How to stop writing

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Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Sometimes the biggest challenge is knowing when to stop writing. It’s easy – and so frustrating – to find yourself spending ages on a document, going back over it again and again, adding more and more to make sure that absolutely everything essential is in there.

That can be a surprisingly simple problem to solve.

Understanding the journey

Writing anything is a journey – and it’s very easy to start a journey. Take a couple of steps and you’re off. But if you want to have a good journey, you need to know where you’re going and why you need to get there, so you can plot the right route and take the right supplies with you.

And of course if you don’t know what your destination is, you run into a very big problem. You’ll never be quite sure when you’ve arrived. And even if you do feel like you’ve reached somewhere that’s sort of like where you think you’d want to be, you won’t be ready to make the most of it.

So, you’ll probably keep moving forever. And that’s not because the place you need to get to doesn’t exist – it’s because you haven’t given yourself the tools you need to recognise it when you reach it.

Defining your destination

If you want to know when you’ve finished a document, you need to understand what finishing it will look like. Before you start off you should write yourself a brief, outlining:

  • Who you’re talking to and why they should care
  • What they should know, feel and do differently after they’ve read your doc
  • What you need to tell them to make that change happen
  • How you should talk to them to reach them most efficiently

Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what needs to be in your finished document. With the destination so clearly defined, you’ll know exactly when you’ve reached the end of your journey. And then you can settle down and reward yourself with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

And as you sit there, exhausted but content, your mind will probably wander. Perhaps you’ll think about all the previous journeys you’ve been on and all the future journeys you might take. And that will give you one last way of knowing you’ve completed this particular journey.

Seeing the bigger picture

Each piece of writing’s a journey in its own right. But it’s also always just one part of a wider, deeper, ongoing conversation with your audience. So, when you’re deciding whether or not you’ve completed a document, always think about that bigger voyage too.

Look back on what your audience already knows. Think about what they might find out in the future. Understanding that will help you finally complete the journey of writing your current document, because it’ll reassure you that you don’t need to tell them absolutely everything, all at once – you only need to tell them what they need to hear right now, at this particular moment.

How to have a Good Idea

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I’m part consultant, part author. In both roles, I have to come up with new ideas – and they have to be good ones. So there’s one question people very often ask me:

‘How do you have a Good Idea?’

Well, a Good Idea can feel like it’s come from nowhere. But there’s actually a very specific process that can help you come up with one:

Understand your problem

Good Ideas solve problems. And to really solve a problem, you need to understand it. So, dig into your problem. Research it, then write yourself a brief that lays out:

  • What the problem is
  • Why you need to solve it RIGHT NOW
  • Any obstacles you need to overcome to solve it
  • Who’s going to benefit when you do solve it
  • Exactly:
    • what they’re going to get out of it
    • why that’s so important for them

Immerse yourself

Gather lots of information. Find out all you can about every part of your problem. If you can, experience it for yourself. Look for similar problems and see how other people have solved them. Fill your head with useful details.

And don’t stop there. Do some random browsing too. Is there something you’ve always wanted to find out about? Or a favourite book, film, song or whatever else you haven’t listened too for ages? Go and check them out. Indirect information can be as stimulating as directly useful stuff.

Get blasting

Now you’ve understood and explored your problem it’s time to get creative. Blast out as many ideas as you possibly can. Go quickly – you’re trying to explore as many different ways of solving your problem as possible. Don’t judge them – at this stage, there’s no need to. And, most importantly:

  • Go Crazy!

Create ridiculous, absurd, impossible ideas. That’ll help you think beyond the boundaries, and also help you understand where the boundaries really are. Also, you’ll have a lot of fun, and that’ll help even more ideas flow.

Distract yourself

Now stop and go somewhere else entirely, to do something emotionally or imaginatively stimulating that has nothing to do with the Good Idea you want to create. Distract yourself with shiny new things so your subconscious mind can go to work. But don’t forget your notebook. Because…

The magic moment

Round about now, everything should come together and a truly Good Idea will just pop up in your head. It can happen anywhere, at any time, so be ready for it! Or you might look back over all the ideas you’ve already had, and realise that one of them is just perfect.

Make it even better

Your Good Idea is a wonderful, precious thing. But it’s also brand new. So, live with it for a bit. Test it against your brief. See if it needs a little polishing up. And then bounce it off a few people you trust. Talk them through your brief, then ask them how well they think your Good Idea works.

