Snapshot : Writing has been a big focus for the three-brains team since our launch. So, to close out the year, we share our 5 biggest lessons we’ve learned from writing in 2020.
As we covered some of our learnings about e-Commerce from 2020 last week, we wanted to pick a more creative topic for our final post of the year. And given that this blog and building our website content has been a big part of our year, it seems a fitting way to close out this year’s posts with some reflection on what writing in 2020 has taught us.
So, here’s our top 5 things we’ve learned in this very challenging year.
Build good writing habits
Firstly, in terms of writing in 2020, we learned the value of building good habits when it comes to writing. The demands of other parts of our business like our coaching and consulting and T-shirt businesses mean we don’t always find the time to write every day.
But, we set priorities and targets for our writing in 2020. And one of those targets was to post at least one new blog article every week.
And as this is our 54th article this year, we’ve now exceeded that target by 3.8%. (54 / 52 for the less metric minded reader.) That’s over 110,000 words in our blog posts alone. That makes our average post length over 2,000 words, or double the 1,000 words we targeted way back in one of our first posts about writing.
In the same article, back in January 2020, we were really proud we’d managed to smash out 65,000 words across the whole website to that point. But now our blogs and website copy added together is approaching the 400,000 word mark.
It’s not quite War and Peace, but it’s not far off.
A writing habit that’s like a muscle memory
When we think back to how we started writing this blog, and read back some of our earlier posts, we can see that we’ve built up a writing habit that’s like a muscle memory. It’s now easier and faster to write this content. We do our research on likely topics of interest. Automatically, we check keywords to see what would help with SEO.
Our writing style gets more direct and easier to read. We reject words and phrases that are too complex without even thinking about it anymore. The quality and clarity of our writing is much higher now than back at the start of the year.
Those habits have made us much fitter when it comes to writing.
Drafting, re-drafting and editing are incredibly important
Writing in 2020 also showed us that writing in the first place takes a surprising amount of energy. That’s why being fit to write is important.
It’s not so much the physical energy of sitting down in front of a keyboard, but the mental energy to create ideas and thoughts, and covert them into words on the page. Your brain is highly active when you write, and this drains energy and calories as you write.
We’ve learned to identify times when our energy for writing is at its highest. We aim to get as much down on the page before the energy runs out. It’s hard to spend the whole day writing anyway. And to be honest, there’s always more going on in our business.
It’s also important not to underestimate how long it takes to write well. Writing is like the classic project triangle where you have speed, cost and quality. If you want to go fast, your quality level will drop, or you need to pay more people to get involved with the writing. The slower you go, the better the quality you turn out.
Writing takes time
And writing is a creative process, that is best served over time. Obvious, it’s possible to writing fast. Sometimes, you have no choice if there’s an important customer deadline.
But long-term, it’s important to build in time to clear the brain, and build up your writing energy reserves.
There’s always a bunch of other jobs that need doing anyway. And, that’s absolutely fine. In fact, the variety of working in a small business is actually a big plus for writing.
As a team, we also spend a lot of time editing and reviewing content. It’s amazing how many typos, grammar errors and logic errors can come up in a first draft. And in a second draft. Despite being a smart bunch with good attention to detail, mistakes do happen in writing.
Having a clear review and editing schedule helps to eliminate many, but not all, of these sorts of mistakes. We make sure editing happens with fresh eyes and high energy levels. The importance of this process has been another big creative lesson that writing in 2020 has given us.
But editing is not just about eliminating mistakes.
Tighten up the words
It’s also about tightening up the words so that you can convey the meaning in a more succinct and clear way. As we mentioned way back in our article on brainstorming, Stephen King and T-shirts, the great writer himself always aims for a 10% reduction in content when going from first draft to second draft.
We’ve found that ratio works for us too. We also liked the tip we came across, that you should imagine every word you remove from the first draft earns you a dollar.
That really focusses the mind, doesn’t it? Makes it very clear why you need to make your writing concise.
Editing helps you do that.
The clearer the structure up front, the clearer the writing at the end
We recently read the excellent Ogilvy on Advertising book by David Ogilvy. It’s a little dated in places. I was written before the internet was even invented, after all. But it’s still a fascinating collection of learning about the world of advertising, much of which still rings true today. And in particular on copywriting, as that was how he first got into the industry.
He shares statistics on print advertising that shows that for all the people exposed to your advertising, only around 10% to 20% actually make it past the headline to read the body copy. We’ve seen nothing to show that this is any different in the modern digital age. In fact, with low attention spans on digital media channels, it’s probably even lower now.
That fact showed us that having a clear headline and structure for the content up-front, that made it clear right away what the reader would get from the article or guide was really important.
You can’t “push” writing at someone, it’s their choice to read or not. So, you have to think how you can “pull” people in.
That means first impressions are important.
We’ve learned to write the headline first. And, then write our copy so that it relates back to the headline. This stops us wandering off on too many tangents and including content that is not relevant. Something when we read back on some of our first posts, we had a terrible tendency to do.
In fact, our better performing guides and posts almost always have the strongest headlines and the clearest structure up-front. They’re also the ones that we wrote with the reader most in mind.
Write with the reader in mind
Our most popular guides and blog posts are also the ones which answer questions that our audience has. We have learned to really focus on writing with the reader in mind.
Some of our early posts were about things that we thought were important, but were less important to our audience. When you start to write blogs that’s an OK place to start, because those are the things you are passionate about.
But the more you can research the needs of your target audience, and write content that helps them, that means something for them, the bigger the audience you reach. The more appreciated and helpful your writing is received. And the more engage the audience is in what you have to say with your writing.
And it’s not just the content itself, it’s the way you tell the story. It’s the way you layout the words on the page. The simplicity of the words you choose. And even the length and layout of sentences and paragraphs.
When you can look at the words you write on the page and imagine a reader being educated, entertained or otherwise engaged in the content, that’s when you know your writing is on the right track.
Or even, the write track.
And finally …
Our final lesson of the year that writing in 2020 has given us is that your target audience can only process so much information in one go.
We often have to curb our natural enthusiasm for marketing, creative and e-Commerce sometimes and choose the words we share carefully.
There are many, many more writing lessons that writing in 2020 has given us. We could have made this post much longer.
We regularly refer back to key writing guides like 50 Key Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clarke and On Writing Well by William Zinser to remind us the best ways to keep making our writing better. We’ll come back to some of those in 2021.
So, for now to close off 2020, we’ll leave you with this thought.
When you write, you let a part of your brain, a part of your soul spill out on to the page. That’s both liberating and slightly scary. Your thoughts, ideas, hopes and aspirations out there for all to see.
But, when you do it, and do it well, then you set yourself and your business up to create connections with people. You let people see a bit of yourself and your brand. And that’s not just a good thing. That’s a great thing.
Because with the way 2020 has panned (pandemic-ed) out, connection with people through writing is more important than ever.