The Essential Non-Writer’s Guide to Writing

Do you hope to become a published author and write a great novel? That’s terrific! But what about the rest of us?

I am not a writer. Do not consider myself a writer. And have no desire to write a book or have a literary agent.

However, I do get tremendous satisfaction from helping people, networking and exchanging ideas. Also, I am a strong proponent of small business DIY social media marketing.

Unfortunately, since I live on an island, the best way for me to communicate and try to help other business owners out there is to self publish my thoughts.

If YOU do not consider yourself a writer and have been holding back from blogging or some other form of written expression, then fear not! I am going to try and assist you.

There are many blogs (and books) that I read and think

Damn I wish I could write like that

But I am very comfortable admitting that I am not them and probably will never possess their overall skill and grace when it comes to crafting a handsomely delicious blog post or story.

However, if you are like me, you should not be dismayed. Even as a self confirmed non-writer I have been able to get guest posts published on some of the top blogs on the Internet. For example see my posts on:

Zen Habits – Six Life Lessons Learned from Triathlon Training

Problogger – Launching Your Next Venture Using Social Media

Chris Brogan – How to Overcome Wallflower Syndrome

Successful Blog (Liz Strauss) – You Have the Power to Change the World

The above is by NO MEANS meant to come off as bragging or gloating but it is intended to hopefully give YOU confidence, especially, if you own a business and would like to start blogging as part of an overall social media campaign. Certainly, if I can do it, you can too!

How have I done it?

To be honest, I have never really thought about my “non-writing” formula until recently when I woke up at two in the morning and could not get back to sleep. With miscellaneous thoughts and ideas flowing through my mind at that strange hour, it was then that I realized I do indeed have a writing system and general flow that I follow. And I thought, perhaps others who struggle with writing (like me) would find my methodology useful.

Eight Step Non-Writer’s Guide to Writing

  1. Write your titles first – I realize that this advice might sound counterintuitive, but I always start with a title and work my blog post out from it. If you are a small business owner looking to blog for the first time, it’s a great way to get started. Heck, I can even come up with a title that sounds good for scrubbing toilets – “How to Influence Customers and Win at Toilet Scrubbing.” Or, if you would like some more general ideas, have a look at 31 Blog Post Ideas for Small Businesses.
  2. Get started – I know, I have stared at the blank computer screen for hours waiting and hoping for someone to just magically show up and start writing for me. When that didn’t occur I realized that I had to START, and at the very least, get my ideas down on paper.
  3. List out bullet points – if you are having difficulty getting started, listing bullet points of what you want to say can be tremendously helpful. These items that you list can be structured into formal paragraphs after you get your ideas “out.” For example, if you are struggling with you websites ‘About’ page (remember DIY media creation) then list out everything that is unique about you or your business and create your sentences and paragraphs from the “idea inventory” you have created.
  4. Write in a “human” voice – when I draft blog posts or even emails, I always try to imagine that I am having a conversation with someone and that I am trying to explain a concept or task in as “stripped down” a language as possible. (READ: I am not really trying to impress anyone, so I leave the fancy big words for the real writers.)
  5. Be useful – if you are going to put in the hard work and hours (yes, for me it’s hours!) that it takes to write something well, then try to at least make it on a subject matter that is first and foremost, important to YOU, and also essential to others who happen to be in your business or niche. Remember, you have knowledge and people all over the world are using the Internet to learn…what can you teach them?
  6. Keep it simple – the most popular post on my old site MyTropicalEscape was without question a missive titled “39 Things I Have Learned As I Prepare to Turn 40.” Strangely enough, I drafted that post in about twenty minutes (much less time than normal) and I think it succeeded precisely because it was simple. I am constantly trying to remove words and keep my drafts as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible.
  7. Proofread – most of us hate it, I’ve been skewered before in the comment section for not doing it, and sometimes it feels like it would be easier to schedule a root canal than to have to undertake this mundane task. But we can’t escape it!
  8. Presentation/newspaper test – if you remember one thing from this post, I think this might be the most helpful tip. With everything that I write I try to imagine that I am going to be giving a presentation on the subject. If what I’ve written, after going through all of the steps above, is clear and easy to understand then I will publish the post or web page (whatever I happen to be working on). Also, I am not sure who said this, but I NEVER publish or email anything that I would not want to find has mysteriously been plastered on the front page of the New York Times and read by millions of people.

Well, that’s it. That is my non-writer’s writing guide. Please, if you struggle with writing, or even if you consider yourself a writer, let us know your tips, tricks, and goals in the comments.

(I typically post about once a week and seriously want to help businesses with getting a grasp on social media and blogging. If the subject interests you then sign up for the RSS feed or follow me on Twitter @mark_hayward.)

image source: Cyber Integra

12 Responses to The Essential Non-Writer’s Guide to Writing

  1. Mark says:

    You are a fantastic writer. I am in it for similar reasons.I can barely read let alone write! :) Great tips! Thanks Mark!

