Food for Thought: Are Bite-Sized Writing Tips Leaving You Hungry?

I like to think of myself as an adult in many ways; I especially love thinking of myself as Sam Elliott. One of my favorite parts of being an adult is that I like to cut up my own food. I even like to chew it.

We’ve all seen these blog entries:  “The Top 10 Ways to Get More Readers From Twitter” or “The 5 Traffic-Building Tips You NEED to Know!!!” and the like.

These lists have been bugging me for some time, and I think I’ve finally put my finger on why. It’s like I ordered a Portobello sandwich and the server decides to cut it into bite-size pieces for me. Not only that, but they’ve taken the liberty of pre-chewing it a little as well.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do feel like those lists have a place and that some of them are genuinely useful, as the authors are far more experienced writers than I am. It’s just that the bulk of them feel like a strange shadow of heartfelt or even truly informative writing.

No matter how promising and informative they appear while I read or before I click on the title, the stuff doesn’t seem to stick.

It leaves me wondering- was I just fooled in some way? Did they get my click without giving me something in return? Perhaps there is another explanation.

Why Doesn’t The Stuff Stick?

Maybe it is that these “4 Big Ways to Make Your Blog Burst With Flavor!” articles don’t let me creatively organize and process the points that matter to me.

Reading Stephen King’s On Writing and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing have given me kernels of knowledge and wisdom that roll around and around in my head, sticking with me long after the fact.

Neither of these books is organized in list-fashion.

Neither of them even attempt to slice up the ideas neatly into bite-size pieces. They let me cut, let me chew, let me sort it all out like an intelligent adult.

Little chunks of those books will pop up as I sit to write or as I walk around outside. That has never happened with Item #4 of “5 Reasons You Aren’t Getting More Traffic on Your Blog.”

Maybe It’s a Learning Style?

I’m wondering if perhaps this has something to do with learning style. Perhaps some people learn more effectively when the main points are all laid out, and others learn though the experience of figuring it out and learning what works for them.

Maybe I would retain more items if I wrote them down. Maybe if I put more energy into finding good posts or articles, more of them would stick. Maybe I am already learning from them and it is just such a smooth and flawless process that it slide right by my awareness.

I’m not sure. But at least I put my finger on my annoyance and have a direction to go in- which is towards more non-listy inspirations, books, and blog posts. These are more useful, memorable, inspirational and informative to my particular mind.

Do you like articles like that, have you written any that you are proud of?

What types of information seem to stay inspiring to you, and which kinds seem fun at first but then quickly fade, never to be thought of again?

And, what’s the sky look like right now?

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38 thoughts on “Food for Thought: Are Bite-Sized Writing Tips Leaving You Hungry?

  1. Great blog! I too have been dissatisfied with the lists of things to do or not to do. The sad thing is that they are following a template. I have read a number of articles about developing blogs and attracting readers. All of them have very near the top of their list bullet listed articles. The top ten this, the five most important, ten critical lessons ignored by beginning writers. It is the old copy a formula if you have nothing to say yourself. Take this model and work it. Ultimately this is restrictive and non-creative. Nothing is reducible to five, ten, or twelve most critical anything.

  2. This is a great post. I also usually feel like I’ve just read an eHow article when perusing those lists. You’re onto something. Now that you’ve pointed it out, I think it’s too easy. There’s little interesting intellectual material to grab hold of, consider, turn and disect and mentally examine. With nothing to figure out, there’s no motivation to keep these simple tips in my brain. They go away, and their usefulness is gone.

  3. Great post. I have reads posts that you talk about where individuals provide you advice about who to follow and promise that you will gain followers, etc, but in my opinion, it’s all false advertising just to get the person they are telling you to follow more followers, whilst you fail to be provided with any reward for your time and trouble.
    In answer to your second question, I’m more prone to be inspired by word of mouth from a professional rather than to gain information from a text related source, no matter whether it was written by a professional or not. If I acquire the information face to face and straight from the horse’s mouth, I gain the sense of trust and the general notion that if it happened from personal experience for them then there is the chance that such could be beneficial for me too.
    Additionally, I prefer to learn on my own, because then I know what works for me, because not everything that someone explains to you will work. At least if I go to the trouble of learning something on my own terms in regards to my own work, I have a guarantee that such can work again if it was originally successful.
    Oh, and the sky is purple, FYI.

    • Thanks for answering the sky question :) Purple is a great color for it to be.

      I like learning on my own, too. And then there’s the issue of even trying to share what you learn on your own, because quite often it must be learned by hand.

      You just reminded me as well that a lot of the coolest and most influential or well-known people are quite often breaking new ground. They aren’t following a method and becoming phenomenal..they are going their own way. So yes. Seems like a good thing to do for those that are creative and really wanting to do it because then the outcome is a wonderful surprise!

