A couple weeks ago I shared some content marketing tips from the amazing book Everybody Writes by Ann Handley of @MarketingProfs. I mentioned I’d share even more of what I soaked up from this go-to guide as I read on, and here it is. I’ve boiled down the next few chapters of her book to get to the juicy bits. It’s pure gold.
Once you have written your first draft, rewrite it. According to Ann in one of my favorite quotes from the book, “reworking the work is what separates us from the chimps.” She breaks rewriting into two types: editing by chainsaw and editing with surgical tools. Basically, the first is a look at the big picture. During the second read, pay more attention to detail and trim down extraneous words, obvious statements, cliches, and word bloat. (We’ll get to grammar in a later post.) Another tip is to get to the point. Cut out the metaphorical paragraphs at the beginning and your article will still probably make sense, if not be more powerful.
At the root of your content should be empathy for the customer experience. Gone are the days of writing content for search engines; today, people need to know you feel their pain points and that they are understood. Talk to your customers; listen to them. Don’t just rely on data to make assumptions.
Writer’s Block Evasion
This might just be my new favorite concept. I can’t even count the times I’ve said I have writer’s block and stared at a blank page. Well, I could have written anything on that page — an anecdote of my trip to the grocery store, what my cat might be thinking while she’s staring at me from across the table, anything. I was avoiding writing out of fear of not having anything to say. The point is, just write! One great tip from Ann is to write like you’re composing a letter to someone you know, a customer or your mom for example. A real person with a real face will make it more conversational.
The Lede and the Kicker
Everyone knows from high school that your lede (or lead) is the most important part of your piece (and the kicker the second). But if you’re like me, it was also the toughest part to write. The pressure to make it great was just too high! Luckily, Ann has some tips for your lead sentences I wish I had 12 years ago:
- Put your reader into the story
- Ask a question
- Quote a crazy controversial bit of data
- Tell a personal anecdote
- Start with a quote
- Make a bold statement
- Use an analogy
As for the closing to your piece, finish strong (and if applicable include a call to action). Don’t just trail off; summarize — not regurgitate — your main point. Add the element of tonal surprise; if your piece was formal, make it relaxed and vice versa. If you have quotes from interviews, end on someone else’s high note. Just make sure it’s relevant and makes sense as a closing statement.
When I need motivation to go to the gym after work, I grab Elizabeth. That way, if I want to go home and be a couch potato instead, she pushes me to stay on track. Same goes for writing. Having a writing partner can help with brainstorming, feedback, and quality. Beyond friends and colleagues, you can reach into the vast ecosystem of intelligent, helpful professionals online through LinkedIn or other online communities, or through groups that meet in your own town. If there aren’t any, start one!
Stay tuned for more great insights from Everybody Writes; I’m only a third of the way through. Man, there are not enough hours in the day.