‘What time of day should you post on Instagram?’, ‘How to get more likes on Facebook’, ‘How often should I blog?’. These are just some of the search results that came up when I googled ‘posting content’, and they made me wonder if the world has lost its mind.
I’m sure I’m not the only writer who finds this list of questions depressing. Have we really got to the point where the time of day and frequency of our posts is more important than what they contain? Bloggers and social media marketers seem obsessed with the mechanics of creating online content. But what about the quality?
I’ve written a lot of rubbish in my life, and I’ve read and edited a lot of rubbish written by others. Through years of asking myself how I can make the written word better I have eventually arrived at 7 principles of writing. Adhering to these rules has repeatedly got me out of a rut or rescued bad copy — either my own or somebody else’s. I’ll share them with you here and maybe just a few will resonate.
Ensuring your writing makes sense and is structured in a logical and progressive way is the backbone of high-quality content. Start at the bottom and work up from a ‘base point’ to the concept you want to reveal. You will rarely achieve clarity without planning your writing first, so whatever it is — a book or a blog post — plot the bones of it before you start.
A credible writer is one the reader trusts. Without trust, the reader will always subconsciously suspect an ulterior motive to the piece or — worse — disbelieve what you are saying. Gain credibility by doing your research and backing up your ideas with relevant (and accurate) information.
The Internet is a busy place, and the struggle to stand out from the crowd is real. Look at what your competitors are doing and don’t just make it better — make it different. Add colour to your writing by telling stories — true, funny, poignant anecdotes, whimsical allusions or analogies to something mind-bendingly unexpected. Offer something your reader can’t get elsewhere and they’ll be yours for life.
Don’t try to be something you’re not. Finding your natural voice is the single most important thing you can do as a writer. It will not only take years off your writing time (it’s pretty easy being yourself) but it will attract the right reader for your content. There are methods for cultivating voice (marketers do this all the time), but in truth it is something that can’t be forced. Let your style f writing develop naturally and — when you find it — bottle it.
I find that some of my best pieces of writing are those I write quickly. Writer’s block (or ‘apathy’ as I call it) is your worst enemy, so be quick and nimble with your writing habits. Get your piece of writing to a point where it is 70% there and then publish — no one ever feels 100% happy with their work anyway, so why wait? For practical tips on writing quickly, see this blog post.
This doesn’t mean all your writing projects should be short. In fact, long-form articles consistently out-perform shorter pieces. No, the quest for brevity is more to do with how you write within that piece. Are you using cluttered language with unnecessary words? Are you finishing a paragraph one sentence too late? Writing concisely will always work out for you, so be economical with your words and don’t let them run away.
Every now and then, take a break from worrying about the quality or quantity of your content and just write what’s in your head. As I discussed in this blog post, writing clears the mind and makes way for new ideas that were waiting in the wings. Writing also gives you confidence in what you believe — you’ll soon know if you truly ascribe to an idea if you write about it. Getting words on paper has a habit of bringing the good stuff to the surface, so never underestimate the power of the act itself.
Today’s writer is used to creating content that receives instant reviews. This has created a culture where ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ are more of a focus than what our writing contains. Instead of worrying about what time of day to post or how often to blog, let’s ensure that our posts resonate with their audience, are genuinely valuable and offer something their reader can’t find elsewhere.