And that’s that! Happy Good Idea creating…

The Golden Secret of good writing

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Someone who knows the Golden Secret using it to do some good writing

Photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels

Yesterday Andy White interviewed me for SiteVisibility‘s weekly Internet Marketing Podcast. We talked about ‘Bringing your brand to life with words’. Our chat ended with a fascinating question about good writing. Andy asked:

‘What’s the one bit of advice you’d give to to help anyone write more effectively?’

I had to stop and think for a moment. Writing’s a very personal thing, so any advice or training I give tends to be very personally tailored. But there is one thing that’s absolutely central to all good writing. And it’ll help you build stronger, deeper relationships with your customers and clients too.

Revealing the Golden Secret

‘Write what your audience needs to hear, not what you need to tell them.’

It’s a very important point. It means building your communication around the person you’re reaching out to. It means thinking about who they are, why they need to hear from you, what you need to tell them and how you’re going to talk with them – all the essentials of good writing.

It also makes the process of writing much easier. It helps you work out what you need to put into your communication, what you can leave out (usually, quite a lot!) and how you’re going to structure it all. And it gives you a very useful yardstick to edit against.

The worst ever question

Most importantly, it makes your writing much more effective. It will help you avoid the single worst response any communication can spark:

‘So what?’

If you build your writing around what your audience needs to hear, they’ll never have to ask that question. That’s because every single one of your communications will solve a specific problem for them, or give them a vital piece of information, or make life easier for them in some other way.

Testing out the Golden Secret

It’s very easy to test it out. Just think about all the written communications you’ve received in the last few days. I’m sure some of them have been fantastic and some of them – well, not so much.

Pick out a really good communication and a really awful one. Read them again with the Golden Secret in mind. My bet is that the really good one will feel like it’s written for and talking to you personally. And the terrible one will feel at best completely generic and at worst totally irrelevant.

Better writing builds stronger relationships

Think about how each one makes you feel. I’m sure the good one will leave you with a lovely glow of good feelings about whoever’s written to you. And the bad one will probably make you feel a bit fed up, if not actively annoyed.

And that’s the final point about the Golden Secret. It’s not just about good writing. It’ll help you build stronger relationships with your clients or your customers, because it helps you show them that you put them at the heart of everything you do.

The process is the point

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So in my ever-continuing quest to be a more dynamic, energetic consultant, I’ve joined one of the local gyms. In practice, it actually means that – on a reasonably regular basis – I’m actually a pinker, more puffed-out consultant, but we’ll get there.

Yay Gympop!

While training, I’ve been very struck by the gym’s vision of health and fitness. There are screens everywhere. When they’re not playing Dynamic Upbeat Pop Videos (Gympop seems to be an actual genre) they’re broadcasting information about healthy eating, walking wherever you can and generally maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

https://i1.wp.com/c1.staticflickr.com/1/663/21453014295_f27deeeb1c_b.jpg?resize=700%2C700&ssl=1

It’s very clear that the gym owners see working out as actually quite a small part of a healthy lifestyle. Of course, it’s a very important focal point – but what you do before and after your exercise session is vital too. The workout they’ve set me up with reflects that too. I spend as much time warming up and warming down as I do actually lifting weights.

A word from my Dad

My Dad – being a golf nut – has his own sporting metaphor for this kind of thing. He often talks about the golf swing. He’ll point out that the moment when you actually hit the ball is a tiny part of the whole process. And it won’t go right unless you’ve got your stance, your grip, your backswing, your downswing, your follow-through and a dozen other things under control.

Silhouette of Man Playing Golf during Sunset

And as I was working away on a cross-trainer the other day, it struck me that that’s true for writing as well. Whether I’m writing a book or working for clients, getting the words down is actually a very small part of the process. In a business writing context, that translates into many different things.

Plan wisely

Before you even start writing, you need to define your brand personality, and be clear about your tone of voice and content strategy. And then, for each new document, you need to create a clearly defined brief. That’ll guide you through your first draft, help you focus feedback and help whoever’s signing your writing off understand exactly what they’re agreeing to.

adult, book, business

It’s like planning your trip before you set out. If you don’t do it, even a journey that should be really simple can become an endless slog. But if you’ve worked it all out, you’ll get where you need to be smoothly, easily and with hardly any getting lost along the way.

Beyond the keyboard

Thinking about it, it’s realising that that turned me from a writer into a consultant. I want my clients to end up with excellent words, created with minimal stress and hassle. And so together we have to think through all the whole writing process, which stretches far beyond the actual typing.

Getting the words down is a very small part of it all; like the golf swing, and like my workouts, it’s the whole process that makes the real difference.