Writing business content for the web can be a struggle. Coming up with ideas, battling writer’s block, suppressing the nagging doubt that the result isn’t good enough – if you suffer from any of these issues, then you’re not alone.
Bestselling – even Nobel Prize-winning – authors suffer the same crises of confidence as the rest of us.
Whether you’re staring at a blank page, lost in a labyrinth of long words and unwieldy sentences, or ready to throw your laptop out of the window, seasoned professionals have top tips to help you.
Here are six of the best:
1. For finding inspiration:
“Read, read, read, read everything” – William Faulkner
Winner of the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature, Faulkner was talking here to writers of fiction, urging them to immerse themselves in writing of every genre.
The same principle applies to your business when writing for the web.
You’ll have expert knowledge within your field, a clear company stance on products and strategy, and keep up to date with the latest goings-on from the economic and financial world (however quickly things might be changing!)
But, be sure to follow Faulkner’s advice: ‘Read everything’.
Things you don’t agree with, things that go against your company strategy, articles from the wider business world that have nothing to do with your profession.
Inspiration can come from anywhere. And the wider you read, the more examples you’ll find of good and bad writing, adapting your style to avoid the pitfalls you see elsewhere.
2. For planning your article:
“I have a lot of acquaintance with the story before I start writing it” – Alice Munro
Another Nobel Prize winner (2013 for those interested), Alice Munro often struggled to find the necessary time to give to writing.
You’re busy too. Planning what you’re going to write before you sit down to write it, is essential.
Munro says that her stories would bounce around in her head for so long, that by the time she came to write them down, she was already deep into them.
Keep notes constantly. If something takes your interest – a financial article, a quote from a CEO – jot it down. Then add it to a wider list of future blog ideas. When you hit on a good idea, sit down and plan it.
Work out the structure of the article, from the introduction, through the points you want to make, to your ultimate conclusion.
Do this and writing the article itself will become a simple case of filling in the blanks.
Romance novelist, Nora Roberts, has this to say on the subject: ‘You can fix anything but a blank page.’
3. For getting words on paper:
“Put one word after another until it’s done” – Neil Gaiman
This one is easy.
Lots of writers have something to say on the theme but it all amounts to the same thing.
The only way that your words will get onto the page is if you put them there.
As Gaiman says, you sit down at the keyboard and write – ‘it’s that easy. And that hard’.
4. For writing your first line:
“The first line must convince me that it embodies the entire unwritten text” – William Gibson
William Gibson – science-fiction writer and cyberpunk pioneer – had the above to say about the importance of a strong opening line.
Horror writer, Stephen King, is said to have spent ‘weeks and months and even years’ on first sentences. It’s unlikely that you have that much time to spend, but the point stands.
The human attention span is short. Shorter still when you’re writing for the web (see Phil’s recent article ‘5 ways to ensure people read your blog right to the very end’).
If you want your clients to read your content, you need to get them hooked quickly.
Reel your audience in – with a question, a surprising fact, a downright lie. It doesn’t matter how you do it. Just reel them in and make sure they keep on reading.
5. For style-checking:
“Never use a long word where a short one will do” – George Orwell
Another topic about which authors and grammatists have plenty to say, I’d also add Elmore Leonard’s quote on the subject, particularly important when writing for an online audience: ‘If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.’
This is about maintaining a conversational tone of voice.
You want your clients to read your article from the opening to the closing line. You want them to feel engaged, like you’re there in the room, having a conversation with them. If you wouldn’t say it out loud, don’t say it.
Awkward sentence structures, long and tricky words, convoluted arguments – they all need to go too.
6. For when you taste bitter defeat:
“If it’s not good, throw it out the window” – William Faulkner (again)
To begin where we started, here’s the rest of Faulkner’s quote, ‘Read, read, read, read everything… Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.’
This might seem extreme.
If you’re only on your first draft, then maybe it is. But if it’s your third or fourth… Take the advice of a Nobel Prize winner, get the glazier on speed dial, and throw away.
Then call us at the Yardstick Agency.
We can help your business produce curated and beautifully crafted content, leaving you free to get on with the daily business of advising your clients.
Want to know more about how Yardstick’s team of content writers could help you? Get in touch with us at [email protected] or call 0115 8965 300.