Overcoming writer’s block: Getting started on your website content
I’m going to be honest with you; even though we build websites all the time, we struggle to write content for our own. Like our customers, we know what we want to say, but we don’t want to ramble on for days. Who has time to read War & Peace nowadays? When it comes to writing good content, I am always reminded of this quote by Mark Twain.
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”Mark Twain
The sentiment of this quote is as true now as it ever was during Mark Twain’s lifetime. Writing content that is both interesting and concise takes time. More time than many people think, especially if they don’t write content everyday.
In our experience, when someone has to write a website’s content, the sheer size of the task in front of them is enough to stop them from putting pen to paper. Or keyboard to word processor. But it is a job that needs doing. So what can you do to stop this critical part of a website from becoming a road block? And prevent any delays to the “go live” date?
Tip 1: Just get started
Sometimes the hardest part of a task is getting started. Have you ever hosted a dinner party, to be confronted with a mountain of dirty dishes afterwards? If you’re like me, your heart sinks. But you know that if you want to eat off clean plates again tomorrow, you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and get started.
It can be as simple as applying the same mentality to your content. Just get started and before you know it, you’ll have the first draft of your content written. You already know that the first version is not going to be perfect, so why worry about perfection at the start? Masterpieces are created through iteration, not through strokes of genius.
Tip 2: Divide and conquer
Or to put it another way, delegate. If you are creating content for a large website, break it up into smaller chunks. Then give the chunks to others to write instead. This is particularly useful if your team has different areas of expertise relating to the chunks of content. And also if the content is technical in nature. Get the person in your team with the most knowledge to write the content; they’ll find it easier to do.
Going back to our dinner party analogy; this is like getting different people to wash, dry, and put-away the dishes. Then someone else to wipe down surfaces, and someone else to brush the floor. Hopefully you’ve invited some really helpful friends to your dinner party.
There is one thing to be aware of with this approach. If you have five different people writing content, your website will read like five different people have written it. Really, you want your site to have one clear, unified voice. This is less of a problem with professional content creators who understand house-style, tone-of-voice, and branding. They’ll be able to create content that reads in a similar tone.
However, there is nothing to stop you from getting others to write the first draft. You can then use these drafts as a solid foundation to re-write the content with a single voice, unifying the different styles.
Tip 3: Make a plan
Perhaps you’re not far enough along to make use of tip 1 and 2. Perhaps you don’t even know what the aforementioned chunks of content are. In that case, you will need to start off with a content plan instead.
I often see content plans starting off looking like a site map - so great news if you already have one for your website! If not, you’ll need to think about the different sections of your website and what pages will appear within those sections. I’ve already written about creating site maps.
Once you know what pages you need to populate, you can start planning the blocks of content to go into each page. Sometimes it can be as simple as a title, introduction, and a link to embed a video. Other times you may need to create a list of items or topics to cover within the page. Again, you can do this with simple bullet-points. These can be expanded into short paragraphs, before being filled out into full page content later.
With our dinner party analogy, this is like deciding what dishes you want to make. Once you know what dishes you are making, you can go and find the recipes. The recipes tell you what ingredients you need to buy, and the instructions to follow to make the dishes. The recipes are our content plans.
Tip 4: Get someone else involved
You know the old adage, ‘Two heads are better than one.’ This can apply to writing your content too. Talking through what you plan to write and the points you want to cover with someone else can help clarify the content in your mind. It has the added bonus of getting another person’s perspective too. They might spot a hole in your content, suggest something that you hadn’t thought of, or point out something that doesn’t make sense.
This helps with complex subject matter too. If you truly understand a topic, you can explain it in terms that anyone can understand - at least the basics anyway. Can you explain a technical subject to a layperson? Notice what kind of language you are using, and use this as the basis of your content.
You can even do this later in the process by having someone read through what you’ve written. Someone else reading over your content, ‘a fresh pair of eyes,’ is a great sanity check. How often have you read an article online where a paragraph stops halfway through a sentence? That the content has clearly been edited but not re-checked before publishing. Or when obvious spelling and grammar errors haven’t been fixed? Someone else can quickly spot these mistakes that the writer has missed dozens of times.
Tip 5: Do more research
Unfortunately, sometimes there is an obvious reason for writer’s block. And that is simply that you don’t understand the topic enough. If you don’t understand the topic you are writing about, how can you write about it? You will need to increase your knowledge on the given topic.
For something technical, like website development, there are lots of online resources. Researching these kinds of topics is (usually) pretty easy. However, if you’re writing about you or your business, you’re going to struggle to find the information online. An example would be writing biographies for your team page. Your research for these would likely involve face-to-face interviews with each team member. Or creating a standardised questionnaire for each team member to fill out.
The topic will dictate the kind of research you’ll need to carry out.
Tip 6: Give yourself plenty of time
I said at the start of this article, writing content can often take longer than you think - true of many things in life. How often have you had a 5 minute job take half an hour? Luckily, there is a common rule for coming up with more realistic estimates:
Whatever time you think, double it, and add 10%
This rule works well for a lot of things; how long will it take to code a website, or to write the content, or to prep the veg for that new recipe.
If you think you could write the content within 1 working week (5 days), double it (2 working weeks, 10 days), and add 10% (11 days). In essence, if you think it will take you one week, give yourself at least two.
Even if you end up being right about your original estimate and it only takes you one week, it is better to under-promise and over-deliver, than the other way around.
Tip 7: Hire a professional
There are many reasons why you would want to hire a professional copywriter. A few reasons off the top of my head include:
- not having the time to do it
- not being a competent writer
- needing the content quickly
If you are hiring a professional, bear in mind that you aren’t completely off-the-hook. The copywriter will still need the raw information, which likely only exists in your head, to write the content. That means that some of your time is still required for the content to be produced. That be could interviews, talking over the phone, or producing a bullet-point list for the copywriter to start from.
And of course, there is an extra cost to bear in mind, which depending on your own schedule, may be a better use of time/money.
For me, tip 1 is usually the biggest hurdle. Getting something, anything, written down is often the hardest part in content creation. Remember that a rough draft is precisely that, so don’t focus on perfection the first time around. As you read over your work, you’ll see room for improvement.
It is also important to remember who you are writing for. If you are writing for a member of the public, it is best to assume no previous or technical knowledge on the subject. And therefore best to write simply. If you are writing for a more knowledgable audience, like a scientific journal, then more technical information is not only acceptable but expected.
And what is a blog post without a useful tool? While writing this article, I used the Hemingway Editor website (it also has a desktop app). This tool helps you write more clearly and to the point. It highlights long or hard to read sentences. And suggests words to edit, to write with more power and clarity. In short, I recommend it.