How to Write Content That Will Get Read
Yesterday I made a cameo at a sports training facility located just outside of Boston where I was asked to come in and speak to the staff about writing. More specifically, they asked if I could come in and offer tips and insights on how they could go about writing more engaging content for their members and general public.
Copyright: michaklootwijk / 123RF Stock Photo
At first I was mystified. Me? Come in and speak about writing and the writing process? I’m not even a writer. I mean, I write, sometimes coherently. But I’m just a strength coach who happens to dabble in “writing.” What could I possibly have to offer that couldn’t be covered in, say, Stephen King’s On Writing or THIS excellent piece written by my boy Bryan Krahn a few years ago?
Then I thought about it for a second and looked at the facts:
1. On this website alone, counting this masterpiece (<— only a slight exaggeration), I’ve published 1,843 posts. Holy shit.
2. According to Alexa.com, today (September 21, 2016), my site ranks as the 275,122nd most visited in the world (77,401st in the U.S). I’m coming for you Yahoo. And it’s just me, a one-man show, tapping away on my keyboard.1
- For the record: You’re doing pretty good for yourself if you’re under the 1-million marker.
3. I’ve also had the honor of having my work printed in many of the most reputable fitness sites & publications in the industry: T-Nation.com, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, BodyBuilding.com, STACK, and Women’s Health respectively.
4. And while it has nothing to do with anything, it’s a fact my cat is the cutest thing ever. #beautifulbeautifulprincess.
I say none of this to brag.2 However it demonstrates I must be doing something right and that the content I put out on a weekly basis is resonating with a fair number of people out there. Thanks by the way.
So, in no particular order, here are some of the tidbits I shared yesterday.
It’s Never Been Easier to Be Heard, But It’s Never Been Harder to Get Heard
* Apologies to whomever this quote is attributed to. It’s awesome – thanks.
Think about it: it’s not very hard to get your stuff out there; the barrier to entry is nothing more than clicking “publish” or “send” on your computer screen.
The internet has allowed an amazing opportunity for people to have their voice heard when it otherwise would be muffled. Blogging and the advent of social media has opened the floodgates to everyone’s prose; and, unfortunately, word-vomit.
And therein lies the dilemma.
As wonderful as the digital age has been at giving everyone a “voice,” it’s also the ultimate catch-22. I.e., EVERYONE has a voice.
It’s never been harder to get heard amongst the cacophony of Tweets, Facebook updates, Instagram posts, articles, blogs, and endless e-books from trainers who have been in the industry for all of two months.
All the more reason to up your game and get a leg-up on the competition so you can better separate yourself from the masses.
1) Write, A Lot
I realize this is akin to me telling someone who’s thirsty to go drink some water, but I can’t stress this point enough.
Almost weekly I’m asked by fitness professionals how they can go about getting better at writing. The snarky Tony wants to say:
“Stop emailing me about writing, and go write.”
But I don’t do that. I’ll offer these quick-hitting tips:
- Ideally, write for 60-90 minutes every day. As Ann Handley noted in her wonderful book, Everybody Writes, writing doesn’t always mean you’re writing the next To Kill a Mockingbird. Writing an email counts as writing. Writing a Facebook update counts as writing. Writing a detailed biography of your favorite characters from He-Man: Masters of the Universe counts as writing. It all counts. If you don’t have 60-90 minutes, start with 30. If you don’t have 30 minutes, who are you, Barack Obama?
- Figure out when you’re most creative. The last thing I want to do after a full-day of coaching is to sit down at my desk at 8 PM and attempt to write. I’d rather throw my face into a wall. However, in the morning, when my wife leaves for work, that’s my magic time. And yes, I understand that that sounds very creepy. Everyone is different, so figure out when your inner Vonnegut appears and roll with it.
- Once you have momentum, it’s VITAL you stay CONSISTENT.
“Someone once asked Somerset Maughham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
2) You’re Right; Nothing You Say Is New
One of the common themes I run across with new writers is their proclivity to bum themselves out before they even start.
“What could I possibly write that hasn’t already been said?”
You’re right: nothing you say will be new or revolutionary. However, whether you’re writing on deadlifts, undulated periodization, or, I don’t know, sharing a recipe on Paleo M&Ms (I’m not surprised if this exists)…it hasn’t been written in your voice and with your perspective.
Your experiences and your opinions matter to your readers. Don’t forget that.
3) Finding Your Style
Writing style is one of those things that can help differentiate you from everyone else. I’m a firm advocate in writing how you talk, which is why, sometimes to my detriment, turns some people off to my writing.3
I have a potty mouth.
I swear when I talk, and I swear when I write. I can’t help it. And, there are many, many, really fucking good writers who are right there with me.
Writing how you talk takes practice (see #1), but it breeds authenticity. And even though it’s in written form and not face-to-face, people can sense it. And they will relate to it.
Of course, I am not implying you have to swear when you write. If that’s not you, don’t force it.
If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re not, you don’t have to be.4
If you’re someone who nerds out on PubMed on a Friday night (go you!), then nerd out when you write. There are plenty of dorks out there – myself included – who will read that.
4) Also, Stay in Your Lane
Tony Bonvechio once wrote,
“The internet is a scary place to try to establish yourself as a knowledgable authority. Droves of keyboard warriors are constantly at the ready to cut you down and point out your inaccuracies, especially when it comes to exercise. If you can’t back up your statements with a combination of scientific research and experience, you’ll quickly be tarred and feathered by the masses.”
Nothing is more authentic than writing on topics you’re passionate about and/or have first-hand experience with. I’m pretty good at deadlifting, assessment, and program design. That’s my wheel house and where the bulk of my writing gravitates towards. Breaking down the nuances of Intermittent Fasting or the Kreb’s Cycle? Not so much.
Also, be careful here. Just because you’re “passionate” about something doesn’t mean you should write about it. I’m passionate about deadlifting 8000 lbs and winning a rap-battle vs. Nas. Doesn’t mean I’m going to write about it.
5) Content Is King. What Your Content Looks Like Matters Too
I’m a firm believer if you’re someone putting out quality content consistently, it will get noticed. It won’t happen overnight, or maybe this year, but it will happen. Stay patient.
How many of you reading ever think about what your content LOOKS like, as in how it appears on the screen?
- Introduction: 1st paragraph (and sometimes the 1st sentence) with either engage people or make them click away. Try to ensure it compels people to keep reading.
- What’s the point of the article or post? How is this going to help them?
- Main Content: meat and potatoes of the post. You better fulfill that promise from your intro. I’m spitballing, but most blog posts should be in the range of 500-1500 words. It’s blog post, a quick hitting topic or idea, a train of thought…not a dissertation.
- Avoid long paragraphs. Nothing shuts off people’s attention more than no spacing.
- Use Sub-Headlines: most people scan and rarely read a post word for word.
- People love numbers and bullet points.
- Use Videos and pictures to break up text.
- And speaking of pictures, Copyright is no joke. Sign up for an image service like 123RF or Stock Unlimited. Google Images is like playing with copyright infringement fire.
I’ll End With These Gems
Grammar counts. Tick for tack, someone is going to place more credence on an article that can differentiate between there/their/they’re than one that doesn’t. Grammar Nazis are annoying, and nothing is worse than someone who takes time out of their day to point out you spelled a word incorrectly, but to their credit they know when to call a spade a spade.
Tip from Bryan Krahn: whatever you end up writing, in the end, chop 20% of it. Note: I didn’t do that to this post because fuck that guy…;o)
Voracious reading begets vehement writing. Read those writers you admire. All of them, not just fitness writers. You’ll hate them because they’re so good, but you’ll learn.
Hope this helped.