- 1 It all starts with an idea
- 2 Researching is the fun part
- 3 Now I just write
- 4 “I hate writing; I love having written”
- 5 Conclusion
The old joke is “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”
The same answer can be given to how to write content for a web site. You will not magically be able to sit down and write witty, interesting and relevant content your first time. It is a skill you need to practice and hone. It is also a skill that will atrophy if you don’t keep practicing it.
When I was asked to write a post about how I write web content my first thought was that it would be easy. I write plenty of posts for my travel blog (Planettrekker.info) so it should just be a matter of explaining step by step what I do, right?
Turns out it’s not so easy to put into words how you put things into words, kind of like explaining to someone how you sign your name.
But thinking about it has been interesting.
I’m not going to try and explain the technical aspects of writing web content, keywords and so on, instead I’m going to try and explain the creative process, while trying not to sound like a pretentious prat.
It all starts with an idea
Most of my writing is for my travel blog so ideas are all around me. I love to get out and walk, especially in a new place, so I am immediately surrounded by a myriad of sights, sounds and smells that are all worthy of a blog post. I know my audience and I know that they are looking for my impressions on the place, how it feels and what they can expect if they visit. Your audience will determine your subjects so, to a large degree, it is just a matter of thinking about the questions you would get asked.
In my case I imagine walking with someone and we are discussing what we are seeing. “Is it always this hot? What is that cooking over there? I wonder where the best coffee is in town.” Three simple questions and I already have three blog posts.
It’s also amazing how many times one idea will suddenly create a cascade of other ideas.
Always carry a notebook
A notebook and pen live permanently in my pocket because I think it is vital to jot down ideas when you have them rather than hoping to remember them later on. You don’t need to write copious, complicated and detailed notes; they should be memory joggers, just a couple of words to remind you of something you saw or a smell that wafted out of a street side noodle shop.
It’s amazing how many times one idea will suddenly create a cascade of other ideas. #blogpost #contentwriting
Researching is the fun part
Or at least it is in the case of a travel blog.
Let’s take the question of “what is that cooking over there?” Obviously the best way to research this is to go and taste it. But tasting is only part of what you may need to know. This is where the most important part of researching comes in: asking questions of someone who knows more than you.
That someone could be the person doing the cooking. In most cases they will be pleased that you are interested in what they are doing and will happily explain what it is, where it came from and how they are cooking it. People like to talk about themselves and it means that you will be putting information into your post straight from the horse’s mouth.
The next option is to research it online.
This can be a little more problematic because you are presenting someone else’s opinion. Always try to find more than one source for your “facts” and try to give your source in your post. Something along the lines of :
“I wasn’t keen to try the dog meat but other travellers on (popular travel site) say that it tastes like…”
This will help to humanize you as someone who doesn’t fancy eating dog while also helping your credibility as having done some research on the subject. Always keep in mind that if a reader picks you up on a false fact then it compromises everything else you have written.
Other cut and dried facts, such as opening and closing times are much easier to research but linking to an official website is always a good idea to cover yourself in case there are changes out of your control. These types of facts are important and can be sprinkled in the post or added as a block at the end.
If you are going to present yourself as an expert on a subject then you better make sure that you are. There is always someone out there who knows more than you and they are usually keen to point it out. Write what you know is true or what you have researched; otherwise present it as your opinion.
If you are going to present yourself as an expert on a subject then you better make sure that you are!
Now I just write
Staring at a blank screen or page can be a horribly scary thing.
For me this is often the case.
I get back from having explored a new town, notebook spilling words and impressions, nostrils full of new smells and shoes full of sore feet. Then I realise that I have to put it all into words that other people are going to want to read. Now the pressure is on.
I usually try to get the opening line and I will often have come up with it well before I sit down to write. The opening line is there to draw the reader in and make them want to read more but it is also what I use to set the tone for myself. If that line doesn’t make me want to write more then I can’t expect anyone to want to read more.
