The Two Minds of the Modern Writer—Books and Blogs

I support the blog to book model — outlining your manuscript as a series of posts and writing them one at a time. Yet it’s important to note that this method will give you only the raw material for your book. You’ll need to transform that material in specific ways to make your ideas and stories come alive in a long piece of exposition or narration.

This ain’t easy. It’s analogous to translating a text from one language to another. Books and blogs represent two distinct rhetorical environments—two lenses on the world. Two distinct sets of writing strategies.

I was reminded of this in a juicy post by Jakob Nielsen, Writing Style for Print vs. Web. He deftly captures the differences.

In short, you can think of people on the Web as often impatient, hurried, and on the hunt for actionable content. Our job as writers is to deliver the goods with prose that’s as lean and efficient as possible.

This means that anecdotes and stories can easily fall flat and come off as fluff. On the Web, these will give way to:

  • short paragraphs
  • short sentences
  • short words
  • typographic cues (such as boldface for key words)
  • lists, lists, and more lists—both bulleted and numbered

It extends even to the way we write titles and sub-headings. To optimize them for search engines, begin them with key words. This accommodates readers who are scanning the left side of a list of articles or posts.

In contrast, books represent a more leisurely pace. If online reading is like “quickie” sex, then reading a book is like gazing tenderly into your lover’s eyes as a prelude to a full afternoon of passion.

With printed material or ebooks, readers are more patient. They give you implicit permission to slow down and drive the interaction:

  • Your sentences can loosen up and stretch a bit.
  • You can warm up to key points with personal confessions and extended stories.
  • You don’t have to worry as much about beginning titles with key words. In fact, you can even get away with a little titillating amiguity.

If you’re editing a series of blog posts into a book manuscript, you’ll notice something else right away: All those quickie paragraphs, lists, and boldfaced key words look kind of silly and affected on the page. You now get to fuse them, elaborate, comine, and discover new connections.

In addition, sentence fragments—which work well on the web—start looking like errors on the page. You get to fix those and take a deeper dive into what you truly wanted to say.

I’m not arguing that books are “better” than blogs. That’s like telling you that you can only enjoy Beethoven and have to give up the Beatles.

The point is simply that books and blogs serve different purposes with different means. The twenty-first century writer simply shows up with the appropriate tool box.

2 thoughts on “The Two Minds of the Modern Writer—Books and Blogs

  1. Thanks always for commenting, Bobbi. It’s nice to get a confirmation of what I’m talking about here. A big part of the solution is just knowing that there’s a difference between these two forms of expression.

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  2. This is helpful, Doug, because I’m facing this myself. I’m finding it’s a lot easier to learn a “bloggie” style than to go back to a “real” style of writing.

    Sigh.

    😉

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