Writing rules: Chris’ top tips for writing

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Show Notes:

In this episode Chris shares with you his top tips and rules for writing.


Full Transcription:

Hi there. Welcome back to the Content Marketing Academy Podcast show with your host Chris Marr. In this episode, following on from last episode of blogging, I’d like to share with you some tips to help you improve your writing.

Welcome back squad, welcome back. Following on from the last episode, we talked about blogging, the common mistakes that people are making with blogs. But I think one of the core skill sets required to be a great business owner or a great marketer, an entrepreneur in 2017 is writing. I think writing still plays a massive role in business today. Even though we have other mediums like podcasting, believe it or not, this started as written notes. Even just for this podcast, and video. A lot of video even starts when writing when we’re thinking about scripts and things like that, too.

So, I think writing still plays a massive part in what we do. And I think it’s one of the greatest skills that a marketer can have, and hold and craft and get better at. I think even from an SEO perspective, writing is still highly regarded as far as SEO is concerned, when you’re searching stuff on Google, and you want your articles and your content to appear on the first page, on the top of Google rating is by far still commands a lot of traffic. Even though video obviously, is chasing that too. But writing is still highly regarded.

Perhaps one of the biggest things, the biggest giveaways is that people still read. So, until people stop reading, writing will matter, right? And I think it’s a skill that we have to get better and better as entrepreneurs, as business owners as marketers.

So, let’s get stuck into this. What are the books that I love? I wanted to recommend a book this time. One of the books I love is Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. Ann Handley is one of my favourite people in the world. She is awesome. Check that book out Everybody Writes. Everybody writes is a book about writing for business people and marketers. It’s not a book that you would get in English class or drama class or anything like that. It’s a book to help you improve your writing.

A lot of the themes that I’m going to talk about in this show today, in this episode today are really things I’ve learned from people like Ann and I think even Chris Brogan and people that I’ve looked up to, and looked to for advice in terms of getting better with my own writing as well. In fact, even another book that I’d like to recommend to you as well is Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman. Those two books actually would be two great books for you to pick up. If you haven’t got them on your shelf already, if you haven’t read them already, then do go ahead and get them. I’ll put links to those in the show notes for you.

So, let’s get stuck into the content. Let’s talk about these 10 rules for writing or at least 10 things, these 10 tips that will help you with writing. When I say 10, you know me so far if you’ve been listening to the podcast recently, 10 usually turns into 12 or 13. So, let’s get stuck in. One of the number one tips I think that everyone will benefit from is when you sit down to write, whether you’re doing that on Evernote, or you’re writing by hand, or you’re doing it in your notes application, is that you’re writing for an audience of one. Or the smallest possible audience has been a massive benefit from me in terms of being able to structure writing and just feel like I’m being myself in my writing is writing for one person.

For example, say it’s a common problem or something like that. I can think to myself, even when it’s really important, actually, even for podcasting and even for video when you’re doing any writing or any content at all. Having a smallest possible audience or an audience of one makes it really great for you to just focus in on the problem and deliver a solution. Or focus in on the question and deliver an answer. And having that audience just gives you that context in your head so that you can just really focus and drill down on what content you want to share?

So, having a small audience or even a name, or a person, or someone that you know, even that suffering from that problem or has asked that question, you can just pretend that there they are there right in front of you, and that you’re speaking to that person. So, an audience of one is one of the first things, and I would say is one of the biggest thing that’s worked for me in terms of freight and getting better content.

Number two is another interesting concept, I think, as well. It’s about separating rating from blogging. What I mean by that is that when you sit down to write, you’re not writing a blog, you’re writing. There’s a lot of pressure people put on themselves when they sit down to write a blog, for example. I would write a blog today, and they sit down and they write as if they’re writing the blog, the final thing. But actually, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to write something perfect from the start.

The best thing you can do, and this goes into some of these other tips I’ve got as well, is to get into the habit of writing every day. You just sit down for 20 or 30 minutes or you give yourself a word count every day, and you just write for writing sake. You just write for yourself, for your business, and you just collect stories and ideas and concepts for articles, or for any content really. But you’re just writing as a habit.

What that forces us to do is to just embrace this drafting or a messy period where you’re not really writing to publish, you’re writing in private for you. The outcome of that could be as well be a blogger hopefully further down the line or a few days later, or even at the end of the week. But don’t think about writing in your notes application as writing a blog article.

Sometimes I find with people that can put too much pressure on them, and they go for perfectionism instead of just writing, right? So, separate those two things out. When it comes to actually publishing a blog article, what you’re going to do, is you’re going to take your notes, you’re going to start to edit them down and start taking out all the rubbish that you don’t need and create something that can be published. That’s the editing process. That happens later.

