The writing process is an important tool to master. Having a guide to follow makes writing feel less daunting and more manageable.
Do you have a press release or newsletter you’ve been meaning to write for weeks or perhaps months? Do you blame it on being lazy, but really, you just have no idea where to start (plus, maybe you’re a little bit lazy)?
So where to begin? I’m going to break this down into five steps.
The first step doesn’t even require you to write! You’re welcome. This step is simply to identify the message you want to get across and the best way to accomplish that. Is it an announcement about your company? That would work best in newsletter form, or perhaps a press release. Is it a musing on a new development in your industry? That works best as a blog post.
Once you know your message and your format, it’s time to write a topic sentence. You remember those from 7th grade, right? Write down once sentence that encapsulates the main idea you’re trying to get across. A lot of times, you can repurpose this for your headline.
An example: when thinking about this blog post, my topic sentence was:
To provide an informative, useful, and easy to follow guide to the writing process.
So now it’s time to do the writing. I always think of this time as rough draft time. It takes the pressure off. Another trick I use? I am not allowed to stop until my first draft is done. No coffee breaks, no phone calls, no email, and no bathroom breaks (unless it’s a true emergency).
I suggest you start the process by organizing your thoughts. Use headers as a guide.
An example: I knew my five steps before starting this post. It helped me corral my thoughts and be more effective. Plus I write faster when I already know my main points and structure.
This is where you’re going to spend the most of your time. Writing is time consuming, but revisions are legendary. So where to begin?
This is the time to take a good, hard look at what you’ve produced. Is part of it funny but the rest professional? That is going to confuse readers. Did you use jargon but forget to define it? Is it too long and nobody will get through it without losing interest? Is it too short and you didn’t get your point across? Do what you need to do in order to rework it, even rewriting parts if necessary.
An example: See the paragraph directly above this? Where I ask 4 questions in a row? It used to be 7. Way too many. I took some out and reworked the others to include everything I wanted to say.
The difference between revisions and editing is now you’re not changing the content, you’re perfecting your grammar, syntax, and word choice.
This is the stage where reading out loud to yourself is extremely helpful. You’ll catch weird flow, and if you use the same word too many times. You may even catch a stray comma that doesn’t belong.
Occasionally during this stage I’ll print out what I’m working on and read it off-screen. That’s usually for longer pieces, but it can be effective for catching mistakes.
And anyone who has previously read my posts knows I’m a huge proponent of the 24/48 hour rule. What is that you ask?
After I’m done pre-writing, writing, revising, and editing, I sit on my post. Not literally, but I close my word doc and I don’t open it for 24 hours. At that time I read the post again. If necessary, I rinse and repeat steps revising and editing.
If I’ve got the time, I wait another 24 hours and rinse and repeat again.
An example: I caught 2 grammar mistakes by reading out loud. I used to instead of too. And the second is too embarrassing to share.
Congrats! You get to put all that hard work into the world for everyone to read. Or perhaps just 2-3 people, depending on who it’s going to.
If it’s a blog post, format it to the blog.
If it’s a newsletter, drop it into whatever e-mail marketing tool you use. MailChimp, Constant Contact, whoever.
If it’s a press release, make sure you know how those are supposed to be formatted and then submit it.
An example: You’re reading this, aren’t you?
This 5 step process is the one I use and the one I advocate. Is it too much for you? Did I just scare the bejesus out of you with too many steps? Do you have a process you use that works for you? I’d love to hear about it.
Think about the last book you read. Unless you’re into picture books, it probably had long blocks of text. Now imagine those same blocks of text on the web. Did you just shudder?
Writing for the web is much different than print. I like to think of it as the difference between what you expect picking up a book vs. a magazine. There’s a reason there is only one New Yorker.
The secret to writing online copy that is commanding and effective is knowing the tricks:
- Split it up. Avoid large blocks of text. Break up your message with lists, bullets, headers, white space, pictures, videos, etc. The easier your content is on the eye, the longer your visitors will stay.
- Keep it short. Unless you have the storytelling talent of Dooce, the rule is to use as few words as possible. If you need to explain something in detail, link to it. That way people will be able to find the information they need without their eyes starting to bleed.
- Only make promises you can keep. There is so much content on the web that makes ridiculous promises. Use engaging, compelling headlines, but make sure you deliver.
- SEO Optimize. Write for the web in a smart way. Use keywords whenever possible, incorporating them in a discreetly.
- Tell a story. Since there is so much content out there, one great way to hold attention spans is to tell a story. It’s not always appropriate, but when used, it’s very effective.
What are your tricks for writing for the web? Do you have a formula that works for you?