9 Simple Steps to Writing Killer Content
The process of going from idea to blog post, regardless of your writing skills
Writing has nothing to do with magic. In fact, it’s more science than art at times.
If you can write two simple sentences that go together, you can write an article. It’s just a matter of organizing your thoughts and keeping them focused.
I’m not the world’s best writer, but for what it’s worth here’s my 9-step guide to writing killer content for blogs. If you’re having problems putting together clear, coherent work, try them out and see if they help.
1. Track your ideas
The first thing you need to do is get something to help you keep track of your ideas. Buy a notebook. Download an app. Do something.
Keep whatever it is handy. Always. Now and forever. Then, when an idea flashes across your brain-pan, BAM!, write that puppy down.
I use Evernote on my phone and a big notebook I keep by my computer. Once you get in the groove, you’ll come up with more ideas then you’ll ever find time to explore.
2. Test ideas for usefulness
Before grabbing a random idea and running with it, test your idea. Is it your best as-yet-unexplored idea? And will your audience find it useful?
This is where we have to talk about ideal readers. It’s a concept writers have used for ages.
As writers, we don’t write for ourselves. If you do, you can stop reading this article now and start a diary. But if you want other people to read your brain nuggets, start thinking about who those people are.
You don’t need to go overboard on this one. Some fiction writers create fully fleshed-out backstories for their ideal reader. You don’t have to. Just imagine who you want to be on the other side of your conversation and start writing to that person.
Chances are you won’t be far off the mark. People much like your ideal reader will likely be the ones your writing resonates with the most.
Who’s my ideal reader? Hands down, Velma from Scooby-Doo. She’s brainy, she’s brave. And she loves dogs. Plus, she always carries a notebook (see above). She’s perfect!
3. Do some research
Even if you think you know everything about your topic, do some research. Hit Wikipedia to make sure you’ve got your facts straight. Your readers will call you out on it otherwise.
Also, it’s a good idea to know what others have had to say on the same topic before. Google the topic and read the top three blog posts. Do you have something else to say that they’ve neglected to mention? Do you have a fresh perspective? A new interpretation?
Hopefully, you do. But if you don’t, here’s a quick tip. Read the comments. See what other readers have found lacking about each article. Or what questions they’ve asked that still remain unanswered. Then see if that helps you approach the topic from a new direction.
4. Write a killer headline
Whole books have been written on this topic. Some great blog posts, too. You might want to take a minute to read Writing Headlines That Get Results at Copyblogger. They have better advice than I could ever give on the subject.
But I will say this . . .
In fiction workshops, they talk a lot about the promise of the premise. This means that the setup of the story has to leave the reader with certain expectations. You let the reader know what the story is about and give some hints about where the story might go.
Is it a murder mystery in space? Is it a character-driven piece of historical fiction? What is it all about? The reader has to know or else there’s no motivation to read on.
In a novel, you establish the premise in the first chapter. With a short story, you have to do it in the first scene.
With an article, all you get is the headline.
That’s why most killer headlines are variations on:
- How to Win Friends and Influence People, and
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Simple, time-tested formulas that make specific promises to lure in curious readers.
5. Write that first draft
Here’s where you start delivering on the promise of the premise.
Some good advice is to write the first draft without a care in the world. Don’t think of your ideal reader yet, just write for yourself for now. No one else gets to see this version, so it’s okay.
Stephen King advised writing the first draft with the door closed and the second draft with the door open. Ernest Hemingway said write drunk and edit sober. They were both speaking metaphorically and saying pretty much the same thing.
Take your first pass just for yourself. Attack it with reckless abandon. Do it like no one’s watching. Or judging.
And for Pete’s sake, turn off your spellchecker. You’ll have plenty of time to obsess over spelling and grammar later.
Others have likened this step to some of our more noxious bodily functions. I tend not to think that way. But in some sense, there’s a wisdom to it. There’s something in you that just has to come out. So, get it out of you as quick as you can.
You’ll have time enough in the next two steps to worry about:
- dialing back any reckless impulses, and
- cleaning up your writing for the enjoyment of others.
6. The chainsaw edit
I break editing into two major steps, each with varying levels of precision. Level one is for structural matters. My metaphorical tool of choice for this step is the chainsaw.
This is where you:
- cut away unnecessary digressions, and
- move around whole blocks of text to make sure your argument has a logical flow to it.
Imagine you are your ideal reader now. Is this all going to make sense to them?
Start reading aloud here. You’ll catch your mistakes better that way.
7. The scalpel edit
When you’ve got something that looks like it’ll make sense to other people, drop the chainsaw. Now it’s time to use a scalpel. You need to do some refined, delicate surgery here.
This is the stage referred to as line edits in the publishing world. You’re going through your work sentence by sentence, word by word. Are sentences too long? Are you using unnecessary words? Is your spelling atrocious? (It’s okay, I misspelled atrocious in my first draft, so I’m not judging you.)
This is also the point where you turn spellcheck back on. You’re going to need it.
Bonus tip: If you’ve used any words that aren’t in your spellchecker’s dictionary, add them manually. Now!
I didn’t do this for my first article and I ended up using two different spellings of one person’s name. And a reader pointed it out to me. So, hopefully, that’s a mistake I won’t make a second time.
8. Run it through a text-to-speech app
Before you go live, take a moment to have a computer read your story back to you.
Computers have an advantage over human readers. They read the words that are actually on the page. Every time. Humans sometimes don’t.
This is especially true when we’re reading our own work. It’s a peculiarity of the human mind. If we tell ourselves we’re typing one thing and we make a typo in the process, our brains tell us that the typo is right. We can’t see the error that’s staring us in the eye.
Take the time to do this, every time. Newer versions of Microsoft Word have a Read Aloud function under the Revision tab. Or there are lots of free browser extensions that do a decent job of it as well.
9. Publish and move on
Got all your ducks in a row now? Great. Hit publish. Pick the most relevant tags to help people find your work and then find something else to write about.
If you’ve gone through all the steps, you’ve put a fair bit of time and effort into your post. But you’re not writing a book here. Know when you’re done. There’s only so much shine you can put on an apple. Anything else starts to be a waste of effort.
Will this give me 10k claps, likes, shares, recommendations, highlights or followers?
I’m the wrong person to ask about that. In all honesty, I haven’t achieved any of those things. And there’s a chance I never will.
But I know I can write with clarity. It’s a skill I’ve worked on daily for years. And the process above is what I go through every time to make sure my writing stays on point.
By the way, I tend to clap, like, share, recommend, highlight and follow when I read clear, concise content as well. And I imagine many other readers do, too.
Your first step into a larger world?
Not long ago, I took a Jeff Goins webinar. In it, he said having a clear message is the first step toward writing for a living. The very first step. All that other stuff about building an audience? That has to take a backseat. You have to take care of the writing first. There’s no other way around it.
But by staying focused and on-topic, you’re well on your way to creating compelling reads.
Does any of this help?
It works for me. Your mileage may vary. But if you’ve tried applying any of this advice into your writing routine, let me know about it in the comments. How did it go? I’d love to know.
Or take a minute tell us about your ideal reader. How many of you already use that trick? And how varied are the audiences we imagine?