  2. I definitely start with my titles first and go from there. And before I hit publish, I give it a thorough read to check for grammatical errors.

    Here’s one thing that I learned with time with respect to content (point #4)… It’s absolutely 100% “OK” to get conversational! You have to humanize your interactions online. Do that, and it’s so much easier to make a connection (and engage in “sales dialogue”). It’s just all different that way. At least that’s been my experience.

  3. Kim Alvis says:

    I use bullet points when I’m struggling to get a post or article to evolve into something worthy of sharing. It seems to break my writer’s block and before I realize it, I’ve covered the subject.

    When developing new subjects to cover, I utilizing mind mapping. It’s a great tool to use when developing a series.

    Thanks for a great post!

  4. Ann Handley says:

    Hi Mark — I dislike hearing anyone (particularly kids!) say, “I can’t write.” Often, people who say they “can’t write” tell a story about an English or composition teacher from grade school or high school who essentially destroyed their confidence… and neutered them as writers, forever.

    My philosophy is that everyone is a writer. Some people happen to be better artists, maybe — but everyone really can (and should) write. It’s really not rocket science — because the fundamental of good writing is nothing more than clear thinking. Or thinking things through, and then writing it down simply and honesty. Pretty much what you prescribe here.

  5. Chip says:

    I did not use my education properly and have forgotten much with English. I met an English teacher and she sent me this web link as a place to begin. I look forward to rebuilding my lost education. Look forward to sharing with you in the future.
    Thanks,
    Chip

  6. Mark. If I may be so bold… Don’t for one minute think you can’t write!!! There are probably people reading your posts thinking Gosh, I wish I could write like that! I think you write beautifully – and I’m not just saying it either. You have your own style and your own voice – and that’s what matters. This very post does exactly what you intend for it to do… give people confidence in writing blog posts (or anything else for that matter).

    Now I’m missing my manners… thank you for linking to my blog ;). Like you, to get started I also get my ideas down on paper. In fact I often write most of the post, and then cut it when I write it in Windows Live Writer. Yes, I blog offline and post my drafts to my blog. One advantage of this is that I can do a double spell check before I post on line (where I check it again via preview) No matter how much of an eagle eye we have though, it’s almost impossible to proofread your own work. I still find the odd typo after I’ve published (often hours or days after) that I’d swear wasn’t there when I checked it. It was of course, I just didn’t see it. I don’t sweat it.

    #4 – What I love about blogging is being able to write as I speak – more or less anyway ;)
    My top secret tool for creating blog posts? Del.icio.us! Whenever I come across something that remotely interests me I bookmark it, with my thoughts. I’ve done that since I started blogging. I then have a library of potential ideas which makes it easier to get started. Sometimes I will find a topic, but not write about it for weeks… and sometimes just hours but it almost always gets me writing. I also carry around a Moleskine notebook, for when I get posts “on the fly.” I have to write them then and there or they’re gone.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment Mark… and keep up the great work.

  7. First, I’m with Ann: I steadfastly refuse to believe someone cannot write, or is not a writer. EVERYONE is a communicator and anyone can do it well, and by well I mean “get one’s point across in a compelling way.”

    I like the way you write because it’s clean and clear and *you*. There are days I wish I could write like someone else, and you know what? I’m probably a skilled enough mimic that I could, for a short time, do it.

    But what would be the point? The point is that all these great points of view are out there, pointing us towards great stuff, straight from the heart. Just keep doing that thing you do, baby, and we’ll all be good.

    (But thank you for the kind words. Really. You are very sweet!)

  8. Rob Chant says:

    Well, for a non-writer, you’re pretty good!

    I find that a lot of the ‘professional’ type bloggers write in a very formularistic manner (e.g. I know pretty much exactly what the structure and content of a Copyblogger post will be just from the title). It’s really important to use a fresh voice.

  9. I don’t think “everyone can write”. I asked a couple of other people to see what they thought on that one and they said the same. They aren’t bloggers though ;)

    I’ve seen many examples of awful writing, even in print. By that I mean that after reading it (if I manage to get through it) I’ve wondered what on earth the person was talking about and wished they’d at least enlisted the help of an editor to spare me.

    To some extent it depends on how we define “write” but, if we call it writing creatively, if a person is illiterate I don’t see how they can write. Writing is essentially creative and not everyone is, nor wants to be creative. It’s a little like saying anyone can be an artist – which isn’t true. I most certainly can’t and no amount of teaching is going to make me any good at it. I think one can learn to write/become a better writer… if they are prepared to invest the time and energy to do so. These days it’s no problem if someone can’t write and they have a book in them… they can enlist someone else to do the writing for them.

  10. Rick Mann says:

    Mark,

    I came across your site while investigating how to better use social media for small business. As I read several of your posts this one jumped out at me because as an information marketer who helps others learn the same, I have found that writing is a big stumbling block for many of these would be marketers, even myself sometimes.

    I found this article and your tips to be well laid out, informative and useful.

    Thanks

    Rick

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