Need to write blog posts, but don’t know where to start? Is the fear of the blank page surfacing again, just when you thought you’d left it in a dark closet from your past schooling? Let’s see how developing a writing methodology can become your most valuable ally.
[Article originally published March 30, 2019 on medium.com and sqli.ch – long before Chat-GPT came along).
Writing for the web: between myth and method
In the collective unconscious, the image of an editor is similar to that of a writer: a person blessed by the gods, who has retreated to a remote and bucolic land to “write”. Every morning, he (or she) gets up around 10:00 a.m., after a good night’s rest. If his muse doesn’t come to inspire him right away, he goes for a swim in his Adam and Eve outfit in the pond located on the edge of the farm where he resides for an indefinite period. After several days, with a little luck, he grabs his best fountain pen and notebook of a famous brand. There, on a solid wood table, he indulges his passion naturally for twelve hours straight, even forgetting to eat.
Several years spent in web writing have convinced me of one thing: the reality is quite different and that’s good!
Setting up a methodology
“Hold The Vision. Trust The Process” – Highly inspirational quote from Pinterest.
Writing for the web is very pragmatic, whether it’s writing news articles, product sheets, advertisements or content for social networks. The development of a work methodology, a process of analysis and writing has allowed me to overcome many requests. It saved my life when I had to “find the inspiration” to “write” in record time about sixty product sheets concerning linens (a field I was obviously fond of at the time), promotional articles about walkways to be installed on factory roofs, or Google Ads.
The process we’re about to see is generalized, but can meet most writing requests. Use it as inspiration to create your own, and improve it over time. Don’t worry about inspiration, you’ll find it along the way.
Step 1: Preliminary analysis
Here we rely on journalistic techniques to prepare our field of investigation.
Here are a few things that can help you:
- Use the 5W + 2H (Who, What, Where, When, How, How much, Why) method to answer the essential questions and get a comprehensive view of the topic;
- Define the topic, purpose and tone of the writing, among other things;
- Get inspired! Find information on the subject, on competitors, on products.
Step 2: Define your writing plan
Depending on the type of content to be produced, this plan can be imposed (product sheets or advertisements for example) or be more open (blog post). In the latter case, I like to define a writing skeleton beforehand that will constitute a writing framework and a common thread.
Step 3: Write!
The real fun begins. Write, even badly: make spelling and grammar mistakes. Go for it! No one is looking at you anyway. Make a draft, put your ideas on paper or in your favorite word processor.
Tip: If the blank page still taunts you, perhaps you lack the material. It might be worthwhile to do some more preliminary research.
Step 4: Go for a coffee
The principle: let your writing rest, to better come back to it and see it with new eyes. Ideally, leave your text aside for an hour or two, or even a day if possible. At the very least, leave ten or fifteen minutes. At this point, you may realize that the great idea you thought you had was not a great idea. While this may seem frustrating, this is your opportunity to make it right.
Step 5: Improve your writing
Ann Handley, in her book Everybody Writes, recommends doing your corrections in two phases. First, in a rough way (“with a chainsaw”): you reshape the text and cut in the heap. Then, more finely, by going back to the spelling or more advanced turns of phrase.
Step 6: Get some help
Have your text proofread by an outside person whose writing, grammar and spelling skills you know. In English, this is called Proofreading. Here, your ego might resist the remarks of someone who didn’t put as much effort into writing “your” content as you did. Correct accordingly.
Step 7: Publication
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, or dreading, depending on the situation. Put your content online, maybe have the client review it. Make sure all the elements are in place (images, links, element weight, markup, etc.).
What about SEO in all this?
In the case of a blog post, for example, I introduce semantic SEO improvements after the writing, at step 5. While I do of course research keywords and their potential beforehand, I consider that we are writing for human beings above all, while keeping search engines in mind. Trying to write directly with the “right” keywords in the right place can be a hindrance to writing. Then I make sure that the other on-page optimizations are respected at the time of publishing.
How to get even better
Follow this process and develop your own, read books on web writing or writing in general. And while it’s easy to say, practice as much as you can. Like Matt Cutts (former Mr. SEO at Google), do a 30-day challenge and try to write thirty minutes a day for a month. That’s all it takes to make real progress.