Writing content for a travel website makes things a little easier. I only need to describe what I’ve seen and done. I can use a style that is a little more laid back and conversational and I usually write as if I am simply talking to someone. Getting it “down on paper” is the most important thing at this point.
Practice makes perfect
This is where all that practice you have done is going to come to fruition. Every post you write is likely to be a bit better than the previous ones as you become naturally better at writing.
Even as I walk as a normal part of my daily life I will have a running conversation in my head where I am describing things to some imaginary correspondent. Quick descriptive sentences will get you in the habit so you can come up with them when you need to. Write emails to friends, post nice informative comments on your favorite websites (especially mine) or try sending those paper things that have the address of an actual building written on them, whatever they’re called.
I tend to write using Microsoft Word and don’t get too bogged down worrying about that dreaded red underline or what words I might have missed as my mind pours out words faster than my two fingers can type. Editing is a wonderful thing and writing gives you all the control you miss while actually talking to someone. If you have a great sentence or description come to you then type it and worry about exactly how it’s going to fit later on. If you are lucky enough to write perfect prose the first time then I hate you, otherwise welcome to the editing phase with the rest of us.
The opening line is there to draw the reader in and make them want to read more...#writing
“I hate writing; I love having written”
Having gotten the words down I can relax. I have written.
I will now go back and fix up all those red underlines. Then I read what I have written and fill in the words I might not have been fast enough to actually type. Then I read it again and see if it makes sense. I am usually trying to tell the story of what I saw and what I did so there should be a natural flow to it. Jumping backwards and forwards in time doesn’t make sense so a bit of judicial cutting and pasting may be in order.
Reread your content
Now I’ll read it again and see if there is anything missing, something I saw or something I did, that naturally ties two parts together. If there is, I’ll write that piece. Maybe there is something in my notes that I have forgotten about.
By now I have written and read it multiple times so I need to do the most important thing in the whole process.
I ignore it and do something else.
Take a break & don’t be too hard on yourself
All that re-reading and re-writing makes me doubt what I have written and the more I do it the less happy I become with it and the more likely I am to make big changes.
I have found that putting it to one side and doing something else is vital. It may only be long enough to make a cup of coffee and read or watch TV for a little while or I may even not come back to it until the following day. Either way it’s like suddenly looking at what you’ve written with fresh eyes. This is why there are professional editors out there who are paid to be those fresh eyes but if you are writing content for your own website you need to be your own editor and that means stepping back from being the author.
Usually I find that what I have written is not half as bad as I thought it was while I was writing it. Sure I will make lots of changes, small or big, but it’s more of a polishing than a massive re-writing.
This is also when things like paragraph breaks and section headings become apparent. Writing for the web means that it is important to have those headings that draw a reader on to the next section rather than presenting a solid wall of text. Imagine yourself reading it out loud or it being your side of a conversation. Wherever you would naturally pause is probably where there should be a new paragraph.
Write with your own voice
Keep your audience in mind. Don’t try to write like your favorite author if that is a style completely unsuitable for what you are writing.
But ultimately it comes down to practice. Write at every opportunity and especially when you don’t feel like it. If you can’t write it down then run through those sentences in your head. Endless entertainment can be had just sitting in a coffee shop coming up with ways to describe the people walking past.
And keep at it; it takes a long time to be an overnight success.
Keep at it; it takes a long time to be an overnight success.
So this has been a guest post by a good friend of mine; Greg Wright.
He lives in Laos like me and has a keen interest in travel and writing & travel writing. I actually asked him to write this post for Harry Vs Internet because he is such a great writer, I wanted him to explain his process of writing to as many people as possible.
When I started out, I found writing to be the hardest part of online marketing and the thing that held me back for so long. Once you have become confident and are able to concisely get your thoughts across to others, then you will be able to promote your content further and gain more traffic.
I wouldn’t have asked Greg to write this guest post if his writing wasn’t up to scratch, but as it turns out…he is excellent and has added enormous value to this site and I would like to thank him for that.