- Books, Literature, and Writing
From Life To Content
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.
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
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.
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...
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.