Ways to cultivate your vocabulary. These days, there are lots of tools to do this. There’s a screen saver that introduces you to new words. There are apps that help you expand your word set. Reading of course helps, and when you come across a word that you don’t know, look it up write it down or ask Siri or Google what it means. Read thoughtful pieces by people that have large vocabularies. William Buckley was a great role model for this, God rest his perspicacious soul.
It may also help to learn how words are formed. I took Latin, so I know the basis for a lot of our language, which helps. But if you remember your English lessons or studying for the SAT you might recall that words are made up of parts, which can be transfixed to one another.
Another way might be to read poetry. Poetry may not be for everyone, but give it a chance, and once you realize its function and how to read it as intended, it can be pleasurable. A lot of people become frustrated by poetry, which is understandable. If you don’t approach it with an open mind and with the right toolset, you won’t get anywhere. Keep a dictionary handy, or a way to look up the various meanings of words. Many words have different meanings, and used jointly, is what builds context and weaves a tapestry of art that becomes poetry. You can see what the author is trying to express, and use your mind to extrapolate and try each meaning of every word to see what works best. It takes time and patience, as does everything that’s worthwhile in life.
Reading and writing are crucial to maintaining a healthy brain. Even a feeble brain can be sustained by both or even one activity. But higher thought surely requires it, and being emotionally level and able to cope with living as a human among other humans at this time on planet Earth should make it an everyday exercise.
I read and write a lot. Consume, process, sort away, rearrange, connect different lines of thought to another and spit out in some comprehensible linear way, and the goal is always to regurgitate it in an easier to comprehend and more thoughtful if not colorful way. The latter being more to do with liking the language than clear robotic communication and having somewhat the nature of an artist within.
Creativity is fun. It helps keep whoever reads it engaged as well, hopefully, to keep reading to absorb the final thought and consume it the way just outlaid. Sometimes on different, artistic, abstract levels for the more astute at playing with mentally, if discovered. If not, the material should still be enough to stand on its own two feet, or whichever meter is prescribed by the author, iambic pentameter or otherwise.
I used to write wherever. But lately, I’ve been trying to keep it narrowed down to this website, for, if nothing else, my daughter to one day read and try to get a glimpse of how her old man thought and what he was about. I’m journaling in a sense.
There naturally, hopefully, should be a lot of material at hand, as my feeble brain rarely shuts off entirely. She’ll remember what she can, but now at age three, probably not much from these early years, unfortunately. I can’t remember much now before age five, which is just as well from what I’ve been told. I wish I could remember more of my late mother, but what I do remember and what photos I have are all positive and serve well enough I suppose. My daughter will have copious media at hand – more than ever considered possible when I was her age – to pore through whenever she has a few free years by the time I’m all done with it. Which is hopefully later than sooner. We never know when our time is up, so I’m trying to get it all preserved now, lest it is washed away by the sands of time as my childhood has largely been. I can still rehash hat I remember of it here or there, but the hard artifacts become increasingly rare. Especially as much as I have had to move around over my life. Each move removes part of what I was before, I’ve discovered, and lately, in very, very large parts to which there seems to be a life not even my own.
So in that spirit, I write down a lot of seemingly incoherent thoughts, opinions, perspectives, memories or whatever I think may be of some value to someone one day. No promise has ever been made, of course, My audience has never been set really, except for a few times when I have been made by a court of law to remove my thoughts, to spare a person once intimate with me her ample specific embarrassments and misdeeds she chooses to live her life to constantly hide. But they will emerge, as they always do, usually in the most inopportune moments, for the ones most carefully shielded to be presented to. Karma, in most ways. As I often explain, words can’t cover up our actions, and our actions are what create perceptions in the long run. The truth always wins, even if it takes a long time in human years to emerge. Judgments take care of themselves, and they aren’t for us as mortals to dictate. As painted on many sidewalk preachers’ sandwich boards and loonies’ van sides. Crazy doesn’t always mean wrong.
Writing is a cathartic exercise, which soothes the soul, as much as playing an instrument or painting a picture does. And the more competent one becomes at each endeavor, the more fulfilling it becomes. And not that painting or playing an instrument isn’t a form of communication on an artistic level, like poetry and well-written verse is, written words are vital to communicating feeling, thought, desire, regret, goals, or anything else we have passed through our grey matter, and the competency with which we’re able is equally as important. It’s why babies cry. It’s why the illiterate burst into outrage. It’s why criminals defeat themselves. Not being able to communicate our thoughts coherently leads to emotional havoc. Having a vocabulary and being able to use it effortlessly leads to a viscous ability to explain ourselves. And that eases frustration. I make no small effort to communicate to my daughter on her level and bring her up to a more mature communication level because it affords her the ability to communicate her thoughts, need and wants without a temper tantrum. I don’t use baby talk. I speak to her as I speak to an adult. She’s smart enough to know what I mean, and when doesn’t understand, she’s smart enough to ask me to reword and explain a term I use or phrase that is confusing. And we move on. It works incredibly well. I never have to discipline my daughter, because she doesn’t act out in emotional turmoil, spurned on by the frustration of not being able to communicate to me what she needs or wants, and what I, in turn, communicate to her. And I explain to her that fact, of what is going on when we do that, which she understands. She knows being fussy isn’t going to get her what she wants. Communication will. Many adults never figure this out their whole angry, problematic, negative lives.
