When you spend 18 years (or so) writing words for a living, you tend to come to a few conclusions about how the process works. Usually over a coffee. In a Starbucks. When your laptop battery has just died.
So what follows are 10 things that I wish I’d known when I was first starting out. Life would have been a lot easier…
1. Personal deadlines matter
Deadlines give you something to work towards. They give you a fixed goal and force you to make the most of your time. If you set expectations for producing content on your website (i.e. publishing every day) then setting yourself achievable deadlines will enable you to structure your writing.
2. You won’t always hit your deadlines
Deadlines set by other people are difficult to miss. You’re letting somebody down if you don’t deliver what you promised on the day that they need it. Your own self-imposed deadlines are another matter. It’s easy to let them slide, to moan that you’re “too busy” or “don’t have enough time” to get the writing done. You won’t always hit your deadlines. But don’t let a sense of perfectionism hold you back.
“Perfect is preferable, but good is good enough.”
3. Good enough is better than perfect
Many writers are held back by their built-in quality control. I’ve often polished and re-polished paragraphs to make them read better. I’ve often junked whole introductions in favour of a different approach. Sometimes, what you end up with IS actually better. But typically it’s no better (or worse) than what you started with. In the interests of getting your writing done, articles don’t need to be a work of genius. Perfect is preferable, but good is good enough.
4. There’s no right way to write
Some people write in the morning, others in the afternoon. Some write in the first person, others do their best to avoid it. Some self-edit as they write, others brain dump a messy first draft and edit it afterwards. Some favour news and reviews, others swear by the power of interviews or comparison pieces…
Some write with all the grammar-correcting, spell-checking power of Microsoft Word, others revel in the minimalism of notepad or IA Writer. Some write to music, others crave the focus of almost-silence. There’s no BEST way to write. Do what works for you.
“You don’t need to study the mysteries of SEO to get your content found.”
5. Inspiration strikes at the weirdest times
When I was younger, I used to keep a notepad by the side of the bed, just in case I woke up with the spark of an idea or an opening sentence to an article I was writing. Now I carry an iPhone and tap notes into Evernote or the Plain Text app because inspiration can strike any time and anywhere – on the bus, in the bathroom, walking to the shops. You’ve just got to be ready to catch it.
6. You don’t need to be an expert in SEO
Everyone who writes for the web will, at some point, think they don’t know enough about SEO. I’ve been there. Worse still, SEO isn’t a static business and it always seems like there’s something new to learn. But you don’t need to keep up with the subtle changes.
You don’t need to study the mysteries of SEO to get your content found. A simple keyword strategy, intelligent keyword placement and GOOD content that people will want to read and share will ultimately see you through. Yes. You can game the system… But driving traffic to a website without good content is like leading Yogi bear to an empty picnik basket…
“Bad content can also be found. But it will rarely be shared, liked or commented on…”
7. Good content will always be found
If you write ‘good content’ that’s original, genuinely interesting/helpful and optimized for search, then people will eventually find it. And if it’s good enough, those people that find it will share it with their online networks, giving it extra exposure. True, bad content can also be found. But it will rarely be shared, liked or commented on.
8. Good content can work in two ways
It’s often easy to lose sight of the fact that content needs to work for your readers first, you second. Yes, you want them to click on an ad, buy a product, or opt in to a mailing list. But that’s not necessarily what your reader wants from the page. The key to good content is satisfying both needs – the reader’s desire for information and your call to action.
“When I write, I probably spend more time researching than banging out the words.”
9. Don’t skimp on the research
Writing isn’t the hard part of creating content. Research is. Your research IS your content. The way you write it is the packaging. So don’t skimp on the research phase. Be thorough and double-check your facts, names, products and places for accuracy. When I write, I probably spend more time researching than banging out the words. Your research will give you a structure that you can work from, a strong chassis for your content that you can build upon.
10. Put some personality into it
One of the key components of good content is originality or uniqueness. You are unique. You are different. So put some of what you are into your writing. Don’t hide behind formal copy. Unless that’s what your readers expect. Try to stand out from the crowd by playing to your strengths. Be yourself. Don’t try to be a second-rate knock-off of somebody else. Not everybody will like you. Not everybody will get you. But you can’t please everybody, right?