No writer wants to see his creations disappear in the vast ocean of content out there. If you’re writing online, you want your words to matter. You want to change the world, even if only a fragment.
I’ve written hundreds of articles in the past two years and a half. In 2019 alone, I wrote 365 articles. Many were barely read by more than 10 people. I used to find it unfortunate.
Was it a waste of time to wrte these articles then? I don’t think so. These articles helped me sharpen my writing style and experiment with different types of pieces. Each word I wrote and published online got me closer to reaching a wider audience. Each word was a step forward.
This was especially the case for my articles about Yojijukugo, 4-character expressions used in Japanese. I used to write one article a week explaining dissecting Yojijukugo for advanced learners of Japanese. Many of which didn’t have a precise explanation in English anywhere online. I wrote 75 articles on this topic, most of which were only read twice. Or so I thought.
To my surprise, I recently noticed those articles were still racking up new readers. One person would fall upon my blog after looking up the Yojijukugo on Google and then go through a few more the same day.
That’s the beauty of well-done evergreen content. A creation providing information other people can still be looking for years later. The more evergreen information you provide, the longer what you write will have meaning.
There are a few common denominators to good evergreen articles and that’s what I want to dive into today. Hopefully, this process could help you write more content other people will read years down the line.
Take a step back before writing
New writers often make the mistake to sit down in front of a blank page hoping for inspiration to hit. Sorry for breaking the news to you but that rarely happens. Or if it does for now, it’ll stop soon enough after you’ve used up all the amazing ideas you had before starting to publish articles.
If you want to be read, you have to consider one important factor. Interest. Even if your barbecue last summer was amazing, I’m sorry but I don’t care. Unless you’re my friend. And still, I’d wonder why you still hung up on a simple barbecue. Not that I dislike barbecues of course.
To write content others want to read, you have to ask yourself what you’d read. To write content that others, years later, would want to read, you have to reflect on what you want to learn.
Unless you’re writing about a specific disappearing programing language or a video game, chances are other people will what you want to learn what you’re trying to learn today.
Almost none of my articles about Yojijukugo were about expressions I knew. I wanted to expand my knowledge of them and struggled to find information in English about rarer ones. That’s why I wrote them.
Find what you hold some knowledge of and dig into what you want to learn from there. As you learn, write articles about it. And sometimes dig into what you wish you had known or done better, for some variety.
Ask if what you write makes sense
In my opinion, this is way too overlooked. As writers, we type and type, and type some more, hopefully without getting stuck. We start an article and hope to finish it before the deadline we’ve given ourselves. We press keys after key toward the last sentence.
I do that all the time as well. I get into Flow and keep typing word after word. I try to avoid stopping for too long for fear of losing a string of thoughts. Then, when I finish my article, I often wonder how the middle of my article became so messy.
I look back to the title and have to admit I’ve strayed far from my original topic. Sometimes, I’m not even answering the original question I was trying to answer. To avoid this, it’s important to reflect, as you write, on whether you’re still on the same topic, answering the same question, in the same style.
There are many ways to do this but my favorite of all is to copy the draft title of my article at the bottom of the page so I always have it in front of me. Then, I review what I wrote every few paragraphs and ponder if I’m still on the right track.
Are we good for this article so far? Seems like it so let’s move on to the next step.
Edit for more clarity
I’ve seen many writers say they love the editing process because that’s where they make their writing shine. I’m not one of those. I don’t enjoy it at all and would rather type another article instead. I know, however, that the probability of writing a rock-solid article increases manifold when you edit it. That’s why I do it.
I used to think editing meant getting rid of errors. It’s not. Well, it is, but not only. That’s only the first step. The second and most important step is to make your content clearer. To make it accessible for as many people as possible.
Start at the bottom with the one fact a reader must know before he can learn any more. — William Zinsser, On Writing Well
Of course, you can’t do that all the time. You have to choose what you want to consider the lower common-denominator of understanding. Are you relying on the fact that your reader knows Japanese well enough to dive into obscure Yojijukugo? Do you expect her to know how Bitcoin works? Should he have prior knowledge of the different types of meditation?
I write a lot of content about learning a language but I have a different assumption for each article. Sometimes I want to reach those who have never learned languages. Sometimes I want to touch the heart of long-time language learners. Sometimes, I just want to share what it’s like to learn multiple languages.
And in this article, I’m trying to help you, dear reading writer, write article other people could read months and years later. Just like my article about “The Most Dangerous Writing App” is still reaching about 10 people per day, two years after it was first read by thousands.
Review old evergreen pieces much later
If you’re writing for long enough, you’ll have one day a library of hundreds of articles. If not thousands. Some of your earlier pieces will make you cringe. I know mine hurt my eyes.
But you’ll also notice some of your old pieces survive the test of time. Some others will emerge from the dead. Those will show you what you could focus on or dig deeper into.
I can now clearly see which Yojijukugo articles worked better. The ones for expressions that can’t be found in the Japanese to English dictionary. I also used to write short lessons on Burmese grammar as I was learning its basics. These are still read daily despite the last one dating back to March 2020.
When a piece passes the test of time, it’s proof some of the content in there clicked with your target audience.
While you, as a writer, will have evolved since then, you could sometimes pick some of your “old styles” back out the closet for a spin. I’m nowadays considering writing new Yojijukugo articles and updating their style to make them easier to follow and understand.
Look at your old pieces and find what could have been done better. Would you still be satisfied with the content you wrote? Is it easily understandable? Could you rewrite it in a better way? Could you dig deeper into the knicks and knacks in a new article?
Your job as a writer isn’t to keep writing for the future. It’s to create as many pieces of writing that can follow you into the future as possible. Writing a viral piece is all good and fun but in the long run, what matters isn’t to be a one-hit-wonder. It’s to be a long-lasting star.
You need to care for each piece from the ideation stage to years in its lifespan. You can learn from each article you write.
That’s why in this article you don’t find any tips about a certain trending tool for writers. The goal of this piece was not only to help you today, but also to help future readers as well. You could read this in 2034 and still use the information as it is.
That’s the beauty of evergreen content. Content that could serve anybody for the rest of time.