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From Life To Content

Updated on May 2, 2016

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

      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

      Rae Schwarz 4 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 4 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 4 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 4 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 4 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 4 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 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

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

    • schwarz profile image

      Rae Schwarz 4 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

      Rae Schwarz 4 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 4 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 4 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 4 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

      Rae Schwarz 4 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 4 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 4 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.

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