Writing is one of those tasks a lot of people hate to do. They sit there staring at the blank page, unable to start, knowing what they want to say but unable to put it in words, finding ways to distract themselves, and getting themselves into a muddle.
If that’s you, I have a neat trick to help you get started more confidently. It’s something I learnt during a career in journalism, where procrastinating over a blank page simply isn’t an option.
Let’s get started.
Founding facts are your friend
Your first port of call is to consider the “who, what, when, where and why” of what you need to say. Explain it like you’d explain it to someone if you had ten seconds with them in an elevator before the doors closed on you. Write it down. It doesn’t have to be pretty, just get all the important information down in one sentence.
So it could look like this:
Judy’s Garden Centre is celebrating our twentieth anniversary this weekend by offering every customer their choice of either a bag of mulch or a punnet of petunias as a free gift.
It’s a little ugly but, as a starting point, it does the job.
Further facts must flow
In journalism, these “who, what, when, where and why” facts often make up the opening sentence of any article. We follow a structure called “the inverted pyramid” — where the most important facts are put at the top and every sentence that comes underneath it is progressively less and less important.
The inverted pyramid does a couple of things: Firstly, it ensures the reader gets the necessary information as early as possible, so they can decide whether they need to keep reading. Secondly (which is less important for our purposes but is still excellent trivia) it means that when the articles are being put on the pages the editors can “cut from the bottom” knowing the most important information will not be lost.
So, let your next most important facts flow — but still stick to just the facts.
Let the fluff flow, too
Writing this way cuts out all the “fluff”. You don’t have to worry about whether you’re being “attention grabbing” or artistic — you can just say what you need to say.
But, once you’ve written four or five paragraphs down you might well feel like your writing muscles have warmed up. Continue getting down everything you need to say. Don’t stop.
Once you get to the end (with no more important facts to share and you’re in the swing of writing) you are far more likely to feel inspired to go back up to the top and write a more flowery introduction. This is the perfect point to do this because your brain is finally in the right place to do a good job of it.
So you could go back later and change your opening to:
It’s our twentieth birthday and we’re celebrating by giving you the presents!
This weekend every Judy’s Garden Centre customer will head home with either a free bag of mulch or a punnet of petunias. It’s our way of saying ‘thank you’ for the support you’ve given us over all these years.
That’s far more enticing to the reader — more warm and welcoming, but still communicating the important message.
45 minutes, fresh eyes, and a friend
Once you have your article written and you’re basically happy with it, walk away from it for 45 minutes. Go do something else — mulch your petunias perhaps. Then come back to it with “fresh eyes” and see if you’re still happy with it. Sometimes just getting away from something you’ve been concentrating on for a while is the best way to come up with a better way to write it.
Finally, when you’re happy with it, it’s time for a little proofreading. Get someone else to have a look over it. Ask them what improvements could be made. Did you get the tone right? Is there anything that doesn’t make sense? Does something need further explanation? It’s often best to ask someone who knows nothing about the topic you’re writing about.
Then, before you hit “publish”, get a third person to look at it, too: Someone who can proofread it and pick up spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
It’s not a foolproof system, but it has been a very useful tool for me over nearly 20 years (almost as long as fictional Judy’s been in fictional business). It’s a really simple way to stop that page looking so blank and getting the words to flow.
If you’d like to work with a content marketing team that understands how to write copy your clients will love, get in touch with Lush Digital Media. We might even throw in some petunias.
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Brand Newsroom: How to generate editorial ideas like a journalist [podcast with show notes]