Crafting the Message, pt. 3: Composition and Revision

The Sourcerer and Writing Catalog debut posts combined add up to 359 words. The two drafts I have posted on the sidebar are 563. Most of the difference in the word count is in the Sourcerer post. The final Writing Catalog post is only about five words shorter than the early draft, but it is radically different in tone.

I think one example will serve to illustrate my point. The idea of the Writing Catalog debut post was to give a little speech, since I did invite everyone to the ribbon-cutting earlier in the day. The speech was to answer the question posed in the title: “Why a writing catalog?”

Here is the first paragraph of the draft (even though it contains two line breaks, it is all one paragraph, organizationally-speaking):

The short answer is that I’ve never seen a site quite like the one I want to build.

The detailed version:

My sister is the proprietor of Part Time Monster, and she’s asked me to contribute there. And since I have been studying blogs for years, to help her figure out ways of building an audience for the PTM contributors, many of whom are writers.

Now, the first paragraph of the final version (again, the line break isn’t really a paragraph break).

Because my sister is a  Part Time Monster, and needs contributors. And she knows I’ve been playing with blogs for years. She wants an big audience for her writing and that means she must have more bloggers.

So I created this little affiliate. I tailored it to a more specific segment of the blogging community, and set it up to be a useful resource for writers once I accumulate a nice archive.

Here are a few things I notice about the differences.

1. I transformed Diana from the proprietor of a website into an actual Part Time Monster. That is the difference between description and metaphor, and I think it works rather well here, especially since the “Part Time Monster” title is explained at the link for anyone who cares to read it.

2. The final version transforms me from a person who knows something about blogs, and is helping with audience building, into a contributor who is doing Diana a good turn, because contributors are what she needs.

3. The final version gets to the purpose of The Writing Catalog immediately while the draft passage doesn’t mention that at all in the introduction. It also sets  up a transition that allows me to introduce Universal Half Truths later in the post. That link is not in the draft, and it would have been a mistake to publish without including it.

4. I think, overall, the final draft is a more smooth and easy read. It’s better-paced, and it sounds more like I am talking to real people – all of which are improvements.

I don’t need to quote the Sourcerer draft to explain how I arrived at the final version. It took about 45 minutes to write, and I spent the next 24 hours re-reading and cutting it. I was cutting it right up to the minute I published it. According to the WordPress dashboard, I went through 13 revisions after I pasted it in.

No one, not even Diana, saw it until I posted it. I cut with two things, and two things only, in mind — improving the flow and eliminating things I did not really need to say. My goal was to end up with something that read like the punchline to a joke, but communicated some very serious goals at the same time.

Now, for the order I did all this in.

First, I wrote the draft of the Writing Catalog debut. I sent it to Diana with specific instructions. I told her not to worry about editing or critiquing anything but major flaws, but she needed to read it because I was talking about her blog and trading on our sibling relationship. I made a little joke in the subject line of the email: “Your dragon is almost ready to bite,” referring, of course, to Sourcerer.

That joke was the seed of the Sourcerer post. I had known for a week what it needed to say, but I didn’t have the frame for it until I made the joke. As I was sitting down to write it, I thought “Why not push that joke to the point of absurdity and present Sourcerer as this mighty creature we’ve been training in secret?”

By the time I was done drafting the Sourcerer post, I realized I had to re-write the Writing Catalog debut to make it more crisp, and to make the tones of the two pieces more consistent. I had the revision complete before I received Diana’s ok on the draft I had sent her.

Once the re-write was done, I did not go back to the Writing Catalog post. I spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning connecting my blogs to as many networks as possible, and cutting the Sourcerer post.

This concludes Crafting the Message. Part 1 and Part 2 are in the archive; and this series has its own category.

Crafting the Message part 2: The Inspiration

You can read Part 1 of this series here

By the time we were done setting up these blogs and coming up with an actual strategy to grow them, I wanted to do more than just connect The Writing Catalog to my social networks and say “hey, here it is, come and read it sometime.” I wanted to create an event. I wanted the event to be funny, because funny things are memorable.

The ribbon cutting invitation and the two debuts were a series of rhetorical flourishes. That makes the inspiration for them a legitimate topic for the Writing Catalog. The Thank You was sincere and heartfelt. It also provided a nice ending to our party.

You can look at those four posts as 4 episodes of a story. The story was inspired by a series of conversations I had with Diana. Here is the distilled version:

Me: It’s going to take us a bit more time than I originally thought to organize the sort of collaboration we want on our fun Geek blog.

