“This little light of mine, I’m gonna make it shine!”
Every time I hear that verse from a popular hymn, I smile because it’s something my kids used to sing in preschool. And, since “shine” is my word of the year, I want to help you shine your light too—at least when it comes to your content!
Here are a few of my favorite tips for playing up your copy.
1.) Consider your audience. What are common questions you answer? What types of concerns do they have? If you’re not sure, check out questions related to your industry that people in your ideal audience commonly ask in Facebook groups that you participate in, on blogs that you follow, or on comment threads after articles.
2.) Share a story. Whether you tell a personal story, a client story or a story related to something happening in your industry or in the news that relates back to your product or service, stories immediately make audiences lean in. File away news articles or essays that you read and day-to-day observations that make great metaphors for the types of issues that concern your audience.
3) What are seasonal angles? Does Valentine’s Day, National Heart Month or Lung Cancer Awareness relate to your industry, product or service in some way? Check online for all kinds of health observances, like this calendar.
4) Grab a notebook. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple, inexpensive spiral bound will do. I actually prefer these for free-writing because I don’t worry about messing them up. Pick one topic and outline the points you would like to make—or if you’re like me, start riffing on the topic in your notebook.
5) Organize your thoughts. Consider how you’d best like to structure the information. Create a quick outline if it helps. Do you want to present your information as a list of practical takeaways your audience can use right away? An inspiring note? An entertaining story? An informative how-to?
6) Write your first draft. The most important thing here is to simply let yourself write without worrying about editing or revising. This is called a first draft because it’s meant to be crummy. Rarely, if ever, does a writer have a gem on her hands after just one draft. And if you put too much pressure on yourself to make it perfect on the first swipe, you’ll get trapped by perfectionism. Perfectionism is like the electric fence that keeps us quarantined in the field with all of the other frightened animals. That fence makes it incredibly hard to get the writing done.
7) Go through your rough draft. After you’ve written your first draft, look for spelling mistakes (words like your/you’re/they/their/they’re can trip us all up). Also, look for punctuation errors, confusing sentences and grammar mistakes (Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tricks and Grammarly are a couple of my favorite resources).
8) Use active voice. Wherever it makes sense, try to strengthen your language using active voice, strong verbs and descriptive language to energize your sentences. Check out this post on Grammarly to learn more about passive voice.
9.) Go ahead and make up words. The “that’s-not-a-word” rule is one I secretly love to chew on and stick under the table. Sometimes making up words works with what I’m writing and sometimes it doesn’t, but it sure is fun to play with language!
10.) Watch out for cliches. One rule of creative writing that I do try to follow is to avoid tired, worn-out out cliches whenever possible. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re using them. One thing that helps me net a cliche in my writing is if I hear myself saying: “as they say or as the old saying goes…,” then I know I’ve got a little cliche trying to sneak its way onto my page.
11.) Read your rough draft aloud. When you read text aloud, you’ll often notice awkward sentence structure and find spelling/grammar/punctuation errors that you didn’t notice when reading silently through the piece. I often find sentences that are too long or complicated and would work better if simplified into separate sentences.
12) Give it a rest. I spoke to an artist a few days ago who said she always lets her art rest for a couple of days before returning to it. Writing is no different. Sometimes we get too close to our work. Depending on what kind of deadline I’m working under, I like to let my work rest for 24 hours or even a couple of days. Usually when I come back to it with fresh eyes, I see errors that I missed before. Or, I’ll realize the piece is missing relevant information that could better clarify what I want to communicate.
13) Email a friend. If you’re unsure about your piece of writing and want another pair of eyes, ask a friend to look it over for you. In fact, you might consider partnering with a friend to swap content with long-term. Not only is this a great way to learn from each other, you’ll also have an accountability buddy to help you get your writing done!
14) Publish, share and post. Share your work and then take some time to celebrate expressing yourself with your audience—they love hearing from you!
15) Done is better than perfect. Despite everything you do to make your content shine, you might still discover an error after you press publish. If you can’t fix it, move on. I’m willing to bet that there’s an error somewhere in this post. But as I mentioned before, if we spend all of our time tied up in knots about attaining perfection, we’ll never publish.
Got a favorite tip that helps make your writing shine? Please comment below and let us know!