Well, the first of the sites I was working on this month is live; there may be more to do on it later, but it depends on whether they give me any more material to work with. Researching the technical bits for each of the websites is fun, although slightly intimidating. People who are vastly more familiar with the subject matter will be reading each of my sites. I’ve been mulling over niches a little bit in my head today, and thinking about how nice it would be to have a specialty. One of the sites I’m doing right now is pretty lonely in the web world – apparently interior decorating in Boise, Idaho, is not a highly blogged about profession. If I can get this one up and running, though, perhaps other opportunities will arise.
I’ve done a significant amount of writing prior to starting this little enterprise. Most of it, however, is fiction. Or poetry. If you ask my English teacher, she may remember the steadfast aversion I had to writing papers or even answers that were complete sentences during my school days. I’ve heard other people talk about being ‘late bloomers,’ and I’m thinking that perhaps I just didn’t quite appreciate the beauty of a well-turned phrase – or, more accurately, the proud and euphoric feelings that arise from having turned that phrase yourself.
Poetry is probably what got me started. There’s a lot of work that goes into thinking carefully about the syllables you can use, the rhyming pattern (if any) that you want to have, and choosing each word to portray a very specific and yet complete emotional picture. I’m afraid that I don’t read much poetry. Unless it’s humorous – (like Ogden Nash’s ‘The Centipede’)– or appeals to me very specifically – (perhaps Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 116′) – I have a hard time getting into it.
Fictional writing, though, came rather easily during poetry. I love fashioning vivid images, such as this:
“The rain was pouring down as the automatic doors swished the wet people inside in droves. The line for the metal detectors curled around itself like a python in a toy box in a desperate bid to stay dry.”
Pulpy prose is just fun. I also wrote not-so-pulpy-prose, a few essays of my own volition, and I have always read so voraciously that people sometimes get quite frustrated when confronted with the number of books I have already read.
So, when it came to writing for websites and other forums, I wasn’t too concerned about my ability. However, I found myself consistently coming up against a block when I wrote for assignments. Stiffness. Dry, unpalatable lists. Too many repeated words, and delivery as though I was writing a list of points for myself to hit. It was just ugly. Now, I realize that first drafts are supposed to be bad. Some people even recommend writing them badly on purpose. But when you find yourself on the third and fourth draft of a page, and it still reads like a rabbit trail through sawdust, you’ve got a problem.
There are a few things I’ve found that help me with this issue. I’m using them in my current project, and I plan to enact a resolution with myself to keep it up when I have subsequent gigs.
#1. List your objectives.
Make a list of points. Put a list at the top or bottom of your document to show you what points you need to hit. Don’t worry about incorporating any special words or anything at this point, just try to mentally establish what you’re trying to accomplish in this composition. Don’t make it too much, either. There should be only a couple of main points. I generally find that the sub-points find themselves as I’m writing the next part.
#2. Put words on the paper.
Spill. Just get everything you need to say down on a page. I really like working with word processors, because it’s so easy to rearrange what I’m doing. I don’t have to worry about where I’m putting something, because I can always cut & paste it to a new section. For example, this started out as my first point in the list!
#3. List your key words.
For search engine optimized copywriting, you will have a list of keywords to blend into each page. Sometimes they are provided to me, but sometimes I have to extrapolate them based on the market I’m working in and what terms people are likely to use when searching for the product or service I’m offering. I’ll get into more specifics about keywords another time.
#4. Think about who you’re writing to.
Once you have the basic information down on the page, imagine you’re trying to convey it to someone real. I like to concoct a person who doesn’t really know much about what I’m saying. Sure, people with the expertise I’m writing about will be reading my pages – I don’t dumb it down to infinity. But those who know it all aren’t the ones you’re writing for. Be conversational, and don’t use words that assume too much. Is there an acronym that isn’t commonly used? Spell it out the first time. Are there any technical terms you need? Be entirely sure you need them, and then use them in context so that a new reader can at least read through the word without getting bogged down about the rest of the material. Don’t base your entire piece on an obscure word or phrase. Use it only as necessary.
#5. Read through for clarity.
I don’t usually read things aloud. I read them in my head, enunciating each word to myself. Sometimes, I ask someone else to also read through them for me. I generally look for someone who is familiar with the material first, and ask them if I’ve said anything idiotic. Then I find someone who is new to the field and ask them if anything is confusing, or if anything made them stumble or stop. They might not understand all of the information, or care whether they understand it, but nothing should be so difficult as to cause them to be unable to continue reading. The composition should be easy for them to read and glean information from.
#6. Put it down.
Now, leave it alone. Go away for a couple of hours, forget about it completely, and then come back. I generally find it rather useless to proofread for consistency and errors immediately after writing something. I tend to not really read it, and to assume that things are there when they’re not. If I leave it alone long enough, though, I forget what I was doing, and when I come back it’s almost as though someone else wrote it. I can see where I’ve miscalculated, I can see what needs to move. Sometimes something at the end of the post needs to move to the beginning. My introductory sentences are often the last things I write.
#7. Let it go.
You’ve done it. Let it go. Next time you’ll be even better, but you can’t rework everything into oblivion. Sure, if you find some glaringly obvious error later, fix it. But don’t rewrite the entire thing every time you look at it. Set it aside and move on.
I’ve followed all my own rules while writing this piece – I think it worked. Let me know what you think, or what steps you consciously follow to create masterpieces!