On the day Everybody Writes arrived in the mail I started reading it and was immediately intrigued by the introduction; so, I opened it up and plowed through 12 (albeit short) chapters. I couldn’t wait to share what I learned and went straight to the computer. And not knowing when I’d finish the rest of the book, I decided to spread the learnings across a few posts. I don’t want to give everything away because I could seriously quote this entire book — it’s that jam-packed with goodness. I recommend everyone who deals with content read this book and soon (and I say that without having finished it!). Don’t be scared away by the fear of writing; Handley does a great job relating to us ordinary marketing folks in the first few pages. (I mean, bowling and Mean Girls references? It’s like she wrote this book for me.)
Let’s dive right in, shall we?
What is content?
Everything! Webpage text, emails, newsletters, blogs, content on social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare, etc. Basically, anything your audience interacts with is considered content. This is why content creators, social media managers, and designers should work so closely together. Everything is intertwined, and working in a vacuum results in sucky content.
Quality Content = Utility x Inspiration x Empathy
Quality content is not just about a grandiose vocabulary, beautiful allegories or poetic descriptions, which goes against everything you learned in high school English. You could go on for 20 pages about the origins of the television, but I can guarantee your reader doesn’t give a hoot if it doesn’t explain how to make the picture not blue and squiggly. On the other hand, the person who is doing research on the history of the television for his college course might care about that detailed information. Know what you are writing and who you are writing it for.
What matters isn’t storytelling. It’s telling a true story well.
Storytelling implies embellishments and a bending of the truth. If you have a great story to tell, it’s more important to tell that story well (using the formula above).
Writing daily for 30 minutes is better than writing once a week for 5 hours.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard this tip, but it was good to be reminded of its importance. Everyone finds inspiration to write in different ways: in the early morning hours, on a sandy beach, in a bustling coffee shop, at home in front of a laptop. I am a night owl so I find it easiest to gather my thoughts in the evening with a glass of wine and some background music to get me in the groove (hence, how Dinnertime Marketing was born). The point isn’t where or how you find inspiration; the point is to write every day, for even a few minutes. It’s one of the few good habits to have, and doing it once a week if you find the time isn’t going to make it a habit. . . Chances are you’ll stop doing it altogether. Even if it is crap (or what Handley calls barf), write. Write. WRITE.
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Not your boss’s.
After you write your first draft (or, according to Handley, “The Ugly First Draft”) switch places with your reader and consider things from their perspective. Don’t think about who is signing your paycheck. Think about if what you just wrote down helps your reader. Does it answer “so what?” Is it easy for them to understand what you’re trying to say?
A lot of the above are more aspiration thoughts to remember when writing. Here are a couple actionable tips I gleaned from the first 12 chapters:
- Put the most important information first. Avoid words like:
- According to . . .
- There is a . . .
- It is [important, critical, advised, suggested, and so on] . . .
- In my opinion . . .
- The purpose of this [email, post, article] . . .
- In 2014 [or any year] . . .
- I think [believe] that . . .
- 12 Steps of Writing
- Goal. What is your business goal of writing this blog, article, etc.?
- Reframe. What do you want your reader to get from the piece? Ask “So what?”
- Seek out data and examples. If necessary to prove your point, use credible, real-world examples to support your piece.
- Organize. Is your piece a bulleted list, a step-by-step guide, a longer narrative? What structure will best represent your thoughts?
- Write to one person. Use “You” (not “they” or “people”) to make your piece more relatable.
- Produce The Ugly First Draft. Personally, I call this a brain dump. Just write. It can be crap. You can take all grammatical rules you have ever learned and throw them in the garbage disposal (gasp!). Just take your thoughts and regurgitate them on the page. You can clean it up later.
- Walk away. I do this often. Take a break from your first draft. It’s a rough draft because it’s rough. Go get a drink, take a walk, sleep on it. Whatever you need to do to distance yourself from it before you get back to it (just don’t wait too long or it’ll soak into the carpet and you’ll have to ditch it and start all over again).
- Rewrite. Self explanatory.
- Give it a great headline or title. This is the hardest part for me, but the most important if you want the readers to click on and read your article.
- Have someone edit. I’m lucky that I have Elizabeth, my partner in crime on this blog, to edit my posts for me. It’s always important to have someone read your work before you post it.
- One final look for readability. Is your piece inviting, easy to scan, alluring? Bulky paragraphs aren’t fun to read. This is why I love Handley’s short chapters. The book could be one run together chunk of text and I’d probably donate it to the local library without reading it. But I’d miss out on all the delicious insight!
- Publish with a call-to-action. Don’t leave your readers left with “now what?” at the end of your piece. Do you want them to buy a product, subscribe to something, read more? Make sure let them know what to do next.
I warned you there were a ton of good tips and I was only 45 pages in. Stay tuned for more awesomeness as I get my act together and finish the book!