Writing for the internet: an idiot’s guide in 5 random points


"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed"

Ernest Hemingway


On the internet, nobody has any time to read your stuff, thousands of other people are trying to say the same thing, and - if comments sections are anything to go by - everyone hates you.

All of that means two things: firstly, writing anything for the internet is hard. Secondly, there are a few rules that are almost baked in to the format: always be quick, never be boring, and learn to live with the fact that everyone hates you.


1.  Plan

The upside to the deluge of stuff on the internet is that you have access to an almost exhaustive database of everything else that other people in your world have written on whatever subject you’re interested in. Do some research, and take note of everything you like and everything you hate about what you find.

Make sure you’re not saying exactly the same thing as anyone else - the last thing the internet needs is more duplication.  

Copy the good stuff, and learn from the trash.


2.  Just start

Come to peace with the fact that your first draft will be offensive bilge and write it anyway. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation - all of that comes later. Throw down your ideas, all of them, and pretend that the details don’t matter.  

When you’re writing your first draft, putting your ideas into words (any words at all) is all that matters. You can inject all the structure and accuracy you need in the edit.


3.  The most important part of writing is rewriting

When you’re done, put some distance between your work and yourself (leave it a day, go and sit somewhere else, think about something else for a bit) and come back at it with a hardy mind and a sharp knife for cutting. Keep reading and editing until you’re rid of every superfluous word, and play with its structure until you know it’s right.


4.  SEO matters

SEO - Search Engine Optimisation - is the dark art of getting your website ranked as highly as possible on the results pages of relevant Google searches. Having at least a bit of an idea about how Google (and other search engines) will see your content is essential - for that, have a look at my colleague Luke’s little introduction. Doing it properly (by hiring a company with specialist SEOers, for example) is a way to take things to the next level.


5.  Make friends, then make the most of them

You’re a bad judge of the quality of your own work, and you’ll always miss errors that other people will spot. So before sending anything out the door, get somebody else to have a look and do your best impression of someone who takes criticism well.  

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