The 5-Step Process that Solves 3 Painful Writing Problems

The 5-Step Process that Solves 3 Painful Writing Problems

Reader Comments (85)

  1. “You must understand your objective for the content.”

    You’d be amazed at how many people sit down to write and don’t think about WHY they are writing. They know they are supposed to, but they don’t really “get it.” If you don’t have an end goal in mind your content is just going to waste.

    • The lack of any kind of strategy is one of the reasons, IMO, people find content marketing so difficult.

      It’s always challenging to consistently put out good work, but when you have a framework, at least you know what it’s supposed to look like when you’re done.

  2. Nice piece.

    As part of the final ‘Edit’ phase you mention checking your ‘opening keeps the momentum going’ of the headline. Following on from this, you should review the full piece to ensure the overall ‘rhythm’ or beats of your writing are consistent.

  3. I know that my writing style is more free style and stream of conscious, but I still see the value in having a ‘why’ or a goal for each piece.

    With everything I write I want to convince readers that writing and the written word is transformative, but this is best done for my readers by just showing and what I have recently stumbled upon through Gwen Bell as ‘Experience Telling.’

    I have to be careful how many marketing sites and writing blogs I follow because many of them take the flame out of my creative writing fire. I do follow Copyblogger though, because you guys seem to cut through the haze I sometimes live in. No BS – here is how it is.

    Cutting the fluff is a hard one sometimes. My only rule is that I write and walk away from it. It is amazing how much I cut when I come back.

  4. You know, I’ve been writing for 16 years, and I’m still learning new stuff about writing to this day.

    This is why I friggin’ love writing, it’s an art that will never grow stale 🙂

    • I just wanted to add that not only do I agree, but I am beginning to see why.

      Not only do the topics to write about never cease (this much is obvious), but there are so many things to write FOR, as I’ve been learning myself.

      As an example, I’m beginning to do podcasting and videos in order to mix up blog content, and I’ve found that writing mini-scripts for both of these is a totally different game.

      That’s what I think keeps writing so interesting: a never ending source of topics and so many mediums in which to do it.

  5. Step Three (Write the headline and subheads) also removes the difficulty of trying to draft the headline after completing the text: it’s easier to specifically articulate the point of the article while planning the message than while reading the finished product.

    • Writing the subheads is hugely helpful for me, esp. as I prefer to take a few days to write a post. My thinking is clearer when I can take a couple of days to think through the angles & examples I want to use. Getting the subheads pinned down lets me pick up easily where I left off.

  6. The Missing Link: Know Your Audience First

    If you know your audience, you can successfully choose the right objective in the first place.

    The Tip:
    Realize the tendency to talk about the features of a products you know really well. The audience does not know they need these features, so focus on the benefits first. Then use examples to show how your features bring benefit to the customer.

    Thanks Brian,

    P.S. This framework makes it seem so simple. Now I just have to convince myself that it can be this simple for me.

  7. All of this is helpful, but mechanical. I think the biggest challenge is making a piece sing: bringing it to life. I’m working on an e-book on that right now.

    • I find that once I can get the bones down and make my points clearly, I can bring more life to it with examples, stories, or analogies.

      Also, if I have one individual reader very clearly in mind, I find my voice tends to loosen up and things “sing” a little more.

        • They work really well! Try reading some Malcolm Gladwell & some Chip Heath/Dan Heath for some fantastic examples of storytelling to make your point. I always find them inspiring. 🙂

      • Right on Sonia the power to persuade is sometimes best when done through the use of a story or metaphor. Especially when we know the perspective. For me it wasn’t can I finish a post, it’s how in the world did I forget to use subheads while trying to make a 2000 word point. Which I recently forgot to do. Thanks Brian.

        Just the bare bones sometimes leaves your visitor unpersuaded.

        On top of that some people want to actually see the results. While completing the post is actually more important than making it elaborate I can’t disagree with Brian Clark still.

        I read somewhere that the pages that rank first are about 2000-2500 words long. (I’m not sure for what reasons). What if using this strategy means my posts end up being too short?

