Does this scenario sound familiar?
You need to write a short email for a marketing campaign or a quick blog entry for your company’s website. You set aside a short block of time in your day only to wind up staring at a blank page asking yourself, “How has so much time gone by and I haven’t written anything remotely usable?” It gets even worse when it comes to bigger writing tasks like white papers or bylined articles for major publications. The clock ticks by and the pressure builds.
Fortunately, you’re not alone. And there’s help!
I vividly remember getting some of my first writing assignments and thinking, “Ok, sounds simple enough. I should be able to write that in just a few hours – an afternoon even.” Boy, was I quickly put in my place.
Fast forward to me sitting in front of my computer screen with the cursor flashing in front of an empty page, struggling to come up with the first sentence (and don’t get me started on the headline). Everything I wrote sounded boring or overused. I knew it wouldn’t grab anyone’s attention. It took me a solid hour just to write a somewhat decent introduction – and I still wasn’t happy with it.
Then there’s all the research required. When you’re writing for a lot of tech and data companies (like we do), you need to back up your statements with reports, surveys, and white papers from reputable sources – preferably ones published within the last year.
Finding those “perfect data nuggets” is a time-consuming process. There are times when I can’t believe how many minutes and hours have passed with nothing to show for it . . . but then I find the perfect stat from a great source, and I know it’s been time well spent.
Thankfully, I’ve grown wiser with experience, and I now have a much better sense of the time needed for a specific project. I’ve also developed a six-part process that has served me well:
- Take a bird’s eye view: I spend some time familiarizing myself with the topic and the goal of the piece. I read through any background material provided and ask myself certain questions while I read. What should the main message be? What should the reader get out of it? As I’m reading, a high-level outline often starts to form in my head. If I’m really lucky, a catchy phrase or analogy I can use will come to me. By the end of this phase, I have a solid grasp of the topic and a vague idea of an approach.
- Dive down the research rabbit hole: As I said, this can take some time, but it’s worth it. And once I’ve completed phase one, I know the type of stats I’m looking for. Fortunately, I’ve accumulated a solid list of go-to sources for various industries, so I start digging. I may strike gold quickly or it can take several attempts, so I always allow myself ample time for this part of the process.
- It’s finally time to write: Let me be clear – I don’t actually start this step on the same day as phases one and two. I find with some time in between, ideas start to form in my head and the piece starts to take shape in my mind – often when I’m not even trying. (I can’t tell you how many headlines have come to me while I’m swimming laps or driving). This way, when I sit down, I have a better sense of where to start. The first few paragraphs are hands down the hardest ones to write. Why? They need to draw the reader in and set the stage for the entire piece. It’s no easy feat. But once I feel I’ve gotten that right, there’s no turning back. I just let it flow. Emails and text messages are usually put on hold during this time unless something urgent comes through. It’s always best to turn my full attention to the task at hand.
- Walk away: The first thing I do after I finish a draft is save it and close it – without looking back. Then I change gears and focus on something else for at least a few hours or ideally overnight.
- Refine, refine, refine: After I’ve had some distance from what I’ve written, I can look at it with fresh eyes. I go through it several times, each time reworking weak sections, rearranging it for flow, and making sure it hits all of the key messaging points. Once I’m happy with it, I make a final pass for general grammar and punctuation.
- A second opinion: Even after I’m happy with what I’ve written, it’s not ready for the client. It still needs another pair of eyes. This is why I’m so grateful to work with a team of quality writers and editors who can provide constructive feedback as well as fact check my work. After a careful review by a trusted teammate, I make any necessary adjustments.
- Let the proofreader polish. Even after I’ve finalized my draft, I know it still has room for improvement. I hand it off to a colleague to read for typos, style, and grammar. Then, and only then, is it ready for the client.
This is a far cry from my original dream of sitting down and effortlessly banging out hundreds of words in one sitting. But the process has served me well, and it’s made me appreciate “A” quality writing when I see it.
Our clients don’t have to be bothered with any of this hard work, and that’s a plus for them. They simply pass their ideas and supporting documentation and get a well-packaged end product in return – no hassle, no stress. That’s the value we offer at Version A.
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