How to Write When You Don’t Have the Energy

Unfortunately, this is a personal subject for me. For the past three years, I’ve dealt with a thyroid-related issue that causes me frequent fatigue (less so now that I have the right meds). On top of that, I’ve had many days where my brain was foiled by allergies (a bigger deal in Austin than the word “allergies” communicates to most people). But I run a business based around writing and I’ve had to keep it up on the bad days as well as the good.

Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash

Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash

Over time, I’ve become used to keeping my work going when my brain and body just want to curl up in bed and avoid anything that requires mental energy. And writing takes a lot of mental energy. Yet, somehow I still meet my deadlines.

Some days I’m amazed that’s the case, but apparently I’ve figured something out that works. Suspecting that there are others that struggle with similar issues or different ones that affect your productivity in similar ways, I’m sharing what’s worked for me in the hopes that it might work for you.

It’s unlikely that every item on this list will be useful for every person reading it. But if you find that even just one thing here makes a difference, then that’s something.

  1. Re-shape your to-do list based on priority.

Most of us start off each day aiming to do more than we absolutely have to get done. A lot of the time, that ambition serves us well and helps us stay productive. But some days it can feel like a burden pressing down on us making it harder to get anything on the list done.

When you’re having an off day an overwhelming to-do list isn’t doing you any favors. Carefully review the list and figure out which items on it can wait. You need the sparse energy you have for the writing that has to get done today. Move that to the top of the list, do it first, and then do whatever else you can manage after.

  1. Analyze where your energy goes.

This one’s personal, and extremely useful over the long term. Every person’s going to have different types of work and activities that require a lot of energy from them, while others require less. When you deal with any kind of issue that causes you lower energy levels for certain days or periods of time, knowing how to re-shape your calendar based on the amount of energy you’ll have available is a useful skill.

This is valuable even if you don’t struggle with depression or illness – tracking how your energy levels relate to the work (and play even) that you tackle each day can help you plan your weeks more efficiently. You can minimize tasks that require a disproportionate amount of energy for the value they bring to your work.

For instance, I’m extremely introverted. Adding a networking event into my day is going to use up a lot of the energy I have for work that day, even on a good day. So I know to be strategic in when I plan to attend social events, and know when to forego those plans when the energy just isn’t there. Figure out how the typical tasks you have to deal with in a week compare in this regard so you know which ones to cut down on to conserve the energy you have.

  1. Leave wiggle room in your schedule.

If you’re freelance like me, that will mean leaving money on the table. Sorry.

But when you can’t predict what your days will be like, you have to plan your life in a way that anticipates at least some bad days.

This isn’t a tip that will help much if you woke up this morning feeling fatigued or depressed for the first time, but if it becomes something that happens at all regularly, then you have to start planning on it. Worst-case scenario, if you have nothing but good days for a while, that extra wiggle room gives you time to tackle all those tasks that tend to get put off to later when you’re busy.

  1. Use a social media blocker.

Seriously, it helps. When your brain wants to be focusing on anything but the thing you know you most need to be doing, it can fall into the well of endless social media messages. That’s probably not the only distraction in your life you have to grapple with, but it’s one you can do something about.

I use Focus. It costs a small fee, but it’s probably improved my productivity enough to cover its cost several times over. When you genuinely want to be focusing and your brain won’t cooperate for whatever reason, getting a message that reminds you of your good intentions the moment you go to pull up Facebook can be a helpful reminder to get back on track.

Screen Shot 2018-01-04 at 4.49.52 PM

  1. Give work out breaks a try.

I get it. I understand if you’re looking at the computer screen right now feeling so tired or overwhelmed or beat down by life that this is likely the last piece of advice you’ll want to hear.

It’s counterintuitive when it feels like you have so much to do and not enough energy to do it to take time out of your day for exercise. But I’ve found that it sometimes kick-starts my brain and gives me a couple of hours of productivity afterward. It might not do the same for you, but it’s worth a try.

  1. Watch what you eat.

Pay attention to insensitivities or ingredients that regularly make your drowsy or distracted. I know having a carb-heavy lunch brings my productivity down in the afternoon, for example. How people react to food varies, so saving carbs for dinnertime might not make a lick of difference to you. But do some experimenting with cutting certain ingredients out for a period of time to see if you see any difference. Or start making notes of how you feel throughout the day and what you ate so you can see if there’s a relationship.

