We’ve all been there. You’re asked to write an article at short notice and you have no idea where to begin.
Your mind races, randomly grabbing at and then dismissing different ideas and facts. You make numerous frantic starts before deciding they’re crap and deleting them. Panic rises in your throat…
Step one: stop and breathe.
Simple. Now move on to step two.
Step two: think about your reader
The objective of any writing is to effectively communicate with your reader, so start by asking yourself:
- What you want the reader to do as a result of reading the item
- What you need to tell them to get them to do that
If you’re writing marketing copy, your objective is probably to encourage potential customers to get in touch and find out more.
But first you need to tell your readers why they should get in touch and this is where it gets a little tricky.
Step three: tell them a story
Resist the temptation to cram as much information into the piece as possible. Too much information makes for difficult reading, difficult reading leads to bored readers and bored readers stop reading.
Instead of overloading your writing with enough facts and figures to make a statistician sweat, try to think of just one example where you went the extra mile, provided more than promised and delivered great value for money. Write that and ignore the urge to overcomplicate it.
Step four (and possibly the most important one to remember): Just start
So now you know what you want to say, but you still don’t know where to start. As much as I hate to disagree with Julie Andrews, the very beginning is not always a very good place to start.
The best place to start is with the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t worry about the order of sentences or typos, just get the information you need down on the page.
Writing can be a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. You know what you want the picture to look like, but until it’s finished there’s an element of trial and error, of rearranging pieces and seeing what fits and what doesn’t.
That’s the process and it’s normal, don’t be put off.
Step five: Take a break. Yes, really.
Once you’re happy with your content and structure, you’ll be so relieved you’ll just want to get the damn thing off your desk.
Don’t press send just yet!
I like to leave at least a day between finishing something and publishing it, but you won’t always have that luxury. Even if you only have ten minutes, get away from your computer and do something totally different, then come back and look at your writing with a fresh pair of eyes.
When you’re fully immersed in something, you stop really seeing it. There will always be typos you didn’t spot or sentences that don’t quite fit. Taking a break gives you the headspace needed to fine tune your work.