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How to Write… Period

That title sounds like a know-it-all person who has published great literary works must have written this blog post. 

Well… not exactly. 

I barely even consider myself a writer, and yet I’ve been writing practically my whole life — first as a child in a journal or two (which I never finished), then in school with book summaries and writing about topics like, “If I had a purple giraffe as a pet…” and then in college majoring in written communication. 

In most of those instances, I was merely learning the official rules about writing and practicing a particular form that my teachers wanted to see to get a grade. But then, I entered the world of content mill writing.  There I learned the skill of adapting my “voice” to fit any writing style, saw how blog posts are created, brushed up on my vocabulary of descriptive words to evoke desire, and was shown the creative vision necessary to design layouts that are appealing to readers.

I still don’t feel like a writer, but my boss claims to appreciate my “conversational approach” and keeps giving me projects like this one… so I’m here to give you my best advice on how to get more comfortable with writing.  We will be covering what you need before you begin writing, super special writing tips, and then a series of challenges to get you practicing.  Are you ready?

Things You Need to Know BEFORE You Start Writing

First, get those words down. 

I’m sure you’re already like, “Sure, right.  But how?  I have nothing to say right now.”  Okay, no problem.  Obviously, you need to find a topic first.  We will get there.  We’re just going through the basics of how to write.  So… you need to get your words down.

Second, edit. 

Most writers hate the editing process because it feels like you’re undoing what you just spent hours laboring over.  But trust me, editing is vital.  We will cover how to edit and talk about various tools you can use for that process to make it easier, but you MUST edit.

Third, don’t use fancy, overly intelligent language. 

I know you’re not stupid and you don’t want people to think you are… but trying to sound smart never ends well.  It either sounds condescending or is just boring to read. You want to use simple words and keep your sentences short.  If you start to ramble, your readers will lose interest, and you will lose a customer.

Fourth, use the tools. 

There are so many great writing tools out there to help you create awesome content.  You just have to find them and find a way to fit it into your routine.  Grammarly is a tool to help with editing (there’s a free version… and that’s what I used to edit this piece you’re reading!  How did I do?) among so many others that you can use for blog prompts, templates, etc. (List of 25 free tools) Use all the tools!

Fifth (and last), and probably the most important of all… do your research. 

Check your facts.  Don’t get caught giving bad information.  That is the quickest way to lose all your credibility and tank your reputation among the people you most want to reach.

My Super Special Tips

  • Practice, Practice, Practice

Oh, come on… I’m sure you saw that one coming.  But it’s true.  If you want to get better at something, you have to practice it… and be prepared for your first few times to absolutely stink!  Don’t worry, you will improve. 

Try to practice more often for shorter periods.  It’s better to write a little bit more frequently than a lot all at once. 

Set a timer… or a word count–don’t go over 300 words.  That sounds like a lot, but I promise it’s not too much.  My introduction was 235 words (only two paragraphs). 

  • Read other people’s blog posts

Immerse yourself in various styles of the type of writing you want to learn for yourself.  Gaining multiple perspectives on the same type of writing will help you see the possibilities and find your groove. 

In your case, as a small business owner, I would search for blog posts about your specific industry.  Read everything there is available to see the topics they pick, the questions they answer, the tone they use… and begin hearing your own voice describing the same thing. 

While you’re reading, begin to identify which blog posts you liked the best and analyze WHY you liked it (Was it the photos/graphics? Their engaging writing style? The layout?) and then find a way to work those elements into your own writing.

  • Be orderly

Now, I’m the first one to admit that not everyone has the same methods in… well… anything, but new skills aren’t cultivated haphazardly. You can’t expect to simply do a swan dive into this metaphorical pool of writing advice, splash around a bit and hope something sticks. 

So… first, you need to think about your topic.  Brainstorm ideas and write them down.  Pick your favorite (the others can come later) and form an outline of how your ideas might work and flow together.  Then you’ll start writing paragraphs to fill in the outline.  You don’t even have to write the sections in order. 

Sometimes there will be holes until you’ve filled in another part to see how the missing section will fit into that spot.

  • Take your time

There is no deadline.  You’re learning.  You’re practicing. 

Is blog writing an important part of your business and growing process?  Yes.  But, unless you’re willing to pay someone to write for you… this is something you can (and should) cultivate on your own.  And, even better than that, your posts will represent your company more closely than with content from a professional writer because your audience will hear YOUR voice in your writing and connect with YOU. What an awesome way to build rapport! 

Taking the time to improve your writing skills is worth the effort (and time).

  • Be a learner

Don’t stop your education just because you’re out of school.  You may be an expert in your field, but if you can’t communicate your expertise in writing, all that knowledge is worthless. 

There are so many resources to help you learn how to write clearly and effectively.  People are just giving their knowledge away for free (like this guy)!  Not everything will be worth your time, but don’t stop searching and gathering this knowledge and practicing it. 

There will always be more to learn, whether it’s your writing style or laying out a page in a pleasing manner.  Just keep seeking improvement one step at a time.

I Challenge YOU

If you choose to accept this challenge and make it to the end, you will have published a blog post.  Each of these challenges was specifically designed (by yours truly) to break everything down in simple chunks.  Work on each challenge for no more than an hour at a time so you don’t get bogged down.

Do you accept?

Challenge 1:  Choose a topic (industry-related) that interests you and you are passionate about.

Challenge 2:  Do research on that topic.  It may start rather broad, but try to hone down until you’ve got one particular area you want to focus on and begin gathering bulk information (saving posts, bits of information, source material, etc.) in one spot.  I typically just copy/paste all the information into my Word Document, one right after another (sorting comes later).

 Challenge 3: Write a basic outline (Intro, Section 1, Section 2, Section 3, Summary, Closer) and try to assign a theme to each section.  Hubspot has created a set of templates for different types of blog posts (check it out!). Once you’ve identified your themes, begin filling in the blanks with the research you gathered in Challenge 2.  Take the huge chunks and just plop them right into your outline, keeping your headings prominently displayed.

Challenge 4: As you go through each section in your outline, find your main theme, and speak your thoughts aloud.  Begin writing them down (exactly as you spoke them) in each section that you organized in Challenge 3.  If you have gaps, no problem… just write the stuff you’re comfortable putting down and keep moving.  Use your researched material to help guide your thoughts and fill in gaps or become source material to prove your point.  Make sure you give proper attribution to any thoughts that aren’t originally yours.

Challenge 5: Read everything you have written, and then fill in the blanks that you didn’t get to the first time around.  Try to make each section smoothly transition from one to the next.  The flow should make sense as you go through.

Challenge 6: Read the entire blog post you created and begin finding typos, grammatical inconsistencies, areas to fix your word choices, and tone of voice (stay away from sarcasm or controversial humor, it doesn’t typically translate well in writing — trust me, I’ve tried). Also, remember that writing the way you speak is a good principle for a beginner starting to get words down on the page, but you will need to change how some of it sounds. Writing is not the same as speaking.

Challenge 7: Have a friend (or three) read your post and listen to their feedback. If they mention something that confuses them, that there’s a rough transition between sections (paragraphs), or a common phrase you use repeatedly — those are all valid comments.  Write them down.

Challenge 8: Edit your blog post after you’ve had several people read your first draft and recorded all their comments.  Make all the changes.

Challenge 9: Look at your blog post with an eye for design and SEO opportunities.  Add relevant pictures and graphics to break up the text and keep the reader’s interest and eye traveling down your page.

Challenge 10: And you’re done!  So, publish that thing already!

Here at Sparrow, we get excited seeing small business owners take charge of marketing their company. If you have completed all ten challenges, please send it over for us to admire!

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