Recently, I asked the Copyblogger tribe over on Google+ to name their biggest writing challenge.
From the many responses, a pattern developed:
- How to get started
- How to cut the fluff
- How to finish
These three issues are really symptoms of the same painful problem, which boils down to not clearly understanding what you’re trying to accomplish with your writing. Don’t worry … it’s a fairly common ailment.
There’s a process you can work through that will help you achieve greater clarity of your objectives, which leads to great clarity in your writing.
This process also helps you kick-start any writing project (and finish it) with only the necessary elements, because you’ll know exactly what you’re after and how to make it happen.
Step One: Begin with the end in mind
The most important step in the process is right here, before you write a word.
You must understand your objective for the content.
You have an idea, but what’s the goal? From a content marketing standpoint, you’re usually seeking to educate or persuade (often both, and as we’ll see in the next step, they’re actually the same thing even when intentions vary).
Having a “great idea” and sitting down to write often leads to a half-finished train wreck.
What’s the “why” behind the idea? Figure this out first, or move on to another idea.
Step Two: Identify questions
Okay, so now you have a goal in mind; a mission if you will.
What’s standing in the way of your mission?
The obstacles you face are the things your audience does not yet understand, but must accept by the end of the piece. These are the questions that you must answer before you can achieve the goal you’ve identified in Step One.
In copywriting circles, we say an unanswered question (an objection) is a barrier to buying.
With education, an unanswered question is a barrier to learning. Education is persuasion (and vice versa) when you realize this fundamental truth.
Step Three: Write the headline and subheads
With your goal in mind and the questions you must answer identified, now you start to put things down on virtual paper.
Some people open the word processor at step two, I do everything up until now in my head. Do what works for you.
What promise are you making to your audience with this piece? What will you teach them or convince them of? And why should they care? That’s your working headline.
Then, each of the major questions you must answer to achieve your mission (and the promise your headline makes) becomes a subhead. Your subheads don’t ultimately have to be phrased as questions, but it’s a decent place to start.
Take some time to decide if a particular question is its own subhead or part of the content of a subhead. It’s simply outlining at this point.
Step Four: Fill in the blanks
Want to write lean copy?
Answer the questions designated by each subhead, and answer only that question.
Do not digress. Do not go off on a tangent.
Just answer the question. Do it as simply and clearly as possible.
Step Five: Now … Edit
If you’ve followed these steps, you’re not likely suffering from fluff.
You might rather find that you need to add additional information or rephrase for clarity.
This is also the point to refine your language. Experienced writers can often pull the perfect turn of phrase in some places of a first draft, while in other places there are better word choices to be made.
Finally, review how the piece turned out:
Does your working headline still reflect the fulfilled promise?
Does your opening keep the momentum going?
Can the headline, opening, and subheads be stated differently to be even more compelling?
What about you?
As Seth Godin said in our recent podcast, everyone’s approach to the writing process differs. This process works for me, and I wrote this article fairly quickly using the process as a demonstration.
What works for you?
Any tips you can pass along that might help your fellow scribes?
Let us know in the comments.
About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Google+.