A New Year’s Resolution: No More Empty Words
Empty words. Those words are so powerful and yet so…empty. Bare. Blank. Dead. Deflated. Exhausted. Vacant. Vacuous. Void. Wasted. And yet we cling to those empty words like they are our children. We coddle them. We lavish attention on them. We cradle them like a baby bird. But should that be so? Are we, as writers, simply preying upon innocent words that have done us no harm? Try reading through this Wikipedia article for an idea of what I’m discussing. Come back tomorrow and the next day and I’ll paste links to other people talking about empty words. I might even just steal their stuff wholesale and pretend its mine, if I’m feeling really devious!
Right…. Blah, blah, blah, blah! 😉
I hope I didn’t lose anyone in my lame attempt at irony. I opened a post on empty words by giving you empty words–a list of synonyms, meaningless “profound” comments, a link to Wikipedia, and a picture of an unrelated cute animal (My dog, Caspian, BTW). The internet, particularly the blogosphere, produces far more inane banter than it does decent text. I hereby resolve (and humbly ask that you join me) to do my part over the course of the next year to change that by contributing content that represents actual effort and therefore might possibly be worth someone’s time!
Don’t get me wrong–I don’t want to judge empty worders all too harshly. I understand the temptation all too well and have been guilty of it myseld. Years ago I tried my hand at political/cultural op-eds. I tried to write a couple a week in order to establish my name and get some ideas out there. Though not a blogger in the truest sense–I was writing for a variety of websites, not just my own blog–I quickly discovered the blogger’s dilemma: There were days when I simply had nothing worthwhile to contribute that others hadn’t already said, but I still had to write something. The result was self-admitted slop that I couldn’t defend from myself, let alone the public. It wasn’t long before I just dropped it altogether. I would rather just not write than have to spew nonsense for the sake of getting words onto the internet.
I don’t think it has to be this way. Here are some thoughts on how we might try to address the problem:
- Give some thought to your blog structure and authors: Here at LHP, we actually have it rather easy, and that’s because we worked it out ahead of time. We have seven regular bloggers and people who contribute guest posts. That means that we are able take off weeks (sometimes a month) to recharge our creative batteries. You might consider bringing in like-minded friends and establishing a regular schedule. For even more fun, you might consider bringing in people who profoundly disagree with you. 🙂
- Remember that you don’t have to blog every day, just often: I’ve read sites that disagree with this, but if you care about producing content instead of slop, I suggest you ignore them. Write when you have something worth saying, and (as long as you’re also easy to find on the search engines) people will take notice. Blogging three times a week, for example, will give you a regular schedule, and a chance to breathe between posts. Remember, if your schedule starts to wear on you, your posts will start to wear on us.
- Break up longer posts into installments: Do you really think that thousands of people are going to actually read your three thousand word treatise on whatever? Even if they are interested in the topic, probably not. Does that mean it isn’t worth saying it all? Of course not, but give it to your readers in smaller doses spread out over time. That approach lets you have your say, gives your readers something good to look forward to, and doesn’t overwhelm them. (I would provide a series of links in each post to make it easy for them to navigate to the rest of your essay.) It also increases the useful life of an idea, allowing you the chance to not only say it right, but to get that coveted breathing room you need to come up with other thoughts that matter.
- Plan ahead. Balance “filler” and “anchor” posts: One important distinction I came across as we began our own blog is the difference between “filler” and “anchor” posts. In short, not every post needs to be of cosmic significance and draw in a thousand hits per month. You want those posts, of course, but if you just throw them up whenever they first occur to you, your blog will likely alternate between feast and famine. Planning ahead a bit by spacing out your anchor posts between smaller (but still worthwhile) posts will even out the keel significantly without burning you out.
- Redefine “filler” posts: Filler posts need not mean “ripped off content” or “mindless blather.” You don’t have to talk about the significance of your breakfast. Aim to make these posts shorter than your anchor posts, and to identify several large themes or situations that can quickly provoke you into saying something that is (you hope) worth hearing. Book and movie commentary is a tried and true approach, but there are plenty of other topics to think on, such as flash fiction or even politics. Over the past year, I’ve developed my “Music to Write By!” series to help fill this gap. This year I intend to add a series on the flora and fauna of fairieland, inspired by my recently returned copy of Katherine Briggs Encyclopedia. The key, in the end, is to produce a meaningful post worth someone else’s time without exhausting yourself. It can be done.
And finally, be patient! Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither is a successful blog. Take your time with your ideas, plan accordingly, and relax. After all, this is supposed to be fun, isn’t it? 😉
Happy New Year!