Write the lead last and break all the rules you wish.
When blogging with RSS feeds, you must write the article before you write the first sentence, and to make it short enough, you’ll have to bend and break lots of rules.
That’s the way it’s done.
RSS Feed Basics
An RSS Reader lets you quickly review new articles at your favorite blog sites. It shows you the first 160 characters – think Tweet – or other specially prepared text. That’s all the RSS Reader pulls from the website. No pictures, no additional text. Just those first characters. And if something catches your interest in that “feed”, then and only then might you go and pull up the entire article.
The screen capture above is from Google Reader. It is actually showing less, about 100 characters from each story.
Google Reader is the primary RSS reader I use. Because it only pulls the first few dozen characters from each website, it is very fast. It is even faster because Google’s RSS service has thousands of readers, many of whom look at the same websites. Google fetches each website’s RSS but then serves it to hundreds of readers.
Here’s a different RSS reader. This one is Reeder on my iPad. While it looks very different, it actually uses Google Reader to aggregate the RSS feeds so, again, it is very fast. It does show a little more text, most or all of the 160 characters in a traditional RSS feed, but that’s still not a lot.
As a blogger, I need to grab the reader’s attention with a good title and one sentence, maybe two.
This is much more stringent than traditional news stories. Journalism students, for example, learn about “the lead”, the first paragraph. But bloggers can’t push that much through the RSS feed. The who, what, when, where and why won’t fit.
Tactics, in war, are about where and when you attack, how you place your personnel and equipment, and things like that. In writing, “tactics” is how you go about writing the story and, in particular, where you place things.
Some will start with an outline and then flesh it out. Others start with a blank screen and just start writing.
Most of the time, I do the latter. Some thought or event or image will attract my attention and I’ll just start writing.
And once written, I’ll then start doing a lot of re-writing. And I do mean a lot. Some of the articles in this blog, for example, have been through dozens of changes as little as correcting the spelling of a single word, or as extensive as throwing away 90% and practically starting over.
But eventually, the article is mostly finished.
And that’s when I write the first 160 characters. I write it last.
To write that critical first sentence or two, I have to boil down the point of the whole article into as dense a description as possible.
A journalist would be done at that point but for blogs, that’s not dense enough. To make it smaller, you have to cut away not just bone and fat, but also a large portion of the meat.
What is the “eye” in a ribeye steak?
Well, a ribeye steak is cut from the animal’s rib section. In beef, it comes from the area just behind the shoulder and is mostly composed of several muscles.
The “eye” of the ribeye is one specific muscle, and is rarely more than about one inch in diameter, sometimes smaller, and a single bite. Depending on which rib the ribeye is from, the eye can be almost nonexistent. But when you get a good one, it is the best of the best.
And when I’m composing what I know will become the RSS feed, I look for that part of the article that is most appetizing.
The fifth paragraph in that article begins with, “Alex Kozinski, born in Bucharest Romania during the Communist era, …”
But that wasn’t the fifth paragraph in the first draft. Instead, it was the very first thing I wrote.
Only after finishing the entire article did I go back to the top and add the first two paragraphs to try and capture the essence of the story, and then two more to bridge that idea into some background on how higher courts work, and what individual judges within that structure might do.
In Google Reader’s terse feed, we see only the first two sentences.
Terse, to the point, and intriguing.