Diana: I already have this personal blog. I personally want to blog right now and I want people to read it. In a year or two, I want a lot of people reading Part Time Monster even though I’m contributing to a bigger blog.

Me: I know, and I really really want a blog devoted to writing. I just don’t want it to be my only blog. I also want to write about history and social theory and pop culture and games and mastermind discordian antics on the internet. Oh. And videos. Don’t forget the videos. How am I going to do that stuff with a writing blog?

Diana: Well, why don’t we just set up the collaborative blog and each publish a couple of pieces there a week. We’ve invited other folks to contribute. Once things slow down a little and we get into Spring, it will grow from there.

Me: We’re already talking about four blogs here. We’re going to be strapped for good content in the beginning, and you just told me you want an audience for Part Time Monster. You aren’t off to a real start until you have at least one blog posting something delicious four times a week. From there, you find a way to increase your posting to every day as quickly as you can. Then you do it for a year consistently. That’s how you start building the kind of audience you are talking about.

It only makes sense for us to publish three posts per week on a shared blog if that is the one we plan to start growing from day one. We need all four of these blogs, but the only way we have a chance at attracting a large audience is to pick one of them to grow and post our best stuff there. We have to make a choice about which one it’s going to be before I throw the switch on these two blogs I’m building.

Diana: Then let’s think of Part Time Monster as our brand and build it first. If anyone wants to contribute before January, they won’t even have to set up an account. I’ll paste their contributions in under a byline if that’s the way we need to do it. Once we get a few more people interested, and they have the time to think about what they want to write about, we can start the collaborative blog and put most of our energy into growing that one.

Me: Yes.  If we work hard to establish a couple of blogs as consistent providers of good stuff now, we have a better chance of getting where we want to be than if we just write a few pieces on a shared blog and do our everyday posting at personal sites for three or four months.

Her “brand” comment was just a way of talking about a concept. We don’t seriously think of ourselves as “Part Time Monster Media.” We don’t even have premium accounts or $50 a month to spend on promotion. But that comment got me thinking about how to organize my own blogs, and I decided to play the idea of a startup for laughs.

My hope was that most readers would get the joke and be amused enough by it to follow us for a couple of weeks and give us a shot, and I also thought adding a little business language to my first two posts would not be a bad idea.

It was more effective than I dared to hope at the time I was writing, but I am not sure it was the best way to kick this project off. I will always wonder how I could have done it differently, but in the last two weeks, I haven’t been able to brainstorm a better alternative plan.

Next week: Composition and Revision

Crafting the Message, part 1: Audience

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The first thing I always try to do with a piece of writing is figure out: who is my audience and what is the purpose of this piece? One of the things that made writing the debut pieces for The Writing Catalog and Sourcerer such a challenge is that I was writing to an audience of Facebook friends, but I was also writing for potential WordPress readers.

I briefly outlined the purpose of our over-the-top kickoff party in my post at Part Time Monster yesterday. The bottom line is that we needed to create buzz, even at the cost of over-selling these blogs a little. That explanation will suffice for now.

Since appeals for attention are always most effective when they are tailored to specific interests, I had to think very carefully about what my Facebook friends like. I also had to think about what sort of WordPress bloggers might take an interest in a group of total newcomers.

This is the audience I finally came up with for my two blogs:

  1. Writers. We know a lot of writers. Lots of writers blog, and lots of bloggers are keen to learn writing tricks. Since I love to talk about writing anyway, this one was a no-brainer.
  2. Friends who appreciate cool stuff like speculative fiction, fantasy art, and YouTube videos. What started this project to begin with was that we wanted to create a website where we could have 10 or 12 people talking about sci-fi, movies, comic books, and funny stuff every day of the week.
  3. People who are interested in using blogs in strange and amusing ways, and who like to watch new blogs grow.
  4. People who are interested in rhetoric, applied social sciences, or how information spreads over networks. One thing that links these topics together is that they all require some attention to the details of organization.

I wrote the debut posts with these four overlapping interest groups in mind. Of course, that is still a very diverse list of interests. My hope was that I could do a good job appealing to the first two groups on the list, and attract enough attention to interest the second two once I started explaining all this stuff.

I framed the two posts as a personal narrative because I hoped it would make them reader-friendly and entertaining. The fact that the story was actually true allowed me to tell it in a sincere tone of voice that I just can’t manage unless I am speaking with real passion. By the time we were ready to publish, I was feeling pretty good about them.

This will be a weekly series for next little while, but I hope to post at least two original pieces per week here once we really get going. To be continued next Wednesday.