Changing your diet won’t make something like a thyroid problem or depression disappear entirely, but cutting out something that makes you feel a little bit worse will help you feel a little bit better. When you’re starting from a place of feeling crummy, that little bit of difference can help.

  1. Try supplements or herbal teas.

Look, for all I know it may be the placebo affect, but I’ve found this tea helps when I’m really struggling to focus. And making tea out of fresh ginger (I add in some mint and lemon or lime) seems to help with headaches or allergy-induced brain fog. Ginseng or gingko supplements work for some people. B-12 or vitamin D supplements may work for others.

Your doctor can run some tests to see if you’re low on any supplements that are good for energy and brain health. And you can try out some different options to see if something works for you.

  1. Give yourself a break.

The inspirational stuff you see on social media or in productivity articles for people that don’t have illnesses/depression/whatever you’re dealing with right now may be good for other people, but they can make those of us struggling to finish the bare minimum feel rotten. Know that it’s ok not to hold yourself to someone else’s standard when you’re having a bad day (or week, or month).

Feeling stressed out and hopeless won’t help you get the things you need to done. Do the best you can and don’t beat yourself up what you accomplished today is less than you’d hoped.

 

I’m not a doctor or medical expert, so if you’re dealing with something that you think may benefit from talking to someone who is, don’t let this post be a substitute. Getting the right meds made a huge difference in my ability to get work done without having to lean on these tips and tricks quite so often. But having a few more tricks in your bag besides to help out when things are hard doesn’t hurt. I hope these can help you get through the writing that has to get done today and that your tomorrow is better.

 

 

 

 

6 Great Content Writing Examples

Anyone who works in content marketing is used to encountering bad examples. You get better at noticing the stuff that doesn’t work when it’s your job to make stuff that does. Because we’re so used to seeing bad examples, it feels really good to encounter examples of content writing done right.

It can give is some inspiration in our work and, if we’re the target audience, be directly useful to us as well. To provide some of you with that feeling today, I’ve collected a few examples of great content writing I’ve encountered. Enjoy.

Great Business Blogging Examples

For most companies that do content marketing, blogging is the biggest part of the job. Blogs give you the opportunity to provide fresh, useful content to your audience on a regular basis and they’re one of the best tools you’ve got for SEO.

But they’re also hungry beasts that demand lots of work and never let you take a break. That’s caused far too many businesses to try to settle for lazy, cheap content on their blogs – or give up on them entirely within a few months of not seeing immediate results.

The brands that stick with it and provide consistently helpful and high-quality content are therefore in the minority.

HomeAdvisor

Homeowners tend to have a lot of ideas for projects they want to try and questions about how to handle everyday fixes. The Home Advisor blog HomeSource is packed full of answers and tips. The blog is a mix of practical tips like how to hire a good contractor or pack for a move, along with more fun topics like decorating your home and yard.

Probably the most common questions homeowners have are those about cost. Many people – especially new homeowners – simply don’t know what’s normal to expect a home repair or update to cost. In addition to the blog itself, HomeAdvisor therefore offers a True Cost guide to give you an idea of what your budget should be before you start a project, and help you rule out any contractors that charge outside of the norm. And since the company’s business model is based on matching homeowners with the people who do those sorts of projects, they of course offer a handy CTA on the same page to help you find relevant professionals in your area.

content marketing example

Rover

Rover’s got a bit of advantage over most businesses when it comes to their content. The company is all about pets (mostly dogs) – and we all know pet pictures are one of the most popular things on the internet. But in addition to taking advantage of the love people have for pictures of cute animals, the Rover blog Daily Treat also provides a lot of useful information on topics important to pet owners, such as training and safety tips and answers to pressing questions like “do dogs recognize us on a phone screen?” (if you have a dog, you’ve probably wondered).

blogging example
They’re one of the companies that can most successfully get me to click on a link in an email, because they do a great job of figuring out the things pet owners really do want to know.

Ehrlich

If you’re thinking “sure, their content’s good, but Rover has it so much easier than those of us doing marketing in areas less compelling than the cute dog industry,” here’s an example for you. The pest control company Ehrlich has a great blog, deBugged that provides lots of useful information about bugs and other creepy crawly-adjacent subjects.