  4. What bugs me is when tips are listed, but they don’t really have a reference point for you to get more info. At that point I wonder about the credibility of the poster. I totally understand where you are coming from. Great post. :)

    • Thanks, Liz! I am glad you like it.
      I didn’t even think about the usual lack of references, that is such a good point! I am definitely guilty of that one with posts of this blog’s early history..I am very glad you mentioned it because that is a super good thing to be aware of!

  5. brilliant! you put in words what i have been thinking i really just don’t like being told what to do i think, :) i always ignore advice and often rebel against it, :) i like to think either people will like what i write or they wont and it will not be because i followed someone else s blueprint , :) oh and the sky is lovely and blue no clouds end to end i can see the kids demanding a trip to the beach :) have agreat day and thank you for writing this xx

  6. I think the difference between Mr King and all of these articles is one of immersion. These days we all tend to speed-read articles (I know I do) that are on-line, grabbing the odd gem of information here and there as we go. But to pick up ‘On Writing’ takes effort, time set aside and a positive willingness to learn what Mr King is imparting.
    Speed-reading ‘Ten ways to get people to read your blog’ before moving onto the next post does not. Item one is usually; ‘Grab people’s attention by entitling it ‘Ten ways to get people…” and so the chain of banality continues ad infinitum.
    Therefore I believe that we need to take our inspiration from carefully-crafted books rather than quick-fire ‘web-bites’. Only then are we likely to fasten onto that which is valuable and worthwhile.
    (Sky is blue with scattered clouds.)

    • “Chain of banality”- exactly. That’s exactly it- the lists all say that we should use lists, it’s almost hilarious.
      I like your point about immersion. It is strange that “reading” and “writing” have so many little types and off-shoots. King “wrote” that book just like I “wrote” this comment. Maybe it could be more like the Eskimo’s having many words for “snow,” and we could have many types of “reading”. Hm…
      and Thanks for looking at the sky! :)

  7. I make lists all the time—they help me feel organized and efficient. Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto, affected me deeply because he basically convinced me that checklists are vital when one is performing surgery or is forced to land an airplane on the Hudson River. I need my lists to guide me through anything that requires precision or full attention to detail; they are useful in the world I have to work in. But the last thing I want to feel while writing is “organized and efficient.” You’re absolutely right that at those times we don’t need someone else’s checklist, we need the inspiration that speaks specifically to our own creative selves, and those thoughts rise up naturally (like a Magic 8 ball answer!) when they’re needed. In my case, it’s stuff like “Don’t think—write.” Or Ray Bradbury in my head saying, “Let your character take off running, then follow her like your life depends on it.”

    • Exactly! It’s such a strange balance, isn’t it? I love lists, too. If I had every list I had ever made in my life, my apartment would probably be stuffed to the brim and the whole complex would be complaining of the parking lot filling up. And yet, a list from someone else rarely helps me feel any better off!

      I will look into that Checklist Manifesto book- I never heard of it..but it is already interesting. It would have probably offered some great help to this post.

      One of the Bradbury quotes that comes to the surface of my 8 ball a lot is “Let the world burn through you.” Then it drifts into “prism light..white hot..on paper” without being the full solid quote because perhaps my memory is not that good. So that one post you made oh so long ago is now one of my very consistent inspirations, Vicki. So thank you once again! (also I’m still working on getting a bundt pan)

      • I made a pound cake yesterday, and as I pulled out my bundt pan I thought, “Ack. I forgot to mention the size of the pan Jen will need!” Mine is about 10″ in diameter, and it definitely holds 10 cups of liquid (I just checked). You can use a different size, just be sure to fill the pan only about 3/4 full. Sorry, but I worry about these things. In fact, I suppose recipes are a form of list, aren’t they? And who wants to write fiction or poetry or nonfiction using a recipe?

        • Oh I am so glad I didn’t get one yet, now I can be sure it is the right size! And that is adorable beyond belief that you thought of me when you made it. Mmmm!

          It seems like if there were two things in life that really should involve lists, it is landing a plane on the Hudson and the perfect Pound Cake…fiction writing, or any writing, not so much. :)

    • Love the Ray Bradbury quote – that’s exactly how I write. i often have no idea where my characters are going to take me – with the one exception – I always have the chapter ending nailed down. The route to that ending? Far less important!

        • Jennifer
          It’s my compromise between the ‘planning’ and ‘pantsing’ methods of writing.
          I used to be guilty of writing ‘never ending stories’ – ones that rambled on with no clear destination in sight.
          With my present WIP, however, the ending was always nailed down so I knew that no matter how much the story wandered, there was always a destination that I was able to steer towards.
          It helped immensely – and still retained the fun of writing!
          (Of course, for commercial purposes, the ‘wandering’ is restricted, but it still throws up some amazing character-driven scenarios!)

