First, a quick story.
I’ll never forget my very first story assignment as a reporter for my high school newspaper. I was to write a “season preview” story about our vaunted cross-country team. What immediately struck me about these athletes, many of which were some of the best high school cross-country runners in the state, is how much they complained about running. Stretching before their workout, to a man they told me they weren’t looking forward to running today.
Writing, ultimately, isn’t that different. Even the best writers in the world have to really discipline themselves and focus on the task at hand, else they’ll typically find something else easier to do.
Just because you’re good at it, doesn’t mean it comes easy. Just because you make a living at it, doesn’t mean you don’t still struggle with it on a regular basis.
As content becomes more and more important as a marketing tool, writing skills and execution are going to become a bigger and bigger part of your job.
To get over the hump, write more, and improve both the quantity and quality of your output, here are several recommendations.
Start with a point to make
Write the 1-2 sentence takeaway first. This might sound basic, but start with the point you really want to make. When you start there, and move into the 2-4 supporting points that justify that takeaway, you’re halfway there.
Write an outline first
Almost everything I write starts not with a first draft but an outline. Sometimes my outlines are extensive, sometimes they’re just a bullet list. This blog post, for example, started as an idea, then a theme, then a bullet-list outline of these very points. Makes it far easier to cut and paste those bullet points into a Word doc (or WordPress) and crank out some copy.
Know your customers or audience
What do they care about, who or what else do they read, what’s the angle they’ll most be interested in. These customer-centric questions will help you more naturally address topics and speak in a tone that will resonate.
Write the way they talk
Why do we insist on writing company overview and product one-pagers as if they’re academic research papers? The more important the document, the more formal we get. But your customers don’t want to read that any more than you want to write it! Write in a conversational tone, write the way people (including yourself) talk, and you’re more likely to write better and faster, let alone create content that gets read more.
Answer the 3 content questions
What do you want them to know? What do you want them to think? What do you want them to do next? Start with answering these questions, but go back to them throughout the writing process to make sure you’re still on track.
Go back & cut at least 25% of your words
This, consistently, will make your writing better. We all write too much, in too many words. You can cut at least 25 percent of your word count and say the same thing, often better.
Get a good proof reader or two
Depending on how important the writing project is (white paper vs. blog post, for example), consider having two proof readers – one a subject matter expert, another who doesn’t know what you do at all). They’ll both provide valuable and different feedback.