    • Jean, I think anything reduced to process smacks of mechanical, but it’s really just a structure to get you rolling. Once you’ve got the bones down, you can really start to play with it.

      Also, as I mentioned, a lot of this process goes on in my head before I write a word, and trust me, it’s a party in there. 😉

  8. OK, I’m willing to give this a try.

    But let’s not forget the wisdom of E.M. Forster, who wrote “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” In other words, you can use writing as a tool of discovery, one that can actually help you to find your message. For many people, writing to discover your message is probably going to be a prelude to the steps you suggest.

    And then there’s the wisdom of Anne Lamott, who reminds us to accept our “shitty first drafts”!

    Just my 2 cents…

    • Even within a framework like this one, I think there’s always room for discovery. But the structure gives those discoveries a shape, which often makes them much more readable.

      I agree that a period of “writing to discover your message” will often be a prelude to these steps.

  9. I use two of these techniques:
    – subheads first
    – think about the ending.

    But I also have an ideas book where I jot down ideas for posts weeks in advance. That way I never start with a blank sheet of paper. Often the heading I decided on way back, changes when I come to write the piece.

    Thanks for a great article.

  10. With regard to problem number one, sometimes you need to go with the flow. Even if you intend to write at a particular point in your day, if the inspiration hits, earlier get as much down as you can. If you think you’ll remember later, you probably won’t, especially if you’re a newer writer/blogger. You don’t have to finish it unless the words keep flowing, but you’ll have a jump start for later.

  11. To paraphrase a couple of great writers, ‘good writers borrow, great writers steal.’ (Eliot, Wilde and possibly others have expressed similar thoughts). To that end, I’ll be grabbing the excellent advice on ‘asking the questions your readers will need answered’, and adding to it my post on quickly generating copy. Sometimes we’re going for the prize. Other days we’re just lucky to get a new post up. Strategies for quick posts are our wind sprints.

  12. Damn, I always start with step 3 first. Write the headline, then I start to outline my post. What do I want to say? And how can I say it in as few words as possible?

  13. Perfect timing as I head back to a piece I arm-wrestled all afternoon yesterday. Thanks for the reminder about thinking through my conclusion.

  14. I found some similarities between writing and graphic designing. Before I start designing I need a good wireframe what is like an outline for writers. I have to set a goal and what do I want to achieve with the design. Next, I build layout what is like headlines and then have to fill in the blanks.

  15. Write subheads that tell your story! No matter how great the rest of the article is, (and no matter how much thought you put into it) 80 to 90 percent of readers will only look at the title and subheads. They must tell the story in a logical pattern. If the reader then wants to read the rest of the content (or not), that’s fine. He will at least have learned the main points on his initial sweep.

    Some of my most popular posts have been the ones where the subheads gave all the highlights of the message. 🙂

    5 dollars for anesthetic….I wonder what kind of medicine it was and how well it worked?!

  16. I’ve only just started writing and so far I’ve not really had a problem starting. But do sometimes lose my way. From now on I will definitely start with why.

  17. Very nice post. Although, I must be the only backwards person in here. Because, when I write – and I’ve been doing it for many years in Marketing/Advertising – I don’t think of my objective, my headlines or sub-heads. I simply think of the person I’m writing for and put myself in that person’s shoes, and write to convince them as I would myself.

  18. Best image ever!

    I’ve definitely written some train wrecks. Still do. I can definitely see how a solid framework like would make it easier to be constructive, productive and on-topic.

  19. Even though I’ve been working as a freelance writer for over five years, the hardest part for me is still sitting down and getting started. It’s just so much easier to click over to Youtube and watch “D*ck in a Box” for the hundredth time than to actually commit words to paper.

    I’m working on it, though – if I don’t think too hard, I can sometimes trick myself into getting started. Reading Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” has also been extremely useful – I’m hoping to put more of his tips into practice when I go back to being self-employed next year.

    Thanks for the tips!!!

