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From Life To Content

Updated on May 2, 2016
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Getting Started with Writing What You Know

So, you want to write on the web...

If you are just starting out that can seem like an overwhelming concept. What do you know? How do you get started writing about it? How can you make sure to stay Useful, Unique and Updated? And one of the most important questions of all... How do you make sure you pick something that stays interesting for YOU to keep updated and refreshed over the long-term?

Here is the best advice I have to offer on how to take your own everyday experiences and turn them into articles and stories that both you and your readers can love for a long time. Here's a self-portrait I took of myself in July 2012 when I took a trip to England and France, partially paid for with money I earned from my web writing.

photo by Relache
photo by Relache

UUU for You!

keeping it useful, unique and updated

Although it isn't around anymore, a content site called Squidoo has an acronym "UUU," also known as Useful, Unique and Updated. They had that idea right. Communicating that idea to millions of users proved much more complex.

Let's start with "unique" first. No two people are exactly alike, not even identical twins. Your personal perspective and actual experience are what makes for original content that will be unlike what anyone else creates. You don't want an article to be like a blog, that is to say a diary that just talks about you. But you do want to bring in small pieces of your own opinion and point-of-view so that the readers finds something that no one else has.

Then you want to make sure that your article is "useful." This doesn't mean the piece has to be some sort of how-to or guide, although those are examples of ways you can write which are useful to others. You can inform and entertain, or explore and document, or educate and promote. Notice that I just paired up all those purposes. A really good article doesn't do just one thing, but you also don't want to try and do too much. You want to stay focused so that your reader stays engaged and interested.

And last but certainly not least, there's the "updated" part. Where I've found it really easy to keep my web pages updated has been the topics and interests that I've had for years. If there's something that I do every week, every month, a few times per year or at least once a year, it's been much easier to have new material or something fresh to say or add to an older article when compared to things that I thought I was interested in. Long-term hobbies and habits, things I've studied in school or skills I've worked hard to learn turn out to be the sort of topic which is interesting for me to keep updated over the long-term.

Taking Your Own Pictures Is Easy! - carrying a camera at all times pays off

Chihully glass panorama, photo by Relache
Chihully glass panorama, photo by Relache

Pictures for Web Articles

I've found that when it comes to pictures for web usage, a high-quality, point-n-shoot digital camera in the pocket at all times is the trick. Whether I'm taking a walk in the park, going to the farmer's market on the weekend, taking a road trip with a friend or working on a project at home, having something on hand that takes a nice picture is the easiest way to get great shots for my own use.

Photos from phone cameras sometimes cut it, all too often they don't work well in low-light or they wind up too pixelated to show the details of something clearly.

My current photographic companion is a Nikon Coolpix S3900. It's easy to carry, totally adaptable and gets great snaps like this from when I went to visit Seattle's Chihuly Garden.

photo by Relache
photo by Relache

How To Be Professionally Personable

staying off the soapbox while having an opinion

If there's one thing the Internet will tell you, it's that other people want to hear what you have to say. You'll hear phrases like "word of mouse" or "power of personal recommendation," and look at how much social networking has moved towards seeing how much they can get their audience to "like" something. However what you write will be much more effective if there is a balance of your own opinion in what you have to say and how you say it.

Nobody knows you're a dog.

Remember the famous New Yorker cartoon of the dog surfing the 'net? It's true, no one knows if you are a dog on the Internet but it's also true that no one really knows who you are either. The web allows anyone to haul out a soapbox, stand on top of it and start shouting. But remember, your readers don't actually know who you are and they may not be coming to your page to be told how to think and feel. I've read a lot of comments from frustrated writers in forums on multiple writing sites asking for help and complaining that they can't get readers. And when you go read their pages, it's just some stranger yelling their opinion very loudly in print. All that noise tends to be... well... just noisy.

I keep my own opinion and thoughts limited in what I write, trying to balance the personal stuff somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of what I'm writing. And I make sure than when I have a really strong feeling to express that I make sure the "why" of my opinion is in there, backed up with facts or experience that explains how I came to think or feel or believe the way I do.

