I’m a writer. It’s more than just a job title. Writing is engrained in who I am and what I do. “I’m writing even when I’m not,” I’ll often say to my friends.

Granted, he did work for an advertising firm.

At first, writing content for the online medium doesn’t seem to have much in common with penning a poem or short story. After all, F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn’t considering keywords and link building tactics while he was writing Tender is the Night.

But writing is writing, and the more online content I write, the more I realize just how much its lines intersect and overlap with fiction.

Sticking It to Grammar Sticklers

Grammar stretches over the entirety of a person’s education. Commas, subject-verb agreement, and prepositions all play into writing and communicating properly.

I’m here to tell you that you can break those rules. As mentioned in a previous blog post, grammar is pliable, another tool in your drawer. William Faulkner, one of my favorite writers, happens to be one of the worst violators of grammar in literary canon. You could crack open Absalom, Absalom! to any random page and see lengths of run-ons, fragments, and unfinished clauses. And it’s all remarkably beautiful, haunting, and affecting.

Bill here tended to stretch the concept of the sentence.

When writing online content, knowing how to use grammar is definitely important, but knowing when to bend, break, and mold grammar to your own devices is even more important.

Killing Your Darlings

William Faulkner once said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” It’s a good thing he added that “in writing” part. People have interpreted the quote in a variety of ways. Some assume that the quote refers to killing off your most beloved characters. Others say it’s a means of distancing yourself from your writing to approach it from a purely objective viewpoint.

You can cut it however you want, but I personally take it to mean getting rid of all that flowery, excessive stuff that doesn’t contribute to the plot or character development in creative writing, or the goal of your marketing message in content writing. Faulkner’s texts are dense, but each word serves a purpose. Fiction or not, this should be the rule.

Word counts are important for setting length goals, but you shouldn’t write entirely for the number of words. Fluff is annoying. In a story, readers want to get through the plot; they don’t want to read page long descriptions of a doorknob. The same goes for online content. Aim for information, not fluff.

The Wonderful World of Words

Words are powerful. They can evoke buried memories, mix your emotions, and make you laugh, wonder, and cry all at once. Always keep word choice in mind when writing a piece of content. The thesaurus has its place, but you should understand that synonyms don’t possess the exact same meaning, context, and cadence. Every word has its purpose.

A few diction rules to keep in mind:

  • Descriptors like “high quality” are not nearly as evocative as you might think. Don’t be afraid of specificity.
  • Limit your use of “very” or “really.” They are signs of lazy writing and should be removed or replaced with better terms.
  • Your readers are smarter than you think. Don’t be afraid to challenge them with new words (provided those words are used correctly and emphasize your intent).
  • Always opt for the active voice.
  • If you can cut a word out, always cut it out.

Grace Under Pressure

Hemingway: soldier, bullfighter, writer.

Faulkner writes at length about fear, and Hemingway’s entire oeuvre is built on courage. We writers don’t have the jobs of firemen, police officers, or military officials, but writing still requires bravery.

Whether you’re describing your first love or trying to sell something online, putting your words into the ether (or online) should take conscious effort. Don’t be afraid to take risks or be creative. The words will carry you as long as you let them. Words are everything, so use them wisely.

Writing is writing; whether you’re pouring your heart into a short story or establishing the tone of a website, the rules remain basically the same.

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