Writing Good Content is not as Scary as a Stephen King Novel
Have you heard of Stephen King? Of course you have! The world renowned author writes stories that captivate millions of people around the world and earn him an estimated $17 million a year.
Dubbed the father of contemporary horror, this is the man responsible for the nightmares of an entire generation. King is not only a good story-teller with an exceptionally vivid and twisted imagination, but also a distinguished and award-winning writer. A writer, content marketers can learn a lot from.
I recently came across his memoir ‘On Writing’, which is a fantastically honest, captivating and jammed packed with useful advice. In fact, I enjoyed reading it so much that I couldn’t help myself but extract a few golden nuggets of advice on writing (both from the book and past interviews) and look at them through the lens of the writers of the business world – content marketers.
#1 The Importance of a Good Opening Line
‘We’ve talked so much about the reader, but you can’t forget that the opening line is important to the writer, too. To the person who’s actually boots-on-the-ground. Because it’s not just the reader’s way in, it’s the writer’s way in also, and you’ve got to find a doorway that fits us both.’
King is known to have spent months, even years working on a good opening line. Realistically, no content marketer can afford this kind of luxury. We tend to have strict guidelines and tight editorial schedules to stick to. Nevertheless, the importance of a good opening line is there.
With the choice of good content growing and attention spans shrinking, good opening sentences can make it or break it. They may very well be the deciding factor whether a visitor to your website will stick around to read your blog post or not.
Of course, good opening sentences rarely come to life when you draft and outline your content. That perfectly crafted and inviting opening is something that emerges in revision, which is where a more wholesome view of the entire content of body is revised.
You can even adopt this technique for your email marketing, where your subject line would be your opening sentence. Make it count, as King says, invite the reader in.
#2 Curation – Reading is Just as Important if Not More Important Than Writing
‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.’
From content curation, keeping an eye on trends and staying up-to-date with industry news, when it comes to content creation, reading is an essential part of the creating process.
According to recent research, 68% of content marketers use articles on websites other than their own as part of their content marketing strategy.
As Stephen King puts it: ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut’, emphasis on the ‘no shortcut’ part. You have got to put in the long hours of research and content curation, and you have to spend the time writing and crafting your skills.
Try to write every day, or multiple times a day if possible. The more you write, the better you’ll get. Writing good content is a skill, and like any other skill, you have to practice it to get better.
#3 Learn to Stay Focused
‘There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or video games for you to fool around with.’
In a business setting, many of us find it particularly difficult to switch off. There are always emails to be checked, phone calls to be answered, memos to be looked at etc.
Nevertheless, I have personally found that switching off and focusing on a single activity at a time, especially when the activity in question is writing, makes me work much more efficiently. When in a peaceful environment with limited distractions, I tend to create better work faster. In comparison, if you are trying to juggle writing a piece of content with other work, you will more often than not end up re-reading it over and over again, trying desperately to find your train of thought.
So in my personal experience and I imagine Stephen King would agree, it is always better to spend less time actually working on creating content, than spend twice the time doing half the work.
#4 Failure and Criticism are Something You Will Have to Learn to Deal With
‘If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.’
Failure is part of life, especially so in business. People nowadays make a living of criticising other people’s work so you might as well get used to criticism.
Negative feedback is something we all have to deal with, so be it nasty comments on your posts, negative reviews of your product or business, you just have to deal with it. Having said this, you never really get used to bad comments, no matter what stage of your career you are in.
There’s two things to remember when this happens. Firstly, never address comments when you’re angry. In the heat of the moment, you may make an emotional response, which will only make things worse. Be the bigger person, take one on the chin and if you can (and you should always try to do this anyway) see if there is anything you can learn from the experience. Somebody didn’t like your blog post? What can you change? What particular aspect of your content didn’t they like?
Secondly, look at the bright side. King suggests that you should always remain positive. “Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.” he writes.
#5 Don’t Be Too Pompous With Your Writing
‘One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones’
King compares using pretentious terms and terminology to dressing up a household pet in evening clothes – both the pet and the owner are embarrassed, because it’s completely excessive and unnecessary.
So steer clear of complex terms and flashy words. Good content has all its ‘fluff’ stripped off and is in its essence the best and most valuable information on the topic condensed. As Stephen King puts it ‘Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule’.
So as technical as the topic your writing is, try to simplify it and make it easy to understand.
#6 Do What You Love
‘Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.’
Such an excellent point, don’t you agree? You should create content because you have a passion you want to share with people. If you are passionate about a product or service, if you are passionate about your business, you will always find the time and the right words to put into paper to create amazing content.
And don’t forget that content creation is an enriching process – both for you and for the readers. Think about what value and information you are offering and create the best thing you possibly can. This is the simple recipe to success in content marketing.
‘On Writing’ is different to any other of King’s creations (for one, nobody gets brutally murdered by an alien/clown or a monster car that came to life) nevertheless the book is a Shining example of his exceptional writing skills. With his extensive body of work under his belt and natural talent for writing content that people read, King can absolutely inspire you to write better and teach you a thing or two. I would highly recommend his book to anybody who is in the content marketing/writers’ industry. It is a great read and it will definitely make you reflect on your style and techniques as well as your whole approach to the writing process.