How To Start Writing

Dec 18th

"Be Remarkable"

"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.....

Nothing.

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 :)

Further Reading:

Published: December 18, 2008

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Comments

December 18, 2008 - 9:47pm

Hi there,

Nice post summing up "almost" all the featured elements of writing. I guess one of the most essential tools to attract visitor attention is graphics and media. While the internet audiences are becoming increasingly savvy, its without a single doubt in my mind that a piece of content without graphics is undoubtedly set to miss a lot of radars.

Two sort of audience links back to a content. One is the scrapers ( Spammy Brigade ), while the other group is bloggers ( mostly active social media participants ). IMHO, presentation of a piece of content is equally important to attract more attention of the blogosphere. More attention is more citations. More citations is more links - the fundamental basis of how search engines rank websites.

Just my two cents. :-)

December 18, 2008 - 11:22pm

>>most essential tools to attract visitor attention is graphics and media

Sure, but this post is about writing ;)

December 18, 2008 - 11:38pm

Peter I'm sending this post to a client, great timing! He just tells his content writer to write without even caring of why are they writing for. He thinks that as long as he has one post in his blog daily that's going to help him with the SEO campaign. A content writing strategy should be measured: Is that content getting links? Is that content getting comments? Is that content driving conversions?

December 19, 2008 - 5:45am

I meant media should be a supplement to any form of writing :-)..but awesome post anyway..

December 19, 2008 - 9:35am

I know the post is really about writing website content, blog content, etc. But I'd like to recommend a website that helps you write a book from scratch called FortyChapters. I've just started using it and so far I'm loving it.

December 19, 2008 - 12:23pm

Hi Peter,

Great post - what a boring way to start a comment! That's what everyone says!

One of the best things I like doing in amalgamating 2/3 points and then coming out with one point - kind of builds analysis into the writing and lands on one clear conclusion...

I really liked the bit about writing for yourself - if of course you're not writing for a client.

As someone who has just started writing for themselves on their own blog, it's great to have the freedom to write whatever/however you want as previously I have only written for clients...so if you want to talk about apples you talk about apples. I like apples.

The other thing about writing I find is that by writing your basically forcing yourself to understand something on a much more authoritative level - if of course you are writing what you hope will be authoritative articles, which I often do.

I remember being told at Uni a good revision technique is to teach someone else what you know...this can be transferred into writing, as you've got to know about it to write authoritatively and in-depth about it...it obviously doesn't apply to pieces that skim the surface but is worth mentioning.

Anyway, 'great post Peter' - maybe I should set myself the challenge of not ever using that line again, what do you think?!

Thanks again,

Ben

December 19, 2008 - 2:20pm

Especially in blogs, it often helps to map out a bunch of topics you'd like to cover. Spend a couple hours just writing down a list of main ideas and a couple supporting points. Post this near your computer. By having some ideas loosely mapped out, you can design a strategy that helps you stay focused and stay creative and avoid blank pages.
But yeah Peter - as so wonderfully stated in "Throw Momma From the Train" : A writer writes. No better way to do it, than to do it.
Let someone else read your stuff before you post if possible. You know what you mean, but does it come across? A fresh set of eyes can really make a huge difference in the final draft.
Last, free writing with no expectations can loosen up writers block. So if you want to write a post about SEO, you might first spend 15-20 minutes simply writing whatever pops into your head...let the nonsense flow. No rules at all. By the time you start on the SEO post, you've warmed up: free writing really quickly'll clean the pipes and lube the gears. Seems silly, but it works well.

December 21, 2008 - 3:41am

wow...

most excellent post

December 30, 2008 - 11:54pm

Great post Peter and timely too. I'm starting a new blog and in my constant sleep deprived state have not had a lot of luck with the writing. I'm going to use this post as a kick start. :-)

December 31, 2008 - 10:18am

Good to see you comment here again Sophie. Hope all is well down your way and wish you a happy new year! :)

January 8, 2009 - 8:31am

For point #1, it's a lot easier to write everyday when you're already journaling (writing a private blog).
The pressure of an audience makes a public blog intimidating, which makes it hard to submit that post. Starting a personal blog that only you have access to is a great way to get into the habit of writing often.

It's helped me get into a blogging groove.

Plus a (private) journal is a great way to flesh out ideas in your head and as a way of remembering your life.

I like Blogger.com for my private journal because:

1. It's super easy to start a private blog.

2. You can blog by email. This significantly increases the chances that you'll journal. It's just writing yourself an email... how hard could it be? :)

----

@Aaron - first time commenter, long time fan. Thanks for all the knowledge you've shared with us over the years! Much, much appreciated.

January 8, 2009 - 10:02am

Thanks for registering and the comment Greggo :)

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