I worked a variety of customer service jobs before I decided to go into web writing full-time. Some of those jobs involved sales, mostly done over the phone. Part of what could clinch a sale when a customer wasn't sure was sharing something personal, telling them how the product really worked for you, or why you knew it was made better than the other guy's widget. But the customer didn't want to hear your life story, or your problems, they were there for a reason and it's your job to help them get their answer or find what they are looking for. Making that emotional connection to the reader works the same way for a web writer. You want to seem friendly, helpful and interested in the reader doing what they are trying to do, and having a good experience while doing it. If you don't, someone else with that demeanor and presentation is just a click away...

photo of Relache by Emily Carlin
photo of Relache by Emily Carlin

Avoiding Update Burnout

keeping those articles fresh

Picking topics that you the writer will like over the really long-term is sometimes the trickiest part of making pages. You want something you genuinely know, something you do pretty regularly and something which happens naturally so that coming up with refreshed content isn't a chore.

Do you travel regularly? If you make a trip to a place or places annually or more frequently, that's a good candidate. I have some regular trips I do every year, both convention type things and camping with semi-distant friends and those let me cover various travel angles, places and activities. I keep an eye out for new activities or a fresh experience that keeps me from talking about the same three things as every other writer.

What do you do at home? Do you have a hobby, sport or musical instrument you practice all the time? Think about how you would teach someone else or share the activity with a friend who was less experienced than you are. That's a good basis to start writing an article, or a series of articles.

Be careful of trends and fads. They may peak and drop off as topics, or burn you out trying to keep up with an explosion of interest.

How Do You Go From Life To Content?

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    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @esmonaco: That really can be a challenge several years down the road, and hard to anticipate. Glad you found it useful!

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Thanks for all of the great advise here, especially the Avoidong Update Burnout :) thanks Again

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Love all this advice.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Lots of good suggestions here! Thanks for sharing it.

    • ThreeQuarters2Day profile image

      Dawn Romine 4 years ago from Nebraska

      Thanks for the suggestions. I was struggling with writing just because something is popular and might sell well. Write what you're passionate about, what you love. Thanks for the affirmation.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @nifwlseirff: In all honesty, when it comes to Squidoo, my main focus is my lenses, starting with making or updating them. I only respond to comments that actually warrant a response, such as a specific question to me or a comment which actually might lead to a dialog. As someone who writes at multiple sites too, I have to put my efforts into what moves things forward or is beneficial. I only noodle around when I've got time to do so.

    • profile image

      nifwlseirff 5 years ago

      Thanks for the useful suggestions!

      The updating schedule is what is worrying me, especially when writing at multiple sites. With your tips I should be able to manage it (but not at 10-10-10 at every site!)

      But more of a time eater is keeping up with comments! I'd love to know how much time do you spend browsing, commenting and responding to comments each day/week.

      Thanks again, and good luck with the purple plan!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks for the info. Especially the updating tips. It was nice to have some good, practical guidelines. I'm still pretty new around here, but I'm working hard to get myself into those double digits of lenses! Thanks again.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      I am just learning, really. I began because I loved having a platform for my creativity and getting it out was so satisfying. Now I am thinking of how to make a little money. I help out in a poor school in central China, and there is always something the kids need, so I want to see if I can make some money for that project. It's very interesting, and your lens helped me a lot. Thanks!

    • JuneNash profile image

      June Nash 5 years ago

      Thanks for the lens. I especially appreciate the section on how often to update. I am new at lens building and do not have a system. I plan on building lenses on my recipes. My daughter is encouraging this as she would like to be able to have them accessible.

    • Annbulance2000 profile image

      Annbulance2000 5 years ago

      This lense is well thought out and to the point, some handy tips here. I agree with write about what you know,but that is increasing with all my reading on squidoo. My first lense was based on some old family photos that helped put my story together. Telling a short story is what I like doing best.

    • DownToEarthLiving profile image

      Evelyn 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Great tips - thanks! Can't wait till I have enough lenses for the 10-10-10 plan!

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @DownToEarthLiving: You can do a 4-4-4 for now and work you way up from there.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @kerryhrabstock: Kerry, I'd been away for a while, and making this lens was part of how I brought myself back too!

    • CamelliaPenny profile image

      Perrin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      I love your 10-10-10! I don't have as many lenses as you do (yet!), but I am going to adopt something similar. Otherwise, I have just plodded along, trying to make sure I open each one at least once every couple of months.

