From idea to publication: 7 tips for brainstorming, editing, and publishing your story
Getting writer’s block? Here are my strategies for coming up a piece, scoping it down, and getting it ready for prime time
I have the privilege of making a living as a storyteller — and I can’t imagine anything better than that. As much as I love telling stories about being a writer in tech, I also want to empower other folks to feel confident in telling their story. This is why I give regular webinars on storytelling and personal branding, do mock interviews with early-in-career professionals who are trying to land their dream jobs, and work with entrepreneurs to create high-value content for their audience and share their authentic story.
I often meet with folks who want to share their story, whether it’s about their company or career path, and they don’t know where to start. This article is a crash course in writing stories, and it’s beginner-friendly!
Without further ago, let’s get started.
Before you start writing your story, you want to ensure that you scope it. Here are a few things you can determine:
Write out the audience, purpose, and call to action of your story.
· Purpose: What’s the goal of the story? A story can be used to educate your audience on a topic, inspire them to think differently, or influence others to give you the resources that you need.
· Audience: Who are you writing for? Always have a target audience in mind. In my case, my webinars on storytelling and personal branding are geared toward early-in-career professionals and entrepreneurs who want to build their online presence, but don’t know where to start. It’s also helpful for folks who are pivoting and need to reframe their skills or experiences to align with the jobs that they want.
· Call to Action: What do you want people to do with your story? If you’re an entrepreneur, the goal could be to prompt your audience to buy your product or attend your webinar. If you’re an early-in-career professional, you might be driving traffic to your portfolio so people can learn about past projects and potentially hire you.
💡 Try this: Set a timer for 10 minutes and identify your audience, purpose, and call to action. By the end, you should be able to fill in the following prompts:
· The purpose of my story is to ________.
· My story caters to _________.
· By the end of the story, I want my audience to _________
Once you have a sense of the story you want to tell and who it’s for, you’re ready to start drafting!
Identify the existing content in your space, also known as a competitive analysis.
Research articles, news stories, or social media posts that cover your topic. Ask yourself, “how am I adding to this conversation?” It’s important to identify your point-of-view, while also grounding yourself in existing research or conversations.
As an example, when I wrote about fasting during COVID-19, I looked up first-person articles from millennials and gen-Z folks who were in the same boat as me, and I saw clear themes of staying connected through digital communities. In my own story, I talked about my experience of going through Ramadan with my girlfriend who isn’t Muslim, and how talking to her about my faith strengthened my own relationship with God.
What I’ve learned while fasting during a global pandemic
Celebrating Ramadan this year is nothing I could have planned for, but I’ve found strength in my community
Get your first draft on paper
In the [paraphrased] words of Aristotle, a project begun is a project half done. Set a timer for 20 minutes and get your ideas on paper, whether it’s an outline or full-fledged draft. Once you have a starting point, it’s much easier to get feedback.
Ensure that you have a strong hook
This is the key to any good journalism story, but it can be applied in any context. You want to transport your audience to that moment in time, whether it’s a conflict, moment of inspiration, or glimpse into who you are as the writer.
Before requesting feedback, identify what you want to improve
Before one of my stories or talks sees the light of your computer screen, I get at least one round of feedback from a trusted friend or editor. Whether I’m sending over a draft for offline edits or setting up a meeting, I often include 2–3 bullet points of things I want to go over. That way, it scopes our conversation, and the other person has a lens they can use to review the story. It’s also a good best practice because it invites you to reflect on where you’d like to improve.
For example, I will ask for feedback on how I can tell the most focused story possible. In our reviews, we identify and delete any content that’s not pertinent to the purpose of the story. This has helped me significantly reduce redundancy and strengthened my writing overall.
💡 Try this: Set up a call with someone you trust, and read the story out loud with them. You can use a text-to-speech reader to identify typos, redundant sections, or opportunities for smoother transitions.
Identify all the visual assets and hyperlinks you want to include
I write out all of the photos, infographics, and impactful quotes that I want to highlight on social media. I also ensure that I have alt text and captions for each one to ensure that your story is accessible!
💡 Try this: Create a list of photos that you want to include, and compile them into a single folder with your captions and alt text descriptions. That way, when you’re ready to publish, you’ll have them all in one place.
Delete anything that’s not pertinent to the story that you’re telling — in writing, we refer to this as “killing your darlings.” Once you have a final draft, revisit your initial “purpose” statement, and delete anything in the story that doesn’t speak to the purpose of the story in some way.
I know that it’s hard to delete a sentence or paragraph that might have taken hours to craft. That’s why I usually keep an overflow document called “Odds and ends,” where I can save the sentences or phrases I didn’t get to use. Oftentimes, I’ll find ways to use them in future articles or stories.
Put your story out into the world: Oftentimes, this is the hardest part. If you’ve gone through the process of crafting a story, it can be scary to hit “publish” or to share it with others. I invite you to put your work out there so you open yourself up to feedback, encouragement, and moments of connection.
Here’s a quick checklist that I use for all of my content:
☑️ Use Grammarly or any other grammar-checking tools to catch any last-minute typos.
☑️ Double check your links and spelling of every person, organization, or product.
☑️ Read the story one more time: I can’t tell you how many typos or broken links I catch in the final draft of publishing, drafting, or iteration.
☑️ Promote your story in relevant outlets, which could be on social media, employee resource groups, or communities you’re a part of.
☑️ Be proud of yourself — you did it!
Every time I’ve published a story or shared a post, I’ve never regretted it. It’s opened me up to new friends, mentors, and conversations with other folks who share aspects of my identity.
I can’t wait to see what stories you tell next! If you use this guide, I would love it if you tagged me so I can let you know what I think!
About the author — Aleenah Ansari is equal parts writer, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart who’s deeply rooted in the stories of people behind code and user interfaces. Outside of her work on blogs and videos at Microsoft, you can find her helping early-in-career professionals and small business owners feel more confident telling stories about their identity and work, dreaming of being a creative director at Spotify, and sharing her favorite murals on Instagram. Learn more about her current projects at http://www.aleenahansari.com/.
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