Bugs aren’t a subject most of us go out of our way to do some reading on each day, but when you need to know how concerned you should really be about Zika virus or what to do about bed bugs, those posts will come in handy. And the rest of the time, you may find posts on topics like how long wasps live to be interesting as well. Like Home Advisor, they include CTAs at the end of their content where relevant so that person trying to figure out what to do about bed bugs knows who to call to help.

blogging example

 Great Examples of Longform Content

As content marketing is adopted by more and more businesses in all sorts of industries, finding a way to stand out is a challenge. One route many businesses are taking is creating content that goes more in depth. It takes more work, but if you can pack more of the information your prospects need into one longform piece rather than spreading it over a number of shorter pieces, many people will find that more helpful.

Freshbooks

Freshbooks’ target audience for their accounting software is small businesses and freelancers. That’s a group of people that thinks a lot about pricing – figuring out how to charge for your services in a way that works for you and your customers is a fraught subject.

In order to provide them information so useful it could stand out in the marketing crowd, they put together an ebook that tackled the subject of how to switch from charging hourly to project-based pricing. The 70-page book is structured like a conversation between two relatable professionals and lays out the case for a different approach to pricing that can help service-based small business owners make more.

The book got reviewed around the web and collected positive testimonials from a number of key influencers. Not bad in our world of content saturation.

longform content writing example

Moz

I mentioned content saturation before, but arguably the industry that has it the worst is marketing. Many of the earliest adopters of content marketing were marketing agencies and marketing software companies. Producing content about marketing that doesn’t repeat what’s been said before and manages to provide something truly useful is a huge challenge businesses face. But Moz is consistently good at it.

Any time I encounter someone looking to learn the basics of SEO, I send them over to the The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by Moz. It’s thorough, but manageable. It’s written in a way to be accessible to people new to the concept and it’s organized to make it easy to focus in on specific sections when you just need a refresher on, say, keyword research.

The guide was produced several years ago, but is updated regularly to make sure the information stays accurate. It’s been read over 3 million times and continues to generate new traffic for the site.

longform content writing example

Rodale’s

For people just getting started, gardening is both exciting and overwhelming. There’s a lot you need to know and figuring out both the answers to your questions and even what questions you should have can be challenging.

In addition to their usual helpful blog content, Rodale’s also provides some longform guides that help the people in their target audience – gardeners that care about the environment – learn all the most important basics to start out with.

Their Beginner’s Guide to Organic Gardening covers using seeds, using transplants, weeds, pest control, and basic gardening vocabulary. It ensures readers can go into their local nursery with all the 101-information covered.

longform content writing example

Content marketing is hard to do well, but seeing how other brands are pulling it off can help you to revisit your own strategy to consider ways to do better.

Hopefully these examples will provide some inspiration for your own content. And if you could use some extra help with content writing for your business, that’s what I do. Get in touch to see if we might be a good fit.

Want more examples of great content writing to check out? I collected 7 great examples of business blogs in a recent post and I’ve got a whole page of content writing links by me over on my writing samples page.

8 Ways to Lose a Link

Content marketing means creating content with a purpose. For every piece of how to lose linkscontent you create, you should have a specific goal (or usually, several) in mind that you want it to achieve.

If you care at all about SEO – and I’m not sure I’ve met a content marketer that doesn’t – then one important goal you should have for blog posts is earning links. While the factors Google uses to determine search rankings are complicated, backlinks (quality ones, in particular) are still arguably the most important factor.

And one of the biggest factors involved in earning links is appealing to writers. We’re the ones who do most of that linking.

Let me assure you that we’re not spending our days considering whether or not we’ll make or break brands in our decisions about what to link to in our articles. We’re just trying to write the best, most useful content for our clients and their readers.

We’re not thinking about you, but you can benefit from thinking about us and understanding what goes through our heads when we decide whether or not a piece of content we come across is worthy of that link.

Just like anyone, we have our standards and pet peeves – sins that will make us immediately click off a page and refuse to consider it a worthy authority for our readers. To help you avoid inadvertently losing out on a link, I surveyed a few colleagues to better understand what makes all of us tick and decide a link is not worthy of our love.

