Producing content, especially top quality content, is an unavoidable requirement in today’s digital marketing landscape, and every year many new marketers take their first tentative steps on the road to become top notch content creators.
When it comes to writing content, there are thousands of articles, help-guides, and how-to’s out there for you to read and learn from. I, too, have absorbed a number of tips and guidelines about writing content for the web, and I’ve felt that most have been of limited use, whilst some contain truly golden pieces of advice.
Over the years as I find myself writing more and more – from blog posts to proposals to reports and, of course, countless emails – a small set of core principles about how I write has emerged, and I’m keen to share these with you. They might work for you, or they might not – the thing about writing is that everyone has their own method. The following principles work for me, and maybe the next time you have a looming deadline and sit in front of that terrifying blank screen, you can draw a little bit of inspiration from this.
Write like you mean it
We all recognise those bland corporate news statements for what they are: written by committee with every bit of creativity and spark extracted from them after endless approval roundabouts. That sort of content uses a lot of words to say absolutely nothing of worth.
Great content is content that has passion and comes from the heart. Whenever you start writing something, make sure you mean it. Whatever topic you’re writing about, write about it with conviction. It’ll shine through in your prose and it’ll be all the more enjoyable to read.
People might disagree with what you say, but that’s fine – that gets debates going and will enable you to connect with other people. No one is going to comment on a dull corporate press release, but an article full of fiery passion, now that’s an engagement magnet.
Write a little every day
Writing well is a matter of practice, practice, and more practice. Like with everything in life, the more we do something, the better we get at it. Writing is no different.
So seize every opportunity to write. Commit to writing something every day, even if it’s just a single paragraph in a fresh blog post. Ideally you should write a few hundred words every day (outside of the usual emails, tweets, status updates, and blog comments). Then the next day, review what you wrote previously, improve on it, and write some more.
You’ll find that the more you write, the easier it becomes to write more and better.
The dreaded blank screen.
Write like you speak
One thing I struggle with is starting a new blog post or article. That first sentence is very hard to get out of your typing fingers. A trick that I employ, which was inspired by the advice famously given to Christopher Hitchens, is to imagine a scenario where I am talking to friends. How would I start explaining verbally to my friends what I want to write? By using this trick I find that often the blog post flows naturally and almost effortlessly.
Not everyone agrees with the “write like you talk” advice, and I suppose it helped that Hitchens was incredibly well-spoken so writing down what he said would inevitably lead to great prose. Generally for me, the ‘write how you speak’ trick works best in getting that initial few paragraphs out of the way, and from there my words almost write themselves.
Often, after I’ve written most of the article, I come back to those early paragraphs and refine them to better fit with what I ended up writing about; regularly the article that emerged is slightly different than what I set out to write, and the introductory text should reflect the final product.
If I could write half as well as this man could,
I’d make a career out of it and be filthy rich.
Write what you know (a little bit about)
The old adage ‘write about what you know’ is as true as ever. But I don’t believe it’s entirely necessary to be an expert in a given field to be able to write about it. Writing is a bit like teaching, in that it makes you evaluate what you know and contemplate how best to present this, and in the process of doing so, you’ll find yourself learning more about what you’re writing about.
I think it’s perfectly fine to write about topics you know a little bit about. Through the act of writing about a shallowly understood topic you’ll think about it and research it in more depth and gain valuable insights, enhancing your knowledge. Also, if you write with conviction, when you get something wrong you’ll find some commenter will inevitably point it out to you, which instead of an attack you should seize as a learning opportunity.
So by all means, write about things you have only a shallow understanding of. Just be sure to steer clear of topics you are totally ignorant about – writing about something you know nothing of just makes you look like a plonker.
By writing, you’ll find yourself growing your knowledge, and before long you might just be an expert yourself. Be prepared for some inevitable corrections, and don’t take those personally.
Don’t be discouraged
In line with my previous advice, whenever someone criticises your writing for whatever reason, be it spelling, grammar, or just plain being wrong, don’t let that get you down. In fact, you should see those criticisms as encouragements to improve. If what we do wrong is never pointed out to us, how can we ever learn and improve?
I fully realise that often, online criticism is ferociously expressed – I myself certainly don’t shy away from expressing my criticism with conviction and frequent use of profanity – and the trick here is to accept it as criticism of your work, not as criticism of you personally.
That makes a huge difference, and something too many people forget. It’s easy to take criticism of your writing as an attack on you personally, but that only leads to misery and resentment. Those are entirely unproductive emotions and will prevent you from writing more. Instead, you need to realise that the criticism isn’t aimed at you, but at your output, and not get too emotional about it.
An inability to accept and learn from criticism is a surefire way to stagnate in personal and professional growth. Being immune to criticism is also akin to closing your mind to anything you disagree with, and that’s a thoroughly self-defeating mindset to adopt.
So accept the criticism, decide to learn from it or discard it, and move on.