Will You Just Write It Already? An Easy Approach to Writing Great Web Content

Photo by SterlicLet’s assume you finally believe that, to grow your consulting business, you need to write something.  An article, blog post or, an article as a blog post.

But you’re struggling, because  it’s hard to do, right? You’re staring at a blank screen, you’re checking your  email, you’re playing Words With Friends. You’re Googling, “how to write consulting blog posts…”

Stop it. Stop procrastinating. Stop wringing your hands. And stop playing games. Just go back to your desk and write it. I had an editor who would often tell me, “We’re not doing heart transplants here. Just write the damn thing.”

And he was right. It’s not that difficult. And unless you’re in cardiology, lives are not on the line. Just relax and get it done.

Here’s a process for doing it every time that works for us:

Attack the Page with Bullets

The idea of having to write anything for an audience can produce anxiety. “Is this going to be terrible? Will I ever finish it? I’ve read things on similar topics and they’re way better than what I can do.”

All writers have a Greek chorus in their heads more or less screeching this same song. Overcoming doubt, uncertainty, and your own insecurities is actually part of the writing process for many people.

But like I said before, we’re just writing a blog post — a small thing that can be easily changed — and furthermore, we’re just in the idea generation stage. So there is no reason for anxiety right now.

Your first task: take a sheet of paper, or open up a Word document, or open your blog editor, and just start making a bullet list. A list populated with your ideas. Not your ideas for how your blog post will look. I mean, literally, your ideas.

List points of information, observations from consulting engagements or, things that just drive you crazy.  It can look as simple as this:

Blog Post for Monday on Meetings

  • I hate meetings.
  • I especially hate meetings where I don’t know the agenda before I show up.  Most people agree with me (I think)
  • Meetings should have an ebb and flow and be collaborative
  • No meetings should be held without a clear objective
  • Meetings without actionable next steps are announcements.  Email can be used for that
  • It would be better if all meetings had very short agendas that were stuck to.

Refine, Reorganize, Rewrite

Next, take your list and start arranging your ideas in a hierarchy. Which bullet points are topic sentences for a paragraph, and which bullet points are actually supporting statements, or something else entirely?

After you’ve arranged your bullet list in a hierarchy, you have basically a sentence outline of your entire blog post. Here’s where you just take those individual sentences and turn them into a cohesive draft. Just read what you’ve already jotted down and start typing it up in paragraph form. As you go along, sentences will occur to you. Others  you’ll read from your outline and reject on the fly. It’s a little bit of voodoo, and a little bit of “This seems too easy.”

Using the previous example, let’s assume we decided to make this informative blog post about best practices for meetings.  Here’s a quick refinement:

  • Lede – Some snarky commentary about how I dread meetings that I know will be unproductive.  Transition with “here are some best practices to keep everybody happy and productive”
  • Best Practice 1 – Define an agenda and the intended outcomes beforehand.
  • Best Practice 2 – Make sure attendees receive said agenda/outcomes well in advance.
  • Best Practice 3 – Don’t just present, make the meeting collaborative.
  • Best Practice 4 – Make sure everybody is in agreement on next steps/action items.
  • Best Practice 5 – End the meeting when you’ve accomplished your objectives, don’t feel compelled to use the whole time slot.
  • Wrap it up in a bow with a sentence or two

Add anecdotes, quotes, or any other insights from your consulting experience to each section.  That’s what makes content authoritative.

Your goal is to get to the end. To produce, in the words of author Anne LaMott, “a shitty first draft.” Keep going til you get to the end.

How do you know you’ve reached the end? Again, it’s a little bit voodoo. You’re at the end when you’ve elucidated your main points, and said something that either 1) sums it all up or 2) just kind of seems “final.” You’ll know.

Edit Before You Hit “Publish”

Read your post aloud. If you know someone who will kindly indulge you for a few minutes, read the post to that person. If you can’t count on who you’re reading it to for an honest appraisal, trust your ears. You’ll hear when you’ve written something that clangs. Go back and fix it.

If you don’t know where to start editing, challenge yourself this way: Try to eliminate half the words in your blog post. Can you do it? Can you get close? When people are reading online, especially if they’re reading a consultant’s blog post, the’re not looking for “Anna Karenina.” They want useful information, a lively read, and they don’t want to spend too much time. If you can cut half of what you said, it means that your draft was droning on and you just saved yourself from boring your readers.

Let it Go

You’ve written a blog post. It’s done. The thing is on the page and it’s live on the web. You see something about it you hadn’t noticed before and it’s driving you nuts. Go ahead and change it, but don’t fall into a trap. If you let yourself, you can tweak it forever and still never be satisfied. Remember, you’re looking for success, not perfection. At some point you’re going to have to move on. (Did you see our post on grass seed?  It wasn’t our best.  But you know what, our readership continues to go up about 40% per month.) 

Just keep moving.  The more you write the better you’ll get.

A Final Thought

This isn’t a creative writing seminar. You’re not going to be judged by a bunch of comparative lit graduate students. The important thing is that you have appropriately (but not impossibly) high standards for yourself, and you get it done.

And with that, I’ll make a note to revisit this article next month to scan for silly words I may have used.  Like “elucidated”.

3 Comments Will You Just Write It Already? An Easy Approach to Writing Great Web Content

  1. Mary Beth Debus

    Good article Dan! But you stole one of my topics for my upcoming blog that you and Jason are helping to create the “space” for me to blog from!

    🙂

    (Meetings, that is – not how to write.)

    Mary Beth

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