Do you want to build an audience, have influence, sell, establish yourself as an authority, or grow your own business? (Or all of the above?) If you do, there is one skill that is arguably more important than any other you can possess.
You guessed it: the ability to write.
Even with the huge range of choices we now have for creating and consuming content, the written word is still at the core of the vast majority of our communication. We post it, Tweet it, use it to script out speeches, marketing campaigns, videos, games, and any number of personal profiles we share across the Web. Search engines use it to find us – or not. We comment, and are commented upon.
Given how powerful writing is, it pays to cultivate it as a habit and make writing for content marketing one of your most powerful tactics. Pondering that thought, it occurred to me as I was practicing my own writing habit this morning that I should revisit and share some of what I have written on the topic before. So, what follows is an excerpt (slightly adapted) from Leading the Learning Revolution: The Expert’s Guide to Capitalizing on the Exploding Lifelong Education Market. It’s from a section called “Writing It Together” in Chapter 7 of the book, “Cultivating the Content-Context Habit.”
Writing it Together
You may have noticed a current running though the content habits I have already discussed: each of them typically requires a certain amount of writing, even if only to introduce and frame the content that comes out of them. Even when you are dealing with audio and video content, a certain amount of text is inevitable if you want to convey meaning effectively and—not a trivial point—be found by search engines. Moreover text is almost always required to make connections between all of the various types of content you produce; from formal learning experiences like courses to less formal content like blog posts or tweets. In short, there is probably no greater asset, no greater skill to have in the context of the new learning landscape than to be able to write reasonably well and to do it regularly.
For some readers, I know this will be a daunting thought. Being an effective presenter or someone who knows how to organize educational events does not, of course, in any way guarantee that you will be comfortable as a writer. But if you look around, the people and organizations that are dominating markets these days almost always excel in writing, whether this means writing excellent copy (it nearly always means this), providing a stream of informative articles, blogging regularly, or even tweeting in a way that is actually effective. Writing content brings knowledge; writing brings connection; and knowledge and connection are power. Bottom line: you or someone in your organization needs to be reasonably capable of writing well and writing on a consistent basis.
Fortunately, this does not mean that you need an Ernest Hemingway or a Jane Austen on your side. The key, as the title of this chapter suggests, is to establish a habit and then develop it over time. The following sections provide some tips for establishing a writing habit.
1. Put It on Your Calendar
Let’s start with the glaringly obvious: if you don’t schedule time for it, it won’t happen. Block out some amount of time on your calendar daily to do some writing. Ideally, allow for at least thirty minutes; it’s generally pretty difficult to get into the flow of it and produce any substantial amount of content in less time than this. And make sure this scheduled time is actual writing time. Not research and reading time, not organizing time, but time to put words on screen or paper with the goal of creating something of value for your audience. Even if you sit there for 30 minutes and write next to nothing, keep at it. Over time, your mind will adjust to seeing that time as a time to produce content.
2. Read (and Watch, and Listen) Both Narrow and Wide
It is next to impossible to write in isolation. Reading what others are writing helps you continue to build expertise, find new ideas and perspectives, and absorb knowledge about how to write effectively. Make it a habit to read regularly what your primary “curators” are writing about (there’s that whole “listening” thing again!), but don’t let yourself develop tunnel vision. Read outside of your areas of expertise and across a variety of for- mats—books, blogs, magazines, even Twitter feeds. Watch videos. Listen to podcasts. And don’t limit yourself to nonfiction—often reading fiction or poetry can provide you with some of the most interesting perspectives.
3. List, Organize, and Target
As noted, one of the key reasons to read is to spark ideas and creatively borrow concepts that you can make your own. Our working memory only stores so much at one time, however, so if you expect to be able to return to and flesh out that great idea later, you had better write it down. As you do this over time, you will almost certainly start to see patterns emerge in the type of things you are writing about. (And, of course, you will also be using the listening methods covered in Chapter 2 to track what seems to be resonating with your audience.) As this happens, organize your writing efforts into major topical areas, and start laying out and maintaining an editorial calendar. Whether this is for a blog, a book, a series of videos you want to produce, or anything else, laying out a clear plan and deadlines for all of the items on the plan marks a move toward being serious about creating content on a regular basis.
4. Write What’s Easy First
Part of what makes any habit enjoyable—thus increasing the chances you will stick with it—is to build an initial sense of competence. Don’t approach writing with the idea that you have to tackle complex and difficult topics or produce the next great treatise on the human condition. Look to areas in which you feel truly familiar and fluent and begin from there. And beware the “curse of knowledge,” the common affliction that makes us feel everyone must know what we know. They don’t. Write about basic principles in your field, for example. There are any number of novices on any given day who will welcome your insights because they really don’t know what you know.
5. Revisit and Revamp
As I noted in the earlier chapter on Learning by Design, repetition is fundamental to learning—and that happens to be a very good thing for you as a writer. People need to hear things over and over again, framed in different ways, to truly absorb them. Once you have written about a topic, you have a great prompt for writing about it again in the future. Return to what you have written on a regular basis and see if there are updates, additions, or new perspectives you can offer. Many of your prospects or customers won’t ever have seen what you wrote earlier, and even if they have, don’t worry about it. If you are ever concerned that similar messages can be repeated too often, just peruse the magazines in the checkout aisle at your local supermarket. Week after week, month after month, you see the same sorts of stories—and yet people keep coming back for more. Remember, too, that things you have written before can be adapted to new formats—one or more blog posts may provide the basis for a Slideshare.net presentation, a video, an e-book, or even a full-blown book, among other possibilities.
So, that’s the excerpt. Naturally, I encourage you to check out the full chapter – and all the other chapters – in Leading the Learning Revolution (sign up over to the right to get Chapter 1). And please share any tips you may have for establishing a writing habit and writing for content marketing. What works for you? What do you find challenging?