Writing can at times feel like birthing a Honda Civic: It's hard. It's not pretty. You sweat a lot.
And writing can feel like inching your way along a pitch-black, long tunnel. You can make out only the next few feet in front of you. You take unsure baby steps. You have no idea where you'll end up or when you'll get there.
What helps with the pitch-black uncertainty and enormity and overwhelmingness of the task is to start with a process to guide you along the way.
* * *
Process is one of those things that feels hopelessly boring and mind-numbing. Like peeling skins from raw tomatoes. Matching socks from laundry. Scrubbing dirt from beets.
Yet process is necessary in writing. (And in many parts of life, now that I think of it.) We need a road map to get us to where we're going.
Think of your writing process as a kind of GPS-aided navigation: Like a global positioning system, it helps us get to where we need go.
It turns our discombobulated thoughts into a coherent, clear piece of writing that others can understand and appreciate and love.
* * *
In the fresh, new edition of Everybody Writes 2: Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content (out today!), I introduce the brand-new Writing GPS: a framework for longer pieces you might write.
It's the process I use to write anything that's important: articles or posts that appear here on MarketingProfs or my own site at AnnHandley.com, my fortnightly newsletter, and the book itself.
I've also used it to write the bones of video scripts and presentations, longer memo-style emails, and texts to my kids. (LOL. Just kidding about that last one.)
The Writing GPS has 17 steps.
Let's pause here for a minute. I feel like I know you well enough by the 12th paragraph to know that number just made your stomach drop. Did she say 17 steps? SEVEN. TEEN?!
Seventeen is... a lot.
Seventeen sounds... overwhelming.
Seventeen feels... when's naptime?
I promise you: Following this Writing GPS is not exhausting.
The steps are all small checkpoints along the journey to ridiculously good writing.
* * *
We need a framework that goes beyond the basics so you can see where a little extra effort or attention can make the magic happen.
The Writing GPS subs in Go Push Shine for the usual words (Global Positioning System) to make the GPS acronym our own:
Our Writing GPS has three distinct parts:
- Go (1–4): The prep and research groundwork
- Push (5–10): The writing and the rewriting
- Shine (11–17): The polishing and the publishing
The framework is a steering wheel because the Writing GPS puts you in the driver's seat. You navigate your own way.
The steps most of us do already are in greenish gold. The specific steps toward ridiculously great content are marked in pumpkin-spice orange.
The seven steps in gold (1-2-4-5-7-10-15) are the required minimum for writing content:
2: Ask So what?
5: First draft
7: Second draft
This is the path most of us already take. You travel from the starting point to your You Have Arrived destination with only the most necessary steps in between—your gas, food, and bathroom breaks... metaphorically speaking.
The other 10 steps, in orange (3, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17) add magic and adventure to a basic journey:
3: Add data
6: Walk away
8: Rewrite to one person
9: Add voice
11: Robot edit
12: Human edit
13: Read it out loud
14: Eyeball for scanners
16: Let it go with love
17: Reconcile your emotions!
Those 10 things—some big (voice!), some small (internalizing the emotion of writing!)—will elevate your writing. You'll create a ridiculously memorable journey for your readers.
I dig into all of those steps in the new edition of the book. But here's the bones of the GPS Framework.
1. Goal. What's your goal? What are you trying to achieve? Anything you write—even a standalone blog post—should be aligned with a larger (marketing or business) goal.
2. So what? Put the reader in it. Reframe the goal to relate it to your readers.
Why does it matter to them? Why should they care?
How can you best serve them, with a mindset of generosity and giving?
Ask So what? And answer Because… until you've gotten to the real problem you're solving for readers.
3. Seek out the data and examples. What credible source supports your main idea?
Are there examples, data, real-world stories, comments from analysts or experts, timely developments you can cite?
Is there research that quantifies the problem?
4. Organize. What structure best suits your story? A list? A how-to guide? A case study? Client narrative? Puppet show?
5. Write "The Ugly First Draft." Writing The Ugly First Draft is where you show up and throw up.
Who cares? You'll tackle all that later. For now, just get that TUFD down.
This show-up-and-throw-up phase is often where some writers start and end the process.
But we don't do that, do we? (Heck-no-we-do-not!) We have respect both for writing and for our reader.
6. Walk away. Actually go for a walk. Move your body. Free your mind. Put some distance between your first draft and the second.
7. Write Draft 2 with fresh eyeballs. Start to shape that mess into something.
8. Write Draft 3 with company. That company is your reader. Draft 3 is when you invite you reader into the room with you.
One reader. Not readers. Not an entire audience.
You've been the writer, writing from your point of view.
Draft 3 is where you swap places with your reader, and rewrite from their perspective.
9. Write Draft 4. This is my favorite checkpoint in the GPS!
The checkpoint guards are like your best grandma, so friendly and welcoming! And everything you do is wonderful!
Add voice, style, fun, sparkle, humor, fizz & ginger.
10. Give it a great headline or title.
11. Run your final draft through an AI editing tool. I like Grammarly. Hemingway Editor is fun, too, if only for the Ernest name-check.
Adopt or reject AI's suggestions. It's so satisfying to be confident enough in your writing to reject a robot's fixes.
12. Send the post-AI edited version to your longtime editor. All writers (especially the best ones) need an editor.
The editor is the person who has a tight grip on grammar, usage, style, and punctuation. But most important, you editor knows you and your style.
13. Read it out loud. Reading your final draft out loud is the best way to hear your voice, literally. Yeah, you sound like a nutloaf, talking to yourself in the middle of your office. So?
Mistakes I catch during my own Nutloaf Moment (TM):
- Countless spelling/grammar errors
- Awkward phrasing
- Hard-to-understand sentences
- Moments when I sound too prescriptive or serious or straight... when I sound like I'm reporting a five-car pileup on the freeway on your local news—not writing to one person directly in my own voice
14. Eyeball for scanning/scrolling. Chunky chunks of text feel impenetrable, especially online.
Add line breaks. Create lots of white space. White space ventilates your text.
15. Publish. But not without answering one more reader question: What now? Don't leave your readers just standing awkwardly in the middle of the dance floor after the music stops.
- What do you want them to do next?
- Check out other resources?
- Subscribe to hear more?
- Register for an event or a free trial?
- Buy something?
- Leave feedback?
- Write you back?
16. Let it go with love. Your writing is no longer yours. It's out there in the world, standing on its own two pixels.
17. Reconcile your emotions: Recognize Joy + Regret. Those two things happen post-publishing for me, simultaneously. (Yes, still—after a lifetime of writing.)
Regret. It's not exactly what you wanted to write. It's not exactly what you envisioned when you planned this in your head.
Forgive yourself. It's the best you can do right now. Take note of any lessons. Vow to apply them. See you next time.
Joy. HIGH-FIVE YOURSELF. You're gorgeous. You're killing it. You're doing GREAT.
Writing—like life—is complicated.
* * *
Those steps are my process. They don't happen consecutively. Usually they occur over several days.
You can take them and toss them around and follow them however you like.
Maybe you like to barf your first draft onto the page (step 5) and then see what organization makes sense (step 4). Maybe you create fewer drafts.
That's fine. There is no one way to write.
Try this on.
See what works for you.
Trash what doesn't.
Adopt what might.
Adapt as you wish.
The Writing GPS acts as our guide.
The Writing GPS also reminds us that we aren't lost—not really.
The tunnel might feel dark. But there is always light at the end of it.
This article is adapted from Everybody Writes 2: Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content.
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