  20. Although I read the article Copyblogger by google translate ( English to Indonesian language support )… I can quite understand the lesson you write an easily understood and practiced… thank you Brian, I learned a lot from you and write science colleagues Copyblogger..: )

  21. Definitely agree with what you’ve shared in this article. To me, the biggest problem with any writing endeavors stem from the lack of an objective. I feel most people are writing for the sake of just wanting to put out a lot of stuff out there so that some will stick. But if we defined clearly what we want at the end of the day, and align that with our content, we will cover a lot of strategic objectives like building trust, credibility and ultimately, leading the reader into our sales funnel.

  22. For me, the act of writing is part of my creative process, and how I organize my thoughts, so I start with a vague idea of that I want the bog post, for instance, to be about, and then start writing down all my thoughts on the subject–in the process, I figure out what works and what doesn’t, and how I can streamline the message and make it clearer. Then I trim, tweak, rearrange and rewrite. Headlines don’t come until I’ve already written it, so I know exactly what to “promise” in the headline.

  23. Thanks, Brian for your interesting article! I am alway curious and seek others’ opins and experiences. Heres my new (unproven) approach to writing fiction. I read about this idea somewhere that seems to escape me at the moment…. I ask myself: “What if?” Answer with ANY subject matter that interests you and fill in the following blank. Here is the birth of your next submittal . Build on that that theme as you see fit, or your style. It is fun to begin this way. Taking a risk like this satisfys me and opens the window of creativity, so it seems to be working right now. Try it as an excercise. Can’t hurt.

  24. Brian is fascinating, as always. Even more so than his process, I dig the open-ended, er, ending. “What works for you?” Different strokes for different scribes, right? Me, I’m down with 4 of Brian’s 5 processes. And now for a shot at mine… I write like I cook, I guess. I’m a gatherer. I snag a recipe for inspiration. I get out all of the ingredients. I envision the result. But then, I make it up as I go along. I don’t want to repeat someone else’s creation. I want to put my spin on it. So, I flavor it the way I like. However, unlike a cook, I don’t usually serve it right away. I like to let it chill for a day. Then I edit it before I serve it. You know how flavors get more intricate a day or two later?

  25. Brian,

    I strongly disagree with your statement that “an unanswered question is a barrier to learning.” Quite the opposite. Some of today’s unanswered questions are, in fact, unbelievable propellers of learning – and will forever continue to be.

    Why do you think people read this blog? Because of unanswered questions in their minds.


  26. Brian,

    I’ve been reading here for a little while, and this is the first time for me to chime in.

    I’ve learned so much here from every single one of your writers, but this is probably the most valuable piece of information I’ve read on copyblogger so far.

    It gives me an extremely simple, practical formula for producing good content every time, and that’s precisely what I need.

    Thanks for enlightening me!


  27. It’s true that every writer has their own technique in producing a good content. It really comes down on how the process fits the writer himself. For me, I’m not a good writer but I’m trying to write more and more, I don’t do some of these steps. And it makes me feel like writing in a “Happy-go-lucky” style. When ever an idea hits me, I try to put it down in paper. But I guess it will not hurt if I give this a try.

    I will not say “thanks for this great post” anymore Brian, everyone’s saying that. 😉

  28. Great information here. I’m going to print this out as I find myself always adding fluff that does nothing to help my copy.

  29. My problem has always been going on tangents. As I write, even if I have a specific purpose, I see how it can relate to another aspect of the given topic. This often deters me from starting the article (and falling behind on my writing).

    This article helps me remember that I am not the only one with a writing problem.

    Great Job! I shared the article with my fans and I wrote it on a post it note to make sure I remember 🙂

  30. I’ve been using a version of this for a little while now and it has helped me tremendously. One thing I do a little different, though, is to “chunk” stuff. So, for instance, I’ll do step 1 for all the blogs for the month, then step 2 and so on. It allows me to feel like I’m getting a lot of stuff done at once. If, while I’m doing this, a bit of wording from another part of the process comes to mind, I’ll go ahead and write that down so I don’t lose it. I try to keep the above as a “loose” plan. So far, it has worked for me. 🙂

  31. This is a very helpful guide for writing. I always struggle with writing content, mostly because I write as I go and go over it to make it flow together. This process seems better, as you have an outline mapped out in sub-headers which keep you from forgetting points you want to make, or questions you need to answer.

