I develop Web content strategies for my clients, and write some of their initial content myself. However, sooner or later it’s time to turn content development over to subject matter experts (SMEs) within the company.
While these people are experts, they don’t have much writing experience, so they’re always shocked when they have problems. They don’t realize that every writer has problems. Professional writers have methods to eliminate their problems, or to work through them.
No matter how much you’ve written before, each piece of writing is unique and starts with a blank page.
These five ways will help you to deal with the blank page, as well as with problems at any time.
1. Get clear: if you don’t understand it you can’t write it
Writing tends to morph, because our brain works via associations.
Let’s say you’re writing about a new development in your industry. You learned about this development at a conference. Before you know it, you’ve written two pages about the conference itself.
Your boss reminds you that you’re supposed to be writing about the development…
You can avoid going off on tangents. Your first step when you’re working on a new writing project, or if you’re stuck on a project, is to describe it.
In a paragraph of five sentences or less, describe what you’re about to write, or have written.
Is it clear to you? If it isn’t, go back to the person who gave you the project and ask him to explain. If it’s your own project think about what your goal is, and why you’re writing.
2. Who’s it for?
Who’s the audience for that piece of writing?
Imagine one person from your target audience as clearly as you can. Pretend you’re speaking to this person about the topic. Keep this person in mind as you write.
If you’re still stuck, imagine you’re sending an email message to this person. Start your message with Dear Bob, what I want to tell you is … and then go ahead and write.
This sounds like a silly psychological trick, and is, but it works.
3. What’s the call to action?
So what’s the call to action? If the writing is purely informative, give the reader a way in which they can use the information.
If you want the reader to do something, ask him to do it. Be straightforward, and say: buy now, click here, call us…
4. Use mind maps as outlines
If you’re creating new piece of writing, create a simple mind map of what you intend to include before you start writing. This helps you with structure, and because you’re looking at a visual representation, it will also help you to develop ideas.
A mind map is even more useful if you’ve written something and it has problems. Just mind map what you have. Occasionally you’ll be shocked. You’ll see immediately where there are holes in your logic, and where you need more information. You’ll also see where you’ve gone off on tangents.
4. What else is needed?
Even if you’re writing something from your own experience, you’ll need to research.
Researching can be a wonderful way to put off writing, therefore I ask my writing students not to research until they’ve written a first draft.
Once you’ve written a draft you know exactly what you need to research. If you research before you write, you can research forever. You’re just procrastinating.
“Research” sounds complicated. It’s not. It’s talking to people or reading what you need to read so that you can understand your topic and can write clearly.
Everyone has writing problems. If you follow the tips above, you can solve them quickly.