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Last week I talked about my goals for 2024 and how I was coming around to relish the idea of things being hard. The idea was, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be worthwhile, and I should be grateful for how hard 2023 was; this year I will be better and stronger as a result of last year’s challenges, and therefore I should hope for the same this year.
And a lot of you resonated with that message! One of my favorite replies was a link to this amazing message from Kara Lawson of Duke University, preparing her Women’s Basketball team for dealing with adversity and this sense of things being “hard” and perhaps getting easier:
Which leads me to today, and the struggle that many of you face:
Writing Is Hard.
- It’s hard knowing what to write about.
- It’s hard organizing our thoughts in a way that makes sense.
- It’s hard creating written content that doesn’t come with immediate gratification.
It’s even hard just finding the time to write, as it seems to take longer than other forms of content marketing and content creation, right?
The bad news is, I’m going to start by echoing Kara and say that:
- Writing SHOULD be hard.
- Writing SHOULD take time.
- Writing SHOULD be challenging.
But that doesn’t mean it has to be impossible. And that’s the difference between things that are hard in a constructive way, and things that are so hard they beat us down and stop us from growing as individuals.
And the irony is that it’s hard to see the difference between the two, particularly when we’re in the thick of things. We can’t see the forrest through the trees.
- Am I making the right decisions for my business, even though it’s hard?
- Am I hiring the right people, even though it’s been challenging to onboard and work with them?
- Am I following the right diet and exercise plan, even though I’m sore and struggling?
(btw, 75Hard is freaking hard, but I’m sticking with it)
So here’s some good news: writing can and should be hard, but it is not impossible. It is not one of those tasks that’ll prove so challenging as to have been a poor decision to undertake from the outset. Because as Ann Handley so eloquently put it, “Everybody Writes.”
We all write and we all can write. So why is it so hard?
This is where some of the help can come in, because some of the challenges to great writing can be mitigated, making the entire process a lot easier.
For instance, once of the many challenges facing each of us when it comes to writing is simply know what to write about next. That’s an issue that I approach personally a number of ways. First, I keep a notebook of ideas that, over the years, has grown into the hundreds. When I sit down to do some writing, and don’t have something specific already in mind to cover, I have no shortage of ideas to draw from. I write about how to build that database of ideas here, and there’s also a free webinar you can sign up for that goes into more detail. I also spend a lot of time building a content marketing plan for myself and my clients, which gives them a structure for ideating and then creating specific pieces of content that help to accomplish business goals. It’s called the Content Pyramid and you can read more about it here.
You should also download the Content Marketing Planner to help with all of the above.
Those resources will help every writer and business to make writing a lot less hard. You’ll know what to write about and, more importantly, you’ll see significant business results from your writing which will be our reward. Because we need to see rewards and know that our work put into writing is having a real benefit.
Here are some additional ways you can remove the impossibility of writing and keep it simply “hard, but worthwhile.”
Writing with Generative AI
I’ll be talking a lot more about generative AI in the coming months as it’s certainly a hot topic when it comes to content marketing and content creation. It’s a tool I’ve been experimenting a lot with and learning about, and I see a lot of positive aspects and potential, particularly for you.
And while it’s true that generative AI CAN NOT create great content for our brands, and should not be used to simply write articles, it CAN be used very effectively to brainstorm and outline!
Let me say that again: please don’t ask ChatGPT to just write an article for you. It won’t be great content. It just won’t. I’ll go into all the reasons why another time.
But definitely have a conversation about ChatGPT about what YOU might write!
And I do mean have a conversation. Start a new chat conversation and start by letting ChatGPT know who you are, what you do, and who you’re trying to reach with your audience. Tell ChatGPT that it’s an expert in your field, and that you’re going to work on some content together. Tell it what you want to create, whether that’s an article or an eBook or something else.
And be prepared to rein ChatGPT in. Ask it if it understands and make sure it can respond with a summary of everything you’ve said that makes sense. And when it’s wrong, or decide to start doing something you weren’t ready to do yet, it’s ok to tell it that it was off track!
