I was a first grade teacher in one of my former lives. Because they were just starting on the path to literacy, my students stumbled with new words and at times struggled when it came to sounding out the long vowels.
Still, they put forth great effort, gazing at words with fierce concentration, tongue sticking out, bookmark fit neatly under a line, only moving it when they had mastered the word that would get them to the next one. It was a painfully slow process, but when someone figured out a word, her eyes would light up with joy.
Such was life in a first grade classroom.
Our goal as teachers was to instill in them a passion for words and a love of language. Our classroom was filled with books and story time was a non-negotiable part of the day. We savored books as if each was the last one we would ever read.
They laughed at the antics of Curious George, the monkey who made mistake after mistake because he couldn’t resist temptations. They cried copious tears when the beloved namesake spider in Charlotte’s Web died.
And books with rhyme? They loved them the best.
Many of their favorites were written by Dr. Seuss. This amazing author became the inspiration for Read Across America, a national celebration of literacy every year on March 2. On that one day, in classrooms from coal mining communities in Appalachian West Virginia to blizzard-prone Fargo, North Dakota, to sunny beachside towns in Maui, kids were focused on one thing: the joy of reading.
In our school, everyone, from students and teachers to the school secretary, janitor, the cafeteria workers and even the principal, Mr. Riggers, came to school in their pajamas. Kids padded into the classroom in their PJs and slippers, carrying their bedtime stuffed animals. We invited local “celebrities,”—the mayor, high school athletes, CEO’s of businesses— as well as parents and grandparents to join us and show their passion for words by reading us their favorite childhood book.
Many times the book they chose was from the Dr. Seuss collection.
But what’s Dr. Seuss got to do with blogging?
Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, is still one of the most beloved children’s book authors in the world. He wrote 4 of the 10 bestselling children’s books of all time. Generations of kids discovered their imaginations and learned to read by listening to the rhythm of language in his books.
At first glance, Dr. Seuss would seem to have his feet firmly planted in the garden of children’s literature. Yet, in our journey as writers and bloggers, what better role model could we have?
Because writing for children is the hardest kind of writing to do.
You know what they say.
If you can write for children, you can write for anyone.
7 Things Dr. Seuss Taught Me About Fearless Blogging
1. Believe in your ideas.
It’s tempting to call it quits if you feel that no one is listening to you, if no one but your mother wants to read your blog.
Dr. Seuss’s first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by 29 different publishers before it was finally accepted.
There may be days, weeks, months, when we feel unappreciated. Because developing a community of readers takes time. But if we believe in our ideas, as Dr. Seuss did, the readers will show up.
2. Respect your readers.
Geisel said, “Once a writer starts talking down to kids, he’s lost. Kids can pick up on that kind of thing.”
Dr. Seuss taught kids many things in his books—to be responsible, to take care of the environment, to help those without a voice, to experience the joy of language, to be imaginative—but all without making them feel they were being preached to.
Just open up a copy of The Cat in the Hat, or Horton Hears a Who, or Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and you’ll see what I mean.
Dr. Seuss showed me that, though my goal is to teach my readers something in a post, I don’t have to hit them over the head in an I’m smart-and-you’re-not sort of way.
3. Make every word count.
Dr. Seuss told amazing stories and held his audiences captive, sometimes using only 50 different words in an entire book.
He created The Cat in the Hat because a publisher said he couldn’t write a complete children’s book in fewer than 250 words. His publisher lost the bet.
The Cat in the Hat weighed in at exactly 223 words.
For me, that means that, even if I am in love with a word or phrase, if it doesn’t move my post forward, I pull the scissors out and the snipping begins.
4. Turn your ideas sideways and make that headline pop.
If you see—and write about—the world in a different way, you will wake your readers up.
Dr. Seuss believed that “looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope” let his readers see all the possibilities that can exist in life.
What child wouldn’t be interested in a book with the title, I Can Read with My Eyes Shut? The book was about memorizing as a way to learn words.
But at the very end, Dr. Seuss points out that eyes open is better because, “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”
As a blogger, I’m learning to look at ideas in different ways and to challenge the conventional thinking. Because that’s what my readers are looking for.
5. Break the rules.
The instructors in my Writing for Children Certificate Program, the literary agents and editors at every writers’ conference I went to, said the same thing: “I don’t want to see any picture books written in rhyme.” But look at Dr. Seuss!:
I am Sam.
Sam I am.
I do not like
Green eggs and ham.
Your writing is more memorable when you break the rules now and then.
Now I’m not talking misspelling and typos here. But if it works better to start a sentence with “and” or write a one-word paragraph to emphasize a point, I’ll do it.
The old ‘writerism’ still applies: Learn the rules. Then break them if it makes sense.
6. Touch the heart and the head.
Dr. Seuss was a master at this—in all of his books. Through his stories, kids experience love, joy, fear, sadness and, yes, even anger. And they remember the stories long after they are over because the author connected with their emotions.
Who else but Dr. Seuss could make us mad at the Grinch, only to feel sorry for him later?
The best bloggers are like that. They make you not only think, but feel. So write about what your readers are afraid of—and propose a solution. Make them laugh. Make them cry.
Make them feel.
7. Write simply, but be specific.
In And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss writes about:
“A zebra pulling a wagon. A Chinese boy with sticks, a big magician doing tricks.”
I can picture that, can’t you?
If you are writing an about page for your blog, you could describe yourself by saying: “I love any movie Christopher Guest produces.”
Or, you could say: “I own every crazy Christopher Guest movie in existence, from Spinal Tap to Best of Show.”
Because it’s the details that pull your readers in. And many times, a good post, or good writing of any kind, is like a good story.
An audio version of this post: