You’re probably thinking at this point, ‘I might stop reading this article because it’s going to be full of cheap Top Gun references in an effort to disguise bland tidbits of content writing advice – like, “make sure you know your audience”’. I’ve also already started talking to myself, which I’m sure is a deterrent as it breaks content writing rules – I’m narcissistic though.
But, as Commander Stinger probably wouldn’t say, fiddlesticks to that. Keep reading, this isn’t going to be the usual vanilla spill of loosely helpful tish (I’m aware that’s an invented word). It isn’t even going to be directly relevant to you if you’re looking for a simple guide on how to write your brand or client’s content. It’ll be more didactic than that.
What I’m going to do is seduce you with the hot and dark side of ‘writing’. Perhaps not completely, but you’ll appreciate its sexy je ne sais quoi… And no, there isn’t going to be some kind of linguistic fighter plane showboating.
Writing shouldn’t be a chore – storytelling is a natural aspect to every human’s conscience. It’s how we rationalize and justify our place in the Universe and predates language as a vehicle of education. But on top of that, it’s also pretty fun to string together some words and have people entertained or informed by it.
Am I a writer? Everyone’s a writer. If you’ve got Facebook, emailed a friend, or have a Tinder profile, you’ve formulated some pattern of wordsmithery to express a message. What’s more, in each of those examples, one of the most important aspects to writing is present – using your own voice. So, let’s make this listicle rank and have that as the first obligatory optimized H2 point to my shareable content…
Use Your Own Voice When Writing Content
Ironically, you may have noticed that I didn’t use my own voice for that sub-heading. Shameless, but I’m adapting to the Internet’s current governance of expression. Don’t worry, the rest of them won’t be so obviously SEO focused.
Good writing, particularly when it comes to digital content, should be hardly recognizable in perception as any different to a verbal conversation. Yes, I do talk like this – get in touch and converse with the blonde Patrick Bateman…
But seriously, if you want to express yourself, all you need to do is type it out exactly as you would say it. Worrying about sentence structure, how it reads, SEO aspects – these are all things that can come after the bulk of the article is written. If you’re having a friendly conversation with someone, you aren’t going to be sitting there cognitively planning every word and subsequent sound that rolls out of your tooth cave, are you?
So first and foremost, sit down, let go, and allow your fingers the pleasure of a conversation – space filler words, grammatical errors and rambling can be cut down later. You may have read elsewhere that “you should use an active voice when writing.” Well this is the same thing, but without feeling like you’re sitting on the corner of some large content writing text book.
Disclaimer: If you’re screwing up your nose at the advice to ‘write as you speak’ because the way you speak would not read well, you may like to consider the way you speak as the problem.
This is a tough one to explain, but a lot of people try too hard to ‘write’. Like writing itself is an unnatural exertion that requires strenuous amounts of brainpower. This is a self-imposed and torturous inaccuracy – writing is simply letting go.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “writing is easy, all you have to do is bleed onto the typewriter.” It’s dramatic and I’m paraphrasing, but the essence of the message is true. Like my first point about using your own voice, if you try too hard to write rather than communicate, the message itself is lost. The content becomes a stiff rod jamming the cogs of your audience’s comprehension.
Writing well, or like a Top Gun, really isn’t ‘writing’ at all. If you break down the incorrect axiom that it takes a huge level of concentration, half the battle is over. Editing, another large part of the battle, is where things can get tough. But that’s a dog-fight we can tackle on another day…
Be Maverick, Not Iceman
This could be borderline sacrilege, but Maverick is the greatest and Iceman is a jellyfish. If I were a marketing manager looking to hire a content writer and the two candidates were Maverick and Iceman, I would choose Maverick and send Iceman back to wet-nurse with his mother. Why? Good writers (and good writing alike) have character, courage, charisma, and a bit of spice. You could argue that the Iceman possesses those qualities…let’s not argue, you’re wrong and he’s got nothing on the guy whose ego writes cheques his body can’t cash.
Don’t be afraid. Be bold. Be dangerous. Communicate like you don’t care about how it’s done, but more about that your message is received. This lax in focused conformity is another thing that some clever-cookies may say is detrimental to the end piece of writing – again, editing is still to come you overzealous clones.
Read, Read, Read
If you want to develop yourself as a writer, one of the most important things you should be doing is reading. In fact, if you want to become good at anything, including flying fighter planes, you should constantly be observing how the pros do it. Am I right or am I right?
Reading a wide range of texts, with variety in subject matter, form and authorship, will arm you with all that you need to become a fluid and engaging writer. Vocabulary, style, inspiration, confidence – they’re all easily attainable within the pages of any published work. The more you read, the more you’ll find the words dribble themselves onto the page or screen with ease.
Now, some novelists do this thing where they’ll stop reading while they’re writing a book – this is to avoid contaminating their unique style. But you aren’t a novelist and writing digital content isn’t about winning Nobel Prizes. So just read and naturally emulate the writers you enjoy.
I’m going to break conventional listicle formatting and insert this little bit here entirely in H2, just because sticking to the rules is lame. Woo! I’m a reckless apostate of digital marketing customs. I feel the need for speed.
We’ve covered 4 points of relatively straightforward advice that seem to make sense and are probably written in a lot of other places. Let’s get a bit sensational…
Listen to Some Music
Like I said earlier, needing utter concentration to do your writing is nonsense. Some people may prefer the silence, but having a little mental distraction can be good. It’s kind of like you’re using the music to distract the left side of your brain (the side that inflicts logical analysis), while the right side can get on with streaming torrents of awesome wordplay (my scientific understanding of neurology is sub-par at best). I could get into the minutia of what music types provide the best beats and syncopation to deliver different tones of writing and sentence pace…but I won’t for now. Just know that the type of music can influence how you write.
