When you pull up a blank screen and sit down to start producing content, do you run stuck? Can’t get started? Can’t get past the intro? Can’t even draft an intro?
Maybe, when you do start, you want to sound smart. (Of course you do!) So, your words start to get long and jargon-y. Your sentences sound stilted and clumsy. It’s impossible to feel a natural flow between paragraphs.
That aside… should you throw in a semi-colon or two? Which version of colour / color is the Canadian version? (Colour, FYI.) What are you even doing?
Maybe you should just… not.
But first – let’s get real here for a sec. This blog post would be a mass of red scribbles if my high school English teacher were to get his hands on it. But guess what? This isn’t English class.
A blog post SHOULDN’T read like an essay. The Internet is looking for an easy read.
Your audience cares even less about semi-colons than you do. If you find your flow when you throw in loads of brackets, use them. If capitalized words are an essential part of your life, by all means… capitalize away! (Especially in your first draft.)
To some extent, your voice trumps the rules. Do you use proper English when you speak? Do you occasionally make up words? You probably sometimes use incomplete sentences. My blog posts are stuffed with personality – every reader that I know in real life has told me that they can hear my voice in my writing. Yes, my posts are FAR from perfect, but… cool! I’ll get there!
Here are five tricks to ensure that your writing will be read in your voice, and be technically correct. Yay!
Step 1: Just BLAB.
Get out of your brain. Open your word processor and blurt. Stream of consciousness, girl!
The ONLY thing that your first draft needs, is to be FINISHED.
It shouldn’t be perfect! It can include irrelevant information! It can be total crap!
You can edit later. If you edit yourself as you write, it takes a thousand times longer. (Of course I calculated it. Hah!) Plus, if you edit as you write, it will come out sounding stiff and weird and not at all like you.
If it helps, address your first draft to… I don’t know, your mom. Or a close friend. Seriously. I mentally address posts to specific clients, or folks that I’ve had five-minute conversations with. It helps. A lot.
So… start typing!
Step 2: Get the concept down.
Start out with a rough headline or concept.
Jot down a few main points you want to make, and then loop back to flesh them out. (Do all this in stream of consciousness mode – repeating yourself is okay. Forgetting stuff is okay. Just comb through it a few times.)
Step 3: Edit.
My first and most essential editing trick is to read back my content to myself. Out loud.
Yes, it feels dumb.
Get over it. It WORKS. You catch all kinds of stuff.
Edit as you go. Repeat until you’re kind of okay with where this is headed.
Step 4: Take a minute.
Take a bathroom break. Have a glass of water. Do a couple of stretches.
Yell at your kids. You know, take a five minute breather.
Then, come back and open your post… IN A DIFFERENT VIEW. This is key. Sometimes, I print stuff. If it’s a blog post, I’ll do a live site preview. It is amazing what a different medium or font will do for your perspective!
Again, edit as you go. I hope you’re still reading it aloud – it’s a must!
Step 5: Format.
Writing for the Internet is different than writing an essay for English class. Here are a few basics to keep in mind when you’re running through your final couple of edits.
1. Chunk your content into short, easily digestible paragraphs. A sentence or two per paragraph is fine. Yes, that’s ridiculously short… but the Internet is ridiculously lazy.
2. Format, format, format! Headlines, numbered lists, and quick little pull quotes are fantastic and easy to skim.
3. Vary the lengths of your sentences. Reading long sentences is fine, as long as you sprinkle a few shorter ones between them. (Like this! Boom. With bonus brackets!)
4. Don’t be an idiot. If you’re using “u” instead of “you” and your writing is strewn with typos, I’m not going to take you seriously. Here are two free apps to help you level up your writing, no matter where you fall on the Word Nerd scale.
Polishmywriting: A solid boost for your credibility, whether proper English is your strong suit or not. This app catches spelling and grammatical errors, AND has styling suggestions for your copy. I catch myself switching between an active & passive voice all the time, so this is a lifesaver.
Hemmingway: Do you catch yourself being too wordy? I’m 100% guilty here, but the Hemmingway app is BRILLIANT. It simply highlights long, complex sentences and common errors to make your writing bold and clear. Love this one!
Step 6: Call it a day.
You KNOW you’re never going to be 100% satisfied. Personally, I shoot for about 90% happy. Ish. The less I think about it, the more positive feedback I get… so that’s working out. (I’m guessing that’s where the most quirky personality juiciness shines through.)
Don’t worry about forgetting stuff! You are constantly learning and growing. You can always add on a Part 2 or throw some “bonus material” on social media later on. Just get it out there!
Yes, it’s damn hard… but I PROMISE it gets easier. (I’m six months into this. My first blog post was 400 words long and had 800 revisions. This one had four, and they were much less painful.)
Aaaaand action steps:
1. I want you to give me some tips. Do you know how to cut & arrange flowers? How to calculate a monthly budget? How about roller skating? Do you know anything about that? Give me three tips that relate to the industry you’re in. You know you know stuff.
2. Seriously, shoot me an e-mail. I’ll reply.
3. And then, we’ll celebrate. YOU have created content! Go! Do! I’m waiting.