEOs have been known to make the occasional career-ending mistake.

So how can we protect ourselves from making the kinds of mistakes that might really damage our reputation, instead of help build it?

Walk first

Not all content is born equal. Some content holds more risk for the writer. Opinion pieces are the riskiest. If no one disagrees with your opinion, it probably wasn’t worth writing. Be ready for dissenters if you want to express your opinions in public.

It’s much easier and less confronting to start by writing simple reports of interest to your readers. Is there some new research that challenges old thinking or proves a point? Is an international expert in their industry visiting Australia? Is there a trend emerging in the marketplace that will affect their hip-pocket nerve?  

Case studies make great stories. Find an expert and interview them about their journey to success. Be sure to ask them about the lessons they have learned.

Start with the easier, less controversial forms of writing until you have built some momentum and confidence.

The first reader

Of course, there are real mistakes that you can make, even with easier types of content.  Here are some:

  • Spelling or grammatical mistakes
  • Being boring
  • Confusing your audience
  • Coming on too strong
  • Being inappropriate
  • Jamming your story with too much information
  • Using jargon
  • Misquoting
  • Failing to attribute a source
  • Errors of fact, such as misspelling someone’s name
  • Defamation
  • Misrepresentation

The list is endless. After all, I’ve been writing about all the mistakes people make in writing and I’ve published a weekly blog for three years.

The answer here is to make sure you have someone reliable, responsible and honest read your work before it is published.

They will be looking for any and all of the above and more. Does it make sense? Are there any typos? Are we offending only the people we want to offend?

In publishing, we call that person a subeditor or an editor. This a paid role, but when you start, you can call on friends and loved ones to read your work before you publish it. They must be aware of who your reader is, and what you want them to check (some or all of the list above). Ask them to be as specific as possible.

Listen to your first reader; they are doing you a big favour. Don’t argue with them. If you are not sure what they mean, ask more questions, such as: “When you say it’s gobbledygook, which was the sentence that stopped making sense to you?”

Overall, you might ask them: “Will this blog enhance my credibility and reputation or not?”

If the answer is yes, take a chance on yourself. Be brave. It’s so rewarding when you do publish and find yourself an audience.