Do you think you’ve got what it takes to write content and be paid to do it? Do you think you’ve got the talent?
That undefined buzzword again.
Some define it as the rate at which you get better with effort. Some use it as a synonym for the skill that is already gained. Those are both insightful definitions that do provide a meaningful measurement of something.
But it is to the talent that I speak of. I use the word talent to mean the potential for a complex action that involves more than the skill that can be gained with effort. A constitution, the product of a specific combination of traits, that cannot be learned as a skill can be learned, but that can be gained by becoming those traits through ethics, self-choice, and self-determination.
If skill were enough to write a great poem, or compose a great song, then where are all the Shakespheares and the Bachs?
Man places so much importance on intelligence, and so little importance on creativity.
Creativity. Another buzzword that has come to be considered a mere abstraction, an illusion that some entertain when wanting to sound smart. An illusion, just like fairness, nobility, kindness, and any other quality trait.
There is no place for creativity in the marketplace, where all must copy and imitate one another or perish, where they can learn only from the masters what has been taught to them by other masters, never thinking from where the original master who taught them all gained his/her teachings.
There is talk only of money and being a professional in order to earn more money; there is little talk of becoming better for the sake of being better able to provide value for the readers. There is no talk of attaining mastery, the legendary skill such as the masters of old possessed. Because so many have tried, learning from all the masters they could find, and it is hard to attain even a modicum of skill. What few have considered is that the act of learning from masters, of imitating what is taught, may well be the very thing that caps their ability to improve. That perhaps there is something to be gained by turning to the original source, that the original masters used to learn, that cannot ever be imparted by learning from another human being. Something that breaks the chains of learning limitations that would seem universal or innate.
But, of course, nobody wants to hear that. Nobody wants to do that, for it is frightening: to go out there on your own, with no guidance or direction, and make the first step starting with no knowledge learned from others, but with a search for your own. Most who have tried so have turned into beasts. But that is not the only way you can go.
You can gain talent by combining particular traits, yet it is not the talent that is the goal, but the traits themselves that provide ample reward, with the talents being merely the unintended product.
Yet, how many lists of tips actually know the ingredients that combine to self-create good writing talent as their product? Virtually all are off-the-top-of-the-head advice that is based on little to not research and on copying whatever the other top articles are saying.
They have nothing new to say; they are saying it again and again, like a compulsive plagiarism disease, in order to get eyeballs on their (client’s) content and money in their (client’s) pocket; and if you don’t – if you have something of your own to say and want to say it your own way – then good luck making money.
In this article, I’m going to provide eleven tips that throw conventional wisdom on its head and show why most of all of the writing advice in “eleven-tip” lists is a cheap regurgitation of shallow thoughts.
1) Accuracy Of Thought First, Accuracy Of Grammar Later:
Language mastery. A combination of great vocabulary, accurate grammar, and the ability to use them to convey meaning. The basic tools of the trade…or so it is said almost everywhere by almost everybody.
In society, a lot of focus is placed on being accurate of grammar, and for good reason: grammar mistakes make your writing appear amateurish, undesirable, and unworthy of being read. But…why?
Why is not just as much focus being placed on being accurate of thought: on thinking correctly, on being aware of the cognitive biases and logical fallacies that human minds are prone to, and on being able to overcome them?
This article provides a comprehensive yet organized list of cognitive biases, while this article lists the best known logical fallacies. You may be able to see the connexion between biases and fallacies, as well as how they are at play in the very analysis of this connexion.
The point is that a great content writer should not just be able to use accurate grammar and proper vocabulary to express thoughts, but should be able to think correctly in the first place.
Without having a correct thought to convey in the first place, it makes no difference whether you can convey it with accurate grammar or not. Without your thoughts having proper meaning in the first place, it does not matter if you can use proper words to express them. There is nothing to express and nothing to convey in the first place.
So, those who say that good grammar, good vocabulary, and good communication skills are the foundation of great writing, are simply unaware of the core ingredient without which none of these would exist. Without the ingredient, there would have been no ability to create a language, no need for words, and no need for grammar.
The ingredient is the ability to think without words.
Think about it. You can use words to think, if you need to, since apparently nobody can self-think without having been taught how to think anymore.
