Creating engaging written online content can be a challenge. The demands of churning out blog entries, social media posts, e-newsletters and website page copy can feel endless. There is a temptation to copy and paste one piece of writing for use on all of these platforms or to share the full text of a recent sermon.
Establishing an audience-focused writing process will help you produce thoughtful, tailored content and will lead to more successful written pieces — by “successful,” I mean content that the audience wants to read in its entirety because it appeals to them in a meaningful way. This will then propel them to respond and act.
Consider your audience
Before you begin to write, you need to identify your audience and the best platform on which to reach them. Then, take a moment to put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Consider:
- What do they want to read? Do they need detailed information about an upcoming activity or is it more likely they are yearning for a voice of peace and encouragement? Have you taken a moment to pray that their perspective will dwell in your thoughts while you write?
- How much time will they devote to your content? Are they busy, already juggling too many demands, with only a few seconds available to scan an email, or are they living life at a slower pace that allows them to engage with a lengthy website article?
- How do these people consume information? Will your audience take the time to visit your blog to read an entry? Since they spend a lot of time on social media anyway, should you just share short bits of easily digested content there instead?
Once you take some time to discover these aspects of your audience, it’s time to create!
The blank page can be a writer’s worst nightmare. Coming up with a fresh idea may feel impossible, and you might even experience a feeling of being stuck. Get unstuck by:
- Giving up – but not for long! If your deadline allows (I hope it does!), stop trying to force yourself to create on demand. Go for a walk, take some deep breaths and think in a completely new environment. Or, simply try again the next day.
- Discovering your key creation hours. When does your energy naturally flow at a high level? For me, this is early in the morning, when my mind hasn’t been influenced by daily stresses, media content and the demands of my calendar. When you figure out your best time to focus and tap into your creativity, always make an effort to write during that time. Block it on your calendar to claim it as a priority.
- Brain dumping. Sometimes your mind is much too full to focus. Get two sheets of paper. On the first, write down a quick list of everything that is distracting you – tasks you need to do or things that are stressing you out. On the second, write down points and ideas you need to include in your written piece – this list can become the content outline that will help you get started.
Write the words
I have a feeling that at the heart of every writing class is one key lesson: get to it. Just sit down and write. Resist the urge to edit and self-criticize as you go. Create a complete draft of your piece, then go back and read it. Make adjustments, and read it again. Be sure to consider the platform for which you are writing and the length for which you should aim to ensure strong readership. When you have a solid draft, it’s time to study it a bit deeper.
Tap into your humility
Since I’ve already (gently, I hope) delivered the news that your content isn’t really about you – it’s about your audience — let’s move to the most difficult part of the process: editing. I self-edit a lot of my writing and it can be quite difficult to convince myself to hit the “delete” key to remove whole sentences or paragraphs, but it is a necessary part of creating good content.
First, go back to where you began and, once again, consider your audience. Does your written piece meet all of their needs? Will they want to read it? Can they read it in the time they’ll allot for your content? Take a moment to tweak anything that doesn’t quite meet your audience where they are.
Now, we’ve arrived at my favorite part of my self-editing process: the read aloud. When working from home, my family often hears me talking to myself and this is why. Reading your piece aloud helps you consume it differently because you are listening to it and experiencing how it feels to say what you’re trying to communicate. Your written piece should not feel like a spoken sermon, but more like a friendly conversation with the reader.
Is there a sentence that is hard to read? Are there spelling or grammatical errors? A very long word that makes you stumble? Did you use the same word seventeen times in the piece? In the middle of a too-lengthy paragraph, did your own concentration wander?
You’ll unearth all of those things, and many other trouble spots, when you read your writing out loud. Note them and take time to continue editing until the piece flows nicely, is tailored to the platform for which you are writing, is easily consumed and relatable, and feels like it will fulfill your audience’s needs.
You did it! Once your piece is ready, it’s time to share it. And if you have the capability, track analytics on readership and response – this will help you better understand audience reaction and engagement for next time, giving you additional information to consider in step one of the process.
Whether it took one hour or one week to complete your written piece, feel proud of the journey. Enjoy the feeling of accomplishment, you deserve it.
Laura Buchanan is senior creative content specialist at United Methodist Communications.