8 Sins to Avoid if You Care About Building Links

1.    A bad website design

If your website looks like it was built in 1999 and hasn’t had an update since, it won’t look authoritative to me (or any of your other visitors). I’m not the only one who feels this way, Content Strategist and Author Leah Levy told me “I wouldn’t link to a piece if the site looks spammy — that is, it has an outdated design.”

“Spammy” is about the last word you want people to use to describe your website or content. The quality of the content itself won’t matter much if it lives on a website that looks so cheap and old that no one can get past the design.

As Linda Dessau, the founder of Content Mastery Guide, put it “Since a link is an endorsement, I steer clear of sites that look outdated or unprofessional. I want to be associated with people and businesses that have a polished and professional image.”

2.    Sloppy writing

Part of our job is paying attention to things like spelling, word choice, and sentence structure. When we encounter something that’s sloppily written or riddled with typos, you can bet we notice.

Linking to something that clearly no one bothered to proofread would make me look bad. If you can’t be bothered to take the time to read over your blog posts (or hire someone to do so) to make sure they make sense and don’t include any embarrassing errors, then writers won’t bother to share or link to them.

And it’s not just about writers nitpicking, sloppy writing makes you look untrustworthy. Leah agrees, she told me, “I wouldn’t link to anything with clear spelling or grammatical errors (nor would I trust it).”

3.    Bad UX

A good website design isn’t just about making sure you don’t look stuck in the 90’s, you also want to make sure people find your site easy to navigate and pleasant to be on.

Unfortunately, many businesses are callously sacrificing good UX in attempts to get more email sign ups and clicks. Pretty much anyone you talk to will have their opinions on what makes for bad UX (although not everyone would know to call it that).

For me it includes pop ups that block out the text and blog posts split needlessly between several pages when they could all be on one (slideshow posts are notorious offenders). I’ll put up with a certain amount of that on sites that are established enough or if the content is really useful. Normally though, I click away and find something else.

Freelance writer Susan Johnston Taylor has her own list of UX dislikes: ““If a site is littered with Google ads, broken links or typos, it doesn’t seem very credible.

As does writer and editor Christine Moline of Jane Doe Ink, who told me, “I wouldn’t link to a poorly organized post or any pages cluttered with ads.”

Linda added a couple more issues to the list: “I screen for overly aggressive or annoying pop-ups, sites that are slow to load or aren’t mobile-friendly.”

All told, different descriptions of bad user experience accounted for the most common answer I received from writers.

Just to reiterate, the final list of UX issues that will make writers click away comes to:

  • Annoying pop ups
  • Articles split into too many pages
  • Lots of ads
  • Broken links
  • Slow loading times
  • Sites that aren’t mobile friendly

If you’re prioritizing getting email sign ups or ad money over the experience visitors will have on your website, know that may be costing you links.

4.    Overly promotional content

When you’re paying for content (or investing a lot of time in it), it’s hard to set aside the idea of promoting yourself. I get it. You want a direct payoff for what you put into it.

When you make your content all about you though, it makes it come off as less trustworthy.

I head from multiple writers that overly promotional content was a no-no in their linking choices, but writer and content maven Phaedra Hise had the most to say on the subject: “I don’t link to anything that’s too promotional. I’m really picky about that – if it’s too promotional I might even link to it as an example of what NOT to do, but usually I don’t even like to give that kind of publicity.”

I mean, links are nice, but you don’t want to get one by becoming a writer’s example of what not to do.

5.    A statistic without a link or citation

None of the other writers mentioned it, but this is one of my personal rules. If your article mentions a statistic without telling me where it’s from, you will immediately lose my trust.

The thing is, many of us think we know statistics we don’t. I’ve come across the same statistic casually mentioned in article after article that I’ve never been able to track down to a source.

Sometimes the source is a research report that costs hundreds of dollars, so I understand if not every statistic can be easily linked to. But make sure you let me know which report that costs hundreds of dollars it’s from so I’m willing to at least take your word that it’s real.

I can only speak for myself on this one, but if you ever want a link from me, make sure you cite your sources.

6.    Outdated information

A lot of industries move fast. If your blog post from three years ago says something that’s no longer true, then it’s losing value in the link economy.

