Congratulations, you have a hot writing assignment!
Maybe it’s a proposal that could make your company’s fortune.
Maybe it’s your first professional writing gig.
It could even be a guest post for Copyblogger.
The stakes are high . . . and you know it.
In fact, it’s all you can think about . . . the F.E.A.R. trying to sabotage your aspirations for success. Your fingers are shaking too hard to type anything, and your stomach has sunk down to the bottom of an ocean so deep that all the fish have weird lights on their heads.
Well that’s not helping any, now is it?
Instead, let’s get those pixels flowing with these 7 not-too-scary steps.
1. Write down your goal
What does success look like? Get imaginative, specific and visceral.
Imagine yourself being awarded with the Employee of the Month trophy while your boss announces:
Without Catherine’s vital work on the proposal, we would never have won this contract. Now we will be giving bonuses to all our staff and hiring three new ones, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks, Catherine.
Everyone is clapping and there’s cake.
This goal serves two purposes:
- It encourages you to get writing.
- It gives you a way to measure whether your writing is effective. If it increases the chance of the successful proposal/trophy/cake then it’s effective. If it does not, then you need to make changes. An objective yardstick is critical when your emotions are getting the better of you.
2. Plan your content
Grab your favorite brainstorming tool. Could be mind-mapping software, a bunch of index cards, parchment and quill pen . . . whatever suits you.
- Start with the high-level ideas. If you’re writing a sales page, you need to describe the benefits, so that’s an entry. The call to action is another.
- What content do you need to provide to support the high-level ideas? In the last example, each specific benefit would have a separate entry.
- Go down as many levels as you need to until every entry makes only one point.
- Evaluate the entries. Does each one move you toward your goal? Can some be removed? What order makes the most sense?
Shuffle and remove entries until you have a working plan of what to write. Notice you now have a nice, clear idea of what the finished document should look like.
It’s time to take a deep breath and start on the actual writing.
3. Ten minutes of gibberish
If you’re looking at the blank screen with mounting horror (Have I forgotten the English language entirely?), open a new document and pound out anything.
- A history of cheese
- The lyrics of your favorite song
- A stream-of-consciousness piece that starts with “Daffodil Philomena carousel elf-wine fodder marmalade”
- A cake recipe
- An imaginary shopping list
- Endless lines of All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
Don’t force it to make sense! Just let it flow out with no judgment or expectations. When there’s no pressure to get anything Right, for many people the mental vapor-lock vanishes. They can go back and start writing the important stuff.
4. Divide your ideas into sections
Remember back in school when we were taught, “One idea per paragraph”?
Still a good idea, although you may need more than a paragraph. But each section of your document should convey one idea, and only one.
Introduce each section with a good subhead to make the document more readable and keep your ideas organized.
You can go back and adjust your content plan to include extra ideas, but give each idea its own section and subhead.
5. Explain it to the potted plant
If you’re trying to make a point and you’re . . . umm . . . you know, how do I say it . . . it’s on the tip of my tongue . . . stuck on how to explain it?
Talk it out with another person. It doesn’t actually need to be a real person. It can be to the potted plant on the windowsill.
You’ll start out stumbling and inarticulate, but quickly the thoughts will come together and you’ll have it all sorted in your head.
Or you may realize that this was one of those ideas that seemed good at first blush but doesn’t really make any sense. That’s fine too. Delete it and move on.
6. Editing, your deadly new friend
After you’ve written what you need to write, the dreaded post-writing stage kicks in. This is where you edit your work to make it the best it can possibly be. Revising, polishing, reordering and spell-checking are all wonderful tools. They help you make your point more clearly and concisely.
Perfectionism, the copywriter’s curse, loves editing. If you’re not careful, deadlines will fly by while you make infinitesimal improvements.
Never try to write and edit at the same time. Write first, edit later.
Focus on removing words when editing. This doesn’t mean you can’t tell a relevant story or insert an interesting adjective, but every word must contribute to that goal you set out in Step 1.
Set an upper limit on revisions. For truly critical documents, you might go as high as ten revisions. But pick a number and stick to it, no matter how much you think, “Oh but I just have this one tweak . . .”
7. Still overwhelmed?
Today I’m releasing a new resource called Awesome Fear-Wrangling: Manage your Website Fears, Grow an Awesome Website. If you want some industrial-strength help, come check it out!
(There’s a special bonus today too. It’s my birthday. There’s cake.)
What are your techniques to get you writing when you’re facing a bunch of fear? Tell us in the comments!