As I’ve ramped up the DoubleDutch blog from a post every once in a while to a posting a few times per week (with the end goal of daily posts!), I’m discovering people have a fear of writing.
I’m not sure why this is news to me, but I believe it stems from the fact that many simply haven’t written since college or they’re afraid their writing simply won’t be up to par with others. Tack onto that the potential of being criticized for your opinion and having to go through the editing process…it makes sense. But, writing doesn’t have to be intimidating.
To help teams like mine, I want to share some tips and tricks that help me through the writing process. This is in no way meant to be comprehensive, but instead just a few things to help you get started.
Put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard)
Eliminate distractions as much as possible. Close out your email, switch your phone to do-not-disturb mode, find a quiet space…do whatever you need to do to find focus. I have a Spotify playlist I listen to while I write that eliminates most distractions of working in an open office environment. Once you’ve found your zen, you’re ready to get started.
Freewrite vs. structure
I like to start by writing down whatever is on my mind: Beyonce lyrics that might be stuck in my head; a comment I wanted to make during an earlier meeting; a letter to my mom. It doesn’t have to relate to the post I’m about to write, it’s about getting my mind into the flow of writing. I’m a runner, so I like to think of this as my pre-race stretches.
Once I’ve worked my way up and feel the words flowing, I transition my brain over to the topic I’m trying to write about. At this point, I’m not concerned about structure, spelling, or grammar. I’m simply focused on getting my thoughts and ideas down. I don’t follow a linear path either. Instead, I let my mind flow freely and toggle back and forth between the different points I’m trying to make as ideas and thoughts come into mind. I’ll worry about editing later.
If you need more structure in your life, start with an outline. Write down your point of view, identify supporting arguments and data, then organize your thoughts. I have a colleague who lives by The Decker Grid and others who think of writing like a cheeseburger where you sandwich the meat of your post between two buns and add your favorite toppings…the point is to find a writing style that works for you.
Boost your point of view
I don’t care if you’re Richard Branson, Bill Gates, or Jack Dorsey, you need to supplement your blog with rich media and external validation. (But in all seriousness, if you are any of those three and you’re reading this please let me know because that is the stuff dreams are made of.)
The power of visuals and data
If videos or images pop into your mind as you write, jot those things down and reference them later. I love using The Noun Project for quick and easy icons and ThinkStock for photos. Heck, sometimes I even just pull pictures from my own camera roll. The point is, the more visual you make your blog, the more engaging it will be for your readers.
Data is a great way to give credibility your post. Make note of points that can be supported by data and do your research. Keep in mind, data doesn’t always have to exist as numbers. It can come in the form of a quote or comment from another blogger or thought leader in your space. Citing articles, research, and other blogs helps create a hyperlink-rich post in a completely organic way, which, in turn, enhances the SEO juice of your blog.
As a bonus, you can reach out to the people you reference via social media for added social lift.
Your writing is as unique as you
Once you have your main ideas down, think about tone. My personal mission is to write content that is approachable; to take complex ideas and make them easily understandable for my reader. Because of that, I like to write as if I’m speaking with a friend. Sometimes I’ll even record myself talking through problems and transcribe them directly.
The important thing to remember when it comes to tone is that your writing should look, feel, and sound like it’s coming from you. Think about your personal brand and work from there. Do you see yourself as personable and approachable? Are you more analytical and detail-oriented? Think of how these personality traits can manifest in your writing.
Of course, when writing for a corporate blog you’ll want to find a way to marry the tone of the blog with your own, but you should never compromise your personal brand. Take the feedback from your editor with a grain of salt. Remember, their job is to elevate your writing and maintain consistency across the blog, not hinder your creativity. You can always find a common ground.
Edit your post
Now that you’ve got your first draft under your belt, it’s time for an edit. I’m not sure which is harder for people, putting pen to paper or receiving feedback, but here are some of the things I think about during the editing process.
If you went the freewrite route, you’ll want to organize your thoughts into a cohesive flow of information. Because I don’t follow a linear path in my first draft, I’ve learned to ctrl+x and ctrl+v in the blink of an eye.
Your intro should set the stage for your argument and entice the reader to continue on the journey with you. To do this, you’ll want to pack a powerful punch in the beginning of your piece and ensure that your point of view is not buried in fluff. Of course, controversy is a great way to get your readers hooked.
From there, you should follow your point of view with supporting arguments. Again, bring the most impactful statements to the front of your piece to keep the reader moving along. If you find that a point is particularly weak, try and find external validation or data to strengthen it. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t feel strong get rid of it.
Style is key
Once you’ve organized the flow of your piece, think of how you’ll make it skimmable. I know, I know…the last thing you want to hear after you’ve poured your heart and soul out is that most people will just skim the headlines, but it’s a sad truth about our attention spans these days.
Section headers and subheaders are your friends. Not only do they help organize and provide structure to your post, they make it easy for readers to understand your writing at a glance. You’ve probably noticed throughout this post I’m taking full advantage of H1s, H2s, H3s, and some bolded text here and there.
As you edit your post, watch for consistency in style and format. This goes beyond your section headers and subheaders. Watch for the quotes you use, how you cite external references, and how you draw attention to key points. Uniformity helps train your reader to quickly and easily understand your writing.
Pay attention to language as well. If you address your reader directly, continue to address the reader. If you speak in the third person, maintain that throughout. Wouldn’t it be weird if halfway through this post I stopped addressing you and started talking about writers in general?
Let go of constraints
So many people concern themselves with how long a blog post should be, and my answer is always the same: long enough for you to make your point. Of course, there are plenty of studies out there about optimal word length per blog post, but at the end of the day, it’s your job to make your argument. It doesn’t matter to me if it takes you 400 words or 1200 words, you must convince the reader to go on a journey with you. At the time of my writing this sentence, this blog post is 1300 words (and counting).
Writing should feel liberating
It pains me to think you might be afraid of writing your first blog post. Writing should be fun, not intimidating! I hope my tips help you fly over the hurdle and openly welcome a dialogue for those who may need some more support. I, in no way, consider myself to be an expert, but I do write often and thought I would share.
Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments below!
Become a blogging master! Download our free eBook on blogging in the age of modern marketing.