Says Susan, “If a post is several years old or clearly references outdated information, I’d try to find a more recent post to make sure I’m linking to something that’s still current.”

That doesn’t mean your old posts are useless, just that you should make a project out of updating them now and then. In particular, any posts you have that are popular and bringing in traffic now should be revisited so you can see if there’s a good opportunity to update any of them for accuracy.

7.    Lack of authenticity

This relates somewhat back to overly promotional content, if you come off like you’re trying too hard or acting like something you’re not, people will notice.

Barry Feldman, founder of Feldman Creative put it at the top of his list of things he won’t link to: “Posts lacking personality. I think you can offer a lot of knowledge, but I’d rather not align my brand with yours if it’s boring. And that represents 90% of content marketers, sorry to say.“

The good news is that if 90% of marketers are doing it wrong, then bringing some real personality to your writing is a good way to differentiate yourself.

On a related note, Carol Tice, author of the recent ebook Small Blog Big Income and the blog Make a Living Writing , cited one of her biggest dealbreakers as when “the blog author is pretending to be an authority when they really just started doing the thing they write about.”

There’s a definite value to positioning yourself as a thought leader or expert – but only if you have the knowledge and experience to back it up.

8.    Moral reputation

Carol had another big sin that she mentioned: “I won’t link to posts on the Huffington Post due to its policy of not paying writers, since I am an advocate for fair writer pay.”

She’s the only one of the writers I talked to that mentioned this particular point, but I suspect we’ve all shied away from visiting or linking to a website if we know the brand represents something we disagree with.

Be careful what you stand for and how you treat your employees and contractors. If you gain a reputation for being about something that many writers don’t agree with, they’ll be quick to find another resource to go with instead.

Conclusion

To summarize, the eight deadly sins that will lose you links are:

  • An outdated website
  • Sloppy writing and typos
  • A bad user experience
  • Being overly promotional
  • Not citing your sources
  • Letting your content become outdated
  • Not being authentic
  • A bad brand reputation

Avoiding these things obviously doesn’t guarantee you links. We’re still going to seek out the resources that are most valuable to our readers and relevant to the subject we’re talking about. That may be your links; it may be those of another business or publication. But if you’re guilty of one of these eight sins, then even if your content is useful, there’s a good chance we’ll look for another resource to use instead.

If you want to appeal to the people doing the writing, then take heed. Producing valuable content is one part of the puzzle, avoiding the errors on this list is another.

Why Content Writing Requires Empathy

What are the most important skills a content writer needs? Some of the obvious answers that may first come to mind are:

content writing requires empathy

Image via recitethis.com

  • Knack for language
  • Ability to research
  • Understanding of how to format content for the web
  • Ability to write easy-to-read content
  • Ability to create a content calendar and stick with deadlines

The two answers that came up the most often when I asked content strategists what skills the best content writers possessed were creativity and curiosity.

All of that matters. Good content writing requires a pretty significant skillset. But nothing on that list would be enough to create compelling content that people want to read without the skill that’s arguably most important of all: empathy. You probably won’t see it show up on a resume or the list of qualifications in a job ad, but without empathy, nothing a content writer produces will resonate with the target audience.

The Case for Empathy in Content Marketing

Marketers talk a lot about how important empathy is, but often in other terms. How many times have you heard your marketing colleagues use the phrase “know your audience.” It’s an easy thing to say, but empathy can actually be really challenging. It’s not something that’s taught in school. Most businesses don’t exactly cover it in their training. Trying to truly understand what someone else is thinking and feeling is difficult.

Our default mode is to view our own perception of the world as the most obvious, natural way to see things. It’s just how we’re wired. Getting outside of our own heads in order to figure out the differences in how others see things takes effort and practice.

No one’s arguing against empathy in marketing, but not many organizations are putting it front and center. Probably in large part because it is so much harder than it looks. It’s easy enough to think you know your audience, but much harder to actually go the extra mile to really understand them.

How Can Someone Get Better At Empathy?

Image via Natalie CollinsThat poses the question: what can we actually do about it? First and foremost, read.

If there’s one main way to flex our brain’s empathy muscle, it’s to get inside the heads of other people through books, short stories, and articles. Fiction and non-fiction are both good for this. Through reading, you can take a ride through the mindset and perceptions of the writer or character and learn about the experiences of others.

