One of the biggest struggles content marketers have is producing enough content and simultaneously keeping the quality high. That’s something professional writers must work through on a daily basis.
So in this chapter, you’ll learn 12 secrets of professional writers: the tips and tricks that help them consistently produce a steady stream of high-quality content.
Stay in research mode at all times.
In order to keep your queue filled with great content ideas, you need to stay in research mode at all times.
Research shouldn’t be reserved for planning or writing sessions only. The quality of your content will increase substantially if you do it on an ongoing basis, as ideas pop into your head.
As soon as you get an idea,
begin jotting down ways you could develop it.
You can wait until it’s time to produce your content to think about what you want to say. But it’s often easier to begin developing your ideas before it’s time to write. To do that, as soon as you get the idea, begin looking for:
- Major points you’d like to make about the topic
- URLs for sites that provide additional information
- URLs for Web pages that illustrate your points
By stepping into research mode every time you browse the Web, you can often have your entire outline finished before it’s time to sit down and write.
When you get an idea, you often have a few ideas of what you’d say in those articles — an example you could give or a point you’d like to make.
Don’t just write down your content idea. Write down every thought you have about it, no matter how rough or undefined.
The idea for this post began with a simple idea, “6 types of leads.”
To create a rough outline, the writer entered the types of leads she was considering (in red). Then as she browsed the Web, if she found a good example of one of them, she entered the URL under the subhead.
That way, when it was time to write the post, she could easily find the Web pages again — and most of the research was already done.
As you read/browse the Web,
gather resources to use as reference material.
Don’t just browse the Web. Research the Web. Whenever you’re online, be on the lookout for material that could help you tell your stories.
If you see a social media post or article that relates to a topic, grab the URL and paste it into the cell where you’ve listed your idea. Add notes so you know why you wanted to use the material, and when you finally sit down to write, you have much of your research already done.
Use Google+ and Evernote to file your research
Sometimes you don’t have an idea yet. But you see a Web page or report that has valuable information you know you can use.
When you see posts that have great research or fresh ideas, or if you simple want to keep it as a sample of what works, be sure to save those Web pages.
There are three ways to do that, and we’ve listed them in order, from simplest to most advanced.
- Use Google’s +1 feature
When you +1 a Web page, Google keeps a record or it.
To see the pages you’ve +1’d, go to your Google+ profile, and click on the tab below your cover banner called “+1’s.”
You’ll see a list of the Web pages you’ve +1’d, with the most recent ones on top.
This creates a simple log of the pages you want to be able to find again later. But it doesn’t give you a way to add notes or categorize your pages.
If you’d like to save notes with your ideas, you’ll need to use the technique we talk about next.
- Create a Google+ circle with no one in it.
Here’s how it works:
Create a new Google+ circle called “Ideas,” but don’t put any people in it.
Then, when you find a Web page you want to remember, you can “share” it with your Ideas circle. Since no one is in that circle, you’ll be the only one who can see it.
It’s a simple way to keep track of Web pages you want to be able to find later. Here’s how to set it up:
First, create your “Ideas” circle:
Go to your Google+ profile and click on the “Find People” link in the left sidebar.
- Across the top of the page are three tabs. Click on “Your circles.”
- At the bottom of the screen will be a row of blue circles.
Click on the first one, which says “Drop here to create a circle.”
A pop-up will appear.
Enter the name of the circle: “Ideas”
- Write in a description of the circle: “Research and ideas for content”
- Click “Create empty circle.”
Now, whenever you come across a piece of content that you want to save for future reference,
here’s what you do:
- Hit the +1 button on that Web page (or copy the URL and manually paste it into your Google+ stream)
- Write your ideas into the post.
- Remove the circles you have showing, then click in the empty space to see a list of your circles. Scroll down to “Ideas” and click on it.
- Click “Share.”
When you need to find a Web page that you saved, simply review the posts in your Ideas circle.
- When you are on your Home page, select “More” at the top of the page.
- The circles you have created will appear in a drop-down box. Select the “Ideas” circle to populate your stream. You will see all your Ideas in your stream.
- When you’re done reviewing them and you want to return to your normal stream, select “All” from the options at the top of your Home page. You will see posts from the people you follow, including any recent Ideas you have created.
One caveat: Your posts to the Ideas circle won’t populate anyone’s Google+ stream, but they could show up in a Google search if they contain the keyword being searched for.
Here’s a post we made for the sole purpose of capturing screen shots. It ranked on page 1 of Google!