I know it goes against all western philosophers ever, but it is so obvious even a healthy child knows it. Without the ability to think, there would have been no language.
Without the ingredients of that enhanced ability to think, which do not include language since language is the created thing and not the creator, there would have been none of the ingredients of language either.
Without the ability to focus on and discern more specific perceptions and to form concepts of those perceptions, what need would there be for specific words?
Without the ability to connect those concepts into greater concepts and to be aware of the rules of doing so, what need would there be for sentences and the rules of grammar with which to form sentences?
This is why philosophy has struggled for thousands of years to arrive at a definition of words that had no definition to begin with by analysing the supposed “intrinsic meaning” and social use of the words themselves.
There is none; you supply the meaning, and so the definition of the words, by what you have experienced of reality or constructed in your own mind. It is this experience of reality, and construction process of the mind, that should be explored, not the words themselves, which are but the products of this.
If you have experience writing something of meaning – a novel, a poem, a story – you know that the meaning within it does not derive from the words of the language you are using. The primary meaning derives from your own experience, or your imagination of that experience, which has very little to do with words. Some kind of thinking, of processing of experience, is going on behind the scenes before and while you are writing, and without this more primary processing, a similar processing as your reader is re-creating, your words would have no meaning, just as a machine’s words are written without meaning and read without meaning by other machines.
We are not machines. We are human; and we should embrace that, rather than try to imitate machines.
Rather than focusing on correct grammar, the first focus should be on correct thinking, and from correct thinking can arise thoughts that your language mastery can help convey to their worth – with meaning, inspiration, and the power to change minds.
So, does great writing start with memorizing rules of grammar and lists of power words?
It starts with learning to see yourself better, to live your experiences while being aware of and examining your perceptions, emotions, and thoughts as they arise. It starts with learning to imagine better, to use enhanced perceptions in order to construct enhanced scenarios, rich with the lively vibrance of free, broad-connecting thoughts, creative, varied emotions, and fantastic, recombined perceptions. It starts with learning to understand your experiences, to construct concepts of them, to experience the complex emotions of your characters, and to give them depth and meaning in your own mind.
No grammar. No words.
Those come later.
Those are just the mechanical part of writing, which anybody can learn and do and un-learn and un-do.
There are a thousand online resources to learn them from freely, and a hundred thousand writers focusing on them to the exclusion of focusing on their own minds and hearts. Be better; be more than another machine.
Also, be more than another artist focusing on distorting your perceptions in order to provide a shock-value uniqueness through a degenerate monstrosity. Instead, make the effort to improve yourself, to improve your own manner of perceiving and thinking, the breadth and depth of your mental and emotional experience, and then provide something uplifting and unique through its creative correctness and extraordinary value.
In order to create a thought-product of better value, you must first self-create a mind-producer of better value.
2) Optimize For Humans First, Optimize For (SEO) Robots Later:
Everybody keeps saying that writing is worthless if nobody reads it, as is your website if nobody can find it online. That’s true for the reader and for your pocket, yes. But you should give a damn about whether the writing is good in itself, whether it has the potential to give value to your readers because that’s why they’re looking for your content: to learn, to solve a problem, to be amazed. That’s why content marketing works because it gives something to people besides the mere product; it gives human communication, a source of inspiration, of positivity, and of actual actionable clarification.
But how many posts speak of something the reader hasn’t heard a thousand times, or provide some depth, some comprehensive, valuable, go-to resource on the topic, or provide some clear, actionable, immediately applicable tips that go into the details of each and every concept and each and every action step that they mention? What good is a “how to wash your teeth” post that basically says 1) take the toothbrush and 2) wash your teeth with it? What about the kind of toothbrush to choose for the purpose of avoiding plastic waste since your audience is ecologically conscious, what about each specific body motion that needs to be performed – with an image or video to illustrate them -, what about expanding the need for clean teeth to the practice of a clean body?
You need to know to research all these things to create a great post. If you write about all that needs to be written, only then do you need to concern yourself with the keywords. If you can learn to anticipate the needs of your audience, if you truly care about and communicate about them with your audience, there will be plenty of information to guide your research without the need to turn to Google’s robots for inspiration (that can come later).
You should concern yourself first with writing something of value to your reader, something of quality, and search engines will smile upon you. By quality, I mean accuracy of information, accuracy of thought, accuracy of grammar, maturity of style, empathy with the reader, and many more.