Devoting more time to reading is great advice for anyone who cares about becoming empathetic (or becoming a better writer in any format). But there’s a whole set of other steps you can take to become more empathetic to your particular audience.

Find them online. Then just hang out and listen.

Look for forums, social media groups, and blog comment sections where your audience hangs out. There are so many spaces online today where people share their thoughts and feelings, if you can figure out where those spaces are for your audience then you’ll have an easy glimpse into the kinds of questions and concerns they have.

Talk to your salespeople and customer service reps.

There are people within your company working directly with your customers and prospects every day. Your salespeople and customer service representatives hear first hand what your target audience is thinking about, the issues they’re facing, the questions they commonly have and the kinds of problems they regularly deal with. All of that information can help you understand your audience better and craft your content calendar based on the topics they actually care about.

Look to your data.

Marketers have more data today than they ever have in the history of the profession. You likely already have at your fingertips loads of information on what your prospects are searching for, the terms they use, and the types of content they’re most commonly seeking out. Data can seem dry and impersonal, but with the proper analysis, it can provide content writers with important insights into the minds of your prospects.

Revisit and refine your personas semi-regularly.

Personas shouldn’t be a project you tackle once and then leave alone. You’re constantly learning more about your audience – what issues they care about, what types of content they respond to, what topics they’re discussing online – your new insights should make their way into the personas you have. Commit to revisiting your personas at least once or twice a year to improve upon them based on new information.

 

Empathy is a crucial skill to have as a content writer, but more importantly, it helps people to become better human beings. When you make an effort to understand what other people go through and how they feel, becoming better at communicating and treating people with greater compassion are natural side effects. The same skill that will make your content more relatable and successful will pay off in your life far beyond the effects it has on your work.

7 Essentials for Quality Content Writing

A little while back, I asked a number of content strategists to share their tips on what makes a great content writer. They shared a lot of great insights, but they tended to fall more on the ideological side of things, citing curiosity and creativity as top attributes of the writers they worked with.

For anyone interested in succeeding as a content writer, those are hugely important traits to have, but there are also some specific steps and skills related to the technical process of content writing that those of us who have been at it a while learn over time.

For those of you who could use more specific, in-the-weeds tips on improving your content writing skills, these are the top suggestions I offer.

1.    Read (a lot).

This is a good tip for anyone who wants to be better at any type of writing. Don’t necessarily stick with

Image via kaboompics.com

Image via kaboompics.com

reading the type of writing you’re doing – just be a prolific reader all around. Fiction, non-fiction, magazine articles, blog posts – it’s more important that you read anything you can find that’s by good writers who use language well than it is that you read things that are in the format you’ll be writing in.

Spending time with the work of great writers is how you learn what kinds of words and sentence structures work well together, and what kind of language and writing styles feel awkward, haughty, or needlessly obtuse. Gaining a clearer picture of what you like to read will help you shape your own voice as a writer and replicate what works so well when other writers do it.

2.    Do the research.

You can’t write about something you don’t know about. Well, you can, but it will be needlessly difficult and come out sounding like BS (cause that’s what it will be). The first step to every writing project (unless it’s on a subject you already know inside and out) has to be spending time on research.

I spend more time on research than I do on writing. Unless I don’t do enough research, then the writing is like extracting teeth – slow and painful. And the results won’t end up any better for the extra trouble that goes into it.

3.    Actively work to empathize with your target audience.

Empathy requires work. It seems simple to say that different people see the world differently, but in practice it feels unnatural to us. The golden rule we’re taught as kids is flawed because how I want to be treated isn’t always how other people do. My interests aren’t always the same as my audience’s. My values aren’t necessarily the same as theirs. Etc. Etc.

That means understanding your audience –getting inside their head to figure out what they’re thinking and the kind of topics and writing they respond to – is an extra step that quality content writers have to make and a skillset in and of itself.

One of the greatest gifts I can come across in my research as a freelance content writer is a blog post with members of my target audience offering up their opinions in the comments, or a LinkedIn group where the people I’m writing for are active participants in the discussions. Or even better, a conversation with someone that’s in my target audience. The more you understand about your target audience – their wants, needs, concerns, values, interests – the easier it will be attain the level of empathy needed to write effectively for them.

