by Glori Surban
Do you remember those times when you and your computer monitor had a staring match... all day?
That time when no matter how hard you try to start typing you just can’t? Or you can, but you also kept hitting on that seductive Backspace button because the words just. don’t. seem. right.
Things get worse when you’re on a tight deadline, you still have a million of other things to do, and you end up updating your Facebook status.
Arghh! It sucks, I know.
Don’t deny it. We’ve all had our times of pining for that “aha!” moment, praying for sudden inspiration or a spark of creativity that would help us write the most epic blog post or article, all while swearing, pulling our hair in frustration, or laughing at memes.
Unfortunately, we can’t force “aha” moments nor can we buy magic matchsticks to light up our creativity.So what can we do?
We have two choices: wait for the fireworks or start to write epic shit.
If you have all the time in the world, by all means, go ahead and wait for that light bulb. It will eventually come, I’m sure.
But if you’re pressed for time and ideas, here’s the step-by-step guide to get you started on your epic writing... right now.
#1 Get comfortable and ready
First things first, make sure that you and your working area are in shape for a no-nonsense session of writing.
- Eat first if you’re hungry.
- Use the bathroom, even if you don’t need to, before sitting down in front of your computer.
- De-clutter your working space.
- Keep needed items near (glass of water, paper, pen, etc.)
- Remove noisy distractions.
- Resolve not to open any social networking site. I mean it.
- Set a timer for each phase of the writing process: before, during, and after.
One of the reasons why it’s difficult to start writing is because we have no clue on what to write about. Hate it or love it, research is what will get you started.
Be careful, though. There is a right way and a wrong way to do research. Especially when your pressed with time, aimless research, or should I say internet surfing, will do you more harm than good.
Focus on relevant content.
Using Google is easy; typing in your keywords results in a thousand different websites. Avoid being overwhelmed with all this information by clicking one search result at a time, starting from the top of the list.
Open one website result in a new tab, scan through the content and see if it is relevant to your topic. If it is, read it more thoroughly and write down (or copy and paste) important points that you can use as basis for your article. If not, close it and proceed to the next.
Don’t open 10 tabs all at once and then go back and forth between sites because you will end up getting confused and more frustrated.
It’s easy to get tempted to click on links on the sites or blogs you opened. I’m not going to stop you from doing that because that click might lead to more useful information, but remember to follow the same rules as above:
- Open site or link
- Scan content
- Decide if relevant (if yes, proceed to next step; if not, close)
- Note important points
- Close site
- Proceed to the next
Focus on credible sites.
Aside from relying on good ol’ Google’s search results and Wikipedia, you can also ready your own list of useful websites related to your usual article topics.
Having this list will shorten the time you need to research since you already know which website to go to when you need to read on a topic.
There are many authoritative (and high-ranking) blogs on every niche; all you have to do is identify which, then read and soak up all the information.
So how do you know if a site is credible?
Well, the fastest ways to determine if a blog or site is to check for most if not all of the following characteristics:
- It has been around for some time and therefore has a lot of valuable content.
- Has updated content. The latest blog post shouldn't be older than a week or maybe two.
- Has a fair number of sensible comments and interaction among readers.
- The owner of the site is not afraid to show his face. Seriously. Check the sidebar or the About page.
- Has a high page rank. You can check the page rank here.
(This said, I beg you to exempt me from these criteria. Give me a break; it's my first post.)
You can then either subscribe to these sites' RSS feeds using Google Reader, like I do, and organize them in folders, or you can bookmark them in your browser.
Important Note: Research does not mean copying the work of others. Think of it this way, focusing on one source or one article and just simply rewriting is stealing content; reading and taking down notes from multiple sites and then writing about it in your own way is research.
#3 Write an outline.
Once you have the results of your research, come up with an outline to guide your writing. You can choose to either write down potential headings and subheadings or list questions you want your blog post or article to answer.
Alternatively, you can use a mind map software, such as Free Mind or Mind Domo, to organize your ideas, but only if you have enough time.
If it’s your first time to use the software and you’re on a tight schedule, settle with pen and paper or digital sticky notes for the time being.
Make sure your outline is easily accessible. Pen and paper is preferable or a sticky note at the side of your word processor is also ideal as either of these two will make you click away from your writing.
Before typing down a word, have a clear picture of your target audience.
If it's for your blog, this is quite easy; if it's for your client, ask for the website or blog where it will be posted so you can see how their other content is written.
Remember that the purpose of your article or blog post is to solve your target audience's problems.
#4 While writing.
Here are a few reminders so you can write articles faster:
- Ignore the dreaded red underlines aka spelling errors. Edit and proofread after you finish writing the entire article, not during.
- Stop hitting the Backspace button. Ignore it and just write as you think.