Most people cannot learn on their own very well – they need the teacher to hold their hands and guide them each baby step of the way. That is why a skill that requires self-participation is so rare, and so valuable.
SEO is such a skill; it is hard to teach since whatever is taught may no longer be valid from one moment to the next and to truly learn it requires constant research and experimentation on your own.
SEO has many components, from the way the code of your website is written to the way your keywords are distributed throughout your content. It helps to know a little bit of web development and content marketing to be effective at SEO.
The time of the content mills is over. Changes to Google’s search algorithms have spelled their doom. Don’t you think more changes are on their way in the same direction? Google’s trends seem to be favoring quality, favoring accuracy, favoring originality, favoring value; and to the ax with cheap, low effort, misinformed, plagiarized, worthless content.
Let’s hope this trend keeps up.
And if it doesn’t, since when are we to let Google decide the shape of our writing? Since when are we to write to please machines, instead of people? It is machines that were built to serve humans, not the other way around.
So in that case, let us say to Google as the poet did in Goethe’s song at Faust’s preface,
“Go, find yourself a more obedient slave!
What! shall the Poet that which Nature gave,
The highest right, supreme Humanity,
Forfeit so wantonly, to swell your treasure?”
Fortunately, Google’s robots do seem to rank content that better serves humans. So, if Google’s algorithms favor content that is meant to be read by humans, why not simply write content for humans, and whenever a compromise is required, always compromise in favor of the overall aim of the game, and not of the current match?
You’re not playing to out-compete your competitors. You’re playing to stay in a good role in the game. It’s an infinite game, not a finite game, we’re playing.
I don’t care where you rank in Google today. I’m not writing to rank you on Google. That’s why you should hire me, so that Google can rank you higher, and keep you higher at all times.
Your rank will be based on the undeniable value the post provides to your readers, a value that will ensure your readers will be that much more valuable to you than a trickle of cheap traffic today coming from cheap SEO gimmicks that will only be valid for this round of the game, and that you’ll have to pay for all over tomorrow, all the while running just to keep your place because old content keeps getting consumed and spit out by Google and your readers, requiring new content to replace it.
So, yes, SEO does matter; but it is merely a veil draped over the window to your reader’s hearts. If you win your reader’s hearts, if your content is truly valuable, then search engines will reflect this as well. SEO is something to add on top of your content strategy, and should not be the driver of it.
3) Research Should Be Self-Driven, Not Market-Driven:
Beyond grammar mistakes, or more thoroughly thought mistakes, there is another kind of mistake that can be even more devastating, and even harder to track: mistakes in the information you provide your readers with.
You need to know your topic well; one of the worst outcomes for your client’s status as an authority is a stream of comments from users accusing your client of misinformation.
Who would buy a nutrition product from you when they think you can’t tell your vitamin D from your vitamin C?
You want to be able to please your readers – to write engaging content -, to please search engines – to write SEO-targeted content – and to please the client – to write converting, sales-driving content -.
In order to accomplish these things, a lot of research skill is required. You cannot just shoot blindly into the web and hope something sticks; you need a strategy.
And you also need to be unique. Not just with your content, but also with your manner of research.
How do most people approach “research”?
They look on Google and see what people are asking. They look at the top posts on Google and see what questions they answer. They sometimes look at the reader’s comments and see what they’re asking for directly.
In short, they let the market dictate what they can and can not deliver. Because every finance book, every marketing book, every money-making book and blog and expert keeps yelling at the top of their lungs to “follow the market!!!”.
But let me ask you this: how can you lead the market if you just follow it?
How can you spearhead any ground-breaking discovery, any market-disrupting product, any revolutionary movement, if you’re just struggling to keep up with the herd?
If the people demand stupid, violent movies, and delight in decadence and porn, they should be educated and shaped into real human beings and not provided virtual arenas to sate their bloodlust and other kinds of lust.
If the people’s demands are detrimental to themselves, then ceding to those demands will not only hurt the people, but hurt the business that will have to answer the public’s increasingly degenerate demands in order to stay in business if its business model is built on sating market demand.
If people’s online attention spans are going down, then the solution is not to write in increasingly simple words in increasingly short paragraphs to convey increasingly elementary thoughts.