Quick side note: this is something else that reading helps with. Learning about other people’s lives through nonfiction or getting inside the heads of characters different from you in fiction is a practice in empathy. The more reading you do, the more you stretch the empathy muscle you need to flex when it’s time to get inside the head of your target audience. (I’m not alone in thinking this – no less than POTUS himself agrees!)

4.    Pay attention to formatting.

You have to understand how people read and how their reading habits change on different devices and in different contexts. You’ll find a lot of variety in the particular preferences different people have when it comes to content consumption (some people vastly prefer short-form content, others are much more likely to take the time for quality long form; some are more likely to click on a video, others will opt for text every time).

This makes things complicated, but there are certain online reading preferences that are widespread enough to count on:

  • Headlines must be enticing. If no one ever clicks, they’ll never read anything you write. There are too many tips and opinions on what makes a good headline to get into here – but rest assured it’s important and worth spending time on.
  • People skim. Either to find the information they need faster or make sure they’ll like your content before committing to read the whole thing. Using headlines, bullet points, and lists helps make it easier for them to consume your content the way they want.
  • Visuals matter. I don’t just mean including images in your content (which is good form), but the layout of your content and how easy it is to read is important. You don’t want your writing to look cluttered on the page, leave plenty of whitespace so your words are easier to take in.

Start paying attention to the formatting on the blogs and other online publications you like best. If they’re popular sites, you can bet they’ve paid careful attention to what people respond to and are putting thought into how best to format every post according to reader preferences.

5.    Write at your best time of day.

When I try to write at 4 pm it’s soooooo tedious and slow and the work ends up needing more clean up in the proofreading phase. That’s because by late in the afternoon, I’ve usually used up a lot of my brain energy for the day. Writing requires a lot of focus and energy. Even if conventional wisdom says we have eight hours of work in us every day, few people could pull off eight productive hours of writing five days a week – it just takes too much out of you.

You want to figure out how to structure your day so that the work that requires the most energy falls into the hours of the day when you’re usually the most productive. It won’t always work out perfectly (I do still find myself having to do writing at 4pm some days), but at least having an idea of what those best writing hours are so you can plan as best you can will pay off.

6.    Track how you work.

This relates to #5, you want to understand your process and habits inside and out. Paying attention to how you do things is the first step to figuring out what works best and how to structure your work productively. Here are a couple of examples of how this has paid off for me:

  • Outlining – I used to poo-poo all the advice that insisted that outlining was crucial to writing. It time-trackingwas something I rarely did for the first year I worked as a professional content writer and my work was fine without it. But I realized over time that it made the work easier and better. By starting to create outlines for every piece I write in advance, my productivity and the organization of my content pieces has definitely improved.
  • Understanding where my time goes – I mentioned earlier that a lot of the time I spend on a piece goes to the research part of the process, and if I every try to spend less time researching, I spend more time writing. Tracking my time helps me make sure I don’t overload my days and that I do my work in the most efficient way possible (e.g. don’t try to jump to the writing before adequate research has been performed).
  • Carbs – This one’s personal, but I’ve noticed that whenever I have carbs for breakfast or lunch, I spend a chunk of the day drowsy and unproductive. How much I get done and how good it is has a direct relation to what I eat. So carbs are now for dinner and weekends only.

7.    Proofread (at least twice)!

It’s last on the list, but oh so important. You have no idea how many embarrassing errors or just awkwardly written sentences I’ve caught when proofreading. You never want to send that on to a client or publish it for the world to see. Ideally, someone else should also be reviewing your work before it gets published, but even so, read it at least twice before passing it along. Make one of those readings out loud – you get a better feel for how well your sentences work when you hear how they sound.

I can tell when I read something that hasn’t been proofread (or adequately proofread). You probably can too. It will make you look bad if you let a lot of sloppy errors or bad writing through. This is one of the most important tips I can provide to make sure you avoid that.

 

 

These are my experiences and I expect that most other professional content writers would agree with this list (with maybe a few things to add). Most people have the capacity to become better writers. Reading a lot and getting feedback on your writing will inevitably lead to growth in your skill. If being a better writer isn’t really a goal you have (not everyone needs to write well in their work), you can always hire someone to help.