So, aside from being a cathartic resource for my child to reference, a tool to hone my communication skills, and a fun, fulfilling endeavor, it also helps pay the bills. Not everyone can communicate well, as I’ve just covered to some degree. People have a hard time putting a price on effective, persuasive communication, but ask anyone in business or law, and they’ll tell you it’s one of the most, if not the most valuable skill to have. Ironically, it’s the most underpaid and underutilized because it’s so abstract and hard to nail down in a measurable way like mathematics or statistics or programming. Input is easily converted to output with stable metrics, but not always so with communication. It’s too dynamic, which is why it’s so powerful.
I have pages and pages of writing I never publish here or anywhere for that matter. I and most everyone else I presume consider it mostly blather. Sometimes I come back and edit what I wrote because I made a grammatical mistake or I have something that will add value to the original. But usually, once I write something I don’t revisit it unless someone makes a reference to it, which occasionally happens.
I used to write at Medium(and I have what I post here auto-sent over to musgrove.blog, which is hosted by Medium for me for free, along with a few other domains. They used to do that but don’t any longer. Except for people who pay for it and the few that are grandfathered in like me.) for no real reason other than the ease and hipness of it. Which are no real reasons. But here I own my words and control the content. That’s not true anywhere else on the web. I’ve been censored on Medium before because the editors didn’t agree with my thought if you can believe that. It’s true. Someone actually read it (a robot probably flagged it, to be more accurate) and then some lefties in San Francisco said I was over the line and zapped my content from the world. Same with a judge zapping my content and censoring it. Freedom of speech isn’t exactly what people in America think it is. As long as you don’t shine light onto people with personal shortcomings to hide, then feel free to write away. So writing to keep others honest shouldn’t be a goal, mind you. But I do write to keep myself honest and accountable, so there’s that as well. Write down your goals and plans, and what you know you should do, and you’re more likely to do them. Talk is cheap. Writing is more expensive because it often leads to action. The reason the pen is mightier than the sword is that it incites people to use a sword. Most people only talk about swords but write what your plans are to do with a sword and then see what happens.
Writing content for the web needs to be as short and sweet and packed full of information as possible.
You have to understand that your “readers” are more likely to be scanners. The Pareto principle is at play here of course: 80% of your readers are looking for information, and gleaning it from 20% of their visit.
“on the average webpage, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely” –Jakob Nielsen
While that sounds great to someone who likes to write to provide large amounts of information, it’s a lot different than what most people were taught in school and requires a different way of thinking from traditional prose.
Writing content for the web requires writing from a new perspective. It abandons a lot of academic and journalistic rules and has become its own style. Your mission is to provide valuable, thoughtful, insightful information to your reader quickly and in small, bite-sized pieces.
Use short sentences.
Don’t use unnecessary words (that especially means jargon).
Don’t repeat yourself.
Write in the second person, meaning use the word “you.”
Use active voice.
Use lists and organize the information.
Use clear headlines and subheadings.
Use images, diagrams, video or multimedia.
Use LOTS of white space. Let your text breathe.
For an English major like myself, this is akin to turning chateaubriand into chicken McNuggets to hand out at the drive-thru. But it’s certainly useful and has its purpose, of course. The style of writing has been formulated not by academics or scholars, but by web designers and developers and SEO experts whose goals are far less poetic.
One topic per page.
George Orwell with Ernest Hemingway in the background
There’s a very visual aspect to writing content for the web, which would delight ee cummings fans and designers alike, but it’s aimed to keep things as simple as possible, and easy to read.
When you write content for the web, a goal you typically have is to have your content seen. Therefore you’re partially writing for Google at the same time you’re writing for consumers.
In essence, writing for the web is a lot like the way that you have to talk to a four-year-old. Keep your message simple. Use small, easy-to-read words and sentences.
Also, realize there is no linearity to the internet. There is no telling where your readers will come from, so write as if the reader has no context.
Use alerts ‘read more’ tags and format your copy to be scannable
If your content is for a landing page, be sure to tell the reader what to do next. Have a call to action telling people where to go next. For example, read another blog post, sign up for your email newsletter, check out your app, get a quote, or just add a product to their shopping cart.
When you format your text, use all the tools at your disposal to make the copy interesting. Highlight it, bold it and throw in a blockquote or two to support it.
And, as illustrated by this article and endorsed by the US government, don’t forget to “chunk” it!
J.D. Salinger working on The Catcher in the Rye while in service in France
Like I have so much spare time, I just started another blog because of a sort of impulsive purchase of musgrove.blog. Automattic, which is a company owned by the co-founder of WordPress, bought the right to sell the TLD .blog and marketed it pretty well. And that’s about it. It’s been a frustrating experience, especially for the premium price tag. There’s no explanation of what he’s doing with regards to the customer, and the website isn’t designed to explain what’s going on either. It just tries to lead you by the nose. To log into your account for example, you have to fill in a form with your email address, be sent a link to log in, then after going to your email application and doing that, you’re taken back to the first site, where you can then click on a link to go to the dashboard. That’s a lot of clicking around in 2016 to have something you’d rather have at your fingertips.
So I set it up on @medium, along with a stable of other publications. In a move that seems more like something GoDaddy would do than WordPress, whose community hates GoDaddy, I can’t change the DNS settings myself. My “concierge” does it for me, which was a couple of days ago. I had her change 12 A records and a cname, and it still hasn’t propagated. It usually takes less than 5 minutes elsewhere, although you’re always given a standard disclaimer that it could take forever. I’m too lazy to research it, but I have to imagine medium is eroding WordPress’ market share. Even though it’s growing, it’s feeling some competition.