It’s also been proven that music enhances mood and therefore increases productivity. So put on some headphones and ride the highway to the danger zone. I personally like listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Just kidding. That would be weird. I listen to the Top Gun soundtrack, obviously.
Fly Your F-14 Tomcat in a Slouched Position
Gone are the days of retina burning close-proximity focus on a computer screen. We Top Guns write with lazy majesty and confidence. We sit postured in whatever way is suitable for us personally…
This is a ridiculous way of saying, get comfortable and don’t make it a strain on your body. The concurrent connection between your physical and mental self is so intertwined that while it may not even be recognizable to you, sitting in a rigid and unnatural position will force you to think in a rigid and unnatural way. And your writing will reflect that.
I’m not trying to encourage poor posture and there’s plenty of science around how sitting (or standing) in different positions can impact your brain for the better. But, if you aren’t going to deep dive into research of that kind, making yourself comfortable, breathing freely and tricking your body into not giving a damn about what you’re writing is the best way to get the job done.
Forget Your Training
Not the training in this article, if you can call it that. I mean forget the long, dry lessons in high school. The essays returned with red crosses and feedback derived from the ideals of cave dwelling 1750’s British Grammarians. Punctuation, grammar, language choice – they all have their place in guiding your reader through your message and helping them to understand its overall communication. But when it comes to the raw essence of writing, don’t let the train tracks of ‘correct form’ dictate your expression. It can be stifling and even claustrophobic feeling like you need to produce sentences in a certain way. If you want to pull a barrel roll – do it.
Remember the kids at the front of class who shot their hands up at every chance and wrote flawlessly boring sentences about the cat on the mat? Their handwriting was perfect, knew all the answers, told the teacher on you, homework done, all T’s crossed and I’s dotted, University degree completed at the age of 7, IQ 300, never used more than two commas in a sentence and probably unhappy with this relatively protracted monolith of a sentence. What’s up, your style is that of a wet towel.
Writing at high school, and even some tertiary academic writing, is…how shall I put this – vapid. So don’t let the straight jacket of what you’ve been taught as ‘right’ continue to confine you. Just do it your way – it’s guaranteed to be a much more interesting read.
Kind of like my point about listening to music – but to the next level. If you’re able to sit for an inordinate amount of time and plug out one perfectly worded strain of writing that’s long enough to be labeled an article – congratulations, you’re neurotic.
It’s good to get up and do different things while you’re trying to hammer out a piece of writing. The whole process may take longer, but the end product will be better and it will be a far more enjoyable experience. Don’t chain yourself to a keyboard and fix your eyes to the screen. Something you might like to try is writing 200 words or so at a time, and in between writing periods, move to a new spot and read up on the subject matter you’re writing about. It’s a good way to keep the energy flowing while bolstering your knowledge.
On the other hand, some people find distraction an uncontrollable affliction. If that’s the case, then there are a couple of neat apps which will put a digitally metaphorical gun to your head and force you to concentrate:
The Most Dangerous Writing App – an online app which allows you to set a timer for how long you want to write. Here’s the catch – if you stop writing for a few seconds, it begins to delete your work. Rest assured if you hit your mark you can save the work you’ve completed.
Write or Die – an online app which allows you to set parameters on ideal writing time and wordcount. There’s a bunch of different settings – like ‘consequence’ mode – which I’ll let you play with. But the cool thing is you can save your work at any time regardless of whether you meet your goal or not.
Flowstate – Similar to ‘The Most Dangerous Writing App’, Flowstate will delete your work if you stop writing for more than 5 seconds. At AU$15 for the OSX version and AU$8 for iOS, it’s a pricey remedy for content writing ADHD – but it works.
Not literally, obviously. What I mean is add some oomph to what you’re trying to say. Even if your subject matter is the most bland, uninteresting, and grey topic in the world – give it a blade. That doesn’t mean to say that everything you write should be aggressive, but it should evoke something in your audience. You might be thinking, “Well that’s impossible considering I write about washing dishes…” You’re wrong – you actually write about ‘underwater ceramic engineering’.
The energy in the writing, the passion and the angle, come from the writer, not the subject matter. Anything can be made to seem engaging, all you need to do is apply your personality (fake or real).
Act – The Last Resort
This is probably one of the best pieces of advice and it contradicts most of what’s already been said – it’s a last resort if all else fails. It’s not advice I’ve ever been given, nor ever heard given, but it’s something which I often do and it may work for you. I pretend to be someone who can write…
A huge part of writing is lacking the confidence in your ability to express. It’s not that you don’t have the vocabulary or the comprehension to do it, the information is all in your head. What stops you is that invisible barrier between your conscience and your fingertips. That tiny but potent bit of unrecognizable fear which rears its ugly head as soon as you see a blank document and wordcount to hit. It’s a mutated and subtle form of stage fright.
Imagine you’re someone else. Someone who’s very well spoken, expresses with clear diction and has genuinely fascinating insights that everyone in the world is begging to read about. Now imagine the voice of that person, how they’re talking, what they’re saying, everything about them…and just type it out. It’s as simple as that. You’re essentially copying the words of an invented character. Like I said, it may not work for everyone, and it might be a tricky thing to get a grasp on. But if all else fails the only thing you can do is fake it ‘til you make it.
All in all, writing really isn’t a complicated thing, but it’s understandable that not everyone agrees. However, if you’re able to implement at least one or two of these points in your future content writing efforts, I guarantee you’ll both enjoy the process more and the end product will be of greater value.
Some of this advice may be considered dangerous by the more right-angled folk. And maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. That’s right Iceman! I am dangerous…