So, don’t edit your work as you go. Write in private, and then you can do the editing later after … Again, we’re going to go into a few of these things, a few of these tips. So that’s number two, write in private, separate blogging from actually writing. Number three is have this daily habit. Now, I know that my best content comes from me when I’m in a daily habit of collecting ideas, collecting notes, collecting ideas and writing. Just generally just sitting down to write. It’s also the best way to improve your writing is to write more.

So, if you’re sitting down, you have this daily habit, daily practice of writing. You’re writing will naturally improve the more that you write. So, daily habit has a knock on effect not just to be more prolific with content creation and publishing. It helps you solidify your ideas, it helps you collect stories, it helps you collect your ideas and also improves your writing as a result. I’m sure there’s other benefits to as well, but having that daily habit is just a massive, massive knock on effect to everything that you do.

Number four is opposite of writing is to read. So, reading more is a great source of inspiration for your writing as well. It can help you with your ideas, and it can help either confirm ideas, or it can help add to the ideas that you’ve got, or can help to strengthen them so you can actually pull quotes from books and references and stuff like that as well.

So, reading more as a great way to collect more stories and to inspire you to want to write more as well. Number four is read more. Reading and writing go hand in hand.

Number five is to have a break. Again, this comes back to like the earlier point as well is that if you need to publish a blog article today, it’s too late already. You want to be in a position where you can write like on a daily basis, and you get into that habit. What you can do is you take a break from the writing as well and go away, you can have a walk, you can come back at a later day, you don’t feel like you need to complete anything just yet. You can take a break and you can come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes before you’re publishing, before you’re even getting into the main set of publishing.

Taking a break from your writing is a great way to just give yourself the timeout from it, and you can come back too with a fresh pair of eyes, and maybe the idea you thought of it at first was rubbish, or there’s not even an article there yet or you need to do some work on it. So, take a break from it and like I said, if you’re in that daily habit and you’re not working towards, you always feel like the deadlines are chasing you all the time, then it does give you that ability, that opportunity to take a break. You want to build that into your writing process as well. So, taking a break’s really, really important.

Number six, I think this is important as well. It’s to not think that you need to actually complete everything in your blog article. You don’t need to have a complete picture in your blog. For example, you might be thinking, oh well, I don’t know enough about that topic. I only … Or that you may doubt yourself about your knowledge about that single topic. But the great thing is, is that when you publish an article that’s not complete, your audience can fill the holes in. That allows people to have a conversation with you. Don’t stop yourself from publishing an article just because you don’t know the complete picture. It’s actually quite good to leave gaps that your audience can fill for you.

In the comments section you might say something, I would also add this in, I would also add that in, and you know that you’ve deliberately left those there for people to fill in themselves. So I think, don’t worry so much about having a complete picture. Publish the article, even if there’s gaps. As long as it’s a coherent article, and there’s learning and there’s structure which we covered in the last podcast episode, leave those gaps in for people to complete.

If you always share a complete picture, there’s nothing really for people to add, and you want people to add. Even if they don’t add in the comment section or for you to see, they can add it themselves in their own context as well, in their own heads.

Number seven is editing. A very basic level like having a break is a great way to edit as well. So, taking a break before you publish, come back to proofread again before you publish is a great way if you want to do it yourself. But one of the things that I used to do, I do it less now, but I used to a lot, was get my mom to read it. Pass the mom test.

There’s a few reasons why you want to do that. Not just for spelling and grammar, having someone else read your article for spelling and grammar is a good idea, even if it’s a friend or a colleague. But when you get your mom to read it. Say for example, like in my industry it’s about marketing. My mom isn’t a marketer. If my mum can read it and she can understand it and she can get the end and understand what the point is or what the lessons are, then there’s a good chance that anyone that reads it is going to get something from it. It’s not too complicated, it’s not full of jargon, it makes sense, the structure’s good.

That’s what we’re looking for when I say the mom test, that’s really what we’re looking for. Is someone that doesn’t really know your industry all that well but can read your article and get value from it. I think that leads into some of the other tips I’m going to talk about as well. Number nine, for example, I skipped one here because it makes sense is to keep it simple.

I think you don’t have to show off on your writing. In fact, trying to look smart can sometimes make you look stupid. It can also isolate a lot of your audience as well. Assuming that people know all the acronyms and the buzzwords and the jargon in your industry just doesn’t make for great content. So, keeping it simple. One of the lessons I learned was to write as if you’re talking to someone that’s six years old, and not in a patronizing way, but to kind of keep your structure of your sentences short. Or use words that everybody uses, break things down, keep it basic.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, you want it to be really, really simple. So, keep it simple. You probably heard that, keep it simple, stupid, and no acronyms in the words and the buzzwords. That comes back to that earlier point as well. When you’re doing the mom test, as your mom or whoever is that you’ve got reading it hopefully, will be able to say to you actually, I don’t understand this section here. I think it needs to be broken down, or it’s too complicated.