- Obey your timer. As I’ve mentioned earlier, set yourself the time you need (or have) and let the timer motivate your speed. The key is to stick to it.
- Again, no social networking sites. Puh-lease.
#5 The headline.
When to write the headline.
The debate continues on whether you write your headline before or after you write the entire article. I say, do whatever works for you.
If you want to think of and write a great headline first to guide you in writing your piece, then go ahead.
If you prefer to right after, when you are finally able to “see” the entirety of your article, the that’s alright too. (Ideal for those with tight deadlines.)
If you suddenly had the a great idea for a headline while you were writing the article. Then go back up the article and type it.
Seriously, whatever man.
How to write the headline.
Your headline has one goal: to make your readers want to read the rest of your article. It should hold the promise of giving the reader something valuable.
Here are easy ways to not bore your potential readers with your headlines.
a. Use powerful words or strong adjectives, such as:
b. Use these powerful words within highly effective headline formats
These are a few of the tips from the legendary Jon Morrow and his Headline Hacks:
- Threat headlines (“Warning Signs of…”, “The Shocking Truth…”; “5 Lies ___ Tell You”)
- Piggyback headlines (“What the Avengers Can Teach Us About Writing”)
- List headlines (“7 Ways to…”, “3 Blogs that Can Help…”, or “12 Useful Tips…”)
- Mistake headlines (“Do You Make These __ Mistakes?” or “5 ___ Mistakes and How to Avoid Them”)
I can go on and pretend I know better, but I won’t because I'm still learning these myself. You can learn from the master himself by getting your own copy of Headline Hacks.
#6 The beginning
As Derek Halpern of SocialTriggers.com said, “The point of your opening is to get people to read your opening.”
From the beginning, you want to hook your readers to the story you are about to tell in your blog post or article.
Here are various ways to hook them:
Ask a question.
Emphasize the problem by presenting it through a question. You can voice out something that is always on the mind of your target audience, or you can ask something out of the box that most people haven’t even thought of.
Use an anecdote and insert a few dialogues too.
A bit of a story to stir the imagination of your readers also works wonders. The more personal, the better, although it doesn’t always have to about something that happened to you. A friend’s experience or a relevant story you heard at a bar also works.
Cite a statistic or a surprising fact: the more shocking, the better.
There’s nothing like a startling information to make readers want to find out more. Do your research well though so that it won’t haunt you in the comments.
Quotes can evoke feelings and memories in readers, and you can use these to engage them. You can quote a person you interviewed or someone your mom. The source doesn’t even have to be someone famous, but quote has to be relevant.
#7 The body
- Keep it conversational but don’t be afraid to be controversial.
- Keep it short and simple. Make sure your paragraphs only have a maximum of 3 to 4 short sentences and use simple words that even kids can understand. Big blocks of texts do not appeal to most readers, so avoid these.
- Stick to compelling and useful information. Don’t include any BS. Your readers are going to catch up on those anyway, and you’ll lose them.
- Use subheadings and/or bullet points to organize your information.
- Use bold or italics for emphasis.
- Avoid using the words very, really, totally, and other intensifiers you can do without.
#8 The ending paragraph
The most sensible way to end an article is to go back to the beginning.
Did it solve a problem and did it deliver the promise of the headline?
You can then leave your readers a question or challenge that will help them apply the information you just imparted.
Call to action.
At the end, do not be afraid or coy about asking your readers to do something. Encourage them to share your article, tweet or like it, or comment and share their own experiences. You can also ask them to subscribe to your email list or RSS feed.
As a fan of Derek, I couldn’t help but include his infographic in this phase of writing process. I'm pretty sure you'll learn loads from this!
#9 Quality and originality check
Now is the time to go through your article and correct spelling and grammatical errors you may have made and do an overall quality and originality check.
- Read the entire article line by line, out loud if you need to. Note any sentences which may sound awkward and change them when necessary.
- Take out all the fluff and fillers (such as very, really, and totally) and simplify your piece.
- Use spell-check in case you missed anything in your line-by-line edit.
- Check keyword density if applicable. Also, if you were hired to write an article based on keywords, check the flow.
- Test it for readability at Read-able.com.
- Insert hyperlinks where necessary to credit people and image sources.
- Another advice, if you have time, is to let the article sit for a while. Leave it for a night, then come back to it, read, reread, edit, read again, edit, and viola! Your article is ready. :-)
Writing does not have to be hard. Most of the time, the most important thing you need to do is to start. I hope this step-by-step guide will help you go in the right direction.
So stop wasting time, and start writing!
Or maybe you can share some other tips that I missed in this post before you do that. Leave a comment to let me and other freelance writers know what else we can do to write better articles.
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