Evernote allows you to save Web pages to a cloud-based file system. You create the folders and tags, and you include notes that help you find that information when you need it later.
This is the most advanced technique for saving Web pages for future reference. And the nice thing is, you can customize the experience to your own needs.
- Create a folder for each writing project.
- Create a folder for each category you create content for.
- Create a folder for each client or department you create content for.
Organize your saved Web pages in whatever way that works for you. Here’s how to set it up:
- In the upper left corner, beside “Notebooks,” click the small caret. A link to “New Notebook” will appear. Click it.
- In the “Create a New Notebook” pop-up, write your project name or the category of the information you want to save.
- For instance, if you write blog posts for several categories on your website, create a folder for each. When you find research that applies to one of those categories, save it in the appropriate folder. (We’ll talk more about that in a minute.)
- Or if you create content for several departments in your organization, create a folder for each. Then when you find research that applies to one of those departments, save it in the folder labeled with that department’s name.
- After you’ve created folders to store your research, set up the Evernote Web Clipper on your desktop.
- From Google, search for “Evernote Web Clipper” and select the appropriate search result depending on your Web browser.
- For instance, if you have Firefox, select the first option. If you have Chrome, select the second.
- Evernote will add an icon to your search bar at the top of your browser.
- Now you’re ready to use Evernote to file your research:
- When you are searching the Web and find a page you want to save, click the Clipper icon at the top of your browser.
- The Web page darkens and Evernote highlights the part of the page being saved. A pop-up also appears asking you to fill in the notebook you want this page saved in, the tags you want to assign it, and any comments you may have.
- Enter the appropriate information and click “Clip Article.”
That’s it. Your article is saved in Evernote in the file folder you specified.
Then when you’re writing and need to find a statistic, here’s how you find it in Evernote:
- When you are writing a blog post or writing a video script and you need a statistic or other fact, go to Evernote.com and log in to your account.
In the search bar at the top of the page, type in your keyword and click “Search.”
- All the Web pages that you tagged with that keyword will populate the Notes panel below the Search bar. Each page is labeled with the page title and the date you saved it to Evernote.
- Click on any of the search results, and it will appear in the reading panel on the right.
Of the three options for saving your research, Evernote takes the most up-front time. That’s because, in order to be able to find information later, you must add tags to the pages you save.
But Evernote is your most efficient way to find your information later.
Write in your own unique voice.
Don’t try to copy someone else. Your content should have an individual style that is unique to your personality or brand.
Once you develop your own voice, you aren’t done. (Writers never stop working on their writing skills. As a content writer, you need to continually hone your skills too.)
Style is your most prized possession as a writer, and it should continue to evolve over the lifetime of your career.
We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.
If you haven’t found your voice yet, try this exercise:
How to find your voice
No matter what content you produce, it needs to be in your own voice, or style. It should never seem like a copycat of someone else. That said, it’s only by copying skilled writers that you’ll find your own unique voice.
Typically, creative professionals go through three stages of development: imitation, mastery and, finally, innovation.
You start out reading and studying the styles of writers you admire. Then you use what you learn to develop your own style.
Here’s an exercise that can walk you through the process:
- Find 5 content writers whose style you enjoy reading
- Select one piece from each that is representative of their work, or that you enjoy reading.
- Select your favorite of the five writing samples, and read it slowly, word-for-word, out loud if necessary.
Study how that writer does it:
- What the first sentence looks like.
- Format of introduction.
- How the article is structured.
- How the topic is developed and ideas presented.
- How the article is drawn to a close.
- What the call to action was.
Now you try.
Write an article or blog post for your own brand that’s similar to the one you just studied. Try to format your article the same, and imitate the style of your chosen writer.
Do this for each writer.
Repeat this exercise for the remaining four articles. When you’re done, you’ll have five articles of your own, each written in a style similar to one of your favorite writers.
Review these articles.
Select the one that was easiest to write and sounds most “like you.” It should sound or feel a bit like your own (or your brand’s) personality and style.
Write a sixth article in this same style, making one small change to make it sound more like your own natural voice
Let your personality come through, your own way of talking, your individual way of seeing the world. You may keep the structure of your chosen writer. Or you may continue to use some of the writer’s style. But begin to make it your own.
With each article you write, tweak this adopted style a little more until it begins to sound unique to you.
Your goal is for someone to say, “When I read your posts, I can hear you talking.” That’s voice. And it should be as unique as you are.