So, really keeping it simple is a big part of that. I think even from the lessons that we’ve learned from our clients and our members, and the people that we teach, what we find is actually the more basic and more straightforward and more simple the content is, the more popular it is as well. It actually is the content that seems to rank better, and seems to get the most audience interaction and engagement too. Don’t feel like you need to show off in your writing. Make it about the audience, make it simple and keep it jargon free.

Number eight comes back to one of my earlier points about the daily habit and reading more as well, is to capture stories. If you’re in the habit of writing daily. Say for example, you write a journal or you have a place where you can go and write, hopefully, what will happen is every day you’re capturing different stories or different lessons or things that you’ve been learning and different ideas that pop into your head. When you start to capture those ideas and those stories, what you’ll start to find is that you’ll start to create content around them, and it starts to feed your inspiration, it starts to feeds you new ideas, and new directions and things that perhaps you never even thought you would be writing about.

I think that’s such a really great thing to do. Someone taught me that a long time ago, and it was actually more to do with public speaking. In fact, the context around this is that, when I was doing a lot more networking, but going to business meetings, one of the things you had to do was stand up and give a 60 second pitch. I always have a different 60 second pitch for every single meeting that I went to whether that’s the right or the wrong thing to do. It doesn’t matter. What that really forced me to do was capture lots of stories all the time. So, in my notepad, I was writing down lots and lots of stories all the time.

So, capturing stories and ideas is really great. Having a notepad, an Evernote an iPad or on your iPhone, a Dictaphone, a place where you can capture your ideas is great because it feeds directly into the inspiration for writing. Just to close things off, you have to embrace the messy that’s what Marcus has taught us is to embrace that messy period in the creation, it happens in every form of art. Writing is definitely not separate from that. Ann calls this, Ann Handley calls this and everybody writes, she calls it, the ugly first draft.

It’s just a real thing, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t put any pressure on yourself to get it perfect first time, give yourself that opportunity to be messy, and just get it out of you. Get that content over you. You can go back and edit that content, you’ve got that opportunity to do that. You’re not writing in public.

Number 11 is to start with the end in mind. Is to think to yourself, when you are writing a piece of content, or maybe this is after the dump and it’s like you’ve brain dumped all your ideas or the idea for your article [inaudible 00:14:44] When you start to edit that out, and when you start to flesh it out, it starts to become more of an article. So, think to yourself, what are people actually going to get from this? What’s the transition? What do they not know at the start, and what did they know at the end? What have you learned? I think that’s a really important thing to do is to again, back to that audience of one, starting with the end in mind, and thinking about what transition do you want them to take? How is this useful to people? What are they going to learn?

Number 12, I know I mentioned that you don’t want to rush this stuff, but having a deadline, like, for example, today, this podcast, I need to get two podcasts out today in a window of about an hour. Because I’ve got to go somewhere else where I have to be in an appointment, right? If I didn’t have that deadline, there’s a good chance I may not have not got the second one out today. But the deadline forces you to be creative.

I think having a deadline makes it happen. That’s why we do things like in the CMA membership community, that’s why we do things like the 90 day challenge is to push people to publish. Otherwise, nothing would ever get done, and you would never see that content. So, give yourself that deadline. The final point that I want to make before we close up is to get loose. Relax into yourself. Feel … If you write more, you will feel more comfortable. You need to get to a period where you feel confident in your own writing, that you can speak in your own language.

I’ve definitely improved and especially the last couple years, especially on this is just talking to people like they’re a friend, understanding what my audience relate to, not trying to write as if I’m in a suit and tie all the time, and not try to be like what a business professional would write. Actually, just write like me. Write like how I talk. So when people are reading it, they can read it and they can hear me.

I think that’s one of those things that a lot of people struggle with, is to get loose, or hey, have a couple of glasses of wine, have a couple of gins and write then instead. And you’ll start to get a bit more loose. I do see this as one of the piece of advice I gave to someone recently was just you need to relax a little bit more in your writing. Even if you do it in draft form, it’s not getting published anywhere. There’s no risk. You can swear in you’re writing if you want to in your draft articles, nobody’s going to see it. Let yourself go there. Sometimes you need to go so far one way, and not to come back to the middle as well. So, get loose and relax a little bit too.

Those are my top writing tips. Those are the things I think that will help you to just be a better writer. I think the one thing out of all that list of tips is that daily habit. I think it has a knock on effect to everything else is just to write more, write more often, and everything else will improve as a result.

If you’ve got anything you’d like to add to this list of writing tips of these rules for writing, please let me know. You can email me chris@cmauk.co.uk. if you need help with your writing, or if you want to be publishing more and creating more content, then get involved in the Content Marketing Academy membership community. That’s what we do there. We can open up a space for you if you just send me an email or tweet me at @chrismarr101, and we can have a chat about it and see if it’s a fit for you.

Hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. Like I said, if you need help with anything, just get in touch.

Have a good day and don’t forget to be awesome.