Tips for Writing Stuff that Doesn’t Suck
I’m still working on all this…but I guess you have to first admit you have a problem before you can find solutions.
We’ve been doing some pretty fun consulting work lately. We’re working with a number of groups in their early stages of defining or redefining their brand and their company’s market position.
They’re universally coming to realize the importance of developing content on their website, on their relevant social platforms, and in running marketing campaigns. They know they need to be telling better stories…but don’t we all?
2 Topics We’re Covering Today:
1. The Content Creation Disclaimer – Know what you’re in for when you decide to start producing content.
2. Rules of Writing – Some helpful guidelines on the execution side…how to write well
The stuff we’re talking about is more or less universal, crossing over to pretty much any industry or organization looking to grow brand awareness.
The Content Creation Disclaimer
You gotta know this stuff up front in the earliest phases of developing content. Here’s what you can expect and what you need to plan for in crafting your company’s market position.
1. Carve Out Larger Chunks of Time
Plan on carving out a couple hours uninterrupted at a time. This is your only chance to get into the level of thought required for real digging into this stuff.
Our daily work lives usually revolve around lots of little tasks. We’re urgently trying to get things done all the time. Crafting solid content is different…we need to go deeper. Put your phones away, silent your email, or go live in a log cabin for a couple hours.
2. The Novelist Mindset
Now it’s about taking those thoughts and writing really well-crafted language. We need details and explanations. At the same time, good writing is direct and succinct. The art is in simplifying for the reader.
Try to be painting pictures in the minds of our audience. Bland generalizations and wide overviews don’t get anyone excited about working with you. Prepare yourself to write in great detail as opposed to shallow and short.
My advice is to imagine that you’re writing a full-length novel rather than just a paragraph or short story. With a “long-form” mindset, you’re naturally going to bring lots of fine details. You’ve got the time to really develop your “characters” or your positioning…or how your products work, or how they’ll experience your services.
3. It’s Hard
Know right up front that this is not easy. That’s why so many companies suck at it.
Be prepared to go over the stuff that you’ve written many times before it will become great. Don’t stop at “decent” or “good enough”. Edit like crazy.
When you think you’re finished, read things over again. You’ll find that new thoughts come around as you spend more time. Churn through that writing/reviewing cycle several times to really refine your messaging. That’s how it’ll have the best chance to resonate with your target audience.
Okay, so those are the disclaimers going into it. It’s about deep thought. It’s about writing well-crafted language. It’s about knowing up front that it’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have to do some editing and you’re going to have to really work at it.
Sorry, wish I had better news for you!
Rules of Writing Great Content
1. Empathize, Empathize, Empathize
If there could only be 1 rule, this would be it.
Your content has to be 1,000% customer-centric. Empathize with our audience. Imagine that you’re on the other side of the table all the time, with everything you write.
Answer the questions that your audience has and resolve the challenges they face. Don’t product content around the things that you want to brag about or to talk about your company. Nobody cares.
2. Why Does Anyone Care?
For everything you’re producing, ask yourself: “Why does my audience care?”
People care most about themselves – meaning the direct benefits to them, not your company. Keep that question in the back of your mind with everything you produce. If I were my audience, would I care?
3. Take it Deep
Try to paint pictures in their minds using incredibly accurate details. Help them create a vision of how great things could be, or or how lousy things could be if they fail. Get them to picture or feel exactly what it is you’re talking about.
If you’re selling a product, get into the nuances about the texture, the appearance, how it feels in their hands, or how it smells.
If we’re talking services, do your best to get them to “experience” how much better life could be if they hire you.
No fluff guys…no generalities and no clichés.
4. 2nd Person All the Way
We’re going to write all of our content in the second person – just as if you’re talking to another person individually. Best to use the word “you”, or sometimes it’s cleaner if you don’t even use pronouns. Just tell them what they’re getting as if you’re talking to another person.
Most everybody makes the mistake of talking in the first person. I believe this is mostly because they’re thinking of themselves, rather than empathizing with the reader.
It’s not cool to continuously begin sentences with the words “I” or “we”. That usually leads to content that is talking about yourself not stuff that others care about.
Last tip…don’t flip-flop. Keep it 2nd person throughout.
5. Dummy Up the Tone
This one’s really important, and it should be good news for you. Speak the language of your audience, not a language that makes you sound smart. Everyone tends write way too “fancy”.
There’s an incredible tendency to use long words and long sentences in an effort to sound sophisticated and smart. This is a mistake.
It’s much more effective to come across as professional, yet friendly – usually with a hint of casual or even relaxed nature. It’s a lot easier to read, and usually more interesting. Win-win.
The world’s best writers, orators and communicators say smart things, but also have this incredible ability to use words that everyone can understand.
6. Short Sentences Rock
Try your best to break up all your thoughts into really small pieces. I’m talking about just 1 thought per sentence. There should be a lot of periods.
It’s much easier to read a 12-word sentence than a 35-word run-on. Remember that your audience doesn’t know nearly as much about your stuff as you do.
The Big Takeaway…
To summarize, know from the beginning that crafting effective written content is not easy. Plan to edit and review your ideas many times, especially the big ones surrounding your company’s existence.
Next, ALWAYS empathize with your audience. What questions do they have? What problems do they face? What does your customer service staff hear every day? That’s what you should write about.
When it comes to writing, tone down the fancy talk. Go into deep detail, but use short sentences to break apart each thought for easy readability.
In the best case, you’re able to paint pictures in the minds of your audience. They’ll be able to visualize how great it will be to work with you or buy your product.
At the end of the day, that’s why we’re producing content right?
Good Luck! I hope you enjoyed my 2019 tips for writing stuff that does not suck!