It’s a sad fact of life.
Sooner or later, everyone has to buck up and write something.
Maybe it’s a bio, a blurb to promote yourself, or an artist statement. If you’re a creative entrepreneur, it’s inevitable. While it’s true that if you’re wading into professional level content writing waters, you really should hire a professional (Ahem! Allow me to introduce myself…). It’s also true there’s a chance that, with a little practice, you can wing it for creating at least some usable copy.
Yes, even you.
What you need, my friend, are my best tips for getting some content on the page.
So, without further ado, here they are:
Put a timer on it.
First of all, stop beating yourself up because you’re not much of a writer. Everybody’s good at something, writing just doesn’t happen to be your bag.
If you need to write something, I’m guessing it means someone wants to hear what you have to say or know more about you. Maybe you have an amazing product or service to offer the world. Fantastic! Focus on that positive fact, and then eliminate all distractions. Silence the TV, shoo your dog outside, go potty, close out Twitter.
Bust out an egg timer, an old school hourglass, or use the stopwatch on your iPhone. Crack your knuckles, and hunker down before your keyboard. Set your timing device for around two minutes.
And start typing.
Type anything and everything about the subject at hand and what you want to say about it that comes into your mind for that two minutes. Sling down disjointed phrases that sound good. Even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if it’s just related words with no connection to each other. Sometimes it will begin to make sense, stop making sense, and then start making sense again. When you feel blank, type “Blah, blah, blah.” No matter what happens, don’t stop writing until time is up.
Once finished, don’t read what you’ve written immediately. Hit save, and then go for a short walk, take a break, make a sandwich.
Once you’ve refreshed, come back and read it over. I can promise you’ll have a few workable sentences (a paragraph…two?!) in there or discover an angle you can expound on. Cull out the good stuff then build on it, repeating the process above until you get a workable draft.
Which brings me to…shitty first drafts.
If you’re going to write a book, by all means, for the love of God, read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. If not, let me boil that bit of brilliance down for you: shitty first drafts are the stock and trade of the professional writer. And the non-professional writer. And everybody else that has ever churned out something decent.
Well, except Rod.
I used to work for a guy named Rod who, when he needed to write a paper, would spend a few days pacing around his office, rubbing his head. Then, suddenly, a few hours before the deadline, he’d sit down with a fountain pen and a yellow legal pad and perfectly constructed, well-crafted sentences would flow onto the paper from his hand.
It was annoying AF.
Let me assure you, my friend, that it doesn’t work that way for me. And it doesn’t happen that way for Anne Lamott. And it certainly isn’t going to work that way for you.
But, if you take my advice? It’s entirely possible that you can leap off the dock in the land of literary doubt, and hop a string of shitty first-draft lily pads all the way to the happy shore of decent copy.
Dear Specific Person,
Sometimes you’ve got the words.
The trouble is, you’ve got all the words. Every word ever to choose from.
How to get your arms around the thing?
You get specific.
Don’t write for a nameless, faceless public. Imagine you’re writing for someone you really love. That person who gets you. Imagine you’re telling your best friend the whole story, complete with inside jokes and personal catch-phrases. Tell them how it feels and what it tastes like. Sure, you’ll have to edit later, but you’ll have to do that anyway. And, with this method, you can stop just sitting there like a potato.
Not only will this construct loosen your literary inhibitions, but your copy will snap, crackle, and pop with personality.
Find and Channel the Expert
Maybe you don’t know how to say what you want to say, but you do know (and maybe regularly read) someone who does know how to say it. And with exactly the kind of aplomb you wish you could muster. Guess what? There are a zillion expert bloggers and writers on the internet in your particular field at your fingertips. Identify a few you admire, then take a deep dive into their writings for, say, an hour.
Are you going to plagiarize their work? Of course not. But reading a bunch of stuff in the style to which you aspire can really help develop your own voice. And you can grab some industry buzz words while you’re at it. Sometimes you can copy an approach or a tone that really elevates your own writing. Get in the rhythm, so to speak.
Immediately after your deep dive, and while you’re still inspired, set your timer and pretend—no really—pretend you are the writer you admire with that confident, polished voice, and pound out a shitty first draft.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Sleep on It
Maybe you’ve churned out drafts until you’re exhausted. You’ve got five paragraphs of…something. It might be good? But you can’t tell anymore because you’re played out, beat, bone dry.
It would be impossible for me to overstate the restorative benefits of a good night’s sleep. Maybe two night’s sleep. I almost never submit anything I’ve written until I’ve re-read it after at least one and, preferably, two, good nights of sleep. Suddenly, typos I missed jump out at me. It becomes ridiculously obvious I need to scrap a paragraph or add a word or switch some sentences around, whereas the day before? I was debating and second guessing it like a drunken noodle.
Sleep….sleeeeeep, my friend. Let the magic of Morpheus restore your judgment and creativity.
Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck.
Then read your content out loud. You’ll be surprised how many small errors and easily correctable clunky bits you can identify by taking this simple final step.
Find a writer (or a reader).
So, you’ve identified and channeled the expert as if you’re talking to your best friend. Pounded and polished many a shitty first draft. Slept, revised, slept again. And, finally, you’ve spell-checked your way to some polished content you feel pretty darn good (maybe even great?) about.
It’s time to get a second opinion.
Most of us have that friend who reads all the time. If you’re really lucky, you know someone (A journalist? A copywriter? Someone in your industry? Your mom?) you can prevail upon to take a look at what you’ve done and give you some feedback.
If what you’ve written is super important or high stakes, you might consider paying a professional to look it over at this stage. It will be much cheaper than if you had hired them to develop the content from scratch and, chances are, if you still have doubts, they may be able to make a few tweaks in a short amount of time or give you the bit of direction you need to help you finish.
But, maybe—juuuuust maybe—you’ll have written something that doesn’t need much, if any, correcting.
You might just write something you absolutely love.
You never know until you try.
So get out there and get started!