  32. I usually think through all the key points, note them down. Then I expand those key points. This way when I’m stuck, I just refer to the key points to have ideas.

  33. Very helpful guide. I use it now every time I write an article.
    Going through these steps saves me time, adds clarity into my writing and keeps the fluff out.

    Thank you!

  34. I find reading other material, whether it is a blog or a book can help break the hate.
    Getting together with other, like minded people can help. Being able to shoot ideas off of each other opens up a whole new world and brings the lust of the blank page back.

  35. Great article Brian. After reading yesterday article about importance of Subheads, i’ll iplement your process flow.

    Thanks its very helpfully.

  36. #3 is paramount. It’s how I write my non fiction stuff.

    I go through every heading and subheadings nested up to 4 layers deep (a result of my microsoft syles habit) and move them around until I have a structure.

    To actually write the book I just go through and write under each heading.

    Whenever I feel I’m lost I just use the navigation pane and go back to those headings and subheadings, until it makes sense again.

  37. “Pitch Anything” by Olen Klaff goes into the Neuro-science of persuasion. Brain follows this approach. 1. Set the frame, 2. Tell the story but don’t reveal the intrigue, 3. Revel the intrigue, 4. offer the prize, 5. nail the hook-point, and 6. Get the deal. Did you know monkeys will work harder for a puzzle than they will for food? Intrigue is the key.

  38. This is a great post Brian and I appreciate all of the hard work you must have put in pulling this together. I am really investigating the world of content marketing at the moment and how it is going to develop over the next year and beyond. Its a very exciting area to be involved in. I have written an article about how to become a more effective content marketing expert here it would be great if you could check it out.

  39. Thank you for sharing this great info. Writing is very much a process. I find content marketing to be very interesting. Thank you again for sharing!

  40. For me, the conclusion is the start of the article.

    Whenever I get an idea, it doesn’t come like “how to get successful in marriage?”

    I get ideas like “Finding happiness and shifting your mindset is the reason for successful marriage”.

    I note it down and then form the headline – find subheads which add or extend.

    Then I fill the gaps.

    Almost done. Off to publish.

    Nice strategy Brian, you rock.

    Stay Awesome.

  41. Excellent post. It outlines a simple and logical process to help you wrap your arms and brain around what you’re trying to write and why.

    While logical, there’s plenty of room for creativity and adding your own distinctive voice and flavor.


  42. Biggest thing here I think is that you need a defined direction to go in decided BEFORE you sit down to start writing…

    I think this is a really good method to achieve that.

    A great read.

  43. Brian, this right here is the secret to eliminating writer’s block or any other writing related problems. I use the same process for writing, and creating visual content for my business and clients. it really doesn’t get easier than this. Glad to see there’s someone out there who shares the same process.

  44. What a simple and quick strategy,

    I like the “fluff” cutting paragraph, as we should clean our articles before publishing them.

    Umer Prince (AllBlogThings)

  45. Begin with the end in mind. This is not only a tip for writing but also a habit of highly effective people. So if you want your writing to be highly effective, begin with the end in mind and clearly understand the goal of your article. Great tips Brian!

  46. Great tips for those moments when we wrestle with a piece of content that just isn’t ‘right’. My process follows much the same structure, although when it comes to the ‘edit’ I usually find I’ve chopped the first two paragraphs entirely. Paragraph 3 is when I actually get away from the introductory fluff and onto answering the question/solving the problem/getting to the point!! Thanks for a great article.

  47. Hi Brian,

    I have number 6. The hardest one.

    Make all this a routine.

    Once you develop a routine other steps are easy.


  48. I hardly come to this website without getting solutions to what I want, in fact it fascinates me more each time I return.

    I really appreciate this article, it has done a lot for me by solving many of my mystery questions.

    I am a blogger and content management as you know is always an issue for us, but your work here makes mine easier.

    Thanks for the article Brain..

    I promise to recommend a lot of people here because you indeed have a great view about writing and publishing…

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