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This Writing GPS Helps You Create Ridiculously Good Content

by Ann Handley  |  
September 9, 2014

This article is based on excerpts from Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (Wiley, September 2014).

The writer Andre Dubus (House of Sand and Fog) has described writing as inching your way along a very dark, very long tunnel: You can make out the next few feet in front of you, but you're not quite certain where you'll end up or when you'll get there.

For me, at times, writing can feel like birthing a Volkswagen.

What helps with the uncertainty and enormity of the task is to start with some kind of process to guide the way—necessary checkpoints toward that final piece or the beacons that guide the entire effort.

Process is one of those things that in many parts of life I consider hopelessly boring and mind-numbing. Like peeling the skins of raw tomatoes—or scrubbing dirt from beets.

But in writing, process is necessary because you need a road map to get you to where you need to be—essentially, a kind of writing GPS that gets you from discombobulated thoughts to a coherent, cogent piece of writing that others can understand and appreciate.

Though there is no one way to write—just as there is no one way to roast a turkey or parent a child—there are terrible ways to do all three.

What works for me is the process I outline here. Maybe it will inspire you, too. In any event, I suggest you find some process: Good writing takes planning and preparation; it doesn't just emerge, fully formed, as if from the head of Zeus. Or your own head, for that matter.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Laureen Locke Tue Sep 9, 2014 via web

    Love your line, "For me, at times, writing can feel like birthing a Volkswagen." Awesome! I'll have to quote you sometime on that one!

  • by Nick Chehreh Tue Sep 9, 2014 via web

    Great post Ann! I have struggled to be a good writer and I like your 12 step process. Looking forward to "Everybody Writes" ...

  • by Ann Handley Wed Sep 10, 2014 via web

    Thanks, Laureen! Glad you enjoyed the metaphor -- and it's totally true!

  • by Ann Handley Wed Sep 10, 2014 via web

    Big thanks, Nick! Let me know how you like it.

  • by Ford Kanzler Wed Sep 10, 2014 via web

    Super advice Ann. The part about first getting ideas out of your head, into a Word file and then leaving it alone for awhile is SO important. Attempting to organize, draft, edit and polish, all on the first pass, is so ineffective and troublesome.
    When asking clients, who are mostly technologists, to provide the basis for a contributed viewpoint or tech article, they seem so daunted by having to write anything. All they're used to doing are PPT files. The concept of just doing a brain dump first and letting others make the output into a readable story is quite foreign to them. For clients who just can't or won't write, I do a Q&A with them and record audio to get the ideas out. Then transcribe into copy blocks and build a logical, interesting story with those, embellishing as I go. What's often funny is when they see the manuscript and claim, "I didn't say that." :)

  • by Craig Hadden Sat Sep 13, 2014 via web

    Excellent process, and helpful examples. I love that the 2nd step is to put the reader into it, and that you say to “write to one person”. (The reader rules!)

    I focus on presentations (webinars or face-to-face), but the principles still very much apply.

    You might find this 3-part model helpful for writing the all-important title:

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