Aug 04, 2009 at 7:30 pm
3 things that help me to write quality content
I have, accidentally and otherwise, come across several articles about content creation and information architecture lately. I am fascinated by how people are able (or unable) to consume the amount of information that is available on so many topics. I am also perpetually interested in improving my own ability at presenting information. These two things together keep me reading about this topic.
The articles I’ve been reading, particularly lately, do two distinct things for me:
- They show me how often I get it wrong and exactly where I can improve (example: I write too much)
- They show me how often I get it right by just planning, thinking, and iterating (example: the transparency and accessibility of what I write)
It occurred to me recently that the content I write ranges broadly from senseless, boring drivvel to concise and insightful statements. It got me thinking about how I, personally, arrive at either end of this spectrum and the mitigating factors for creating the content that I do.
I write well about things that I care about
I’ve been tasked over the years with writing large documents, press releases, website descriptions, personal statements, and arbitrary essays. The type of writing I’m asked to do has little effect on how well it gets written. What does have an effect is how personally or emotionally I’m tied to the outcome.
When I write about who I am as a person or what I’d like to do with myself or my business, I can easily break into a fairly lucid state of creation. I always find myself writing far more than I need and cutting back when I’m complete. I care deeply about where I’m going, what I’m doing, and who I strive to be. It’s important to me that, when I feel the need to communicate this to someone, I’m able to do so truthfully and comprehensively.
If, on the other hand, I’m asked to write about someone or something that I feel neutral about, I find it hard to pick the right words out of my vocabulary. The writing takes forever and sounds cliche and wordy. I lose the honesty and directness that I work so hard to present. In the end, the outcome is poor and the process is never enjoyable.
It might seem that I’ve painted myself into an autobiographical corner, forever restricted to writing about myself and what I do. Thankfully, this isn’t true. If I’m writing about an idea that is interesting or a cause that is noble or a subject that I’m learning about or something you can do to make a difference in your life, I’m energized the same way. I just have to know that when I read it later I’ll be proud of what I wrote AND why I wrote it.
I write well when I know (or think I know) what I’m talking about
I won’t name any names (mostly because none immediately come to mind) but you can tell that someone is full of it through their writing. I’ve read enough BS articles from people regurgitating information to know when someone gets it and is speaking from their knowledge or doesn’t and is just filling the page.
I’d go on about how lame people are but there’s nothing I can do to change it. A system, just by existing, is begging to be gamed. So, people will continue to copy other peoples’ work, compete with honest sources for search engine rank, and attempt to build a fake following of unsuspecting newbies. I can only assume that those who can do and those who can’t just hack it for as long as they can.
To combat this scourge, all I can do is just not fall into that trap. I’m not claiming to be a certified expert about everything that crosses this blog but if I’m giving advice, it’s something I’ve learned from doing. Or, if I’m just working out an idea, that honesty comes through. I’ve tried to write beyond my expertise and a quick re-read always tells me it’s time to back it up and stick with what I know. No one wants to read my base-less conjecture, particularly myself.
I write well when I can write well
I’ve been reading a lot lately about the creative process. I thought Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Process was a great dissection of a hard-working creative’s life and found Hugh MacLeod’s book Ignore Everybody to be a fairly comprehensive summary of some really potent life lessons. Oh, and Anne Lamott’s book Bird By Bird which really spoke to me. The more I explore the mysteries of creativity the more I understand my own successes and my own miserable, awful failures.
So, let’s say I’m writing about something I care about and I happen to have a lot of experience with it. I have days where I can take this great position and make something really compelling. I also have days where everything I type sounds like I’ve read it thirty times before. Moon phases, rising Mercuries, wind speed, and air density all, I’m convinced, play a part in this silly little game I play with my writing so, I’ve decided I’m totally powerless.
Or am I.
I’ve found that I can write better in the morning (this seems to be common from what I’ve read). I can write better if I’m well-rested (does that even need to be said). I always write better if life is going well. I write better if I’ve been reading more lately. I also write better when I’ve been writing more.
So there are prompts and activities and behaviors that all play a part. Still – STILL – there are good days and there are bad days. For myself, I don’t give up on the bad days and I don’t try to squeeze every last word out of the good days. I’m not writing a novel (yet?) so I’m not burdened with a huge rock to push uphill. I am, however, charged (voluntarily) with keeping a steady stream of good information coming from this site. The pressure never helps things but it does keep the fingers working the keys.
Online content has become, in so many cases, totally throw away. Armed with keywords and a word minimum, people painfully bang out articles and posts less for the sake of creating and more of the sake of, well, more.
If you want to write good content, you have to care, you have to know something about it, and you have to give it some time. In my mind, there’s no point in writing drivel. There is so much CRAP out there, in fact it’s the majority. Why contribute to that?
Listen, we all have bad days, that’s just how it goes. But don’t let a bad day or two make your site look unimportant. Do your homework, take your time, and put your heart into it.