How to start to write
"Write great content"
Everyone says that the secret to achieving great search rankings is to produce great content. People link to great content. So you sit down to write some great content.
....but the screen remains blank.....
.....the cursor blinks.....
Typing is easy. Rewriting news is easy. But putting together a unique killer post that attracts attention - that's difficult!
How do you get past writers block? How do you give your ideas form? How do write with a unique voice so your articles stand out from the crowd?
Here are a few ideas.
1. Write Often
There is only one way to learn how to write well and that is to write often.
People often talk about the traffic benefits of writing a blog, but they often overlook the personal benefits. A blog gives you the opportunity to write for an audience of one. Yourself. A blog gives you the opportunity to practice the craft of writing.
Start a blog on a topic you're interested in, and set a goal of writing one post a day for the next three months. At the end of three months, you'll be a lot better writer than when you started.
2. Write Like Crazy
The obvious way of getting around the blank page problem is to simply start writing.
Write as fast as you can, even if it's gibberish. Get your half formed thoughts down on the page. Write questions. Then write the answers to those questions. Make lists. Once you start, don't stop writing for five minutes. You aim is to shut off your internal editor, because your internal editor isn't the guy who gets writing onto the page.
At the end of five minutes, you don't have a blank page anymore.
You can then flesh out the good ideas, eliminate the bad ideas, and re-order your content. This is much easier than trying to write (invent) and edit (analyze) at the same time.
3. Use Software
* The Google Toolbar and many content management systems have spell checkers built into them.
* Paid software programs like StyleWriter take it to the next level - offering tips on tense usage/unity (which is discussed further in #6).
* Using keyword research tools and looking at other related content (like Wikipedia pages and for Dummies books) can help you figure out how to best structure your content, and help you find some important keyword modifiers to add to your copy.
4. Keep It Simple
Ever read an insurance brochure? Or a police incident report? They are cluttered with unnecessary verbiage, because the writer uses ten words when one will do.
"The feather covered creature is currently proceeding in a westerly direction ambulating at a regular pace to the arforementioned side of the concourse"
The chicken crossed the road, in other words.
Good writing conveys meaning. Great writing does the same, but uses fewer words.
There's a great Mark Twain quote about simplicity: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead".
Anyone can be verbose.
Great writing is also about about rewriting. It's about honing down to the essentials. Use short words. Use short sentences. Use active verbs.
5. The Hook
If you've read this far, you've already passed the most important sentence in this article.
The most important sentence is the first sentence. If you don't hook people in the first sentence, then they won't read the second. The second most important sentence is the second sentence. That sentence gets people to the third sentence. And so on.
How long does the hook need to be?
Sometimes, it can be one sentence. Sometimes a paragraph. Sometimes the entire first page. Entice the reader. Make the first sentence a bit mysterious. Invoke an emotion. Appeal to their curiosity. Pose a question. Give the reader a concrete reason to keep reading. What benefit is there to the reader in reading through to the end?
6. Maintain Unity
Lack of unity can confuse readers. Decide on one unity, and stick to it.
For example, you might choose to write in the past tense. "We went to the beach last week". Or you might choose to wrote in the present. "I'm sitting in the car looking out over the bay". But don't mix the two tenses.
The type of unity you use will depend on the type of article you're writing. You've probably seen those long sales letters that convey a personal story about how the writer overcame some problem, and you can too if you buy their e-book? Those sales letters wouldn't work nearly as well if the writer switches mode, from the personal to the impersonal, half way through.
7. The Audience
In "On Writing Well", William Zinsser advises:
"....a question will occur to you: "Who am I writing for?" It's a fundamental question, and it has a fundamental answer: You are writing for yourself. Don't try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience. Every reader is a different person".
This is not to say that you shouldn't consider the audience. In terms of the craft of writing, you need to provide structure and be interesting enough so people keep reading. But don't worry about whether your readers agree with you, or like what you say, or like how you're saying it.
Each reader is an individual, and they're going to respond to different things. Don't compromise your writing for the imagined, singular "audience".
8. Your Written Voice
Only you sound like you. No one writes like you. That is your in-built, unique point of difference.
One way to find your voice is to read your writing aloud. What bits sound wrong? What bits sound pretentious or condescending? What bits just don't sound like you. Eliminate them. Readers want to "hear" a distinctive voice that rings true.
A lot of blogs are starting to sound like mainstream media reporting, and that is a shame. The writers have forgotten what made blogs an attractive alternative in the first place - the use of the personalized voice.
9. Make One Point
Your article should have one overall point. Not two points, or five points, but one point. What do you want to convince people of? What is the one thing you want them to take away?
You don't need to have the last word on a given topic. It's not possible. You've probably seen examples of link bait entitled "The Ultimate Guide To...."
But they never are the ultimate. It isn't possible.
Instead, decide on the one point you want people to take away, and write towards that point. Once you've made that point, stop writing.
The point of this article is to encourage people to get writing :)
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