When you’re ready, the next step is to ask ChatGPT for ideas of what to write about. If you don’t know your target audience’s goals and pains and problems, ask ChatGPT! Then pick one and ask ChatGPT for a few ideas on topics you could work on together. You don’t have to accept those ideas. Ask for more and ask for different versions or deeper concepts. You might also ask ChatGPT for ideas on the types of content you might create (i.e. listicle), then build out ideas that follow that approach.
Take your time, give ChatGPT feedback, and then pick the topic you feel excited to create content about and feel you can write about.
You can stop there if you’d like, but you might also find it helpful to get ChatGPT to help you outline the topic you’ve chosen. This will depend a lot on the style of writer you are. ChatGPT may not be very good at outlining articles for people who tend to write more prose, or for certain kinds of articles. But ChatGPT I’ve found is excellent at outline content that is of a How To variety, so consider that.
And again, if you ask ChatGPT for a little help here, you aren’t limited to the first draft. You can tell ChatGPT to include more examples or eliminate a section. You can stipulate a style or approach you want to take with your article’s structure, and throughout it all I recommend giving ChatGPT positive feedback.
I think it helps if you tell ChatGPT what you loved about a response, even if there are other aspects you’re going to have it redo or are absolute rubbish.
When you’re done, push that topic and outline into your Evernote or other content tool and now you have an idea to write about and a framework for the entire article to keep you on track.
The writing will still be hard, but you’ll find that many of the challenges disappeared and you’re left with the (fun?) challenge of writing and organizing and distilling your thoughts.
But what do we do if we feel more at ease talking rather than writing?
Writing from and for Video, Live or Recorded
Stop and think for a moment. If I asked you to write about a topic related to your business right now and that’s something you’d struggle with, but if we were on a phone or video call and I asked you the same question, you’d have no trouble riffing on the topic and helping me to understand it, that’s likely an indicator that one of the challenges you’re facing when it comes to writing is communication style.
You’d rather talk than write, and that’s OK!
While you can’t use video for 100% of your writing, today’s tools make it exceedingly easy to use video for content creation. Obviously, video performs so well on channels like YouTube and TikTok, there’s actually a huge benefit to starting with video first!
Whether you’re just filming yourself talking to the camera about a topic of interest (use the ChatGPT-built outline as a script!), or rope in someone else to talk to you and ask you questions, you’re creating content that can be transcribed and turned into written content for your site. And of course you can push the full, edited video to YouTube and clips to all the social platforms.
I use StreamYard for video recording and Descript for transcribing, though I recently was introduced to Capsho and am taking a closer look at that tool for repurposing video and audio…
Writing from Podcasting FTW
Which brings me to my final suggestion, which is to lean into podcasting. This is also a topic I’ve written about before and will circle back to this year.
I like podcasting a lot because it brings new voices into our content yet, if done well, is also an opportunity for us to shine. I spent the last year interviewing partnership and influencer marketing experts from around the world and had tremendous conversations that helped both me and my audience. yet throughout every episode there were opportunities for me to inject my experience and perspective as well.
And just like when creating video content, I record the interviews using StreamYard and then get the transcript using Descript. I publish the audio podcast to all of the podcast distribution channels and then publish a blog post that has the detailed description and show notes, along with the full transcript.
For me, a lot of the writing for that style of content takes place before the recording, as I script out the questions and other aspects of the show. And once you’ve created a few podcast episodes, you will start to have an archive of content that you can draw on for additional writing.
For instance, one of your guests might just touch on a topic that you can drill down into further in your own article, and link the two. Or you might get into the habit of asking one or two questions of every guest, as I do, and write up an article that talks about how all of those guests responded to that one, single question.
The key is to think first about why you find writing to be so hard, and try to eliminate some of the things that make it challenging, that way you’re left with the important and constructive part – the bits that are supposed be hard. Things like thinking creatively, and problem-solving for your audience.
That is worthwhile, and therefore should be hard.
Until next time,