  8. Lists are supposed to be a great way to break up an article, but I don’t think an article (at least not one that wants to be taken seriously) should consist entirely of a list. Have the list, but explain it, too. That’s much more engaging than just a dry point-by-point.

  9. Great entry. I hate lists. Nothing in life is really so canned and simply summarized. For tips on writing, I haven’t found anything that works as well as simply reading a lot. I love e-books because I can highlight words I like and easily reference back to them. But if I made those words a list, I would naturally hate them.

  10. I think it`s that a blog is not a book and has limited space, that`s why the tips. On the other hand, I think it`s cultural. People are not reading, people are not thinking. It`s all a twiter line, a facebook comment, that´s as much as people read and write. Fast and easy.

    • I think you raise a great point; there is such a difference between the form of the book and the blog post..it is rather like apples and oranges, and looking back, I could have made the thesis of this post a different way :)

      There is definitely such a cultural generational component to the whole thing as well, which is an interesting angle to think about it from..perhaps inspiration for a future post!

  11. Cloudy, with the promise of rain and the arrival of Autumn.

    Lists don’t bother me. What bothers me is a list that doesn’t come wrapped with some sort of personal perspective from the blogger. A good one I read just today starts with a long section about doing a final proofread, and then ends with a bulletized list of ways to make it through that process.

    The link:
    http://jwmanus.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/one-more-time-nooooo-the-final-proofread

    -aniko

    • Good point! I like lists like that too, it is so nicely nestled in a context. It pulls me into their experience in the beginning and then shows what they learned- that does help! And, it doesn’t seem to be the intention of the whole post or the bait..it is just part of it. Which somehow makes it seem very different in my eyes.
      Thanks for the link :)
      The sky here has been raining for a long time, and it is so comforting after the heat of summer!

  12. I think Ellen’s comments on the Twitter Age (my interpretation of her post) speaks to people’s limited time and attention span. One of my daughters wants the kernel without the meat; the other doesn’t mind taking the time to savor. But the first one is running a company, and the other has more time. The writers who give us lists probably think like my first daughter; think we all want to cut to the bottom line and move on to the next bit of info. They don’t know writers well, do they? We love the way pieces are written and read for style as well as content. As for my own lists, I drive myself a little nutty making one then not doing anything much on it – that’s the creativity in me, I tell myself.
    Sky here? The monsoons are about over so the humidity is down, and the blue sky is wiped with wispy clouds.

    • Ooh I love your description of the sky!
      That is interesting about your daughters, too. It is interesting to imagine that some people are just sharing information in the way that they themselves enjoy taking it in..maybe next time I come across a list, I’ll imagine the person sitting in front of me and sharing the information in a loving and compassionate way (Like your daughter would be if she was sharing her own list with you, I’d imagine). Maybe that would help my brain actually absorb it? What a cool possibility!

  13. I feel like I’m a bit of a sucker for them too, and often leave a little more lost than when I first clicked onto the link! I have started to narrow down my favourite types of posts and have started sticking to the writers and bloggers that I love and the recommendations and shares that they give out – this method is serving me well so far!
    PS – the sky here is cloudy and dark, with an ever-so-slight ray of sunshine peaking through.

    • Oh, aren’t those one-rays the best sometimes? They have so much definition, and they make the sky seem so big! It’s crazy that a perfectly sunny day is like..one giant ray! :)
      I am starting to pay more attention to blogs I love as well. And the more I pay attention to it, the more that there ARE useful lists out there, my brain just has a hard time taking them in. I think maybe part of the problem is the intentions of the list-makers; some are really making great points of distilled wisdom, and others are just fishing for attention..that’s the hypothesis I have at the moment, anyway.

  14. Hi Jennifer: Of all the instructions, hints and advice I’ve ever heard or read about “how to write”, the only thing I can honestly say has stuck with me was given by my Grade 5 teacher. He told me “write the way you speak”. In other words (he explained) don’t use a fancy vocabulary in writing if you don’t use it in your everyday speech.

    On a personal note, I’ve had a problem with catsworld1 – WordPress’s roboscanner decided something I wrote was spam – it was another scam warnng – and, while the site can be read, I’ve had my admin privileges blocked. So I opened “anewcatsworld” and put up, after I copied the “Bring him to justice” series, a piece called “WordsupPressed” detailing my problems. I’ve also taken another swipe at the mis-use of English – on signs this time. I invite you to join me here for I enjoy reading your posts and your comments.

    Cat.

    • That’s a great tip; I have been trying to make more realistic dialogue lately in a new little fiction book I’m making, and it can be hard to write the way I speak! and to listen to others speaking in order to figure out, “how would I write that?” Great advice!

      I will definitely find you on your new blog, I enjoy your posts!

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