Do you have a social media friend who is always writing about the horrors of her life without actually telling you what those horrors are?
I don’t know if I can make it through the night.
Nothing has ever hurt so bad.
Finding out who my true friends are…
The phenomenon is so widespread that it now has a name: vaguebooking, a form of status update designed to elicit sympathy and/attention from readers who respond to ask what is wrong and offer support to the poster. But vaguebooking can just as easily backfire, leading people to unfriend the poster.
What’s true for social media holds true for blogging. If you find that your stories aren’t gaining traction, it may be because there isn’t enough substance in them for readers to identify with and respond to. Vagueblogging may get you some sympathy votes, but it won’t drive the kind of engagement that leads to lasting success.
Here are 10 tips to help you stop vagueblogging and write stories people want to read and share:
(1) Separate your reason for writing the piece from your audience’s reason for reading it.
A piece that you initially wrote only for self-expression may wind up being a fantastic blog post, but not until your readers see value in it. Imagine that your reader is asking you “so what?” Why should he or she be reading this? What value does the piece hold for that reader? Make that value clear within your post.
(2) Stick to one significant story at a time.
Posts trend toward vaugeblogging when they attempt to cover huge swaths of ground. If your blog post is 800 words, you don’t have room to explain all the details of your life. You do have room for a single, well-told story and the lessons resulting from that story.
(3) Don’t write a thinly-veiled attack of an unnamed foe.
Vaguebookers often write about people without writing directly to them. That kind of writing nearly always ends badly, either in a fight with the intended audience or, more likely, in hurt feelings from scores of people who thought they were the intended audience. If you are using your blog post to write against a specific person, just stop. The person in question probably won’t read it anyway, so won’t know how cogently you’ve argued against co-sleeping or whatever another issue the two of you disagree about. Worse, in framing your audience as this one specific person, you do a poor job addressing the much larger audience of readers who may want to hear your arguments for not co-sleeping. Of course, you should use your own life as inspiration for your blog. But leave personal arguments and resentments for another forum.
(4) Fill in the details, but interpret “detail” broadly.
As you focus on that single story, set the scene for your readers. You’re limited on space, so you can’t spend paragraphs describing the scenery. Consider using less imagery and more anecdote. Recording every little detail about your child’s appearance is often less evocative than one well-crafted sentence that defines your child as a character. The ten-minute tantrum that came after you impatiently buttoned her shirt for her. His careful daily selection of two mismatched socks. Those anecdotes set the scene and show readers the independence and creative spirit of two characters more easily than paragraphs of description.
(5) If it’s too personal, don’t write about it online.
Many writers leave a detail out of their work because they fear to be too personal online. If you’re fearful that your post will reveal too much about you and are resorting to telling readers that something was really hard without telling them what that “something” is, that’s a good indication your writing is better suited for your diary than for your blog. Bottom line: If you’re being vague in order to protect yourself, consider putting that piece away for a while until you’re ready to be more open with it.
(6) Avoid superlatives.
Look for words like “better,” “tougher,” “hardest,” and “easiest.” These words aren’t *bad* to use, but they can often help you identify parts of your writing where you’re leaning toward vaugeblogging. A sentence like “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do” offers no detail about what you had to do or why it was hard. Skip that sentence to make room for the details that will show your readers what was so hard.
(7) Choose active verbs.
If you read through your post and circle all the verbs, you’re likely to notice that “to be” shows up more than any other. That’s of course reasonable, as “to be” is certainly the most versatile verb in our language. But it’s hard to evoke powerful responses in your readers without some more descriptive verbs. Consider the following pair of sentences: She is the most supportive person in my life. She supports all my big decisions. See the difference? In the second sentence, “she” is stronger even though you’re making the same claim in each sentence. Once you’ve got the basics down, go bigger. She shoulders my problems. She oozes support.
If it’s too personal, don’t write about it online – +9 more tips to stop vagueblogging
(8) Use “seems” strategically.
Parent blogs thrive on the notion of “it seemed like a good idea at the time,” so although a common rule for writers is to avoid “seemed,” it gets a pass here as long as you’re using it to set up a learning experience. Otherwise, follow the basic rule: don’t tell readers how it seems, tell readers how it is.
(9) Destroy “it.”
Look at this sentence again: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” The sentiment is vague, but also wordy because you’ll need another sentence to tell readers what “it” is. If your writing feels vague, go look for the “its” and replace them with their antecedents.
(10) Do not leave readers hanging.
Unless your blog is built on serial fiction, if your reader finishes your post and asks “what happened?” you have a problem. Although not every post needs a call to action, you should, as a general rule, imagine what response you want your reader to have and end your post accordingly.