It’s Proof Content’s 10th birthday soon. I can barely believe it, but our agency will soon be in double digits.
Over the last decade, we’ve received countless DMs, emails, old-fashioned face-to-face questions, carrier pigeons, smoke signals and messages in a bottle asking us the best way to create brilliant content.
So here’s more than 10 years of experience on the long and winding road to creating exceptional copy – distilled down into a handy list of 15 rules for writers.
1 – Read
Read actively. Read widely. And read a lot more than you write. Make a note of what you like. Make a note of what you don’t. Read across disciplines and mediums.
2 – Seek out criticism
Ask for opinions. Learn from opinions. And embrace criticism. Being able to take feedback is a key skill for writers. If you take feedback badly, work on it. A thin skin will only hold you back.
3 – Don’t blame the reader
Why don’t people take what I want from this content? Why do I always have annoying clients? 99% of people are good eggs. The common denominator is you. Remember the point of writing is to communicate, and if you’re not doing this, your writing isn’t working, no matter how brilliant you think it is. Go back to Point 2 to try to fix this.
4 – Try new things
In writing and in life. Breathe fresh life and fresh ideas into your writing. Sometimes it will work. Sometimes it won’t. But in both cases, you’ll learn something that will improve your writing.
5 – Don’t wait for good ideas at your desk
Sometimes good ideas come from routine and writing when you don’t want to. Sometimes they come from walking, swimming, the pub, thinking, reading, sleeping. When your writing feels flat or forced, and you can’t see the wood for the trees, use the opportunity to try new things and find what works for you.
6 – Don’t wait for creativity
Find a process that works – and stick to it. Do you work best at 5am before everyone else is up? Or can you carve out four 15-minute slots during your workday? Changing your environment, finding a local cafe or writing just after you’ve had a coffee can all work well. But it’s important not to get hung up on finding the ‘perfect conditions’. Sometimes you just need to start writing.
7 – Do the hard work for your readers
The internet has made most of us lazy readers. Don’t waste time lamenting the days when people read the newspaper cover to cover. Create a clear structure. Present your ideas clearly and concisely. Use data from search engines and websites, eavesdrop in forums and social media, and speak to people who understand your audience. Find out what your readers already know and what they don’t.
8 – Keep clarity of thought and mind
Clear, well-organised thoughts make much better content.
9 – Leave your ego
AI is coming. And it will make us better writers. It won’t take your job if you embrace it. Learn from it and use it to help you write better content more quickly.
10 – Just start
Some first drafts are amazing. Most of them are terrible. Start writing and edit later. If you have an editor, they’re your best friend.
11 – Show your writing to anyone who’ll read it
Your team. Your partner. Your newsagent. Ask clients to read it as part of the process. A minimum of four eyes are needed on any piece of writing, but the more the merrier. Get your ideas from everyone. But be discerning when you take in the edits.
12 – Read it aloud
Keep it conversational. Don’t use words most of your readers won’t know. It doesn’t make you look clever. It makes readers click away.
13 – Don’t follow academics
Education teaches us to write in long sentences with lots of words. The true genius is in writing words people forget they’re reading. Convey your ideas as simply as possible. Make it seem like writing is the easiest thing in the world. It’s hard work worth doing.
14 – Less is more
And much harder to write. Take your first draft and try to edit out 25-50% of it.
15 – Break the rules
Don’t take the rules too seriously.