Writing is the backbone of an online business. As a business owner, you are likely a writer by default. Meaning you write a lot: web pages, blog posts, marketing emails, social media posts, client/customer support emails, how-to guides, webinar slides, e-books . . .the list goes on.
Even if you create mostly via video, podcast, or some other medium . . . you still (more likely than not) use an outline, a script, or some other writing to anchor and support your delivery.
Writing is one of those skills that a lot of people can do, but it takes some extra effort and desire to do well. “Well” in this context means that the writing you publish supports your business goals. Opt-ins, online sales, guest posts, connections with influencers in your industry . . . your writing influences nearly everything you do.
While there are lots of templates and formulas out there, most of them don’t address what goes on beneath the surface. The pesky mind games that Resistance likes to play on us when we’re about to do something significant.
Writing excellent content that supports your business goals is significant. For some (myself included), it’s hard to get a rhythm going. And it’s hard to maintain that rhythm.
Here are three important things to practice that will keep you creative and productive as you write:
Let Yourself Write a Shitty First Draft
It is too easy to edit your way out of your best ideas. To soften their sharp edges. To dumb them down. To temper that point of view that might not fit in with your industry mainstream.
Resistance often shows up at this stage as perfectionism, telling you your writing sucks before it has had a chance to form.
Next time this happens, tell yourself this:
A first draft is supposed to be terrible. That’s it’s purpose.
A shitty first draft lets you get your ideas down on paper in their raw unedited form. This is the clay out of which you will mould your masterpiece — your next blog post or email communication (for example).
Some wonderful words about this come from Anne Lamott (from whom I first learned there was a name for those unfocused, disjointed, sometimes confusing first drafts I was creating):
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life and is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft . . . “
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
For a long time I was afraid to write. Perfection was a major reason why.
Here are some more reasons to let yourself write shitty first drafts:
No one sees them but you — trust me if my clients saw my first drafts they would wonder why they hired me — the first draft is for YOU (and occasionally perhaps a few people whose input you trust who will support and won’t judge you).
You can get more than one piece out of them — when I let myself go wild with a first draft, sometimes parts of it don’t seem to go together. On a subsequent read through I realize I have more than one blog post — BONUS!
They spark creativity and save time — my best work comes from NOT censoring myself when I write the first draft. What’s left after not censoring? Me. My ideas. My unique point of view. Pieces of my story that are relevant to my audience. Spending 15-60 minutes writing the shitty first draft up front saves countless hours of editing, brainstorming and agonizing later.
Keep It Simple
A current trend in online marketing writing is “long form” blog posts. 1000+ word posts, backed by and linked to research or case studies. The Buffer Blog does these especially well.
Whether you’re writing a 2000 word blog post, a 4000 word email course, or a 50 word email, here’s how to keep it simple:
Know your audience and write for them. If you’re blogging, what questions does your audience have? How can you best answer and teach? If you’re writing an email, what does the recipient need to know to respond in a meaningful way? As a professional, it’s easy to fall into the trap of writing for your peers. Most of the time, as a business owner, you’re NOT. Who is your audience? What do they want to know?
Be bold and clear. Once you’re out of the first draft stage, you want to edit. Relentlessly. To make your work as clear and readable as possible. Use simple words and phrases. Write like you speak. One of my favorite writers growing up was Hemingway. Clear. Simple. Profound. There is a cool app named after him that I sometimes run my writing through. Try it and discover where you can trim some of the fat while dialing up the impact.
Structure your writing so it’s easy to skim. One look at any good blog (including this one) will show you this. Use plenty of subheads, bullet points and pictures.
Keeping it simple does NOT mean stifling your point of view or dumbing anything down. Once you commit to simple, the opposite is true.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
― E.F. Schumacher
It’s More Important to Publish Than be Perfect
Here’s the bottom line: You can publish, and move forward. Or you can sit on your hands and stagnate.
Having lived both, I can say . . . it’s a no brainer. Publish.
A common conundrum is:
You want to produce professional polished work.
Creative, important, influencing work is never “done.” There’s always something you can change. Revise. Improve.
And, no matter how diligent you are, typos slip through. Trust me. They do.
If you’ve committed to the shitty first draft and edited your way down to simple, it’s time to publish. It’s time to move forward.
One of the best blog posts I’ve read on this subject is called 7 Reasons Why “C” Students Crush “A” Students When It Comes to Online Marketing by Marcus Sheridan.The post covers a lot of ground (and is worth reading in it’s entirety) but one quote is relevant here:
5. C-Students don’t care if everything is just right: Not too long ago I had a client that delayed the start of their blog for weeks simply because they didn’t like the shade of green on their blog’s home page. (Seriously, I’m not kidding.) Needless to say, that client has yet to experience much success online.
I stopped writing because I felt like everything I had to say had already been said by the luminaries in my industry. Therefore nothing I said would be original, provocative, influencing . . . nothing I said would be “right.” I stopped caring about that when I could no longer stand feeling stifled and uncreative.
Publishing Your Work Puts You On the Fast Track to Deeper Creativity In Less Time
It was a relief to acknowledge that yes, the topics I write about are covered elsewhere. But it’s not about the topics. It’s about my point of view. My “voice.” The people who are drawn to me.
The same holds true for you. Noone can write about, teach, or DO your work like you can. It’s YOU that’s original.
Sometimes being creative and productive means making the most of 30 minutes in a packed schedule and hitting publish. Other times being creative and productive means eight hours of research and writing to produce a piece of content you can re-purpose in different media. Both are valid. Both are creative. Both are productive.
PRACTICE creating shitty first drafts, keeping it simple, and publishing. Let me know how you’re doing in the comments.
Flickr Creative Commons Image by Julie Jordan Scott.