The following post was written by Noya Lizor, who was Director of Content at Viola from 2014-2019.
Facing a blank page when you know you need to write something can be a daunting task, especially if you’re NOT a Pulitzer caliber writer, a professional blogger or just someone who was blessed with a knack for writing. Fortunately, following a simple and well-thought-out Copy Brief can work wonders for the freaked-out writer in all of us (yes, even professional writers need help sometimes) because by breaking down the content of your post, each element on its own becomes a lot less scary than the sum of its parts.
Here are some tips to help you turn a blank page into a purposeful and well-structured blog post:
1. First, let’s get rid of those Blank-Page Syndrome demons.
Whether you’re a regular blogger or just someone who is asked to write a blog post from time to time (for a corporate blog, for example), the prospect of creating a blog post out of thin air can be daunting, especially if there are added pressures like a tight deadline, a heavy workload, a lack of motivation or a natural flair for writing, not to mention the understandable concern that you don’t want to write something that’s already been said a million times before, but rather something different, memorable and worthwhile. With these sorts of pressures, who could be blamed for feeling daunted?
The trick, therefore, in order to get the job done, is to eliminate the pressures by simplifying the process as much as possible. This doesn’t mean that you won’t still need to put some thought into your post and spend a little bit of time writing it, but by following a formulaic writing process, the whole thing should feel a lot more organized and a lot less tedious.
2. What the hell should you write about?
If you’re not actually provided with a brief that tells you what to write about, or you don’t have a content calendar to follow and you have to choose your own topic, think about the following factors to help you brainstorm ideas:
Where will the post appear? Will it be published in your own blog? Another website? Let the location of the post and its anticipated audience guide the brainstorm for potential topics.
What’s your area of expertise? What might seem matter-of-fact and uninteresting to you because you live and breathe it every day doesn’t mean that someone else won’t find it interesting, useful or even inspiring. Take advantage of your expertise to write something from a well-informed point of view. The person reading your post might be reading it precisely because they want to hear from someone with your level of experience.
What interests you? What do you feel passionately about? This doesn’t have to have anything to do (necessarily) with your professional line of work, but if it’s something you feel strongly about and that could be relevant or interesting to your audience, then that’s yet another potential topic to write about.
Share your own insights. Sometimes you don’t actually need to create a new topic; you can talk about an existing or ‘trending’ topic and offer your own personal insights on it. “Why should people care about my own personal insights?” you may ask, and that’s a fair question. Some people won’t care. But some people might agree with you, or find your opinion provocative, or inspiring. They may even enjoy your insights so much they’ll subscribe to your newsletter or follow you on social media channels so that they can enjoy more of your insights whenever you feel inclined to share them.
3. What do you want to say about your chosen topic? Your post has to have a purpose.
You have to approach every blog post you write with intent. If you’re not really sure what you want to say about your chosen topic, your post will come across as wishy-washy and pointless.
For a reader to feel that the time it took to read your post was time well spent, you need to leave him with something to think about, or ‘takeaways’. It might be just one key takeaway or it might be a few. Whatever it might be, identify the main ideas or “messages” that you want your reader to be left with as a result of reading your post. Everything you write in the post will then need to focus on ‘creating’ those takeaways for your reader.
4. Use a Copy Brief to break down the elements of your post: Headline, intro, talking points (to be ‘fleshed out’ as the post’s ‘body’) and conclusion.
Write a ‘working title’ (that’s your draft headline) based on what you’ve decided to write about. TIP: Don’t fuss too much about the title at this stage because you’ll be revisiting it again once you’ve finished writing the post to make sure it still makes sense and captures the essence of your post most accurately (and irresistibly).
Remember that the headline is one of the most important elements of your blog post, since people often decide whether or not to read your post based on your headline’s relevance or level of ‘intrigue’. If the headline doesn’t convey to the target audience a sense that the post is a “must read”, they won’t read it. TIP: Wait until you’ve finished writing the post before you spend time perfecting the headline, because sometimes the finished post turns out differently from the original concept and the headline should reflect the actual (rather than the intended) content.
Introduce your topic in the opening paragraph. The purpose of the intro is to present the premise of your post in a way that steers your reader right from the beginning in the direction of the ‘key takeaways’ you intend to leave him with in the end. The intro should convey the purpose of the post but also spell out (or hint subtly, if that feels like the more appropriate approach) why it’s worth the reader’s while to read on.