This means making the population more stupid and indulging their sloth rather than curing it.
We should be researching instead on our own what kind of content does best. We should make our own observations of various means of marketing. Our own thoughts, our own assessment. Like Seth Godin does; but not by imitating Seth or anybody else, but by thinking on our own, and employing the methods of research and analysis to our own writing. Learning to anticipate needs and to test products. Learning to provide the kind of writing that, even though it may not work that well today, may make a difference in the long term, and attract better, higher quality visitors worth writing for.
It’s not about just pleasing the visitors to get them to buy; it’s about building a relationship, where each side must see whether they are compatible or not. Catering to a wide-spectrum audience, a general public, will only lead to the necessity to write meaningless, thin, inoffensive and so insubstantial content that even an average six-year-old kid could understand. Who would expect to get a quality writer for such an assignment?
Everybody wants to learn from influencers, yet so few learn the most essential thing: becoming influencers themselves. Which is not done by imitating other influencers, but by starting to think on your own. And so, accuracy of researching the market begins with accuracy of thinking on your own. If you want to be more than another dime-a-dozen plagiarist of the results of the true researchers, then you have to begin thinking on your own in order to start making your own experiments and your own observations in order to arrive at your own self-created knowledge that countless millions will then look to imitate.
The choice, whether you want to be a memorizer of words who can only imitate the creations of others, or an observer of experiences who can create your own creations, is yours.
4) Adaptation Is Not A Spine-Bending Exercise:
Let’s bend that spine; let’s see how flexible it is. Is it a monkey’s spine? Is it a fish’s spine? Is it downright a snake’s spine?
Or is a human being’s spine?
In other words: how far will you go to sacrifice quality and your own principles in writing in order to please your audience? Will you imitate and plagiarize influencers and the market? Will you go for keywords and what your audience wants without having a real message of your own, or forsaking it if you do? Will you employ all the nasty sales and black-hat SEO techniques in order to get a temporary traffic boost so as to deceive your poor website’s buyer on Flippa or the like?
Or…will you apply intelligent research and caring empathy to your audience to see how best to present your message to them in an original yet tailored manner?
Even if bad practices may yield better results in the short term, in the long term, they will ensure you get kicked out of the game; and what’s more, do you value money more than your personal ethics integrity? Do you care so much that people like you that your own values become nothing more than a puppet of their shifting moods? Are you willing to cheat and deceive people to get what you want from them? If so, I for one won’t be your writer.
A writer should know what interests the audience and what doesn’t, what kind of content the audience engages with and what kind of content it doesn’t, what kind of content build authority and what doesn’t.
This requires empathy, it requires research, it requires interaction and taking feedback seriously, and it also requires a knowledge of the buyer’s journey and the stage of the reader along that journey.
It also takes strategy, a content strategy, an SEO strategy, and a sales strategy, which you can supply for your writer. You’ll need to make a proper content brief for this, but it helps if the writer can provide their own insights and expand on the brief as well, and understand their place in your overall strategy. See my article “how to write a content brief that makes sure the job gets done right” for more info.
a) Web Savvy:
Web readers are different from print readers; the difference mostly comes down to the fact that they have not yet decided to read. They are sampling the article to decide whether it is worth their time or not. The manner of sampling is to simply scan content, picking up just the headlines and highlights.
A good writer ought to know how to structure writing to be easily scannable, and to induce the visitor to decide to read. In order to do so, the writer ought to understand the audience as well as the demands of writing for the web.
Understanding the audience can mean proving you get them from the very onset of the article; you get their problems and their concerns; and proving that you’ll be different from the hundreds of other cobbled-together, thin articles they’ve read so far that didn’t; in a word, that you have empathy for them.
Does this mean everything should be broken up into paragraphs of three-sentences-or-less, with the sentences themselves consisting of ten-words-or-less, and the words, in turn, having twelve-letters-or-less?
No; it means the writing should meet the capacity of the audience, preferably on the “upper-end” rather than on the “lower-end”. You want the article to be interesting, a challenge, and memorable; not another low-effort, low-reward, dime-a-dozen read.
Certain audiences might be offended by statements or manners of phrasing that other audiences might “dig”. Being conciliating to everybody is being interesting to nobody. The writer must understand “your” audience, and be able to cater to “their” tastes.
