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Write to Learn What You Know

Last night I read a white paper from Slingshot SEO entitled The Enterprise Blog Post Optimization Guide. I downloaded it from an email with the enticing subject line, “How To Write An Insanely Popular Blog.”

How insane the popularity of any post you might write following the guidelines would be, I can’t really say—but I do think the advice is solid. Start with a killer title, follow with an Introduction that explains why you should read on, expand in a Body that delivers on the promise, end in a Conclusion that recaps the argument, finish with a Call to Action.

That’s an excellent structured approach. But lately I’ve wondered if we’re in such a hurry to push out our three blog posts a week that we fail to use the writing process to explore and learn. If you know when you sit down that you’re going to write “Seven Tips Pros Use to Fight Writer’s Block,” then you’re probably not going to use the introduction as a jumping off point for discovery.

But sometimes all we have is a vague idea that draws us in, a feeling that some topic needs us to explore it in writing.

That’s why I keep pondering the wooden fence outside my office window. I live in horse country, so the fence is a picturesque structure of white posts and rails that spans about 200 feet.

But the fence was built 17 years ago and hasn’t been touched since. A post or two have fallen, some rails are missing, and the whole of it needs priming and painting.

I’d be willing to do that, except that my property runs along a bend in the road. So even if I return the fence to its original state, it won’t be long until someone mows it down again—like the twins did when they were racing down the lane across the road in their beater car and couldn’t stop in time.

I know there’s a story in the fence about boundaries and protection and freedom. But to learn the lesson, I can’t just consult my brain. I have to engage in the act of writing.

A wall plaque my sister gave me years ago expresses this concept far more eloquently:

writing is the process one follows to learn what is already known deep within: it sharpens the spirit, disciplines the mind and leads to solutions.

in the spaces between words & solitude observe what happens when words and silence meet.

words matter. pay attention. write to learn what you know.

— Marianne Radmacher-Hershey

The quote came home to me recently when I was reviewing comments on my blog post “How to Be the Real You in Your Blog Writing.”

One comment came from a young man in India named Shailesh.  He explained that when he first started blogging, he was still living in the town where he grew up. His interactions were limited and his blog is a reflection of his experience to that point: it’s charming, youthful and a bit naive.

But Shailesh is older now and has moved to Delhi. He recently started a new blog, feeling the original wasn’t serious enough. But he wanted to know if he was being genuine if his blogs were so different?

Obviously Shailesh is growing as a person—and so sometimes you write to learn what you know about yourself. As he matures and evolves, he will come to understand more about who he is and how he thinks. And we hope this will never be static! The only caveat is that he must make certain his words reflect the real man within, not an idealized version.

A beautifully thoughtful response to this interchange came from Maurice in Nigeria.

Could it be that… as much as we write based on conviction about what we believe, sometimes, we also write to convince ourselves that we do believe in our own perceptions on certain issues. Some sort of self re-discovery …

Over time, we shed away some of the values we live by and wear new ones. But before we do wear them, being passionate writers, we put them to test. We write about them and wait for our positions to be made stronger/weaker by contrary views or otherwise.

Maurice’s words debunk the myth that we must know what we’re going to say when we sit down to write. Or that the goal of our writing is the next viral blog post.

Quite the contrary: Sometimes the greatest gift comes simply from the exploration.

Writing can be the most satisfying when we’re not sure where it will lead us. When you have the luxury, choose a topic that pulls you in. Discover what the world around you is trying to teach. And write to learn what you know.

Diana Kightlinger is a professional copywriter, content writer and blogger. To make sure you catch all of her posts, quips and quotes, like Eclipse Communications on Facebook and follow her on Eclipsewriter Blog and on Twitter at #eclipsewriter.