When Medium curators distributed my article into the Productivity category, and when a publication called The Startup distributed that same article to over 500k subscribers, it reinforced my belief that Jon Morrow is the worlds top blogging expert.
If you don't know of Jon Morrow, he's the founder and chief writer on SmartBlogger.com, and he's wildly successful.
I read pretty much anything Jon Morrow writes, and buy pretty much anything he has to sell. Jon has proven to me, through countless blogs and paid courses, that he's the real deal.
His writing is spot on, his advice is practical and immediately useful, and he seems to know every pain point a writer like me faces in running a writing-based business.
So when he offered his Write a Kick-Ass Blog Post writing challenge in which he and his staff of pro bloggers would walk challengers through writing an article in one week for—get this—$10, purchasing it was a no-brainer.
Over 600 others thought the same.
We set out on a journey to write a list-post from scratch in 7 days. Every step of the way—from idea to outline to introduction to content to closing—Jon and his team read our work and gave us invaluable feedback.
Here are some of the best things I learned.
1. Nobody Has Patience for a Lengthy Build Up
When it comes to your introduction, you can't waste a nanosecond of your readers time. They came to your article for advice, and a 500-word story to "draw them in" or emphasize some later point won't impress them. It will turn them away.
Get to the point. Say it clearly. And move on.
If you're not delivering value from the very first word, your reader will click the back button faster than you can say, "but wait!"
Don't just write an intro. Speak to your reader. Let them know that they didn't click on your article in vain. Answer the question they've been asking the second they read your headline: "Is this a waste of my time?"
I know what you have to say isn't a waste of time. Make sure your reader knows too.
2. Every Subheading Needs to Support Your Headline
There's a lot of emphasis put on writing a good headline. And for good reason.
The wrong headline, one that doesn't promise to answer some burning question in your readers' mind, means people won't click.
But if your reader, convinced by your headline, opens your article only to find a bunch of subheadings that don't align, they're gone. If they don't see subheadings that answer the burning question your headline created, they'll click the back button faster than you can say, "please don't!"
Readers don't read at first. They scan. Especially list posts.
They're scanning your article for tidbits of information they can immediately use. They're looking for value. They're validating their reason for clicking.
Of course, the real value is going to be in the content. But the subheadings will confirm they're in the right place.
Make sure every subheading in your post answers the question your headline poses. If each subheading is an answer to the burning question your headline created, there's a good chance they'll stop and start reading your actual post.
3. It's Too Easy to Be Condescending, and Hurts Your Post
Man, was I guilty of this; being condescending. The bad part was, I didn't even know it.
I thought the purpose of my writing was to convince someone to do something, believe something, or learn something.
Good writing helps the reader. It gives them value. That value might be a good laugh. It might be useful information. It might be a productivity gadget or a different way of looking at the world.
It's not to tell them what to do, what to believe, or how to act.
Once the reader is done reading your article, they may very well be convinced. They may very well want to do something, believe something, or learn something. In fact, if you've written your article well, there's a high probability this will be the case.
But when you tell your reader what to do, what to believe, or how to act, it comes across as condescending. Your reader will click back faster than you can say, "I'm sorry!"
Words like should, must, need to, or just are all ways of trying to force the reader to get behind your message. It's a sure way to lose them.
Instead of telling them, convince them. Inspire them with your words to believe in what you are saying and take action for themselves.
Wait, ignore that last sentence.
If you can convince them instead of telling them, inspire them instead of lecture them, it will be easier for them to believe in what you're saying and take action for themselves.
(Did you see what I did there?)
4. A Ridiculously Challenging Goal Keeps Dilution to a Minimum
We all tend to over-explain our ideas and over-complicate our prose.
Long sentences, big words, and lengthy stories don't help the reader; they confuse and bore them. And, the second your reader gets confused, bored, or doesn't know where your article is taking them, they're clicking the back button faster than you can say, "God no!"
Keeping an article short is hard. But doing hard things will make you stand out.
The Write a Kick-All Blog Post Challenge I joined set a 7-point article with a max of 750 words. I wrote over 1600.
I had a LOT of editing to do.
And, while I didn't cut it down to 750 in the end, I managed to get it down to just over 1200, a 25% reduction.
Cutting it down this much was extremely challenging, but it makes the article 10x better. Without the challenging goal of keeping the article below 750 words, I may have kept adding. In the end, this would have only diluted my message and bored my reader.
5. Consistency is More Important Than You Think
You know how it is.
As a reader, when you start "getting into" a blog post, you get lost. You become consumed with the words and ideas on the page.
Your readers are the same. When they start to gel with your article, they forget about what's going on around them. Their sole purpose becomes reading the next word, sentence, paragraph, and getting one step closer to their goals.
But, if your subheadings aren't in a consistent format, length, and feel, your reader will instantly be jarred back to reality. They'll stop to think. And, once that happens, they'll remember everything they have to do. They'll think about all the other articles they're missing out on. And, they'll click back faster than you can say, "stick with me!"
Your headline creates a question for the reader. How can I ___? What should I do about ___? Where do I go to find ___?
Your subheadings answer that question.
For example, in my post, 7 Ways to Hustle Hard, Stay Productive, and Still Sleep Like a Baby Every Night, the question in the readers' mind is, how do I hustle hard and stay productive? Every one of my seven subheadings needed to answer that question directly, lest I lose the reader.
