We can all write some sentences hence we can all create content¹. Anyone can do it, right?! Many articles claim that content writing is an occupation that relies on practice and goodwill to get better, rather than talent or muse.
But, when trying to monetize this skill, amidst the current information overflow, competition drives us, ‘small people’, to create for pennies and work overtime to deliver as much as we can. Content writers get stuck between spending more time curating stories and producing content in quantities.
But, there is golden middle, and it doesn’t always mean spending more hours rather than establishing a solid creating process. Like any assignment, even rocket science, it can be split up into a bunch of steps and/or questions.
In her book Everybody Writes, Ann Handley consolidates three pillars that can establish a solid routine and deliver quality content:
Quality content is packed with clear utility, is brimming with inspiration, and has a relentless empathy for the audience.
Now let’s get into what that really means when typing words on a screen. When we read about crafting our writing skills, often we come across quotes or witty phrases. But we need to dismantle them into actionable steps that make sense for our creating process. You need to get your piece through some filters, be it a written or a mental checklist, before publishing it.
You serve your audience
A good article idea originates from a ‘why’, of a curious and passionate creator. Giving your readers the reasoning after your topic will help you align their thinking with yours to educate, entertain and fulfill a need.
Supporting your story with logic and argumentation will trigger belief in your story and establish authority. For example, try to answer these questions in each piece: “Why did you choose to develop this particular story? Why does it matter to your readers?”
But don’t expect to know all your ‘whys’ in the first draft. You will get a clear idea of what you want to write, the message you want to deliver, or what is missing after working on the piece for some time, interacting with other similar content, and keeping in mind your reader.
The first step of your ‘why’ is understanding what your reader wants. The readers of this piece are content creators who want to become better at what they do. I try to keep them here by offering clear formatting, so they can skim through, give relatable examples and not litter my piece with unnecessary wordings. I kept you in mind throughout this piece.
Be open to change
The actual writing, typing, and choosing words, is often less than half of the content creating process. Sometimes the original idea doesn’t make it after a swift research or the first draft.
A good content-creating skill is the ability to change everything for the sake of the content and the reader. Get used to abandoning ideas, changing direction, and adding stuff that you didn’t want to in the first place.
You get this cool idea that you want to write about, but similar content shows that the targeted audience either has too much or isn’t interested in it. Find that other direction that presents the most value and use to your audience.
That doesn’t necessarily mean to become a chameleon and write about whatever people want to read. You can continue generating ideas from your own experience and expertise you just have to refine and reframe them for your readers.
At the end of the day, quality content offers solutions and services to an audience, and if it is of no interest to them, you’re only writing for yourself.
Use all the knowledge and affinity you have about your audience to your advantage. If you’re writing in a niche that you enjoy, you already know so much about your targeted readers. Take a few minutes to gather the basic information of an actual human who would read your piece.
It’s not about the ink, but the think
Even though content writing comes down to organization, sometimes it might get frustrating, and you need to do some hard pushing for those final touches.
I used to be ashamed of first drafts, while now I write as much as I can because the more I write, the more material I have to carve. Read that mess and try to make sense of it from your audience’s perspective and your ‘wh’ questions.
Citing from Ann Handley again: “If you’re a bad writer, learn to be a good editor, an editor that corrects the bigger picture and is a surgeon that edits line to line.”
Rewriting is all we content writers do. That first draft written smoothly needs a lot of crafting and carving to become a utile, inspiring piece of content for the eyes of the public.
As Ann Handley suggests, first, spend some time on the structure you want to follow. Outline your main point and built up the narrative line. For example, you might want to focus on one line of action, one narrative that goes in-depth on a topic, or write for different branches, just generally touching them. These two different structure types have a different tone, language, and formatting, so make sure to have that clear in your mind and on the blank.
Lastly, when you have pinned down the structure, and the words at a satisfactory level, it is time to zoom in. Go line by line and killing a few words or sentences, and add others. Take your time to chew every word written, and think of how it sounds and seems.
Beware of cringy inspiration
‘Inspirational’ ‘life-changing words will not get past the 21st-century human, so make sure to offer that which you can deliver to. Some might be tricked, but most people can see through bad marketing. No one likes reading content that laughs in their face and takes them for stupid.
You inspire your readers by offering something different, more personalized, and helpful to them — and all that through simple words. Write to empower your readers into using what you offer to make their lives better.
Inspiration is not equally distributed in a piece of content.
For example, in my fitness articles, the scientific information and research help put the whole topic into context and establishes authority. But it needs to follow up with relatable and personalized pieces of advice, or tips. What is inspiring to my audience is how the course of action and reaching results is accessible to anyone.
Empathy means putting yourself in your audience’s place and articulating, doing the research, and serving to them what you promise in the title.
Ask yourself what interests, challenges, fears, confusions, questions the reader has about the topic in hand, and how you can attend to all these gaps in a concise yet entertaining way.
Your content should reflect you, your voice, and your aim but should do so from the shadows. There is nothing new under the sun, and apart from structure and idea twists, a personal touch gives originality and life to your piece.
Being vulnerable, showing a bit of depth and opinion are part of good writing. But we often include those at the expense of the readers’ needs. For example, what makes you laugh is not always entertaining for the reader.
There is a thin line between writing for yourself and adding yourself to the equation as a person who understands your readers’ emotions and motives.
But by all means, be human when writing and understand that a human will read it. It seems so simple, but by creating tons of content, we forget this simple fact. Formality, perfectionism might be good, but often some personal coloring, neologisms, or vulnerability might be more engaging.
You’re in a dialogue, not a monologue
As said, your readers are humans, just like you, that live in the same world, having the same emotions towards the same triggers. To be able to use language that makes sense to your readers, you have to know them. Which often means just swapping places with them in all stages of content creating.
Think of your content, even when writing it, as a dialogue with them. Their insights, be it questions, common beliefs, emotions, can add to the quality of your content.
The basic copywriting lesson is to write as if you’re talking to a friend over drinks and you want to convince him of this new product or service you truly believe in. And any other content should be the same. You have to deliver a message, and every group of any niche has its language that derives from their emotions and thoughts.
The quality of your content depends on its level of utility, inspiration, and empathy.
- Write at least one benefit that your reader will take away. Make it absolutely impossible for the reader to miss it by cutting all the litter around it and giving it the spotlight.
- Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and relate to their thinkings, worries, questions, and emotions. Which emotion, thought or question are you trying to address in your piece?
- Look at the bigger picture by outlining the main points of your piece logically.
- Edit line by line while being aware of the r