When I stare at a blank page at the start of a new writing assignment, I probably feel as daunted as an architect does when looking at a pile of dirt in an abandoned lot. Just as he can see where the house needs to go, I know the story I need to write, but getting to the finished product—and knowing where to start—is a whole different animal.
The beauty of creation though, is that, while talent is important, even the uninitiated can follow a set of blueprints one meticulous step at a time until an assignment is done. With that in mind, here are some foundational how-tos on constructing content that’s built to last.
Bring your own tools.
True building professionals don’t show up to a job site empty-handed. They bring their favorite leather work gloves, a hard hat, and a truckload of training and experience. The latter are all the skills they’ve accumulated that thankfully, follow them from job to job—expanding and evolving with every new opportunity.
Don’t shortchange how valuable your toolset is, or how important it is to invest in it. You can add to it through continuing education classes to keep your skills sharp, well-maintained notes that repurpose expertise, or productivity hacks that keep you and/or your team on schedule. Keep these useful options handy, and you’ll always have the right tool for the job.
Start with good bones.
It may seem odd for a writer to argue that words don’t matter, but, at least at first, they don’t. Exact phrasing is like window dressing, while your ideas are the walls and the foundation that determines whether an idea either lasts or falls apart. If your idea breaks down in every edit, it wasn’t solid enough at the start.
Go back to your outline and tease the problems out there. When your framework is solid, it leads to a quality asset that will hold value and can be easily adapted: blog posts can become infographics that become white papers that become webinars. In other words, if your idea is sound, changing its wrapping can be as easy as swapping out paint in a room.
Design with style.
Once your foundation and framing are set, it’s time to go nuts. Strip sections that don’t work, pick at words, and add all the flair that makes your work pop. Here’s where following trends can pay off. Does your copy sound fresh? Current? How will it appear in its final form? Does it look as good to your eye as it sounds to your ear? I find that the editing, formatting, and polishing of content is where the fun starts. After weeks of heavy lifting, the excitement of playing with my drafts is similar to the thrill of pulling color swatches and picking out new curtains.
Improve, renovate, curate.
You’ve built your house, arranged all the furniture, and made it your home. But that doesn’t mean your work is over or you can’t make improvements. The kitchen door keeps sticking. You need shelves in the laundry room. The sink is leaking. Now’s a good time to invite others over to make suggestions. It might be hard to hear that the couch would definitely look better on the opposite wall or your favorite paragraph needs to be cut, but deep down you’ll know if it’s true. A little time, distance, and a couple of edit passes are simply part of the process of making the home (or copy) you love even homier.
Barn raising takes teamwork.
When you dreamed of becoming a creative, you probably imagined the perks of being your own boss. But, as you’ve probably figured out the hard way, it doesn’t matter if you’re a senior freelance writer handpicking clients or a junior marketer on a team of 20. Either way, you’re never truly working in a silo. There will always be a publisher, an editor, a foreman, and a whole team of people butting in on your work. Sending large pieces of content out into the world requires collaboration, including the efforts of many talented people you’ll never see or meet. In the end, your work is almost always better for it.
Don’t underestimate the power of duct tape.
Transitions in writing are the thin, sticky patches that hold ideas together and therefore go unnoticed—and often unappreciated. But just as my grandfather enthused about his love of duct tape, I feel oddly compelled to tell you how transitions can solve all kinds of writing binds.
Got a dense section of copy? Cut it in two, then tape it back together. Transitions can move your readers through your piece faster and help them orient themselves in space and time. I may sound like I own stock in adhesives, but it’s true. Instead of a bunch of connective sentences, try focusing on a couple of important transition words instead. Sometimes a small fix is the big fix.
Maintenance is key.
A well-maintained home holds value over time, and, with only a little extra work, your assets can, too. Every now and then, revisit your content. Clean up typos. Look at the visuals. Are they still telling the right story? Should you freshen them up every year or quarter to avoid staleness? Regular maintenance is a big part of content ownership and an investment of time that will certainly pay off. The trick is to stay ahead and not fall victim to the inevitable avalanche of work that occurs when, say, an entire asset library needs updating in a teardown/rebuild. (How do I know? Well, for this piece of advice, you’ll just have to, ahem, trust me.)
Accept your behind-the-scenes role.
Copywriting can be a laborious, messy, and nonlinear process, which makes it as prone to going over time and budget as a kitchen remodel. But despite all that overtime, there’s almost never a surplus of credit. Much like a contractor, you hope the work of a copywriter never shows. By the time you go to print, your words should read as effortlessly written and the most complex ideas should have a deceptive simplicity. Seams, patches, and plumbing should all be invisible.
So what’s a hardworking marketer to do when his or her name isn’t emblazoned in lights every time a piece of content appears? Take pride in your work. Focus on craftsmanship. Those are the qualities that what will be admired in the end.
Do you need help building something great? Ring our doorbell today.