If you asked me, "How do I hustle hard and stay productive?" and I said, "Sprinting Burns You Out," you'd be jarred back to reality. The answer doesn't fit the question.
But, if you asked me, "How do I hustle hard and stay productive?" and I said, "Treat Your Work Like a Marathon," you'd have a direct answer to your question. You might be interested in learning more about what that means, and so would read on.
6. More Eyes = More Space = Better Writing
Using someone else's eyes takes your writing from good to great.
You already know this. But how often do you do it?
I, for one, don't do it often enough.
I self-edit most of the time and will continue to do so. But having another person look over your work, tell you where they got stuck, and give you feedback on how they felt or reacted to your piece isn't just valuable, it's critical.
It helps you get out of your own head. It ensures you see the problem through anothers' eyes. And it gives you space.
If you've just written an article, you're emotionally invested in the work. Your ego is tied up in the words it's crafted so eloquently on the page. But being emotionally invested makes it difficult to gain perspective on the ideas. It also means it's nearly impossible to empathize with your reader, read it from their perspective, or understand it from their world-view.
And if you don't speak with empathy to your reader, they're going to click back faster than you can say, "listen up!"
Space gives your ideas time to mature. It helps separate your ego from your ideas on the page. And, it separates you from the emotion tied up in your words, allowing you to be far more effective in creating a piece that resonates with your readers and yourself.
7. Breaking Your Ego Makes for a Better Message
First drafts don't usually spread far.
Most of the time, when I write, my first draft lands in an Evernote note that will never, ever see the light of day. To think of posting it into a Facebook group with over 600 people would be laughable.
But for this challenge, that's exactly what I did. It's what we all did.
And you know what? Putting my drafts out there for the entire group to see did wonders for my writing.
When you put your work out in the world, it breaks your ego. And that's a good thing. At first, you worry about how others will react. But then you start worrying about whether your reader will get your message, which is a much more valuable concern.
After all, a reader who doesn't understand your message will click back faster than you can say, "let me explain!"
The way around that is to post your drafts for other's to read. It will help you get out of your own way, get the work done, and publish something others understand.
8. The Length of Your Intro and Closing Matters
The length of your intro doesn't matter. Neither does the length of your closing.
What matters is that the length of your intro and closing are, more or less, the same. In other words, if your introduction is longer than your closing, your intro is either too long or your closing is too short.
That's because the job of your introduction is to hook the reader in the beginning. Your closing, on the flip side, will keep the reader hooked until the end. Your introduction sets the stage for what the reader will learn. Your closing will turn what the reader learned into motivation, inspiration, or action.
If you've promised the reader seven things in the intro, you're going to need to convince them of seven things in the closing. And, since it's not the job of either the introduction or closing to provide new information, the amount of space it takes you to promise or convince will be approximately the same.
This is not to say they must be exact. Nor is it to say that this is a hard and fast rule that must be held at all costs.
It's only a guideline for ensuring all the points you lined up in your introduction are met with a closing statement; that all the promises in the beginning are met with a convincing argument at the end.
Keeping this guideline in mind will ensure you close any open loops, and make the reader feel far better about reading every word of your post through to the end.
9. Lower Stakes Makes Writing Far, Far Easier
Short, unbreakable milestones are crucial to building momentum.
From the get-go, our writing challenge was 750 words. I typically write more than that in a single day. For this challenge, we had seven days to do so.
That's barely over 100 words per day.
Because the stakes were so low, I didn't worry about a giant, complicated post in front of me. Writers block didn't surface once. I knew I could do it. And, since we were asked to check in every day, it was extremely easy to get the job done.
After day five, I had chosen my topic, written an outline, crafted the introduction, filled in all my list points with content, and finished a draft conclusion. The entire blog post draft was done, and I felt like I had given almost no effort.
In reality, I had given more than double what was expected of me.
Instead of writing a 750-word post, I had written over 1600 words. Instead of writing a long, complex, and probably unreadable article, I had written a clear, concise, succinct article that gave my readers immediate and practical value.
When you keep the stakes low and your milestones small, you'll likely find yourself exceeding your goals and milestones without even trying.
It's Time to Get Uncomfortable
Look, if you're like me, you've probably read everything there is to read about writing. At some point, it's hard to find a new golden nugget of information that truly helps you raise the bar on your skills.
Maybe one of the lessons I've learned here will help you do just that.
But even if you've seen these points before, even if you didn't discover anything new, I hope you leave with one final and most important lesson:
Forcing yourself to get uncomfortable when you write your next post will level up your writing.
For me, this 7-day writing challenge started as a way to learn a bit more from Jon Morrow, who I consider to be the best blogger in the world. But it turned into an exercise of uncomfortable stretching that, in the end, forced my writing into a better state than before, and forced me to think outside the artificial constructs I'd created for myself.
Major progress in any endeavour doesn't come from doing the same old thing over and over. It comes from extending yourself beyond what you already know, what you already can do.
About the Author
HUSBAND, FATHER, ENTREPRENEUR, BUSINESS STRATEGIST, AUTHOR, FITNESS NUT, ORGANIZATION FREAK, PRODUCTIVITY JUNKIE
I help high-achieving entrepreneurs organize their brain and schedule so they can organize their life and business.
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