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 5 years ago

      I usually create lenses on hobbies and interests, most often books, films and music. Great job on this one!

    • kerryhrabstock profile image

      kerryhrabstock 5 years ago

      Thanks for the inspiration. I've been away from Squidoo for awhile, working on another writing project. Reading this lens is just what I needed to bring me back.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @SheilaMilne: When I know I'm supposed to be writing but get stuck or want to avoid working at it I often find myself housecleaning. And I've heard that from other writers too...

    • KandDMarketing profile image

      KandDMarketing 5 years ago

      I am apt to share anything from a recipe I learned as a kid to the newest animal or other goings on on our farm, to something or other that is about my online businesses. It's all fair game.

    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 5 years ago from Kent, UK

      I'm relatively new to this so at the moment ideas just pop into my mind but I imagine England-France/travel will provide most of my lens fodder, mainly because that's a large part of my life.

      I've really enjoyed reading your lens. It's not only given me further ideas for writing but also how to go about housekeeping, never my strong point.

    • Joanne Reid profile image

      Joanne Reid 5 years ago from Prince Edward Island/Arizona

      Useful!! Useful. I love Squidoo but I have a struggle keeping updated. I like the 10-10-10 methods. For me it will be a 5-5-5 right now until I get it going better.

    • profile image

      fullofshoes 5 years ago

      Outstanding lens. Great tips. Bookmarked for sure. ~blessed~

    • irminia profile image

      irminia 5 years ago

      I just started, just a few lenses about the things that took me long to discover. And already I'm wondering how to keep updating regularly :) I check the search results, see what people are looking for and make sure those answers get answered.

    • thegrowlinggour profile image

      thegrowlinggour 5 years ago

      Thank you, very helpful!

    • cgbroome profile image

      cgbroome 5 years ago

      Great hints on updating your lenses.

    • Magpie Feathers profile image

      Magpie Feathers 5 years ago

      Very informative. Thanks.

    • Jogalog profile image

      Jogalog 5 years ago

      Really useful tactic for keeping lenses updated. I had been wondering how people with loads of lenses did it.

    • aylsbillones1 profile image

      aylsbillones1 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing..great lens!

    • profile image

      games_rush 5 years ago

      Thank you so much for these tips..very inspiring and helpful...:)

    • PaigSr profile image

      PaigSr 5 years ago from State of Confussion

      On my computer I have several folders. Each one is for each site / lens that I have posted. There are also some that are for potential sites / lenses.

      When it comes to composing a new lens / site the first thing I do is start typing. I open up a document to see if the words will flow. If they do then there is a good potability that this will work for me. Step two is to find the pictures that will support the words.

      I hope that for those reading these words that they are inspired to continue writing. I know that this site has done so for me.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Great information! Thanks, again! ;-)

    • designsbyharriet profile image

      Harriet 5 years ago from Indiana

      I am a jewelry designer and I love to make tutorials and other how to lenses on jewelry design, selling jewelry and even wearing it. I was an art museum curator so I also make lenses on American art. I have lots of lenses I create that have discussions in them that can be turned into their own lenses. It is endless.

      But I hate updating. If I wrote an historical lens, there is not much I can do about adding to it, but I try.

    • LornsA178 profile image

      LornsA178 5 years ago

      I learned a lot from this lens, thanks for your useful tips.

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 5 years ago

      Lots of great advice here. I have been checking my top ten daily, then those that are dropping below but are near moving into a tier one, two or three, and then my bottom lenses, and try to update them. It has gotten more difficult now that I have 139 lenses. I think I'll try your system. Blessed. Now on to read the other lenses you listed.

    • SgtCecil profile image

      Cecil Kenmill 5 years ago from Osaka, Japan

      These are great ideas to get the gears upstairs turning. I started with inside stuff about the Army. Then few politics and health issues. Lately, it's been about Japan and Japanese festivals I've been going to. I don't have many lenses so it's easy to keep them updated. I try to look at them at least once a month.

