I read an article this week titled, “Creative Ideas for Writing Content” where the author listed a couple of lofty ideas to help his readers do one thing, write better. Unfortunately, the article could have been summed up by saying, “be more creative you boring dolt.” But that never works. Telling someone to think about the ocean differently doesn’t conjure inspiration.
To be fair, it’s hard to give advice about how to write better content and I’m somewhat reluctant to do so myself. Besides, I’m not always producing outstanding copy every time I sit down and write. I have dozens of Word files that were never turned in because I felt they were poor quality.
Despite those set backs, I do have tips that I have learned and use to help me write the type of content that I’m impressed with. And I’m confident they will help you.
Reading out loud to yourself is one of the most important tools you have for producing quality content. It’s about hearing with your ears and not with your brain. For what ever reason, fragmented and choppy sentences somehow sound like they make sense in your head; but when read aloud, will help you catch the mistake that’s making it sound awkward.
I also use this technique to break some rules. This will make some of you grammar police cringe, but I tend to write for the way something sounds rather than how grammatically correct it is. Content can be structured correctly with regards to grammar, but read like nails on a chalk board. But copy that is pleasing to the ear can get away with breaking the rules because it doesn’t cause the reader to stop and think about the sentence. Creating the proper flow and voice is all about the sound of the words as you read them together, even if your audience doesn’t read aloud themselves.
Keep your content clear and concise. There is a time and place to write like Faulkner, but that typically isn’t in an online article or on a webpage. In all of my creative writing classes at school I was told not to use ten words if I could adequately describe my subject in six. I have trouble writing this way sometimes, my brain tells me people would love to read large and obscure words. But, unless it’s done sparingly it becomes a burden for the reader.
Don’t be confused by this tip, I don’t necessarily mean you have to write short paragraphs with as little total written content as possible. Rather, avoid lengthy descriptions where you attempt to use as many large adjectives as you can muster. Also, eliminate useless words like “very” or “really,” telling me something is “very beautiful” adds nothing to your description.
What is the right amount of content? That’s a tough call to make and differs with each project or post. I came across an article by Robert Niles that addresses this issue with the best solution;
Once readers have made the decision to stick with something, many readers will stick with rewarding content for a long time. For years, I’ve been telling people at conferences that it’s ridiculous to assign short attention spans to a generation that will read 800-page “Harry Potter” books cover-to-cover.
The challenge for a writer, filmmaker or application developer is to engage readers’ interest in that short moment the reader gives you before deciding to move on to something else. If you can grab attention in that moment, you have the opportunity to keep the reader with you indefinitely, based only upon your ability to hold that reader’s thoughts. – OJR
If you’ve been working on the same sentence or paragraph for the last forty-five minutes without any success, take a break. Get non-work related stimulus, watch some silly videos online or play flash games for fifteen minutes. After a bit of fun, look back over your copy and you’ll be amazed at the fresh new ideas.
This doesn’t always work for me, so I use a slightly different technique. Don Draper from the TV show Mad Men (yes I have a man crush on him) gave this advice to one of the other characters, “concentrate and think very hard about the copy, and then stop and let it go. Think about other things and the answer will come to you.”
I’ve used this technique with this article. I wasn’t sure what exactly I was going to say after the first few paragraphs. So, after thinking about it for thirty minutes I got up and took my dog for a walk and the idea for the rest of the article came to me randomly.
Be careful though; don’t let yourself become so distracted that you never return to writing altogether. Also, don’t use this idea as another excuse for procrastination. You have to put a fair amount of effort into what you’re writing before you use this technique. If you’ve only brain stormed about what you need to write, do not stop! Put pen to paper or your fingers to the keyboard and write! Notice I said I used the “Don Draper technique” after I had written the first few paragraphs and had been sitting, thinking of what to write next.
Alright, this is a bit vague and is kind of like saying “be more creative,” but other authors are incredibly influential.
The problem is we don’t read enough truly inspiring or quality pieces of literature on a regular basis. Even for myself, I think it’s been at least three weeks since I had some real reading time. Keep in mind the difference between literature that is pure entertainment and the literature that pulls at your heart or makes your skin tingle from a deeper connection and understanding. There is nothing wrong with The Davinci Code, but it’s hardly a style of writing you ever want to emulate.
Writing is a tool like any other in your tool-belt; it requires practice and understanding of the craft to produce worth while content.
This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart since it's a large part of what I do. And even though copy concerns nearly everyone, it hardly gets the attention required for clear, concise and meaningful content. It's easy to get into this "churn and burn" mentality with work, where projects need to be completed before the deadline and the copy is left to the last minute. After all, it's just a few sentences or paragraphs used to introduce a company, describe a product and fill up the blank spaces...right?