5 Simple Steps for Strategizing and Simplifying Writing
As I mentioned in my previous article, Tips and Tools to Master Copywriting, everyone is expected to be a writer these days, especially marketers. The Think Better team is fortunate enough that we all truly enjoy writing. Yes, it can be hard work, but it’s something we find ourselves doing for fun and in our free time too.
We’re always trying to improve. As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect.” In reality, practice makes “better” since being a perfect writer is a near-impossible task. So yes, consistency is key to progress.
In addition to consistently writing, learning from others is a surefire way to sharpen your skills and get you thinking creatively. And learning from writing experts can help turn your skills up a notch that self-practice cannot.
A few weeks ago the TB team attended a writing workshop with Tanja Pajevic. Tanja is an author of two books, has been published in many publications such as The New York Times and the Huffington Post, is a writing coach, and is the recipient of several awards and fellowships. She’s got a lot of tricks up her sleeve and I want to share with you the tips that hit home for me.
One of Tanja’s tips that resonated with the entire TB team was her 5 Simple Steps for Strategizing and Simplifying Writing. Think Better has been using a similar process with our Creative Brief Template. Both processes have you break down your writing into bite-sized chunks and you keep focused. We like using Tanja’s five steps to help guide our creative brief and think that it might help you too.
Here are Tanja’s 5 Simple Steps for Strategizing and Simplifying Writing:
Step 1: Clarify Your Story
Before you sit down to write, you need to be clear on your document’s purpose. Are you trying to explain the new features of your product, describe to your team a new sales strategy or help clients navigate their busy season? Jot down your thoughts and what you want to accomplish with your writing before moving ahead.
Once the purpose is clear, who is your audience? The more specific you can be, the better. Are you writing content for all of your clients, or to new clients that are interested in a specific service? What makes that audience unique? A big mistake that tends to stall writers is trying to write for everyone. Similar to marketing, if you try to appeal to everyone, you will appeal to no one.
The last part of step one is creating a mission statement. Combine the purpose, goals, and target audience of your writing into one clear and concise statement. Tanja suggests setting up a timer for 5-minutes and writing a two to three sentence mission statement. Don’t overthink it, just get something down on the page.
Step 2: Start with Pivotal Points, aka the Rocks
Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, uses a rock, pebble, and sand analogy to illustrate his time management strategy. This analogy also works well for writing; you need to identify the big rocks, or primary points, before you can fill in the gaps with supporting pebbles and sand. This helps writers avoid getting lost in topics that may be interesting, but not necessary to the overall piece. Take the time to establish two to three primary points.
Step 3: Write a “Shitty First Draft”
Once you know your primary points, get them down and don’t worry about the specifics. You’ll waste time trying to create perfection. This draft is called “shitty” for a reason. Don’t slow down, just get it all out and you can revisit to polish and reorganize later. Your focus should be getting the main ideas down. Think of this draft as something just for you and you can worry about refocusing on the reader in the next step.
Step 4: Fill in the Details, aka the Pebbles
The main points have been established and now it’s time to fill in the cracks and write for the reader. Ask yourself, what does the reader need to know? This is where I tend to get bogged down. I want to give the reader everything! But when that happens, there’s less of a chance that they will retain your main purpose.
Tanja suggests a few questions to get started:
What do you already know that your reader does not? Try to think from their perspective. What information do they need to get from point A to point B?
What does the reader need to see, hear, feel, taste and touch in order to fully understand the experience or understand your vision?
Is there a larger context that needs to be woven into this piece of writing?
Are there any underlying assumptions or expectations that need to be addressed?
Have you simplified your writing? Is it jargon or does it appeal to the audience you outlined in step 1?
Step 5: Fill in the Sand and Wrap it Up
It’s time to face your shitty draft and tear it to pieces. You should be looking for areas that are too heavy or light with information. Do certain topics need to be emphasized more and is anything unclear? If you get stuck, return to your mission statement. Are you still on track with your audience, purpose and goals?
Now is also the time to think about paragraph structure and adding headers and subheaders that will help with the flow of the piece. Do you have paragraphs that are too long or too short? Make sure your document is organized so that it’s easy to locate the important points. If visuals help readers understand the pivotal points, then include them.
Tanja suggests using introductions and mini-conclusions for each section. It may feel like you are being repetitive but you’re giving your reader more entry points and further emphasizing your points.
After a little time on this last step, you should have a compelling document with a clear message for your specific audience! Now, before you send it out to the world, do yourself a favor and have someone else read it over. We’re all human and we’ve learned that we become blind to errors in our own work after looking at it for too long. It’s always best to get some fresh eyes on it before it’s published. Can your proofreader if they can identify your main points?
If you’ve followed all five steps, you should be good to go. By breaking down the process into bite-sized chunks, you ensure that you get your point across and speak to those who matter.
Let us know if you have any tried and true writing tips, we’re all ears. Until then, subscribe to our blog to get notified when we publish something new.