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 5 years ago

      Okay. This is well written and provides a wonderful bunch of pointers. I think I need to read this everyday for a month so that all of the recommendations become a regular part of my daily routine. Thank you so much for the guidance. I am new on here and I appreciate your no-nonsense approach and specifically useful guidance.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @iamraincrystal: You know, I used to say that to myself. The trick is to start small and really close to home. I started with free, weekend fairs and events in the city where I lived, things I might just attend for a few hours, and slowly I worked my way up the adventure chain from there. If you want to do it, you can!

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @LiteraryMind: I can't believe I heard the phrase "word of mouse" nearly 15 years ago now...

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @Elaine Chen: Having now done one trip, I have to confess my brain just keeps saying "Okay, now how do we do it again?!"

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @JohnTannahill: Any way you can make Squidoo let you do more of something you love is the way to get started!

    • MayaIxchel profile image

      MayaIxchel 5 years ago

      Great ideas, thanks so much for sharing them! I have so much to learn . . . Greetings from 'the land of eternal spring'!

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 5 years ago from Somewhere in England

      I'd love to travel on my Squidoo earnings one day. At the moment I'm investing the money in good cookbooks to review. That's a win-win.

    • Elaine Chen profile image

      Elaine Chen 5 years ago

      thanks for your sharing. I was exciting when you said that "England and France, partially paid for with money I earned from my lenses". I hope I can be have a trip in near future that paid by money earn from lenses :-)

    • KateHonebrink profile image

      KateHonebrink 5 years ago

      Love your ideas and advice - very timely and helpful! Thanks much for putting pen to paper, so to speak, and giving us all this great input. Kudos on a great Squidoo career!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I love your 10-10-10 idea, this will be a big help to me. (Never heard of "word of mouse" before. Very informative lens.

    • FallenAngel 483 profile image

      FallenAngel 483 5 years ago

      Good tips, especially on keeping lenses updated, I needed that tip! I write about gardening, science and animals. I think being passionate about what you write makes it more readable to others. The way you write is very easy to read.

    • montanatravel52 profile image

      montanatravel52 5 years ago

      Great advice to always keep in mind going forward towards success... thanks!

    • realovealreiko profile image

      realovealreiko 5 years ago

      Great tips! Especially for someone like me who's just starting.

    • iamraincrystal profile image

      Rosyel Sawali 5 years ago from Manila Philippines

      Great tips! The dilemma is if you work at home and hardly go anywhere or do anything else ^_^

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 5 years ago

      Thanks for the tips. I add photos when I have new ones, but I like your ideas for organizing my updates.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you for the tips & tricks!

    • profile image

      TamarWrites 5 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this advice. I try to update my lenses once a week, because I can right now. In the future, I will need a guide because I want to write may more lenses-it is so much fun!

    • Tennyhawk profile image

      Tennyhawk 5 years ago

      Thanks for the advice!

    • justmelucy profile image

      justmelucy 5 years ago

      I am quite new and have done more reading and liking than writing. My first 4 lenses have been about starting over and some of the things that I have found that help me on this new journey. Thank you for the informative lens. I love learning.

    • poldepc lm profile image

      poldepc lm 5 years ago

      great lens...great tips...thanks for sharing...

    • profile image

      mouse1996 lm 5 years ago

      A lot of great tips. Thank you for sharing them. I'm going to go take a closer look at my dashboard now and maybe see how I can tweak my lenses before carrying on with another. You inspire me and give me hope I can do good here on Squidoo.

    • BLemley profile image

      Beverly Lemley 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Very helpful advice, especially about updating and voicing your opinions! Thank you! B : )

    • FloridaDino profile image

      FloridaDino 5 years ago

      nice to hear first hand advice

    • chas65 profile image

      chas65 5 years ago

      Thanks for the new ideas. My wheels are turning now to decide where to go next.

    • schwarz profile image
      Author

      Rae Schwarz 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @FantasticVoyages: Remember that online if it looks like it does something, it's probably worth clicking on once to see if it does.

    • AcornOakForest profile image

      Monica Lobenstein 5 years ago from Western Wisconsin

      Thanks for the tips, especially those about updating. I've been wondering how best to manage updates and those suggestions helped.

    • DecoratingEvents profile image

      DecoratingEvents 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing these tips and suggestions!

    • FantasticVoyages profile image

      Fantastic Voyages 5 years ago from Texas

      I wasn't aware that the dashboard could be sorted these ways! Thanks for the tips. It will make my life easier!