If you’ve read Content Rules, Ann Handley’s first book (co-authored with C.C. Chapman), you’ll know how to take a single idea and turn it into an entire whiteboard full of purposeful content ideas that attract the right customers. From there, you’ll create a killer editorial calendar for that content, spreading it far and wide across the Internet in ways such that, no matter where someone turns, there you are, giving them exactly what they need.
Feels good, right? All those ideas coming together into a cohesive strategy? You bet it does!
But you might find yourself struggling with the excitement of all that great content, and maintaining a focus on your readers’ needs. That’s where Handley’s newest book, Everybody Writes, steps in to save the day, with writing techniques that will help you keep that focus.
Writing for Mom
The trouble with all this content creation is the urge to share it with your audience in a way that’s framed as “my latest”, “my newest”, or “Hey Ma! Check out this thing I wrote!”
And while your audience will certainly appreciate the fact your latest post links to something you wrote, at some point you’ll need to offer them more than just the fact your name is stamped at the bottom.
(Your mom will always click through, though, and tell you she’s proud of you even if she had no clue what the article was about.)
In Everybody Writes, on more than one occasion, Handley helps you break out of that mindset of “Hey Ma!” and focus on the audience. Or better yet, the audience’s audience.
Writing for Ira
In his seminal book on journalism, Writing to Deadline, Donald Murray offers a pointer on how to find the focal point (or lead) in a story: “What would make the reader turn and say to her husband, ‘Now listen to this, Ira…’?” (p.149)
Let that sink in, because it’s hard to do, and will take some practice. The writing needs to be about the reader and their needs, always keeping the focus on how you’ve empowered them to take action with the words they just read.
How? You need to take your initial thought and reframe it by asking questions like “so what?” over and over again, ultimately arriving at the key takeaway for the article. Then, you work backward with that frame of reference to construct your Facebook post, tweet, Google+ post, or the article itself.
Then, you’ll have a piece of content that gets the reader to say “Hey Ira!”
Do you know what’s really neat about this exercise? You strip down your idea so much to reach the focal point before building it back up, that chances are good you can use the “scraps” to create more content around those points. Quick example:
The focal point of this blog post is getting you in the mindset to frame your content toward your audience, or your audience’s audience, and not make it about you. Along the way, I stripped out one of my favorite parts: Ann’s “writing GPS” guidelines, which tie really well into how I work with clients on their content strategy. No biggie, I’ll use the ideas to write another blog post, and a more targeted one to boot.
In addition to this ah-ha moment, Everybody Writes was full of easy-to-understand examples of grammar, publishing, best practices for writing all types of content, and so much more. I highly recommend it to anyone in charge of writing content for their organization, especially if that organization has a hefty publishing schedule, or is looking at increasing the amount of content (so you can maintain your brand voice and focus on the readers).
Now, go write some ridiculously good content!