Don’t give everything away in the intro though or the reader won’t feel compelled to continue reading. ‘Teasing’ the readers in the intro with what’s still to come will compel them to read on.
Time to put some thoughts on paper! Can’t bear the thought of writing full paragraphs at this point? Good call. You’re better off planning what you want to talk about first by listing some talking points otherwise you might find yourself rambling without a clear direction. Create bullet points of all the things you want to say in order to convey the ideas that you want your reader to take away as a result of reading your post (more on that below).
Don’t end your post abruptly: Wrap it up decisively and reinforce those ‘key takeaways’. Ending your post abruptly can come across as confusing and sometimes even as a let down, since the reader has spent a few minutes reading a post that didn’t seem to go anywhere in the end. So just as you drew your reader into the post with your compelling intro, you can use your ‘closing words’ to confirm the feeling that reading your post was truly worthwhile.
5. How to flesh out talking points into paragraphs that will form the ‘body’ of your blog post.
This is the part that’s probably going to take the most time, but not because it’s the most difficult. If you’re confident that you’ve listed all the talking points that you feel are needed to convey your post’s key takeaways, then the hardest part is already over. Now you just need to expand on each talking point using any of the following techniques:
- Provide background info if relevant
- Make an argument or share a personal insight
- Tell a story or provide examples
- Supplement your own thoughts with references to other sources such as data, statistics, quotes, graphics, videos or articles (and don’t forget to credit or link to the original source).
6. How do you make your blog post unique?
Somewhere in the world, right NOW, someone (other than you) is reading a blog post about how to write blog posts. In fact, if you Google “how to write a blog post” you’d probably get 38.5 million results (I know, because I just did it). So how IN THE WORLD are you supposed to write about the same topic in a way that’s different from the other 38,499,999 posts already written on the subject?
To be fair, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will have read ALL the other posts in order to know whether yours really is different, so bearing that in mind, here are some things to consider on your quest for uniqueness:
Read other posts that were written by some of the top bloggers on the topic (a.k.a. industry “influencers”) and see what they’ve written about it. Use that as your benchmark, but don’t copy it. Instead, try to write about the topic from a different angle, offer a unique perspective, use different examples to make your point, etc.
You have one thing going for you that no one else has: You’re YOU. That makes your personal insights yours, even if others share them too. The fact that you’ve shared your insights publicly (by publishing them in a blog for all to see) means that you must stand by them, so OWN them. Explain why you hold your views and you might just open someone else’s mind to your line of thinking.
Personality and tone-of-voice go a long way, so you might want to find yours and nurture it. The way you write can either endear you to your readers or make them detest you, but either way, it still gives your post your stamp of individuality. If you don’t think you have a particular writing personality or style, that’s OK. Sometimes it’s something that develops over time. But if you do find your voice easily once you start writing and you use it consistently, it will help to distinguish your posts as your own and help your readers associate them with you easily by recognizing your writing style.
Be creative. Creativity isn’t something that you can force if it isn’t already simmering under the surface. Sometimes you just have to be lucky to come up with a clever point-of-difference for your blog post. But sometimes you can also help luck along just by spending a few quiet moments brainstorming in an effort to find a creative approach. If you put your mind to it, you might just surprise yourself!
A picture is worth a thousand words. Visuals can be so much more than ‘a way to break up text-heavy posts’ (although it’s true, they can!). Cleverly selected visuals can also enhance the reader’s experience and take it to a whole other level. It takes time to find (or create) the right visual, but a kick-ass visual in a post is akin to seasoning in a bland sauce. It just gives it that extra ‘kick’.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to turn a blank page into a great blog post, and when you break down the process of bringing it to life into smaller manageable steps by following a well-thought-out copy brief, all you really need to do is concentrate on each step of the writing process one at a time instead of worrying about how to produce a finished ‘masterpiece’ before you’ve written even one word. And that’s a lot less daunting.
So just for fun, why not give it a go right now? Set yourself the task of writing a blog post, follow the steps outlined in this post and see how you go. Your first attempt might feel like a huge effort, but I bet that subsequent attempts will get easier with each post.