Need to write blog articles, but don’t know where to start? Is the fear of a blank page coming back to haunt you from your student days? Here is how developing a writing method can become your best friend.
WRITING FOR THE WEB: MYTH AND METHOD
In the collective unconscious, the image of a copywriter is similar to that of a writer. It goes something like this: a gifted individual retreats from the outside world to “write”. He (or she) rises at a leisurely hour each morning, after a restful night’s sleep. If inspiration does not strike, he goes on long walks in the countryside until it returns. After a day or two, he settles down at his vintage writing desk with fountain pen in hand and a beautiful leather-bound notebook before him. Here, he is consumed by a passion to write that lasts for hours on end, forgetting even to eat.
A number of years spent in digital copywriting have taught me one thing if nothing else: reality is far different, and it’s just as well!
ESTABLISHING A METHOD
“Hold The Vision. Trust The Process.” Highly inspiring quote (Pinterest). Or “One Process to write them all” (Dark Writer).
Writing for the web is a very pragmatic business, whether it’s writing news articles, product descriptions, advertisements, or social network content. Developing a working method, and an analysis and writing process, has enabled me to meet the requirements of many jobs. It has saved my life when I’ve had to “find the inspiration” to “knock out” urgent jobs, such as sixty or so product descriptions related to household linen (a subject that I was of course very interested in at the time), promotional articles about footbridges for factory roofs, or AdWords advertisements.
The following process is general in nature and can be applied to most types of writing jobs. It may provide you with ideas to create and hone your own process. Don’t worry about inspiration – you will find it along the way.
STEP 1: PRIOR ANALYSIS
Here, we use journalistic techniques to prepare our field of investigation.
A few pointers:
- Remember the five Ws (Who, What, Where, When and Why) to answer the basic questions and gain a global vision of the subject.
- Among other things, you need to define the topic, the aim and the tone of writing.
- Seek out inspiration! Research the subject, including the products and competitors.
STEP 2: DEFINE A WRITING PLAN
According to the type of content to be produced, the plan may be chosen for you (product descriptions or advertisements), or you may have more freedom (blog article). In the latter case, I like to define an outline first, which will serve as a framework and guide when writing.
STEP 3: WRITE!
This is where the fun begins. Get writing, even if the quality is poor, without worrying about spelling or grammar mistakes. Just go for it! Nobody is reading now anyway. Produce a draft: get your ideas on paper or in your word processor of choice.
Tip: if the blank page is putting you off at this stage, you may be lacking material. If so, you should pursue your preliminary research further.
STEP 4: HAVE A TEA BREAK
The idea here is to leave what you have written for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. Ideally, you should give it an hour or two, or even a whole day if possible. You should allow yourself ten or fifteen minutes at least. At this stage, you will sometimes find that the amazing idea you just had wasn’t so great after all. While this may be frustrating, you can now get back on the right track.
STEP 5: REVIEW WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN
In her book Everybody Writes, Ann Handley recommends making corrections in two phases. First, edit and revise with broad strokes. Then, work on the details, including spelling and style.
STEP 6: HAVE SOMEONE READ YOUR WORK
Ask another person, whose writing, grammar and spelling abilities you can count on, to read what you have written. This is known as proofreading. Your ego may push back against comments from someone who hasn’t put as much effort as you did in writing “your” content. Take note and make the necessary corrections.
STEP 7: PUBLICATION
Now comes the eagerly awaited or dreaded moment. You can now publish your content online and perhaps ask the client to proofread it. Make sure that everything is in order (including pictures, links, file sizes, tags, etc.).
A FEW FINAL TIPS
What about natural referencing?
When writing a blog article, for example, I perform SEO after the writing stage, during step 5. While I research keywords and their potential before beginning, and I do keep search engines in mind, I write for people first and foremost. Trying to write with the “right” keywords in the “right” places from the start can slow you down. I then make sure that other on-page optimisations have been respected when publishing online.
How to further improve your writing?
Try following this process and then developing your own. You can also read books about writing for the web or writing in general. While it might be easier said than done, practise as much as you can. Like Matt Cutts (former SEO expert at Google), you could try a 30-day challenge and try to write for half an hour every day for a month. Practise is the key to really making progress.
Digital Marketing consultant – SQLI