You should know what is right and wrong. You should know that lying to your readers, or to yourself, is wrong.
Stop pretending to be the expert when you’re not, in the hopes of faking it ’till you make it. There’s a colorful word for that that I won’t speak; vulgarity is unspeakably ugly to me. Point is, you’ll not make it that way, you’ll just hypnotize yourself into believing you did. Isn’t it just as easy and perhaps more relatable to your audience to speak the truth; that you’re sharing the journey of learning together, and you may have some slightly more experience than they do?
This is not to say there are no true experts out there; it’s just that they’re not looking to impress a bunch of monkeys in the hopes of getting some peanuts (or bucks) from them.
Stop hiding that you’re looking to make money off your readers if that is your goal; you don’t need to put it in front of them, but it gets just as tiring as politicians’ speeches after a while. The most likable political campaign I came across was from a guy whose motto was “better me, not you”. He said quite honestly that he was going to use tax money to buy himself nice houses and cars, but that he was also going to use it to improve the streets and parks so that his cars would have a smooth ride and his homes could have a green view. And he did both of these things; a man of his word – quite a compliment for a politician. Likewise for a salesman: it’s more than okay to disclose your affiliations and your interests; your audience, and sometimes even the law-makers expect you to do so.
Again, I don’t mean to say there aren’t those out there doing all of this for some selfless cause, nor that anybody who is saying they have nothing to disclose is lying; it’s just hard to swallow for the cases where there’s a ton of links to Amazon products and annoying, bandwidth-wasting ads cluttering up your whole post, or a big button yelling out “BUY MY…” or some variation thereof at the end of your every article.
a) Quality Of Writing
You are here, in part, to educate and elevate your audience; you cannot fulfill that role while dumbing down your audience, nor by teaching them that it is okay to be lazy so long as they are not too lazy to click the “buy” button.
That’s short-term satisfaction as opposed to long-term relationship building.
You want a quality audience of dedicated fans, of repeat customers and evangelists, and you want to break through the noise, to build up a memorable and authoritative brand…by giving out “ten tips a day” lists under 500 words that state the obvious without even explaining it in an actionable way? How is that helpful to your readers? How does that stand out?
b) Quality Of Thinking
You need posts with substance and not mere marketing, and yes, that does cost more, but what is wrong with putting on human thought and creativity the value that it deserves?
Google isn’t shy to do it, your customers aren’t shy to do it, and if you want to rank in Google’s pages and in people’s hearts, why should you be shy to do it?
Human thought is the product that many are selling, yet they are paying a lot more to market it than they are to the thinkers that produce it themselves; corrupt commercialism is rewarded with over-compensation while the production itself is dismissed with under-compensation. Writers are treated as mere replaceable cogs in the machine of a business, while managers and marketers are deemed all-important; and it is a self-reinforcing cycle, for if you never valued writers to begin with, quality writers can tell, and they won’t work with you, which is why you continue to not experience the benefits that quality writing can bring, which is why you continue to think that writing is not such a big deal nor such a rarity for your business.
After all, there a hundred thousand writers on Freelancer and other platforms at your beck and call, many asking only a few bucks per post, right?
Yet, how many of them have proper grammar? How many have the ability to research the topics accurately? How many know organic SEO rather than mere keyword stuffing? How many can do competitive research? How many can provide images and infographics to illustrate their points? How many can understand your content and SEO strategy and work harmoniously within it? How many know your target audience well enough to empathize with them? How many possess more knowledge of the topics they write of than what can be gathered in a mere couple hours of research? How many have actual first-hand experience with the topics? How many can think creatively and reason logically about the topics?
Every single one of those competencies increases the worth, and so the price, of your writer; such that in the end, you have not a mere wordsmith, but a business advisor and strategist who can also provide stellar content that ranks at the top of Google and has the potential to go viral on social media.
c) Quality Of Ethics
All technology changes with time, but quality professionals with a quality work ethic remain an invaluable foundation of any business.
Whether that be the founder, the managers, the strategists, the writers, the marketers, or any other member of your team, it is the quality of the real, breathing human beings that work in your business that makes up the bulk of its quality.
And yet, it is hard to find people with good ethics; with discipline, with caring, with an eye for detail.
Let’s start with punctuality.
The only thing more annoying than sending a message only to get a reply after you forgot you even sent it is if the message was about the project deadline being crossed…with no project delivery.
Having that happen regularly will mess up your whole content strategy. That is why many have started the practice of giving deadlines stricter than their actual strategy demands; it is one way of making sure that at least the real deadline is reached.
Except that this creates other kinds of problems. Problems of there no being enough time for the writer to do the research required to produce a quality piece of content. Problems of it sometimes being harder to find a quality niche-expert writer under short notice.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could do business with a writer who respects deadlines? Who responds promptly to your queries? Who provides and receives feedback on time? Who can manage their own time so as to be able to give your project their very best? To juggle the research, the writing, the editing, the idea generation, the headline testing, the image sourcing, the SEO optimization, and all other aspects of a professional article?
People today are as much believers as they were yesterday; it’s not that the population suddenly had an empiricist enlightenment, it’s just that today’s religious fad has changed, and the name of the game is now Science.
Unless you provide “scientific” evidence, people won’t believe what you say; “the Holy Fathers (of Science) never wrote about that!”, they’ll blurb their angry grunts. And people who don’t believe what you say won’t buy what you sell (often enough).
Your writer must be able to get your audience to trust you, which means your writers must be able to gather and present “scientific” evidence (or phrase it in a manner science-believers can swallow, that is, in a manner that praises their Science-God).
5) SMO Expertise
Social Media Optimization is another great source of free, organic traffic. In fact, it may be even better than search engine traffic, since it is traffic that you can funnel easier and is warmer to your product pitching. Ultimately, we’re not writing for machines; we’re writing for people – people that can share your post in an ever-expanding network, allowing it to catch fire and turn viral.
A writer who can write posts like that is an invaluable investment, but how do you find such a writer? After all, if someone were able to churn out viral posts on a regular basis, they wouldn’t be for hire at any reasonable rate; they would be busy running their own business with their skill.
One answer is giving a chance to young writers, who may have the skills but do not yet have a stable business, and who still need to complement their income with your projects.
5) WordPress Expertise
You may have felt what a pain it is to have to manually introduce in your WordPress site every article you’re provided by your writer. Now imagine a few years or even months later, when your business has scaled up, you’re getting dozens of articles written every day…and you’re still sitting at your chair for hours a day putting them all online! Well, unless that’s how you picture spending your time as a successful online business owner, your writer, or at least your editor, had better know his/her way around WordPress.
There is another reason that articles written directly in WordPress are preferable: Microsoft Word and other writing programs have their own manner of formatting that is often in conflict with that of WordPress. It can be a pain to re-format it all for WordPress, and if you don’t, the SEO value of the article will take a hit (because, for instance, headings will not longer be marked as such in the code for crawler robots).
6) Design Savvy
Most writers out there only provide the writing. It’s still up to you to include an image. Images are gold for web readers; according to statistics, they tend to increase conversion rates up to 67%. But what if your writer also sourced quality images to get the point across? Then their impact on your business may be that much greater. Also, a writer that is aware of the flow of the page, of UI and UX, can better craft visually appealing and easy-to-follow posts that blend images and writing. It would be interesting to also include video in the post, which does increase both engagement and time-on-page.
7) Topic Knowledge
In order to create a post of value, a writer should know the topic being written about, preferably based on personal experience.
Internet research simply cannot cover for everything. Experience is necessary in order to reason accurately about some topics (some would argue all topics).
Also, some projects are simply too big, with too short a deadline, to have time to research every little detail. The more knowledge and experience the writer brings to the table upfront, the better they will be able to write about their topic.
The confidence, the authority that comes with years of thorough, experienced understanding of a topic simply cannot be made up with a couple of hours of gobbled-together “research”. Your readers can feel the difference. You can feel the difference. That is, in part, why you should favor a writer who has some education and experience on the topic you want to hire them to write about.
Besides a talent for writing, there are also talents for the specific topic the writing is about. If you can find a combination of writing talent and talent in the topic itself – in programming, for instance – then you have found a golden goose writer.
To sum up, you need a writer who cares about your business, quality of work, and professionalism. In order to find one, you’ll need sources of trust to verify their skill; SmartBlogger’s and CopyBlogger’s Marketing Certifications are such places.